It’s Alfa Time! Andrew Noakes tests five market-beating examples of the Milanese marque: Giulia Spider, 2600 Spider, 2000GTV, Spider S4 and 156GTA. PLUS former head of Alfa Romeo Centro Stile, Frank Stephenson, talks Italianità From £5000 to over £70,000, we drive the five Alfa best buys of 2019. Words Andrew Noakes. Photography Jonathan Jacob.
IT’S ALFA TIME!
Scarlet fever – the five smartest Alfa Romeos to buy in today’s market – Alfa Romeos front to rear: 2000 GTV, 2600 Spider, 101-series Giulia Spider, Spider S4, 156GTA
‘The twin-cam responds briskly to the throttle, emitting an urgent bark from just a few inches above my toes’
ALFAS TO BUY NOW Our smartest tips from 5k to 70k
PLUS Ex-Alfa designer Frank Stephenson reveals the secret of their unique style
Few marques engender such passion as Alfa Romeo, and fewer still deliver driving pleasure at what can be such an affordable price. Today’s mission is to see how much Milanese magic you can get for your money in 2019, across a range of eras and budgets. But we’re not simply looking at these cars through Rosso Corsa-tinted spectacles – their five owners are on hand to tell us the realities of Alfa ownership – exploding myths as they go – and we’ve pulled together essential tips from marque experts on buying each car. Which one offers the optimum ratio of passion per pound? I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of each one to find out.
1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider Tipo 101
The oldest design of the group also makes a good claim to be the prettiest. The 101-series Giulia Spider is one of the last of a line that began with the 750-series Giulietta in 1955. Settling into the driver’s seat I look out over a bonnet that has a raised centre section, one of the few features that distinguishes this car from the earlier ones. It’s there to make space for the taller 1.6-litre version of the twin-cam Nord engine, fitted in place of the earlier cars’ 1.3-litre unit. Clear indications of the age of the design come from the heavily curved windscreen and the metal dash panel painted in body colour that stretches the width of the interior. It carries a prominent badge in the centre for Pininfarina, and the Turin design house did more than just style the Spider, also building its steel monocoque body at the Grugliasco plant. Speedo, rev-counter and a combination gauge for fuel level, oil temperature and water temperature are tidily arranged in front of the driver and the trio of dials is framed by a handsome three-spoke steering wheel with alloy spokes and a thin plastic rim.
The Giuliettas were never built in right-hand drive but this car is one of the 400 factory-built right-hand drive Giulia Spiders. Its steering wheel is markedly offset towards the centre of the car, but the seat is pushed towards the door by the off-centre transmission tunnel resulting in a curiously off-kilter driving position. Routing the steering gear past a side of the engine where it was never intended to go precluded a right-hand drive version of the twin-carb Veloce so this car started life with a twin-choke Solex, replaced many years ago by a downdraft Weber.
That odd driving position dominates the driving experience, at least to begin with. Not only do you have to rethink the way you sit and how you grip the steering wheel rim, you also need to be creative about changing gear – access to the upper ratios in the five-speed ’box means reaching under the wheel. But the gearchange has a light, positive action and the once you get used to the wheel position the steering rewards with directness and precision. The Giulia has terrific agility, and suspension soft enough to tolerate mid-corner bumps, making it a fine B-road companion. It weighs less than a ton but the all-alloy engine offers only 91bhp, so straight-line speed is not its forte. But the twin-cam fizzes with character, with pin-sharp response and a wonderfully rorty noise.
‘The twin-cam fizzes with character, with pin-sharp response and a wonderfully rorty noise’
I’m having such a ball, heeling and toeing down the gearbox before flicking the Giulia into corners, that our pace seems immaterial. Both engine and gearbox are durable units, but to avoid problems the engine needs to be warmed up properly before being given hard work to do and it needs an oil change and tune-up at least once a year. Early cars had non-servo drum brakes all round with an option of front discs which later became standard fit. Rust in the body is, predictably, the main concern when buying, exacerbated by convertible tops which are often less than watertight. Floors, sills and inner arches all need careful inspection, and are doubly important because they are all structural. Body panels, brightwork and interior trim are all difficult to source, making extensive rebuilds costly and time-consuming. Complete, sound cars start around £40,000 with concours low-mileage examples over £80,000, which is a lot of money for a little car – but not too much to pay for one that looks so good and is such fun to steer.
Owning a 101 Series Spider
Brian Judge bought his Spider 18 years ago and has done 60,000 miles in it, including an annual European tour. Says Brian, ‘Only once has it let me down, in the Pyrenees. The cylinder head gasket went, and although we had one with us it was pouring with rain and none of the hotels had garages. Our insurance brought it back. I had the cylinder head checked for any distortion by AMS of Ditchling for £20 before re-fitting it. The car has also seen action on track at Brands Hatch, Goodwood and even Spa – that was fun. You can do Eau Rouge flat out.’
Brian treated the car to an £8000 bare-metal respray in 2012, followed by a £4500 bottom-end engine rebuild by Alfa specialist Ian Ellis; AMS had previously overhauled the cylinder head at a cost of £500. ‘It’s been good fun,’ says Brian. ‘It’s put a smile on my face all the years I’ve had it.’
1963 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider Tipo 101
Engine All-alloy 1567cc in-line four cylinder, dohc, Solex 33 PAIA carburettor (Weber DCD on this car)
Max Power 91bhp @ 6200rpm
Max Torque 96lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar; Rear: live axle, coil springs, radius arms and A-bracket
Steering Recirculating ball
Brakes Disc front, drum rear
Weight 960kg (2116lb)
Performance Top speed: 107mph; 0-60mph: 9.5sec
Classic Cars Price Guide £47,500-£70,000
1964 Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider Tipo 106
For buyers who thought a Giulia Spider was too small and too frenetic, Alfa Romeo had the answer – the 2600 Spider was a re-engined and mildly restyled version of the 2000 Spider of 1958. The 2000’s old iron-block four-cylinder motor was swapped for a new twin-cam straight-six fed by three Solex carburettors and developing a lusty 145bhp. It’s a terrific engine, yet very different in character from the twin-cam four in the Giulia. Where the four cackles and rasps and thrives on revs, the six is quiet and smooth, and it delivers bags of low-rev torque that makes the gearbox – another slick five-speeder – largely redundant. It will pull with vigour from around 2000rpm with a confident, cultured engine note that underlines this car’s upper-crust demeanour.
‘The Type 106 2600 Spider’s metier is not attacking hairpin bends, but long-distance high-speed cruising’
The engine is all-alloy like the Giulia unit but with its greater capacity and higher cylinder count it’s clearly heftier, and the weight it adds over the nose means the 2600 is never going to have the Spider’s agility. The longer body is substantially heavier, and with a 250mm-longer wheelbase it’s dynamically a different proposition; more stable in a straight line and less keen to turn. The steering doesn’t help – there’s a handsome wheel with three alloy spokes and a thin plastic rim but it’s larger than ideal, and while the weighting is pleasantly light near the straight ahead it becomes uncomfortably heavy as lock is added. That’s when you realise why the wheel is so big. It gives the 2600 a surprisingly old-fashioned feel and makes parking and low-speed manoeuvring a chore. If you were planning to tackle the 75 hairpin bends of the Stelvio pass, you would need to undertake an extensive programme of physical training first.
No, the 2600 Spider’s metier is long-distance, high-speed cruising. It’s a machine that was built for gliding along main roads in the sunshine with the motor burbling away gently, and it achieves that with comfort and style. The cabin has plenty of space for two, and a pair of small seats is squeezed into the back – though there is no legroom unless the front seats are pulled impractically far forwards, so they’re more useful for carrying things than people. Not that there’s any shortage of luggage space – the 2600’s touring credentials are emphasised by the generous, rectangular boot that would easily swallow everything the occupants might need for an extended European tour.
As well as being physically bigger than the Giulia Spider the 2600 has more presence, thanks to styling by Carrozzeria Touring that’s less ostentatiously curvy than the Giulia but has a grander four-lamp front end. It also cost a lot more when it was new; at £2498 in the UK – a price inflated by the purchase tax imposed on foreign cars – it was more than £1000 costlier than the Giulia. For the same money you could have bought an E-type roadster and had enough left for a Triumph Spitfire – and you would still have had a couple of the newly-minted £10 notes in change, which would have bought a lot of fuel at 23p a gallon. Given the 2600 Spider’s contemporary reputation for ponderous handling, it’s little surprise that only 2255 of them were built between 1961 and 1968. The high price in the UK meant just 102 of those were right-hand-drive cars, apparently all built in one batch in 1964. Not so long ago the 2600s and their 2000 predecessors were virtually forgotten, but recently market interest has recovered. Concours-grade 2600 Spiders are now commonly advertised at £150,000 or more, and even projects are rarely seen for less than £30,000 as the market wakes up to these cars’ flawed, but real, appeal and their rarity in comparison to contemporary Giulias.
Rust is again the main worry – the body is an all-steel monocoque, not Touring’s alloy Superleggera framework. Increasing values of the cars at least means there has been more parts production in recent years, so body panels and repair sections are now available; a set of floor panels is £800, a spare wheel well £700. Mechanical parts can be found too, though they are expensive. A six-cylinder rebuild will cost £8000-£10,000.
Owning an Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider
Says Hugh Williams, ‘It was white, with a tow bar, the front springs were broken and the clutch was going – but it was complete. We basically rebuilt it but for the lower half of the engine, the differential and the steering rack.
The rebuild included a bare-metal respray, took the best part of two years and cost around £25,000. ‘Niggles since have included a cylinder head gasket failure when the car was on a road trip with an MGB and TR5 in France. There was a misfire, I looked in the mirror and the MGB had completely disappeared in a cloud of steam. The gasket, head skim and labour amounted to £1200.
‘Despite the car’s rarity, parts are easy to get from Germany, Holland, the US, and Classic Alfa in the UK. They’re cars for people who want to get involved. The plugs need cleaning every 1000 miles, a service is every 3000. If you’re not prepared to get your fingers dirty, don’t buy one.’
1964 Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider Tipo 106
Engine All-alloy 2584cc in-line six cylinder, dohc, three Solex 44 PHH carburettors
Max Power 145bhp @ 5900rpm
Max Torque 156lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, coil springs, radius arms, A-bracket and anti-roll bar
Steering Recirculating ball
Brakes Discs all round
Weight 1214kg (2676lb)
Performance Top speed: 115mph; 0-60mph: 11sec
Classic Cars Price Guide £35,000-£100,000
1972 Alfa Romeo 2000GTV Tipo 105
Like the Giulia and 2600 Spiders, the 2000GTV is the last of its line. The original Giulia Sprint coupé of 1963 was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Bertone, picking up on the themes of his 2600 Sprint of 1959 and is widely regarded as a masterpiece, though apparently the great man does not consider it one of his finest efforts. The original scalino (step-front) design, where the leading edge of the bonnet sat proud of the nose, was smoothed out in 1967 when a 1779cc twin cam engine was introduced, and then another front-end restyle in 1971 accompanied the big-bore 1962cc engine in the 2000GTV. In this bigger iteration the twin-cam still likes to rev, though it sounds more strained than in the smaller versions and has a lower safe limit of 5800rpm.
The big advantage the extra cubic capacity provides is in the mid-range, where the 2.0-litre engine has a punch the smaller twin cams can’t match and, as a result, the 2000 is easier to drive and swifter in give-and-take conditions. Whether I rely on that swell of torque or rev the engine to its redline, the twin-cam four responds briskly to the throttle, all the while emitting an urgent bark from the four carburettor throats sucking away on the other side of the bulkhead, just a few inches above my toes. The engine note is more subdued at a cruise than in earlier GTVs, because the later car has a longer final drive to keep revs down in fifth gear. It’s quiet enough for me to notice the wind rustling around the A-pillar, a fault that plagued the 105-series coupé throughout its life.
Cruising along, the suspension does a competent job of handling any irregularities in the road surface, at least until the live rear axle runs out of travel. But it’s on a twisty road that the GTV really shines. Pitch it into a corner at speed and you can feel the loads build in the front tyres through the feedback in the wooden rim of the deeply dished three-spoke wheel. There’s a delicacy and a precision to the way the helm responds to your inputs that’s enormously satisfying and gives confidence to push harder.
Roll is well-controlled, though in part that’s because of a non-standard Harvey-Bailey front anti-roll bar on this particular car. But that doesn’t change the fundamentally good balance of the model or its well judged compromise between ride and handling, which is easily as good as anything of its era.
The all-disc brakes feel strong, and the floor-hinged pedal is firm enough to provide a good fulcrum for heel and toe downchanges. There will be plenty of those, because the five-speed ’box has a precise, mechanical feel that encourages cog-swapping just for the sheer fun of it. In short, the GTV is a hoot to drive. It was never the fastest car in its class in a drag race and never pulled the highest cornering forces on a skid pan, yet its ability to implant a grin on the face of a driver is almost second to none.
The big worry, and the one that probably does more than anything else to make potential buyers of these cars think twice, is their propensity for rust. The sills, floors, wheelarches, suspension mounts and the front bulkhead are all susceptible to rot. Panels are available so repairs are easy enough, but a thorough inspection is vital to understand the condition of any potential purchase. The interiors last pretty well and are relatively simple to refresh, though parts can sometimes be expensive – a black vinyl doorcard is £228.
On the mechanical side the news is good, because the engines are strong and just need regular oil changes to deliver a long and trouble-free life. US-market cars were fitted with SPICA fuel injection which can work well but needs careful setting up by a specialist, and any repairs are likely to be pricey. The injection system is often swapped for carburettors, but that’s not a cheap solution because new Webers or Dell’Ortos will probably cost well over £1000 with manifolds and linkages. The suspension is robust though bushes can deteriorate with time, and brake calipers can seize through lack of use. Today good 2000GTVs start around £25,000 with lots of excellent cars in the £30,000-£40,000 range. Exceptional examples can fetch £60,000 or more.
The GTVs are popular cars that are likely to always be in demand, so buying a decent one should be a good investment.
‘It’s on a twisty road that the GTV really shines – it has both a delicacy and a precision to it’
Owning an Alfa Romeo 2000GTV
‘I bought in February 1982,’ says motoring journalist Peter Nunn. ‘I love Italy and Italian cars, and especially this GTV shape. I decided I wanted the latest one with the most power, but if I was doing it again I’d maybe buy a 1750 because it’s a sweeter engine.’
He bought the GTV from Alfa racer Jon Dooley at Brookside Garage. ‘It needed substantial work on the wheelarches and sills – including a respray that cost me £7000. It’s been resprayed three times, because I’ve had it so long. The biggest issue of late has been a strange driveshaft vibration which nobody could cure but I took it to Alfa Workshop in Royston and they did a brilliant job.
‘I’ve been to Italy in it a number of times – the last time was 2010 for the Alfa anniversary. Alfarama checked it out beforehand and it went all the way to Italy and back with no problem. I try use it at least once or twice a week.’
1972 Alfa Romeo 2000GTV
Engine All-alloy 1962cc in-line four cylinder, 8-valve, two Dellorto, Weber or Solex carburettors
Max Power 131bhp @ 5500rpm
Max Torque 134lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual gearbox, all-synchromesh, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, coil springs, radius arms and wishbone.
Steering Recirculating ball
Brakes Discs all round
Weight 1214kg (2676lb)
Performance Top speed: 115mph;
Classic Cars Price Guide £6000-£30,000
The GTV’s confidence-inspiring character makes the driving experience utterly addictive – not smiling after driving is as difficult as not licking your lips after a doughnut. Controls are delight to operate; later GTVs switched to pendant accelerator pedals. The 1962cc four-cylinder is punchier than predecessors, but its redline is more modest.
‘The 2600 can cruise continents in style and comfort; the GTV blends together all the elements that a classic Alfa Romeo needs to deliver’
1990 Alfa Romeo Spider Series 4
The 105-series coupé might have had a good run, but its Spider cousin lasted even longer. The Series 4 Spider of 1990 was the final iteration of a theme that began with the Duetto in 1966. A quarter of a century later, facing new rivals like Mazda’s MX-5, the Spider should have been outdated and outclassed – but it wasn’t.
Pininfarina smoothed out the disjointed styling of the Series 3 Spider Aerodinamica, with its add-on air dam and rear spoiler, and did a remarkably fine job of bringing the car up to date without losing its original charm. Alfa Romeo reintroduced the car to the UK as an official import for the first time since the Seventies, including a removable hard top as part of the standard equipment for weather-conscious Brits. The superb convertible hood could still be raised or lowered by the driver without leaving their seat. All the cars were built with left-hand drive, but there was an unofficial Bell and Colvill conversion and later an Alfa-sanctioned right-hand-drive version by Seaking. A badge inside the driver’s side door shut identifies these cars.
Most of the exterior brightwork disappeared in the restyle but Pininfarina kept the lovely bullet-shaped door handles, no doubt because updating them would have required expensive recertification that could otherwise be avoided. The door opens onto a cabin that would have been familiar to a Series 3 Spider owner. The individually cowled main instruments disappeared in the Eighties to be replaced by a more modern binnacle but the gear lever still curiously sprouts from the top of the centre console as on earlier cars. It’s an arrangement that works well, putting the gearknob close to the rim of the steering wheel, an aftermarket Momo on this car. The gearbox is the usual precise five-speeder while the engine is closely related to the 2000GTV’s 2.0-litre twin-cam but now with extra layers of modern sophistication.
The variable cam phasing system already seen on the Twin Spark engines in the 75 and 164 was added to improve the torque curve while increasing top-end power; carburettors and points ignition were replaced by a Bosch engine management system controlling both sparks and fuelling. The engine is cleaner and more fuel-efficient as a result, starting is more reliable and maintenance requirements are less onerous. It’s more flexible, too, happy to pull from barely past idle with no coughing or stalling, but the most noticeable difference is the lack of induction noise. I rather miss the urgent rasp of a brace of Dell’Ortos, but it’s easy to see how the quieter injection intake made the Spider more refined, less tiring to drive and more competitive with the newer roadsters it was up against in the Nineties.
All those rivals boasted all-round independent suspension, but the Spider still relied on the well-located coil-sprung live rear axle setup that dated back to the early Sixties. That it’s competitive at all just shows how effective the original design was, but it betrays its age with copious angles of roll and is at its best when the road surface is smooth. Scuttle shake is another good reason to avoid uneven asphalt. The steering now has ZF power assistance, but it’s not so light that the Spider feels nervous at speed. It all adds up to a car that’s more mature in its feel, more refined and less raw. It’s less of a sporting car and more of an accomplished tourer, but still a fun way to drive down a sunny by-way.
Another improvement on the Series 4 was to the corrosion protection – both of body and beneath – but more than 25 years on, its effectiveness will have diminished. A wheelarch repair is around £600. The interiors were never as robust and often look untidy, but specialists such as Classic Alfa can supply retrim kits; a vinyl/Alcantara seat cover is £210. Some interior trim pieces are not available in certain colours, but owners report good results by using aerosol trim paints. Spider prices range from about £5000 to £15,000 or more for the very best cars.
‘It’s less of a sporting car and more of an accomplished tourer, but still a fun way to drive down a sunny by-way’
Owning an Alfa Romeo Spider Series 4 Says Peter Anspach. ‘I bought it two years ago, and got an Alfa mechanic to look at it – he said I wouldn’t find a straighter one. ‘I drove it home, and then couldn’t get any gears – the clutch hydraulics had failed,’ remembers Peter. ‘Since then it’s been absolutely faultless. There was a tiny bit of rust in the rear wheelarches, which required new metal to be fabricated and welded into place at a cost of £600, and I’ve fitted new door rubbers, and that’s all I’ve spent on it. Despite it being an old design it’s got modern electronics so there are no points to mess around with. A service is only £200.
‘It’s very practical because you’ve got quite a large boot and space behind the seats. We use it all through the winter when it’s dry, because they don’t like sitting around. I’m absolutely delighted with it – it makes me smile. I intend to keep it. I’m so pleased I bought it rather than any alternative.’
1990 Alfa Romeo Spider Series 4
Engine All-alloy 1962cc in-line four cylinder, dohc, Bosch Motronic engine management
Max Power 120bhp @ 5800rpm
Max Torque 116lb ft @ 2700rpm
Transmission Five-speed all-synchromesh manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar; Rear: live axle, coil springs, radius arms and wishbone
Steering Recirculating ball
Brakes Discs all round, front vented
Weight 1160kg (2557lb)
Performance Top speed: 119mph; 0-60mph: 9sec
CC Price Guide £2450-£14,250
Gear lever placement is curious but effective; Momo wheel here is an aftermarket item.
Fuel injection adds refinement but subtracts vocal character. The overall shape might have been a quarter-century old, but the Spider wasn’t dynamically outclassed by rivals.
2003 Alfa Romeo 156GTA Tipo 932
Though barely three years separated the final demise of the Spider in 1993 and the arrival of the 156 saloon, the 156GTA is far more modern. Designed by Alfa Centro Stile under the leadership of Walter de Silva, the 156 was one of the first four-door cars to masquerade as a two-door coupé. Horizontal feature lines over the front and rear arches disappear into the body as they head towards the middle, emphasising the aluminium front door handle, while the handle for the rear door is hidden at the edge of the matt black window frame.
Inside there are well-shaped leather sports seats with detail stitching that’s repeated on the door panels. Behind the grippy three-spoke steering wheel you’ll find an individually cowled speedo and tacho, and there’s a trio of minor gauges in the centre of the dash. The view out is disconcerting, because the GTA’s bonnet drops away sharply and from where I’m sitting I can’t see anything at all beyond the base of the windscreen. But at least the relationship between steering wheel and pedal positions mean it’s no problem to get comfortable, and light control weightings make the GTA easy to drive.
Even at idle there’s a purposeful burble from the engine, a 3.2-litre, 24-valve version of Alfa’s Busso V6 reworked in 2002 for the GTA with a slightly narrower bore and longer stroke, though it’s still significantly oversquare. As a result it’s keen to rev, that burble becoming a glorious howl as it gets into its stride above 4000rpm and then rockets to the red line at 7200rpm. It’s fast, contemporary road testers clocking 0-60mph times around six seconds on the way to the limited top speed of 155mph. If anything it feels a bit quicker than that thanks to thumping mid-range torque and razor-sharp throttle response.
The steering, too, is all-action with amazingly direct gearing for a road car. With just 1.7 turns between locks you can use most of the steering angle without ever repositioning your hands on the wheel, though that’s offset by a woefully large turning circle that can quickly turn simple manoeuvring into an Austin Powers-style farce. A heavy throttle foot soon induces interference from the 247bhp going through the front wheels, though an aftermarket limitedslip differential (Alfa’s own Q2 diff from the GT, or a £750 Quaife equivalent as fitted to this car) can quell the steering fight to some degree while also improving traction; the standard diffs are, in any case, prone to failure. Suspension upgrades are common on these cars, too, answering the criticisms made of the GTA at launch for inadequate damping that made it struggle on typical British roads.
All but a handful of the 348 officially imported right-hand-drive cars were manuals. The rest, plus some grey imports, had an automated manual transmission related to the Ferrari 360 F1 more robust than the infamous Selespeed system. The engines are strong if well maintained. AutoLusso advises cambelt changes every 48k miles rather than Alfa’s recommended 72k; the tight engine bay means the V6 needs to come out making that a £570 job (£850 with water pump), so a good time to do the clutch too – another £550.
Also check the warning lights all illuminate then go out when the ignition is switched on. The bonnet catch can seize up, eventually leading to the bonnet opening at speed. Though outer panels were zinc-coated, rust still attacks the roof, floor and the hand-formed wheelarches where paint is rubbed off by the plastic liners. Make sure the car has two working keys – a replacement is £400. Body computers can fail and some are no longer available, while the main ECU sits on top of the engine and can fail because of the heat; repair can cost £700with no guarantee against further failure.
Our five big-value Alfas prove that it’s still possible to get behind the wheel of a great example of the Milanese marque for reasonable money. A 156GTA or Series 4 Spider could be yours for under £10,000, respectively offering rapid performance, and fun and convenient classic ownership. The other two Spiders, the 2600 and the 101 Giulia, have their own strengths – the six-cylinder open tourer can cruise continents in style and comfort, while the Giulia Spider is achingly pretty and has an endearingly sparky character. But the one that stands out for me is the 2000 GTV. It’s a superb all-rounder, blending together all the elements that a classic Alfa needs to deliver. It’s a sensible buy, too – find the right car and ownership should be just about as painless as an Alfa can get, thanks to extensive specialist and community support.
Thanks to: Alfa Romeo Owners Club (aroc-uk.com), Giulietta Register (giuliettaregister.com), and MGS Coachworks (mgscoachworks.com)
‘It’s keen to rev, with that burble becoming a glorious howl as it gets into its stride above 4000rpm’
Owning an Alfa Romeo 156GTA
‘You could say that it was love at first sight – and sound – that led me to make an offer for a friend’s GTA on the spot,’ says Daniel Grove. ‘He was an Italian car enthusiast, who meticulously cared for it. I had improvements and maintenance totalling about £6000 performed by AutoLusso and AHM Alfa within the first few months of ownership out of concern of lack of availability of parts in the future. That included the addition of a Quaife limited-slip differential, suspension and brake rebuilds and rectification of corrosion on the underside. An upgrade to the later 330mm brake discs will follow soon.
‘The car will effortlessly pull away in third, and cruises between 50 and 70mph with little to no throttle input in sixth gear. The 156GTA embodies the inexplicable character and passion that only Alfa owners can understand, and it handles surprisingly well for a front-wheel-drive car of its age.’
2003 Alfa Romeo 156GTA
Engine All-alloy 3179cc V6, dohc, Bosch Motronic engine management
Max Power 247bhp @ 6200rpm
Max Torque 221lb ft @ 4800rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar; Rear: struts, coil springs, lateral links and radius arms
Steering Rack and pinion, power assisted
Brakes Discs all round
Weight 1410kg (3109lb)
Performance Top speed: 155mph; 0-60mph: 6sec
Classic Cars Price Guide £5000-£20,000
Instruments set deep into individual cowls are a nod to Alfas past The 247bhp Busso V6 dominates the experience. Prices range from £5k-£20k; good cars with reasonable mileage are likely to be £12,000-£14,000.
Alfa design – Frank Stephenson
The marque’s former head of design reveals the special styling recipe behind every red-blooded Alfa Romeo.
Alfa Romeo is, without a doubt, one of the coolest and most passion-stirring car brands,’ says car designer Frank Stephenson, whose time at Fiat included heading Alfa’s in-house Centro Stile design group. ‘That’s because it mixes strong performance with heady styling – the intoxicating and addictive kind.’
Stephenson learned automotive design in California then worked for Ford and later BMW, where he was responsible for the new-age Mini in 2001. He joined Ferrari in 2002, then moved to Fiat where his projects included the production version of the new 500. After Alfa he shaped McLaren’s family of road cars. A documentary telling the story of his design career, Chasing Perfect, was released in May.
He says Alfas are more than just pretty, ‘Typically they’re sensual, gorgeous and highly temperamental. The Alfa Romeo marque is synonymous with iconic Italian beauty – curvaceous and alluring – and with those qualities it evokes strong reactions of desire and lust. As is often in such cases, one forgives many non-visual faults. A great Alfa design has Italianità – the Italian spirit, character and essence. In other words, an Alfa has to represent pure Italianness.’
Stephenson says key elements of Alfa exterior design include the inverted pyramid shaped grille, curvaceous surfacing and sculpted panels that impart the marque’s sporting DNA. Inside, a three spoked steering wheel in front of large individual speedometer and tachometer gauges set deeply into twin binnacles, with driver-oriented and angled bezels in the centre console are essential Alfa features. ‘Their design language is catchy and beautiful, happy and emotive, like Latin music – you might not understand it but it’s contagious and lifts your spirits,’ he says. ‘That’s Alfa Romeo styling, so the designer must think in Italian, as a true Alfisti would.’
‘The next Alfa I fell in love with was my Italian art class teacher’s 1750GT’
Stephenson picks Franco Scaglione’s 33 Stradale as the peak of Alfa design. ‘Very exotic and rare, I feel it’s one of the best and most beautiful cars ever designed,’ he says. ‘The eyes of the designer and hands of the sculptor artistically blended an industrial object into a piece of goosebump-inducing functional aesthetics. Its glassy greenhouse and dihedral opening doors, a low slung and lithe, yet curvy, body made it really stand out – through and through an iconic Alfa Romeo.’
Stephenson’s favourites list would also include the 101-series Giulietta Sprint. ‘I’m emotionally attached to it,’ he says. ‘It was the first car I remember my father owning when I grew up in Casablanca. I would just sit in the driver’s seat with my brother Raúl alongside for lengthy periods, dreaming, talking and laughing. The next Alfa I fell in love with was that of my lovely Italian art class teacher, Miss Moretti. She owned a stunning 1750GT Veloce that I would wash for free every Friday afternoon after class and that took hours of course. It’s not the sportiest looking of road cars but there is a very admirable sense of proportion and great stance in its design.
‘The interior layout for the driver was still then of a period when safety wasn’t the highest item on the marketing department’s priority list. It showed with that thin-rimmed wooden wheel, while the iconically positioned gear lever had a mysterious magnetic force that drew your hand to it. It was the first car where I could reach the pedals; I had many dry runs learning to heel-and-toe with it. It was teenage love and we had a great relationship.’
Frank Stephenson’s design CV covers everything from Ford to Ferrari; Mini to McLaren.