Brought a smile to my face. From EPINIONS.com
Quirky but competent Italian racer
May 09 '04
Author's Product Rating
Quality and Craftsmanship:
Aggressive design, exhaust notes, incredible handling.
80's Italian build quality, expensive repairs, odd design and electrical quirks.
The Bottom Line
This quirky Italian from the 80's requires regular maintenance but is a blast to drive.
I recently sold my 1984 Alfa Romeo GTV6. I was the third owner of this car and bought it as my first car after graduating med school in 1996. I'd always wanted one as a teenager.
I had no idea what I was getting into with these Italian cars. This write-up is being done solely from memory, but believe me, my memory of this car is very sharp since I spent a lot of time at the shop during the early years of ownership. I drove the car as a daily for about three years and then it went into storage. I just recently sold her to a good home after screeing three year's worth of prospective buyers. Is this odd? Read on and you'll see why Alfa owners are considered some of the most fanatically loyal people in the automotive world.
We "Alfistas" as we are called, tend to humanize our cars, obsess over them, and know every mechanical quirk.
There's an old adage that states that Italians don't care about anything on a car unless it makes it go faster. Keeping this in mind will make clear the GTV6's odd mechanical, ergonomic, and design quirks. The GTV6 is the final incarnation of Alfa's GTV line which received the V6 powerplant in 1981.
All Alfa's need to have the be-jeesus driven out of them to run at their best. But all Alfa's must also be maintained regularly to prevent minor problems from rapidly spiralling into catastrophic failures. Alfa's are not designed to be garage queens.
The GTV6 is a 2+2 two-door hatchback. The body was designed by the Italian design house of Guigaro, versus Pininfarina who did the design work for the Spyder (as well as some Ferraris). It looks very sleek and aggressive from just about every angle. In 1984 a two-toned red upper half and gray lower body paint scheme was offered. This is what I had.
The frame employed unit-body construction and made the car quite light and rigid. However, like all Alfas, the exterior is prone to rust.
The GTV6 engine is a standard V6 with hemispherical heads (ooooh, it's a Hemi). It employs a "wet sleeve" design which funnels coolant through the aluminum block to direcly cool the cylinders. It was a very advanced engine design at the time. The engine generates about 155hp which was also quite good at the time.
The intake and plenum for the GTV6 necessitated a design change in the hood of the car. Since the engine was too tall, Alfa designers cut a hole in the hood and covered it with a plastic plate. The plenum and throttle assembly are held together with rubber tubes and there is some "play" between the two. Additionally, sometimes the engine will "fart" (as my mechanic put it), and a backfire upon start up will overpressurize the tubes, blow the plenum off of the throttle body and up through the plastic plate, often times starting a fire. This actually happened once to me.
The engine is finicky and requires constant maintenance and strict adherence to scheduled oil changes, water pump changes, timing chain changes. While these can be expensive, they will prevent you from having a complete engine failure. Missing a timing chain adjustment could send your valves smashing into your pistons...etc...etc.
Aside from my one backfire, my engine never failed and was the one aspect of the car that didn't require major work. I ran the snot out of it in all types of weather and driving conditions and it never let me down. It was rebuilt at 90k miles, just before I bought it.
Alfa engines produce most of their power and torque at 5k rpms and above, which means they are meant to be driven hard. The engines also get fairly hot and require adequate cool down time if you've been on a brisk drive. On hot days, I used to let the fan run for about 10 minutes before turning the car off.
In the Euro-spec GTV, the car is actually lowered. My U.S. car was re-tuned to this level. It looks aggressive, but the front end is prone to rock chips, and you may want to get plastic domed headlight protectors. Steep driveways can be a problem in lowered cars for both the front spoiler and the exhaust tend to scrape. The car actually cornered better than my 2002 M Roadster, but at a cost.
The rear suspension is a DeDion-type configuration and one of many quirks in the GTV6. The DeDion suspension uses two supports in an "X" type configuration to keep the rear wheels at 90 degrees to the road at all times. The drawback is that the actual height of the suspension is quite high and it actually extends up into the rear storage area behind the rear seats. This fact means that there is a solid wall between the rear seats and the rear trunk, and this limits your storage. It makes the car go faster, however, so whaddya expect?
A previous owner had installed a complete Koni suspension package (shocks and springs) on the car and it made the ride stiffer than Ron Jeremy on Viagra. It was merciless to drive on anything but the most well maintained of roads.
It should also be mentioned that not everyone does a good job of lowering the GTV6 to Euro-spec. Front ends, in particular, should be scrutinized by making sure that front tire wear is even. Uneven wear means at best, you need and alignment, and at worst, you need to have your suspension adjusted.
The GTV6 employs a rear transaxle which gives it a 50/50 weight distribution. The throws on the gear shift are somewhat long and most of the GTV6 synchros and clutches have been upgraded with those found in the Alfa Romeo Milano (which is the GTV6 platform). The shifts between 1st and 2nd are prone to a "clunking" noise, and the gearbox itself doesn't provide crisp shifts.
The driveshaft requires regular replacement of its rubber spacers (called guibos). You'll hear a clunking sound from the driveshaft when these start to fail, and I should mention that since the mechanic will have to remove the entire exhaust system to access the driveshaft, that this is an expensive prospect.
There are either cloth or leather seats. I had the red exterior/tan interior layout. After 20 years, the leather had to be repaired in spots, as one would imagine, but on the whole it held up rather well. The seats are Recaro type and fairly lightweight with enclosed mesh headrests.
The steering wheels on most of the GTV6's were made out of wood, but I had a small racing-type Momo wheel which partially blocked the tach and speedo. Both of these are located in a central intrument cluster.
The headlight controls are a "tree" that juts off of the steering column in an inexplicable "twist-on/off" configuration. The door exit handles are located beneath the door armrests and hard to find. The front electric window controls are located in the front console and you have to lean forward to reach them. These fail so often that Alfa provided an emergency handle which could be plugged into sockets in the doors to manually operate the windows. The rear windows are in a split configuration and the rear window control knobs are round, if you can believe that. It's virtually impossible to raise and lower them while seated in the cramped rear.
The manual sunroof works quite well, but regular clearing of the drainage holes is needed to prevent water from leaking into the roof upholstery. A simple blast of compressed air from a tire inflator will do this.
Both the cigarette lighter and the control element for the side mirros is located to the rear of the center console, making them both hard to reach, and prone to damage from elbows.
The oil pressure gauge, fuel gauge, clock, and water temp were located in the center console and actually fairly easy to see. The fuel gauge accuracy was never that good and the needle tended to wobble about on twisty roads.
This was clearly an afterthough for Alfa engineers. The climate control system and AC are powerless and horrid. The circular air vents are prone to breakage and simply fall out of their receptacles. In defrost mode they don't clear the windshield very well, and in AC mode they don't cool the car at all. I was able to "brown out" my entire car's electrical system when driving in rain with the defrost, rear defrost, wipers, and headlights running at once. I really didn't use the climate control for anything but defrosting and the job it did was marginal at best.
The electrical system of these cars is also inexpicably prone to random failures. For no apparent reason, I would have fuses overheat and fail, and I made it a habit to carry extras at all times. I'm not sure if this was due to the fact that I had disconnected my radio or not.
Dreadful. Everything peripheral to the steering wheel is difficult to reach and requires you to lean forward from the low and declined driving position. Shifting, operating console controls, etc are all problematic. Visibility is about average and there is pretty good space for larger front passengers. The rear seats are useless for anybody over three feet tall, and I never used them.
The fit and finish of most Italian cars from the 80's is what you'd expect since a lot of work was done by hand. I've always said that the reason all Alfa's have a "soul" is because they're all different...in the sens that the minor build flaws necessitate that any Alfa owner "get to know" his car from the ground up. One can't help but humanize a car that you are always working on.
For some odd reason, the gas station pumps didn't like to run at full power and would automatically shut off for no reason, even if the tank was empty. I used to have to fill the car at about half-speed to get a good fill-up.
My car had its rear hatch hydraulics replaced and they worked great, but they are prone to expected failures.
You may notice quite a bit of heat coming up from around the emergency brake handle. This is from the exhaust system and is mildly annoying.
There are a few limited design models that Alfa produced. While many dealers did some "bolt-on" mods with spoilers and stickers, the two stand-outs are the 1982 Balocco model and the 1984 (I think) Maratona. Callaway's first modified car ever produced was a twin-turbo GTV6--these are exceptionally rare.
If you've read up to this point, you're probably asking yourself why any sane person would buy this car. Quite simply, it is rewarding to drive, despite all of its quirks. The exhaust notes are unmistakeably Italian--throaty, deep, and loud. I had an ANSA exhaust and used to love revving the car up just to hear the noise.
The car is a true cafe racer. To say that it's agile is an understatement. While it's 0-60 times won't impress many people (being about 8.5 seconds), it is exceptionally competent in the twisties. It has neutral steering characteristics and a good feel, being manual. In truth, most modern cars have too much understeer for my taste.
The braking on the car is about average for the era.
SUMMING IT UP:
After reading about all of the odd characteristics of the GTV6, you are probably asking "why oh why did you buy it?" and even more so "why oh why do you regret selling it?"
Truth be told, I can only offer up the rather unsatisfying statement that it's Italian. And if the metaphor of women and cars is cliche to you, I can't offer anything else. The GTV6 is a finicky quirky drama queen that will require regular attention, but it will make you feel good when you're in the driver's seat.
I loved my GTV6 and regret selling it everyday. I loved driving it and eventually loved maintaining the car despite the dent it put in my wallet. I self-taught myself how to fix minor malfunctions.
The GTV6 or any Alfa, for that matter, will require a certain type of driver. I was fortunate enough to have that type of personality.
I'd check out www.gtv6.org
if you're interested in this car.