African Special

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John Dooley has a passion for Alfa Romeos. He drives them on the road for fun, and on the track as one of Alfa Romeo Dealer Team’s top drivers in the RAC Saloon Car series. He also owns Brookside Garage which specialises in restoring older and particularly unusual examples of the marque, such as the GTA (the ultimate version of the Giulia GT racers), the SS with its exotic styling, and various Zagato-bodied types including the gorgeous, rapid, and desirable TZ. Having owned and driven such cars on road and track, it is not surprising that Dooley’s everyday transport has to be an unusual Alfa —a 3-litre GTV6.

This is not a pre-production prototype of the forthcoming factory 3-litre, though; iris one of a run of 200 built in South Africa for homologation into that country’s saloon car race series. With 2.5-litres, the standard GTV6 was being regularly beaten by BMW’s 535i, so Alfa Romeo SA asked Milan what could be done. The answer was to take over a project which Autodelta (the now-defunct independent competitions department) had been developing. Since a 3-litre version of the V6 was up against punitive taxation on the home market, it had been shelved, but the company agreed to supply the necessary parts for AR SA to assemble.

Both bore and stroke were increased, so the special parts included cylinder head castings, crankshaft, pistons and sleeves, while larger valves were also fitted. The standard Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection was replaced by the six carburetter set-up from the big Six saloon, and to clear the large air-cleaner, a new GRP bonnet was designed with an even bigger bulge in it than before, plus a central NACA duct just like on the Alfa Montreal. Ostensibly, this is to feed cold air to the carburetters, but on Dooley’s car, they are fed from a normal pipe to the grille. Other differences are few: a slightly deeper front spoiler, lower ride height, some extra plastic body trim, and the discreetest of tail badges.

But successful though the cars proved on the track, it was not enough to stave off AR SA’s economic problems, and last year the South African factory closed down. Most of the 3-liter cars had found ready homes in South Africa, but when Jon Dooley heard that there was one left he determined to get hold of it. As it was not Type-approved for the UK, it could only be privately imported as an effectively second-hand vehicle, so Jon made the long trip and ran the car in on its home ground, before freighting it to the UK.

I was keen to see the effect the extra 30 horsepower would have on the car that I have come to know so well with 160 bhp, and Jon readily obliged. It was odd to settle once again into that reclining crouch, knees spread and hands stretched to the wheel, but the long clunking gearshift was just the same. Not so the noise: the silky baritone chuckle is replaced by a more uncouth roar, laced with much obvious mechanical clatter. It feels rougher, too, right through the rev-range, but at the same time the urge of the 2.5 has become real punch. It seems more willing to spin its wheels than before, without actually taking off any faster (we recorded 0-60 mph times of 8.2 sec, almost identical to the standard car) but in third, fourth, and fifth the car surged ahead with the merest touch of the throttle. Intermediate times came out at 2.1 sec 30-50 mph, 3.3 sec for the next 20 mph increment, and 5.6 for the jump to 90 mph — very impressive indeed.

Converting this to real life, the car would swallow half-a-dozen vehicles at one gulp on the motorway and then find its driver stretching for sixth gear. On other roads, it appeared to be the mixture as before — sensitive steering which requires fairly large inputs, slow turn-in, and a deep desire to head for the opposite side of the road, though Jon was at pains to point out that strong braking and acceleration emphasise this. He is quite right, of course; the trouble is that the alternative, competition, approach of staying in a high gear and simply steering through the bend (which the car will do comfortably) requires absolute confidence that the tractor from the Ford advertisement is not going to mistake you for the Granada it usually pounces on.

It was a satisfying exercise to try this well-mannered special, particularly as it acted as a taster for the forthcoming factory alternatives of a 3-litre and a 2-litre V6. Although Jon Dooley’s car is probably the last GTV6 to get a 3-litre unit, a 75 with a more refined version should be little short of sensational. GC