The Lost GTA Long before the 156 GTA, Alfa was set to revive its GTA badge on the 155 GTA. We’ve tracked down the one and only 155 GTA Stradale prototype and discover why it never made production. Lost road prototype driven. Story by Ruoteclassiche/Luca Gastaldi. Photos by Ruoteclassiche/Wolfango.
LOST GTA: UNIQUE ALFA ROMEO 155 GTA STRADALE DRIVEN
Like a unicorn, the whereabouts – and even the very existence – of the mythical Alfa Romeo 155 GTA Stradale have been shrouded in mystery for years. Built as a one-off prototype in 1992-1993, it was an “extraordinary and strange beast,” to quote its creator, the legendary Lancia and Abarth engineer, Sergio Limone. Luckily we’ve managed to track down this rarest of beasts and persuade its current owner, Rino Anello, to pull it out of his garage for us. This car has spent its entire lifetime in total seclusion. Initially it was tucked away in Abarth’s workshops, before making its way to rally driver and dealer Tony Fassina’s depot, and then sat in a corner of a car collector’s dusty shed.
Now, finally, it’s seen the light. Rino Anello was lucky enough to get his hands on this utterly unique machine thanks to a lot of hard work, Chinese whispers and word-of-mouth sleuthing worthy of the secret service. Very few people, in fact, knew about the existence of this unique Alfa. Even fewer knew where the car was, or what had happened to it, after Fiat’s management decided not to go ahead with series production.
Fiat’s reasoning was that it would too expensive to produce. With hindsight, and having had our own experience testing it on the road, we feel nothing but regret that the 155 GTA never went ahead. It would surely have become the equivalent of the Lancia integrale for Alfisti, not only for its heavily muscled stance but also because it shares a close mechanical relationship with the legendary Lancia. Above all, though, like the Delta in rally events, the 155 made history in Touring Car racing. No question, Alfa really missed a trick not cashing in on the back of it.
The prototype of the 155 GTA Stradale was born in 1992-1993, a period of great change in the racing strategy of the Fiat group. In fact, after Lancia’s withdrawal from the World Rally Championship, official activities concentrated solely on the Alfa Romeo brand, which had just brought out the new 155. Work on the racing 155 began in 1991, when Turin-based Abarth was engaged to help out Alfa Romeo in Settimo Milanese, to prepare for the following year’s season.
The decision was to race the Italian Championship SuperTusrimso series in 1992, as a try-out for the German DTM series in 1993. The 155 Q4 provided the starting point, being the sports model in the 155 range. In fact, it shared almost all its mechanicals with the Lancia Delta HF integrale. This venerable platform gave birth to the Fiat Tipo and Tempra, plus the Alfa GTV, Spider and, of course, the 155.
For the competition version of the 155 it was decided to rely on MacPherson struts all round. The engine derived from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine of the Lancia Delta, but in the 155 SuperTurismo version the power was fully 400hp, far higher than was then allowed by rally regulations. The extra power was unleashed thanks to a new exhaust manifold, turbocharger, intercooler and intake manifold, all specifically designed for competition and without any worries about homologation (unlike the 5000 examples of the Delta HF that had to be made to homologate Lancia’s Group A Delta). The four-wheel drive system was the same as the Delta’s but with a cast-iron (instead of aluminium) rear differential, delivering more weight to the rear.
Born under the Abarth project name SE051, the first racing 155 was called the GTA SuperTurismo. The ‘GTA’ moniker was a tribute to the glorious Giulia GTA ‘Alleggerita’ that enjoyed such success on Europe’s race circuits in the 1960s and 1970s. The 155 GTA’s racing career began in the 1992 season of the Italian SuperTurismo Championship. Two official cars were fielded in full Martini Racing livery at Monza, driven by Nicola Larini and Alessandro Nannini. At the their side were two other examples in Jolly Club livery, driven by Giorgio Francia (the Alfa Corse test driver) and Antonio Tamburini. Larini won that year’s championship, with Francia, Nannini and Tamburini following his achievements, leaving no hope for BMW drivers Tarquini, Pirro and Ravaglia, who could do little to tackle their rivals.
ENTER THE GTA STRADALE
Following this racing success, it was decided to prepare a road-going 155 GTA with many of the features of the competition car. Born under the Abarth project code SE053, the idea was an obvious one because the racing 155 had originally been born as a tuned version of Alfa’s existing 155 Q4 road car. The engine underwent slight preparation (to Group N level) and developed 190hp. On the engine spec sheet were a Garrett T3 turbocharger, air-to-air intercooler and Marelli IAW multipoint electronic injection.
The rear suspension featured the Delta’s independent system, with trailing arms and telescopic dampers. The original shape of the 155 was enhanced by integrale-type fat wings to cover the wider front track of 1517mm and rear track of 1506mm. The huge rear spoiler certainly looked impressive, while the front had the same aggressively shaped bumper as the racing 155. The cockpit did not differ from that of the series 155 Q4, which was no bad thing, as it was a perfect mix of luxurious leather upholstery and bolstered sports seats.
Once completed, the 155 GTA prototype was submitted for review to Fiat’s technical management. Two issues were immediately raised, a philosophical one and a commercial one. It was thought that Alfa 155 GTA needed a more powerful engine – perhaps derived from the Busso V6 – but unfortunately the V6 was not compatible with the Delta’s suspension. The commercial nail in the coffin was this: the manufacturing costs would have been too high because Fiat thought the GTA would need its own dedicated assembly line. As a result, Fiat cruelly walked out on Alfa’s Cinderella.
Apart from being displayed at the 1994 Bologna Motor Show, the 155 GTA’s only other public outing was on track – at the 1994 Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monza, where it served as the race medical team car, driven by Fabrizio Barbazza.
Right after the GP, the GTA was shipped out of Abarth’s shop to its new owner: the former rally driver and Milanese Fiat dealer, Tony Fassina, who also bought up some DTM left-overs (such as chassis and engines). The 155 GTA remained tucked away in his garage for four years, until one of Tony’s friends bought it after a short negotiation. The GTA left for Germany, and then for Monaco to obtain approval to make it roadworthy. In 1999, a former Alfa engine tuner bought it and took it back to Italy. He jealously guarded the car until its recent purchase by Mr Anello. In all those years, it has been carefully kept intact, except for the rear wing, which has recently undergone restoration.
Although it is a prototype, the 155 GTA Stradale is complete and fully operational. We had a short experience in it and its four-wheel drive, relatively long wheelbase and wide track give it very incisive road behaviour, especially on twisty roads. From the raised driver seat however, it is not always easy to know where to place the car as the road twists and turns. You’re kept very well in place in heavily bolstered leather seats; in fact, even rear passengers won’t slide around, as the seats are shaped to hold bodies around corners.
The final word should go to engineer Sergio Limone, the father of the Lancia 037 among many other jewels, to whom Fiat’s management entrusted the 155 GTA Stradale project in 1992. “Yes, I remember the ‘155 on steroids’ well,” he tells us. “The preparation work in itself was not too challenging, because we decided to start from the production 155 Q4. The car was designed by Carlo Gaino of Synthesis Group, which would soon create the look of the Maserati Barchetta. We really had fun assembling it around the mechanicals of the Deltona (‘big’ racing Delta).
“The 155 GTA was a lost opportunity, like many such projects in those years,” concludes Limone. “Fiat was keen to make niche products but at no additional cost. Basically, the 155 GTA should have been manufactured in Pomigliano d’Arco and then completed with its mechanicals in Turin. It had one insurmountable problem: Fiat judged that a separate assembly line was needed because preparation and painting could not be made on the standard line. Luckily, the prototype belongs to a real enthusiast today.”
THE 155’S RACING STORY 1992-1995
The Alfa Romeo 155 was a true Touring Car great, undoubtedly one of the finest Alfa Romeo racing cars of all time. Its official racing career went from 1992 to 1996, and its technical evolution was truly impressive. After the Italian SuperTurismo 155 GTA came the V6 TI, developed for the German DTM, in which it scored a tremendous victory in 1993. The V6 TI was equipped with a 60-degree 2498cc V6 engine with 420hp, mated to four-wheel drive. The sequential gearbox was mounted in the middle of the car to move the weight as far backwards as possible. The frame also underwent a radical change: the subframes carrying the suspension remained, but the front one was completely revised and the rear one ‘wrapped’ around the differential. The body shape was also significantly modified compared to the road-going car. The front end was a single piece including the bonnet, grille and wings. Parallel to DTM, the 155 was also involved in the 1993 Italian championship in a less aggressive D2 version, realised in part by Albatech.
For the 1994 DTM, the 155 underwent many changes. The car’s body was lowered by around 80mm, the aerodynamics were fully revamped, the engine was upgraded (although the main features were kept) and new electronics were added, including an ABS braking system and electronically-controlled active suspension. The 155 D2 (born out of the 155 Silverstone special edition) raced in the British Touring Car Championship and was famously won by Gabriele Tarquini. The D2 again won the Italian championship in 1994.
The 155 V6 TI for the 1995 DTM saw aerodynamic improvements, especially in the lower half of the car, as well as new front suspension, electronic sequential transmission with steering wheel controls, and electronic differentials. The engine now featured pneumatically operated valves, as well as new intake and exhaust ducts.
Finally, 1996 saw the birth of the FIA-ITC championship for Touring Cars in the FIA Class 1 category. Alfa Romeo raced the 155 again, equipped with a new XTrac transmission and a structural fuel tank in composite material located in the middle of the car. The engine was a 90-degree V6 version derived from the Lancia Thema powerplant.
20 RACES – 17 VICTORIES
The 155 raced in the SuperTurismo Italian Championship; the German DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft); the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship); and the Spanish Touring Car championship. From 1992 to 1996, the 155 simply won everything. In SuperTurismo in 1992, the 2.0i GTA won 17 trophies out of 20, nine of which were secured by Nicola Larini. In 1993, the 2.5 V6 TI challenged the Mercedes 190, winning 12 of the 20 races that season (10 by Larini, pictured here in the 1994 Hockenheim race, followed by Alessandro Nannini). The 155 then triumphed in BTCC in 1994 (with Gabriele Tarquini at the wheel) and the Spanish series (with Adrian Campos).
“It needed more power but the V6 wasn’t compatible ”
TECHNICAL DATA SPECIFICATIONS 1992 ALFA ROMEO 155 GTA STRADALE
ENGINE: 4-cyl 16-valve DOHC
BORE X STROKE: 84mm x 90mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 8.0:1
POWER: 190hp at 6000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual, permanent four-wheel drive
SUSPENSION: MacPherson struts, coil springs, electronic dampers
BRAKES: Vented front discs, solid rear discs, ABS
TYRES: 205/50 ZR15
DIMENSIONS: 4445mm (L) 1800mm (W) 1440mm (H)
MAX SPEED: 140mph
Pumped-up bodywork made the GTA look like a racer. Underneath it shared much of its spec with the 155 Q4. FAR RIGHT: Driver Fabrizio Barbazza in the 155 GTA with F1’s doctor, Sid Watkins, at Monza in 1994
ABOVE: Cutaway of the 155 GTA SuperTurismo showing its transverse engine and four-wheel drive with two differentials.