BUYER’S GUIDE ALFA ROMEO GTV & SPIDER ‘916’ All the Alfa style with modern reliability
Any Alfa Romeo with a GTV or Spider badge on its rump was traditionally something special, a fine Italian sportster with real driver appeal. And so when Fiat Group announced it would be introducing a new generation of GTVs and Spiders (codenamed the ‘916’ series) for the ’90s, enthusiasts were inevitably keen to know more. The return of such a well-known pair of nameplates was surely something to be welcomed.
Traditionalists may have baulked at the idea of a GTV or Spider featuring front-wheel drive, but it made sense from a development and production point of view. The newcomers were to be based around the Fiat Group’s Type 2 front-drive platform, albeit with a brand new design of multi-link rear suspension, while the front end was based around that of the Alfa Romeo 155 saloon. There was no criticising the choice of powerplants, however, with Alfa’s 2-litre Twin Spark and 3-litre V6 units providing the usual combination of impressive performance and a superb soundtrack. Some markets were also offered 1.8-litre Twin Spark and 2-litre 12-valve V6 engines, but these weren’t destined for UK consumption.
First to arrive in 1994 was the GTV, which got off to a flying start in the UK by winning an array of accolades from the motoring press – including Autocar’s ‘1995 Car of the Year’ and Car magazine’s ‘Best Designed Car’ awards. The GTV went on to enjoy an impressively long career, with the final car rolling off the line in 2005; and yet it remained an exclusive model, with 41,992 GTVs sold worldwide during that time.
The new Spider, meanwhile, made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show of March 1995, and was essentially a roadster version of the latest GTV. It was, of course, a handsome machine, as well as very distinctive looking – with the same quad headlamps, rising waistline and ultrasmooth rear end giving it as strong and individual an identity as its hardtop cousin. The Spider even went on to outlive the GTV, remaining on sale right through to 2006 – by which time a total of 38,764 had found homes worldwide.
Both models were steadily (but not drastically) updated over the years, with the GTV’s first upgrade seeing a 24-valve version of the 3-litre V6 being introduced in 1997. In May of the following year, however, Phase 2 versions of both the GTV and Spider were announced, with various interior improvements (including a new centre console), while the 2.0-litre Twin Spark benefited from a hike in power to 155bhp. August 2000 then saw the Spider V6 adopting the same 24-valve engine as the GTV, with both of these 3-litre models now coming with a six-speed gearbox as standard.
The duo’s biggest facelift came as late as 2003, when Alfa introduced the Phase 3 range – with each car featuring a bigger grille along with a new-look front bumper and offset number plate. The interior was also given a further refresh, and the old Twin Spark engine was replaced by the latest 2-litre 16-valve powerplant, known as the JTS and pushing out 165bhp. At the same time, the V6 engine was increased to a 3.2-litre capacity, which meant a boost in power to 237bhp and a top speed of 158mph.
No GTV or Spider V6 is a slouch, of course, thanks to the 220bhp output of the 3-litre 24-valve version. Typically Italian in driving style, it’s a high-revving (and glorious sounding) engine that effortlessly produces impressive levels of power and torque, providing these sportsters with amazing acceleration. Top speed was just shy of 150mph when new, with the GTV V6 managing the 0-60 sprint in a mere 6.7 seconds.
Choose your model
So which version of the ‘916’ series makes the best buy now? Much will depend on whether you prefer the idea of a modern-classic coupe or the obvious appeal of a soft-top. I remember testing both vehicles for magazines when they were new, and from a personal perspective always preferred the GTV thanks to its more ‘rigid’ feel.
I recall the Spider having a surprising amount of scuttle shake on some road surfaces, which for me made it less of a pleasure to drive. But there will obviously be roadster fans out there for whom only a ragtop classic will do – in which case, a well-preserved Spider is unlikely to disappoint.
At risk of stating the obvious, your final choice of Alfa will also depend upon your available budget, thanks to these both being particularly long-lived models. While something like a high-mileage GTV Twin Spark can still be picked up for as little as £1500 in MoT’d but less than perfect condition, an immaculate GTV or Spider from the final year of production can cost the best part of £10,000 depending on its mileage, history and so on. On a positive note, at least this means there’s a member of the ‘916’ family to suit most potential buyers, although you’ll need to research the cost of classic insurance and road tax before you take the plunge, as both of these will vary according to the age and spec of the car you’re thinking of buying (with 2001-on VED being based on emissions rather than engine size).
These are Alfa Romeos, so obviously they rust… right? In truth, such a statement is seriously outmoded these days, as Alfa quality had improved immeasurably by the ’90s. Interior fit and finish might not have been to German standards, but in terms of their structures and bodywork, the GTV and Spider were easily a match for most rivals. And with both models being galvanised at the factory, rust is not the major issue that some anti-Italian car fans might have you believe.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can afford to be blasé when inspecting either of these models. You should still carry out all the normal checks for corrosion, as the oldest GTVs aren’t far off their quarter century by now – and that means being vigilant when it comes to floorpans, particularly of the Spider in case it has suffered long-term water ingress. Have a feel around inside the car for signs of dampness, and check underneath for any fresh repairs or suspicious-looking underseal. You also need to check the areas around the suspension mounts (front and rear) for any problems, and make sure the boot floor is rust-free.
Body panels tend to last well, with their biggest problems being damage rather than corrosion. The front section of each model is made up of a plastic composite, which at least means no rust – but it is very prone to stone chips, so you need to be on the lookout for poor quality touching-in or recent looking paintwork.
And although the build structure of these Alfas was good, their paint quality wasn’t always first class – so don’t be surprised if the original paintwork has faded badly, particularly on red cars.
Although not renowned for being rust-prone, it’s worth checking the sills, door bottoms, rear arches and so on, as previous accident damage could well have been poorly rectified. Similarly, the smooth-looking flanks of the Spider and GTV are particularly prone to unsightly car park dings and minor knocks, so look carefully along the entire length for signs of such damage.
Both the four-cylinder Twin Spark and V6 engines used in the Spider and GTV are reliable by nature, as long as they’ve been well maintained. Make sure any car you’re buying comes with a comprehensive service history (or at least a pile of invoices that you can check) to prove that it has been serviced at the correct intervals. If it hasn’t, it’s best to walk away and find one that has.
Some Twin Spark engines have had reports of head gasket failures – and although this isn’t particularly common, it’s worth carrying out the usual checks for signs of oil in the coolant and vice-versa. What is essential, however, is that the Twin Spark has a cam belt change every three years or 36,000 miles (whichever comes first) so if there’s one due soon, you need to allow for this when budgeting. On your Twin Spark test drive, watch out for any flat spots at high revs, which could be a sign that the mass airflow sensor needs replacing.
The 3-litre cars officially require a cam belt change every 72,000 miles, which is good news considering the extra cost of such work on a V6 engine. However, Hertfordshire-based Alfa Workshop recommends they’re changed every three years (like the Twin Spark), quoting V6 prices from £535 – which includes the belt, tensioner, fitting and VAT. Both engines have a reputation for using oil, which means that a weekly check is important. And the oil cooler pipes also have a tendency to corrode eventually, so make sure you have a look underneath for any problems.
|ALFA ROMEO SPIDER 2.0 TWIN SPARK
|ALFA ROMEO GTV 3.0
|155bhp @ 6400rpm
|220bhp @ 6300rpm
|199lb.ft @ 5000rpm
|MacPherson strut front with coil springs and lower wishbones; independent multiple-arm rear
|MacPherson strut front with coil springs and lower wishbones; independent multiple-arm rear
|Discs all round
|Discs all round
TRANSMISSION & BRAKES
The five and six-speed gearboxes used in both the Spider and GTV are very reliable and can take high mileages with ease. You should, however, check that all the gears engage smoothly with no crunching, particularly in first and second. If selecting fifth in a five-speed box is difficult, this is often down to a loose nut on fifth gear, something that usually involves nothing more than re-tightening with the gearbox in situ.
The clutches are self-adjusting, and so a high bite point usually means that the clutch is worn and will need replacing soon. Alfa Workshop reports that the V6 model’s clutch is a pull-type design that can get quite heavy as the diaphragm work hardens, with the cover not exerting enough pressure on the friction plate; this can then cause clutch slip, so make sure you check for any tell-tale signs.
Spider and GTV brakes are generally trouble-free, though the V6 cars in particular are prone to warped front discs – something that will show up as a vibration through the steering wheel when you’re braking from speed. On all models, make sure the brake discs are unscored and undamaged, and check there’s plenty of life left in the pads.
When it comes to front suspension, the main problem areas are the front lower wishbones, which can suffer from play at either end that then causes excessive wear on the inner edge of the front tyres. The rear suspension has more potential problem areas, although these vary between the Twin Spark and the V6 models.
Twin Spark cars feature suspension bushes made of rubber with a steel insert, which can wear into the aluminium subframe – especially on the rear arm where the shock absorber mounts.
In extreme cases, this can result in replacement of the subframe, although that’s thankfully a very rare occurrence. V6 models, however, feature spherical joints rather than rubber bushes, which means you don’t get the same potential subframe issue – although the bushes can suffer from ‘squeaking’ with age and mileage, and sorting this will also involve replacing the spring pan arm.
Trim and interior
The interiors of these cars are generally hard-wearing, but high-mileage examples often suffer wear to their front seat side bolsters. You should also check the carpets for wear, and make sure there’s no damage to the plastic trim used throughout. If you’re buying a Spider, you obviously need to check the condition of its roof, looking for wear, splits and signs of leaks. Lusso versions featured electrically operated hoods, so make sure this is working properly; any problems with the mechanism can usually be traced to faulty micro-switches or stretched cables, but don’t rule out the possibility of a failed electric motor – which will be an expensive fix.
One of the weakest areas is the GTV/Spider’s electrical system, with intermittent faults with wipers, electric windows and so on being far from uncommon. Make sure that the airbag, ABS and engine management lights go out at soon as you start the car, and watch out for any other illuminated lights on the dashboard. Tracing such faults can be time-consuming, which means extra expense if you’re paying professional labour rates.
What to pay
As mentioned at the start, GTV and Spider prices vary dramatically on today’s market, with down-at-heel cars still available from as little as £1000 – sometimes with a few months of MoT left. But we’d have to question the wisdom of spending so little, given the potential expense of putting right the car’s inevitable faults. An early example of either model with around 70-80,000 miles under its wheels might set you back £4000 to £5000 if it’s in very presentable condition, though you’ll inevitably find cars available either side of those figures. The very best, lowest-mileage early cars are increasing in value (with £6000-£7000 not unusual), while show-condition examples can top £9000.
You’ll pay extra for a Phase 3 example of either model, while Spiders of all generations tend to achieve slightly more than GTVs. The most sought-after V6 versions are usually priced a little higher than the equivalent Twin Spark, though again it depends on mileage, history and condition.
Whether you’re spending £2000 or the best part of £10,000, a member of Alfa Romeo’s ‘916’ family is guaranteed to entertain thanks to its glorious engine design (of either the Twin Spark or V6 variety), impressive road manners and head-turning good looks. Launched into a booming market for convertibles and coupes in the mid ’90s, the latest Spider and GTV found instant favour among new-car buyers of the time – and on today’s modern-classic scene, they’re among the most tempting sporting choices out there. If you’ve not yet owned a ‘916’, now could be the time – while they’re still so affordable.
Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club (www.aroc-uk.com) Squadra 916 (www.squadra916.com/forums)