Life can be pretty tough for Britons touring northern Europe in the 1990s. I mean,…
The Forgotten Sports Car
MIKE Kenyon of Chaparral Motorsport Ltd. of Westbury, Wiltshire has hit upon a very good idea. As the price of Ferraris seems to know no bounds and the gap between the exotic Italian sports cars and their more plentiful, but common, cousins widen, so certain models have increasingly appeared to be of good value. Although involved in other exotic makes of car, he increasingly became an Alfa Romeo specialist, with the result that, using the manufacturer’s own criteria, he developed a defunct model into an even more thrilling sports car than many state of the art contemporaries.
The GTV in both 2-litre and V6 form is a model with which the staff at Standard House have long had a love affair with. Although none are to be found on the fleet nowadays, there was a time ten years ago when two were being run by various people.
It is a model which also has a history of attracting tuners as well. In July, 1980, we carried a report on the conversion to the 2-litre car carried out by West Horsley Alfa Romeo dealers Bell and Colvill. In conjunction with Mathwall Engineering, they offered a turbocharged version which boosted the power up to 175 bhp at 5500 rpm from the standard 122 bhp at 5400 rpm and increased the torque phenomenally with 190 lb.ft at 4000 rpm compared to 129 lb.ft at 4000 rpm. These figures even bettered Alfa’s own Autodelta-developed turbocharged car Which offered 150 bhp at 5500 rpm and 170 lb.ft at 4000 rpm. In Australia Beninca Motors of Victoria offered a turbocharged version that was even more powerful, but the most exciting of all was the Twin Turbo GTV6 developed by Callaway Turbosystems of Connec
ticut, the same company that has developed the Aston Martin Virage engine as used in the Group C car as car be read elsewhere in this magazine. They transformed the car into a 230 bhp road burner which could slingshot to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds and hit 140 mph by the time the 6300 rpm redline was reached.
The GTV 2.5 was first announced ten years ago. At first, it seemed that the GTV coupe was being given no more than a fresh lease of life with the installation of the new V6 engine. The design, after all, was commenced in 1967 when Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had recently left Bertone and had started his own company Italdesign, and Aldo Mantovani, the body engineer were briefed by Alfa Romeo on their requirements. It was to be a coupe version of the saloon that was being developed by their own engineers.
The first designs were soon drawn up and development on the model, which had to go hand-in-hand with the saloon, continued through the final years of the Sixties and into the early Seventies. Apart from the design constraints imposed upon the designers by the necessity of using the same parts as the saloon, the car had also to be compatible in size to Fiat’s successful 124 coupe with which the Milan company envisaged it was going to compete. When Giugiaro’s final designs and full scale models were accepted in early 1970, there was little that could be added apart from a few styling details. And yet Alfa Romeo’s engineers wanted to have their
own input, especially after a session in the wind tunnel with a prototype showed up what they thought were some deficiencies in the design. Although the ensuing modifications were relatively minor, Giugiaro was incensed enough to take legal action ensuring Alfa Romeo could not use his name in connection with the car.
The car’s shape, now regarded as inspirational, did not receive universal praise at the time. Some felt that it was imbalanced and the wedge shape too pronounced the windscreen too steeply raked and the bonnet too long. Even so, the car’s aerodynamics were not particularly good, the Cd figure of 0.39 hardly awe-inspiring even by the standards of the day. Familiarity, however, tends to expunge from memory these earlier criticisms, especially when it is as subjective a matter as a car’s looks, so that the shape is now held in generally high regard.
The Alfetta GT, as it was designated, was launched in May 1974, two years after the arrival of the Alfetta saloon. In the autumn of 1976, this 1779cc-engined version was superceded by two new models: the Alfetta GT 1.6, which utilised the 1570cc twin cam engine, and the top of the range Alfetta GTV, which used the 1962cc version of the aluminium twin overhead cam unit. These two models formed the basis of the model line-up for the next three years, the 1.6 lasting until 1979 while the 2000 GTV remained basically unchanged for the remainder of its life.
The next major development was the arrival of the GTV6, announced in late 1980 and launched in Britain in June 1981. It was the fastest production Alfa Romeo since the Montreal. Its main claim to fame was that it used an injected version of the V6 engine that had first seen the light of day in the Alfa 6. It was a model so loathed in Britain by the press, however, that few people were encouraged to sample the V6 engine, a unit that drew upon Alfa Romeo’s racing experience. The bore, stroke and cylinder block design, for example, could trace their links to the racing department, as could the 46-degree valve angle which ensured better breathing. The original unit, however, was fed by 6 temperamental Dellorto carburettors which turned it into a moody beast.
The 60″ cylinder placement, in place of the more conventional 90″ configuration, ensured the engine could be fitted into the 4-cylinder compartment without too many alterations to the bodywork. The narrower vee also helped reduce torsional stress while exceptional balance was attained throughout the power range due to the equal distribution of all the combustion phases.
The Bosch L-Jetronic transformed the engine into a sweet-running, deliciously smooth unit and helped increase the power output to reach 160 bhp at 5600 rpm compared to 122 bhp at 5400 rpm of the Alfetta Gil). The torque figures were 157 lb. ft at 4000 rpm and 129 lb. ft at 4400 rpm respectively. It is the sheer artistry, the look, the noise and the heritage of this engine, however, which more than anything makes it such an exciting car, an obvious future “classic” if ever there was one.
Although Mike Kenyon is an enthusiast, he is a businessman first and foremost, and as with the wine connoisseur assessing future vintages, so Mike has come to the conclusion that the GTV6 is one of those forgotten sports cars whose time will surely come when they will be recognised for what they are. The Alfa Romeos of the Seventies, made
with the inferior Soviet steel, tend to be lost causes whereas the post ’81 models, which were made of far superior European steel, are very much salvageable although they are still prone to rust and general decomposition. No matter the state of the donor car, therefore, once Chaparral lay their hands on it, it is completely stripped down to the bare metal so the corroded parts can be identified, for even the most outwardly perfect car can be hiding a veritable catalogue of disasters. Even with all their experience in dealing with these cars, examples still turn up bearing decay in previously unheard of places. The usual places, though, are the sills and inner and outer wings, while the bottom of the doors, the windscreen surround and the tailgate are closely inspected for decay. The crossmembers, however, once a real problem area, tend not to suffer.
No expense or effort is spared in replacing damaged or rotten panels with the result that by the end of this particular operation, the body shell is probably better than when it left the factory.
The paint shop is the next stop on the road to revival where it is etched with a special keying agent and given numerous coats of paint especially on the edges. All the known problem areas are especially treated with Hammerite paint to try and eliminate future trouble spots. The door uprights are powder coated, a process similar to stove enamelling involving the use of heat treatment, for added protection and wear.
While the shell is receiving all this treatment, the chassis and suspension are themselves being subjugated to minute inspection. The suspension parts are thoroughly cleaned and then powder coated and new rubber bushes are added. Adjustable gas shock absorbers are fitted which are set according to the customer’s preference. Neither the De Dion type rear suspension, with coil springs, nor the twin wishbones at the front are usual problem areas, but the ball joint and bushes are replaced as necessary. The engine is completely stripped to the
bare block and fitted with new liners. New pistons, con-rods and the four main bearing, nitrided crankshaft are balanced and the cylinder heads are re-faced. The combustion chambers are all balanced and machined to give the right compression ratio. The ports are gas flowed as are the manifolds to match them while the valves are attended to. The manifolds are to original specification as there is not a great deal of room under the bonnet for any different sort.
The centre section of the exhaust is a standard Alfa Romeo system but the tail section manufactured by Amsa is used as it is believed to give a little more horsepower and it also gives a crisper note. All this work has helped boost engine output from 160 bhp at 6000 rpm to a stated 210 bhp.
The gearbox is stripped right down and any worn parts replaced before being re-assembled by an Alfa Romeo transmission specialist, the only modification made to the transmission being the installation of the single plate clutch from the current 3-litre car instead of the former dual-plate clutch.
Mike Kenyon believes that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the much maligned transaxle gearbox, universally regarded as the Achilles heel of the car because of the lengthy linkages and the sometimes obstinate way it behaved. Great care is therefore taken on its reconstruction and installation so as to try and eradicate its faults.
With regard to the interior, Chaparral have a show car which is used as a basis, but the choice of material, colour and carpet and radio/cassette, which is not included in the price, completely remains the customer’s choice.
When the car is stripped down, all the wiring is examined and connections checked. If there is any doubt as to its integrity, everything is replaced. At the suggestion that Italian electrics are not all that they might be, Mike Kenyon came back to his central theme that if the car is well put together in the first place, then most of the problems will be eliminated even on an Alfa Romeo, whether they are the gear linkage, rust or whatever. This also applies to the electrics. He asserts that many of the problems associated with the marque in the past are to do with poor quality control at the factory.
As far as the body is concerned, there was room for improvement. In trying to update the car visually, it was felt that as the original fixture of the bumpers was of poor design and execution, that here was an area that could greatly benefit from any modifications with the result that new front and rear bumpers, and side skirts, have been added. The rather unfortunate lump in the centre of the bonnet, which was necessary to clear the intake manifold, has been disguised with a special panel. The windscreens, door aperture rubbers and other such perishable items are replaced as a matter of course. The original Campagnolo wheels have
been discarded for the British made, Compotive five spoke wheel shod not with the standard Pirelli P6 195/15s, but with 225/15 Goodyear NCTs which can accommodate 7″ width tyres, a choice of rubber made following their racing experience with a GTV in the BARC Super Road Series.
The way Chaparral have gone about Updating the car may not be to everybody’s taste, body kits after all do tend to be frowned upon on everyday modern cars, let alone on “classics”, but the styling suits the Alfa Romeo. There was no doubt that during the week I had the use of the car, it caused quite a stir wherever I went.
The test car was entirely refurbished in creamy white Connolly hide and black Wilton carpet. Although the seats were comfortable, memories came flooding back once in the driving seat. Less Italianate than remembered, the driving position still required the knees to be slightly Splayed in order to get a comfortable grip on the steering wheel. The pedals, though, were perfectly placed for heeling-and-toeing. Since this Was a 1983 car, the dashboard was sensibly laid out with the larger tachometer and Speedometer gauges flanking the oil
pressure, water temperature and petrol tank gauges. Thankfully it was not one of the earlier versions which had the tachometer, later replaced by the speedometer, situated in splendid isolation in front of the driver while the rest of the instruments were located over the central console.
A two-speed wiper and wash/wipe cleared the screen but the car betrayed its early origins design-wise in its failure to have a wiper for the long, sloping rear hatch. A manual sun roof was fitted on this car which, although weather-proof, failed to keep the water out of the passenger side in a car wash, although fortunately I was alone at the time. Although no more than a 2 plus 2, GTV6s were able to offer more rear legroom than many another sports coupe, but having said that, it has to be remembered that there is only sufficient room for passengers no older than young teenagers in the rear. One unfortunate aspect of the car, which is not in the remit of AutoTechnic, is the fact that the rear seats cannot fold down to create more space. The enlarged 16.5 gallon (75 litre) fuel tank of the GTV6 encroaches upon the area limiting boot capacity to just 7.9
cubic feet. Stowage space inside the car, however, is good.
The oversquare V6 never failed to burst into life at the turn of the ignition key, indeed the fuel injected unit was renowned for its good starting unlike the one in the Alfa 6 which had a reputation for being just the opposite. Even at tickover, the burble from the powerful engine was music to the ears.
When cold, the oil pressure gauge needle flickered up to 175 lb. in on the extreme right of the dial before falling back to somewhere near the centre once the oil warmed up. To move off beforehand is to abuse the car and invite potential mechanical trouble. Gingerly pushing the gear lever forward into first gear the expected graunch never materialised and it took some time to become acquainted with the fact that this was an Alfetta vice-free in this respect, even when selecting reverse. It was imperative, though, that the gearbox was allowed to warm up properly before putting too much load on it. Chaparral, however, are beginning to use AMSOIL in the gearbox, a synthetic oil which more quickly reaches an operating temperature. Obviously the use of such oils is clearly
marked on the fluid reservoirs so that the incorrect oil is not used in future servicing.
At 3000 rpm in any gear the engine was muted, but the nearer it got to 4000 rpm, the more it began to show its true origin. Above 5000 rpm and the glorious howl of the V6, tiresome and loathesome to the incognoscenti, began to predominate so that conversation becomes a matter of sign language.
It is at this engine speed that the true nature of the V6 really shows itself. Although it has plenty of torque lower down the rev range, it is not until two thirds of the way up to rev band, which starts to be red lined at 5750 rpm, that maximum power comes on tap. Although the engine output is impressively high, Chaparral are more concerned with the feel of the car and its ability to get up to 100 mph. Driving along at the legal limit on the motorway, it was truly vibrant, ready to bound forward at the merest depression of the accelerator pedal.
We never had the opportunity to take the car onto a circuit or to Millbrook, but it is an established fact that the car when road tested when new had a top speed of 128 mph and could reach 0-60 mph in 8.2 secs. so there is every reason to believe that these figures can be easily exceeded. The most impressive factor, however, was its relative frugality. The overall mpg figure was just over 24 mpg and the touring mpg was 26. The car was in its element in cross country and motorway driving. It was not really happy in town. The steering was not power assisted, but nevertheless felt perfectly weighted, the clutch was not too heavy and the engine was quite
happy to burble around town, but it was like keeping a greyhound on a leash when taking it for a walk across Hampstead Heath. It was just begging to be worked hard.
Although the suspension can be adjusted to taste, that on the test car was set very low, perfect for rural roads, but not too good for ride comfort and urban situations. Even the relatively gentle sleeping policemen at Brent Cross Shopping Centre were a problem, the car scraping its underside no matter how carefully the obstacles were approached. The handling was absolutely neutral. When cornering hard, tyre squeel would emanate from the front, but ultimately it would be the back that would break away. Straightline stability was good, only the higher than average tyre noise giving the game away that the car was shod with low profile Goodyear NCT tyres. At 3 Y2 turns lock-to-lock, the steering is undergeared and required quite an amount of turn when approaching fast corners to counteract the initial understeer. Even in the wet, though, the grip was good
The brakes, disc all round, ventilated at the front and inboard at the rear, were light and responsive, the suspension set-up on the car never causing the nose to dip. Although brake pad wear should last 12,000 miles, GC found that when he had one of the early GTV6s on a long term test car in 1984, it tended to consume pads at a far quicker rate than that. Fortunately a situation never arose which needed emergency braking when driving the AutoTechnic car, but some heavy brake testing showed predictable handling and the brakes to be fade-free.
One problem with the car which AutoTechnic can do little about is that of condensation. The test car was taken over during a very wet spell. The heated rear window needed to be kept permamently on as well as a flow of warm air directed towards the windscreen by the two rather clumsy vent controls on the top of the dashboard. The two-position fan was noisy when in operation, but was necessary if the output from the heater was to be felt.
Although this car was a 1983 version, it was still a throwback to the Seventies. It was stylish, individual, powerful and Italian. It gave me so much fun that I was very sorry to return it at the end of the week. It had followed on the heels of a Porsche Carrera 2 that had been on test, and although as different as chalk is from cheese, it had given as much pleasure as the Stuttgart supercar.
The Alfa is very much a man’s car in looks, smell, noise, driving and character and could never hope to acquire the same universal appeal of some other, more mundane, sports cars. At present, the rebuild cost by Chaparral is £14,750, but a price that is very much dependable on the cost of the donor car.
It may sound expensive for a car that only went out of production in 1986 costing just over 03,000, but for that money you get a car of pedigree that has been re-built with great care and where the worksmanship is guaranteed for 12 months or 12,000 miles. It may not be a “supercar”, it may not even yet be a “classic” but it is the nearest thing to both without costing an arm and a leg. WPK
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