Guest contributor: Bradley Price on his Alfa Romeo GTV6
How I learned to stop coveting expensive cars and love the Alfa GTV6
I had been living in New York City for close to six years without a car before I finally snapped. At first, the convenience of riding the subway and the trains was a novelty, and I enjoyed not being encumbered by parking and traffic. But as a car fanatic of the first order, I finally realized that I had to have a toy. Renting a Zipcar Mazda3 for the day just wasn’t cutting it. I could either sit around and wait until I was 45 and could maybe afford to have something really nice, or I could take the few thousand bucks I had squirreled away for something special and try and find a bargain so I could start enjoying the driving experiences I had been fantasizing about for the past five-and-a-half years.
At this point, the fact that I lived in New York did have one benefit: the car did not have to be practical. With all the public transit options and Zipcar for things like moving furniture, I was free from the usual worries of getting to work in the morning, or grocery capacity. This car would be purely for fun weekend escapes.
My challenge was to find a suitable machine for under seven grand, and I immediately began researching two cars: the MGB GT and the Porsche 912. Both cars would have that pre-1970 charm and vintage road manners.
But once I drove a really nice MGB GT, I realized that in fact they just aren’t very fast. I was loving the whole look and feel of the MGB GT with its tapering hatchback roofline and tasteful chrome trim, but there was no surge of power when you planted your foot down. It seemed to make a lot of noise to very little end! No insult to the legions of MGB owners out there, but it just wasn’t the car that fit what I wanted.
I never even got so far as driving a Porsche 912. Every car I came upon in my price range had some serious flaw or another, and I knew it would be a money pit. The nicer, sorted 912s started more around ten-large and went up from there. For seven thousand you could get a decent, rust-free example, but it would need a new interior, or something like that. Plus, Porsche 912s aren’t terribly fast, either.
Then, through a series of happy accidents, I came to learn of the Alfa Romeo GTV6. I was idly searching through Craigslist hoping to find a cheap GTV 2000 and came upon a presentable GTV6 in the city that was priced at $2,000. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was. But when I contacted the seller, the car was sold. Nonetheless, my curiosity was piqued, and I soon discovered that for what it is, the GTV6 was a seriously undervalued car.
I never really loved the car’s looks before, but it has a kind of cool wedge-like hatchback shape that is getting old enough to be reappraised, and they are a pretty rare sight. In fact I had never laid eyes on one in the flesh ‘til I drove the one I was to buy up in Maine, two months later. From the first moment I got into the car, I was hooked.
I’ll drop any pretense that the GTV6 is a beautiful car, but I do think that it grows on you the more time you spend with it. Plus, if anyone gives you crap, you can at least point out that it’s a Giugiaro design (the sheetmetal was actually penned by him back in 1969!), which counts for something, right? And in Octopussy, James Bond saw fit to steal one from an unsuspecting German frau in order to speed to a military base and disarm a bomb. I don’t recall Bond driving a Porsche 944 or an AE86 Corolla GTS!
Once you become familiar with what this car can do and what it sounds like, looks become even less of an issue. Even with stock exhaust in place (as mine has), the engine has a magnificent lion’s purr at low RPM, which transforms into a racy, raspy bark as you climb the rev counter. With straight pipes, you could easily mistake the GTV6’s exhaust note for a 1950s Grand Prix car (see here- Ed.). The V6 engine is simply sublime, delivering 155 hp in its stock 2.5L format. It has hemispherical combustion chambers and a 9:1 compression ratio, and the amount of midrange torque is nothing short of amazing when passing on the highway.
The chassis is one of the best Alfa ever created and has many features common to far more exotic machinery, like inboard rear brakes and a DeDion rear axle. The front suspension is torsion bar, and the steering is very precise at speed. Plenty of upgrades are available, and the stories of well-sorted GTV6s embarrassing M3s at the track are frequently traded at Alfa owner get-togethers. The gearbox is actually in the transaxle between the rear wheels, which gives actual 50/50 weight distribution, though the long shift linkage gives a very sloppy feel to the gearchange.
Cornering in the GTV6 is very confidence-inspiring, and when it starts to break loose, it happens in a gradual, predictable way. Additional inputs of throttle or steering can be safely administered without fear of a sudden snap-back. All this design, technology, and engineering can be yours for under five grand! How can you go wrong?
Well, you can go wrong by buying a car with bad rust, or with a poor maintenance record. These cars can rust badly if neglected, and the timing belt must be watched carefully and replaced regularly to prevent bending of the valves. But the stereotype of the unreliable Italian car really doesn’t apply to the GTV6 if it is properly maintained. I have put well over 4,000 miles on my car in the last year-and-a-half, and I have not had a single real issue to complain of. These cars reward you for driving them hard and frequently. The worst thing you can do to a GTV6 is let it sit, and baby it by shortshifting. My only visits to the mechanic have been voluntary. Mechanical components are generally not very expensive, as plenty of parts cars exist. Some plastic trim pieces can be hard to get, though.
The Alfa Romeo Owners Club is a great group of people who will welcome you with open arms, even though your car is one of the least expensive examples of the illustrious marque. Even people with rare and valuable Alfas have respect for the GTV6, and many of them own one as well. Try going to your local Porsche club with a 944 and see how the 911 owners treat you…
I could continue waxing poetic about the virtues of these cars, but I’ll just finish by saying that I perfectly understand that the GTV6 isn’t for everyone. But if you are like me and want to get a relatively rare, fantastic-performing, Giugiaro-designed Italian sports car with a lot of character for under five grand, you really need to look into owning a GTV6. It just might change your life.
Words: Bradley Price
Images: Motoring Con Brio
MGB GT and Porsche 912 photos by the manufacturers
Bradley Price is the Automobiliac. His website can be found here.