Contributed by John Third
There comes a time in a motoring lifetime when the adrenalin rushes have diminished, when an arm chair feels too comfortable and when the mind begins to wander into that rose tinted landscape of retro impressions. Black and white, or sepia tinted photographs never do the image justice and neither do the pictures which appear in those expensive classic car magazines. However, if you fill the mental pallet with a good dose of Rosso 501 and paint a picture to a background soundtrack of a wailing V6, with its clicking tappets, buzzing fuel pump and the odd creak from a road-race suspension system then the audio-visual experience I am thinking about begins to take an exciting form.
Tradition has it that, before the fat lady sings, the seasoned petrolhead in his (or perhaps even her) 50’s rushes out and buys a Ferrari, an E-type or a Porsche 911 in order to ensure that the ultimate box in life’s checklist gets the necessary tick before the tree hugging, dolphin kissing, re-cyclists bring everything to a complete stop. There are of course many other, considerably more serious, motoring stalwarts who worship the shrine of the MG, the TR, Alvis, Morgan or Healey. They have my respect. Most, I have found, have long suffering wives who take some comfort from the fact that the sight of a pair of legs protruding from under a raised chassis indicates a man happily engaged upon some romantic exercise which does not involve another female form in persona.
Of the options available to the certified petrolhead, upon reaching that moment when the hill stretches downwards into the distance, an interesting challenge is to review the glorious past and see whether there is anything there worth doing again. You have to ask yourself if it is worth repeating. Could you live with a particular car for a second time, albeit providing of course you can find one? It is a high risk strategy when the hour glass is on the wane but, for those with some “classic dna”, it could be the defining moment.
Now many of us have lived through some significant automotive times. The history file in my case has some fantastic moments but also some unmitigated disasters. Dawn driving through Lincolnshire in an MGB, for example, was memorable but so too was hurtling around Hampshire in a 1275GT Mini, modified so outrageously that wheelspin could be achieved in almost every gear. The first Alfa in the book was an Alfetta 1800 saloon which went faster the more I drove it, probably because an inbuilt corrosion feature worked continuously to improve the power to weight ratio. There was little to beat it on the road North from Liverpool to Southport. Then a Guillieta, two GTV6’s, a Porsche 911, several 33’s (my wife’s), a limited edition 75, two 164’s, the second being a 24 valve monster and, to round off, a 147 which, like the Mini, found itself tweeked to extrude every potential horse from the stable under the bonnet. When the 147 took its departure there were more than 200 galloping around handsomely scaring small animals and anyone who got too close!
On the disaster front, the first of the 164’s had an extremely unhealthy appetite for oil – it was quickly disposed of. Then there was a Maserati which, in a two year ownership accrued maintenance costs equivalent to the purchase of at least two “good runner” 147’s. In its defence, however, the Maser did produce an utterly memorable run down to St. Etienne for a Scotland –v- Italy rugby match. The amusing part of that trip was that the Italians we met in the carpark were driving Volvos!
Ultimately, of all the cars mentioned there are only two possible contenders for the “most fun” title. Unsurprisingly perhaps the 911 is one of the choices, making the playoff because of its compact size, beautiful lines, honest grunt and total reliability.
However, the ultimate winner is the Alfetta GTV6. I had two of these in the 80’s and could never give a proper explanation (to she who must be obeyed) for why I sold the second one.
The Alfetta GTV has always been a good looking car and has been described as the first modern GT. Being an Alfa, it has some interesting characteristics and always presented a challenge in the unidentifiable minor fault department. In the 1980’s the car was good enough to beat the BMWs and Fords in various touring car championships and hence the recipe for the road car was interesting to say the least.
Why was it so good? The answer is that, rather like the 1980’s air cooled Porsche 911, it represented the engineer’s ultimate achievement using simple mechanical components, without power steering, multi-valve engines, complex engine management, ABS, front wheel drive amongst other things. Handling and balance on a properly sorted GTV6 puts it right up there with the best in the thrill department. It was a Bond car too!
The wonderful discovery is that a decently sorted GTV 6, with a few performance enhancing upgrades in the stables, suspension and brakes departments, remains a cracking good drive. More than that, however, it is a car which allows you to re-connect with that bygone age when it was possible to “feel” the road through the suspension and steering. It was one of the last cars built in a era when feedback was something that came from the wheels rather than the customer satisfaction form.
My GTV 6 is a re-built example which made its first serious outing in April 2008 in the hands of its then Owner and re-builder Wayne Ellett (EMC Racing in Reigate). Before relieving Wayne of this wonderful car he proudly displayed a picture of his receiving the Chairman’s prize at a Spring Alfa day. It certainly looked nice!
Just over 18 months on, following a quiet winter of gentle testing, a thorough check over by Gary Walker (Bianco, also in Reigate), the GTV6 powered its way down to the Stelvio Pass and created a major impact at the Italian customs posts. It was the car delayed the longest by border control officers who felt the need to examine every detail of what was one of the best driving cars to come from Arese. Other tourists were waved by in their Porsches, Healeys, Jaguars and other splendid equipment. If you have a nice Alfa and you feel it is not appreciated, by your wife for example, you must take a trip to Italy and be prepared to dawdle through villages, towns and border controls!
The GTV 6 brings back memories of spring evening blasts up the glen to Rest and be Thankful on the Loch Lomond to Inverary road (Scottish members will know the place). Well the good news is that, while the population moving around the roads in Scotland has probably trebled since the 1980’s, there is a similar (actually better) road where you can re-generate that howling GTV6 performance on a grander scale. The road I found leads up to the Susten Pass in Switzerland. It is slightly off the beaten track and it was found because of a map reading error for which I am eternally grateful to my daughter for making.
So there we have it, back to a GTV6 which, after 25 years and a few upgrades, still produces a wonderful drive with the full audio-visual experience to match. However, best of all, while you will hear teenagers say – nice Porsche! – with a GTV6 you are much more likely to hear – wow, how cool is that? As rare as hen’s teeth!