It may not have had as many comebacks as Dame Nellie, but Alfa Romeo is certainly something of a comeback kid in this market.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2007 issue
You probably don’t remember the 1960s and ’70s when Alfa was a real force here in Australia, but take it from us, it was. The Italian firm was genuinely seen as a viable mid-price Euro along with several other manufacturers that tripped over their underdaks around the same time, including Renault, Lancia and Fiat.
The difference being, of course, that Alfa Romeo has managed to stage a proper fight-back (the jury is still out on Fiat and Renault. And Lancia? Don’t make me larf) around the fag end of last century.
A couple of models are responsible for the resurgence in interest; namely the 156 four-door and the GTV coupe (and let’s not forget the Spider which was based on the GTV).
And these days, the GTV is starting to attract those who want a young-ish second-hand coupe with a bit of flash and Italian levels of involvement and depreciation. That you also get Italian levels of build quality (insert shrugged shoulders here) is a gimme, but not one that you can do much about. You want Samantha, you gotta cop Endora into the bargain.
Precisely which version of the handsome GTV you go for will be dictated by what you intend to do with the thing. If it’s for tooling around and looking speccy, then the base-model, four-cylinder version will do the job just nicely.
In fact, that’s selling it well short, because the lighter four-banger meant it was also the most balanced GTV in the model’s line-up, and it steers more accurately and changes direction better than the bigger-engined version as well. On the other hand, there’s something delightfully compelling about the GTV V6.
It’s often said that every Australian boy should own a V8-powered car at some stage in their life. But, it’s equally true that if you’re into European coupes, then you really need to also have your name on the rego papers of an Alfa V6.
The three-litre version of the Alfa bent-six kicked out 162kW and 270Nm (against 114kW and 186Nm for the four-potter) and while the four-pot was sweet, smooth and felt like syrup being poured down
your bum-crack, the V6 GTV is all about rasping noises and surging mid-range squirt.
Interestingly, the V6 didn’t really use any more fuel than the four, either, so if the budget will stretch, the six is definitely the one to go for.
Both versions of the GTV were manual only, which suggests Alfa itself wasn’t treating the whole thing as a token gesture (not to mention sparing us any of that Selespeed nonsense). But, the best news came in late 1999 when the V6 ditched the five-speed for a six-speed.
If you can afford it, the absolute-best GTV of that era to be shopping for now is the later version with the 3.2-litre V6. With its gear ratios tightened up in six-speed form, the engine’s rippling 176kW and 289Nm made for some truly rapid progress.
Yes, you had to hang on to her with the threat of torque steer only ever an ankle flex away, but Lord, did the 3.2 boogie. Even today, a 3.2 will still feel fast and perky and be totally up for whatever sort of mischief you have in mind.
The gearshift is good enough and the clutch has enough feel to give you confidence even when banging the ratios home. The chassis will ultimately understeer (but you already guessed that, right?) and while the ride is okay, you can soon find the limits of front-end travel when you start pushing hard on bumpy stuff.
Like most things Alfa, the ownership experience tends to vary. At the very least you’ll be confronted by things like rattly trim and poor plastic finish (particularly after a few years under the Aussie sun).
On the other hand, the leather trim seems to be standing up well to wear and tear and you don’t see really crapulent-looking GTVs lurking around with smoky tailpipes and crook panel gaps. Not yet anyway. Both engines are hardly new designs and have been well proven by time and kilometres, which means the real wild-card is the list of previous owners.
Which is to say that a well cared-for example is likely to still be a nice car, while one that has been thrashed by some hair-gel-Nuvolari wannabe could easily be stuffed by now. Check out the owner at least
as closely as the car.
Blasts from the past on classic MOTOR
2000 Alfa Romeo GTV V6
BODY: 2-door, 2+2-seat coupe
DRIVE: front wheel
ENGINE: 2959cc V6, DOHC, 24v
POWER: 162kW @ 6300rpm
TORQUE: 270Nm @ 5000rpm
TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual
SUSPENSION: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
BRAKES: 305mm ventilated discs (f); 240mm solid discs (r)
WHEELS: 16 x 7.0-inch (f & r)
TYRES: Pirelli P Zero, 205/50ZR16 (f & r)
PRICE: $79,500 (2000)
What we said?
“A fun car; the engine noise, even inside the car, is fantastic. The steering is very good and doesn’t feel like a front-driver turning in, but it’s got too much exit understeer. And you can’t modulate it with the throttle...but if it was a rear-driver it would be the pick of the bunch.”
– Cameron McConville, BFYB ‘99, September 1999
Why not try...
2001 Alfa Romeo Spider T-Spark
Launched at the same time as the GTV, the convertible version makes a bit more sense in 114kW two-litre form because the lid-off thing means the lack of hard-core grunt isn’t such an issue. You’ll need to find an extra few grand, but it’s worth a look.
2001 Saab 9-3 Aero coupe
A 9-3 Aero from around the turn of the century gets you the two-door coupe thing in a European package. Bank on the 151kW engine and go for the five-speed. Not as overtly charismatic as the Alfa, but definitely not Japanese in flavour, either.
1999 BMW 323i (E46)
Go back a handful of years to the late ’90s and the four-door 323i is around the same money. Forget the coupe – it’s too pricey – but the sedan is still a swish looker anyway. The 125kW 323i actually measured 2.5 litres, and is a classic BMW straight six.
1999 Audi TT
Got a bit more gold to play with (okay, quite a bit more)? Then look at the original TT in front-drive, 132kW form. It still looks stunning and nobody will know its approaching eight years old. The interior still floats our boat, too. Faster 165kW quattro is dearer.