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Pictures courtesy of Paul Rodda

ALFA ROMEO GTV6-3,0 (April 1984 - Car Magazine of South Africa)

Developed to win a racing needle match, the sleek three-litre GTV is now South Africa's fastest production car... THERE'S nothing like a motor racing needle match to spur on the development engineers in competition workshops, especially when it involves two great sporting marques like Alfa Romeo and BMW. With rival models and sporting prides locked in battle on the race track, both teams tend to burn more adrenalin and spend more money in their efforts to gain a consistent edge. Just occasionally - as in the Alfa Romeo GTV6-3,0 featured in this high performance road test - the road-going enthusiast gets to share the spoils (if he can afford them) in the shape of a sharpened car sold to the public in what amounts to a "limited edition". To race in Group One, the manufacturer has to accept certain development restrictions; and he has to homologate the model by building at least 200 examples for sale to the public (or selling three months continuous production.) BMW did it with their 535i, which gained more punch on the track when it was fitted with a special close-ratio gearbox. The transmission, which had to be made available to ordinary buyers, hoisted the model's top speed (established on test with CAR) from 206 to 220,7 km/h - and contributed to a series of racing wins over the GTV6. In its standard form, the Alfa was fitted with a 2 493 cm3 V6, which meant that the 3 453 cm3 BMW 535i had a litre more engine capacity and 42 more kW - more than enough to offset its mass disadvantage of 260 kg. The gap was too wide and to narrow it, Alfa came back with a three-litre version of their cammy V6, which has enabled them to defeat their rivals convincingly through the 1983 racing season.

Billed as the most powerful production sports car ever built by Alfa Romeo, the car was the result of a co-operative programme run by Alfa South Africa, assisted by Autodelta, the Italian parent company's specialist competition arm, and Alfa's Arese head office. The South Africans were tired of being pipped at the post by 3,5-litre BMWs and thought that an extra half-litre capacity would do the trick.

It did. The new car made its competition debut by winning the Lodge Group One International Two-hour race at Kyalami last year, then came first and second in the Group One class of the Castro Three-hour race at Killarney. Its speed and reliability were further demonstrated with an Index victory at the World Endurance Championship 1 000 km Race at Kyalami last December and its builders claimed a top speed of over 220 km/h. But was it really faster, in a straight line, than its BMW rival? CAR had previously pitted the 2,5-litre GTV6 against the 535i - then equipped with its new close-ratio five-speed transmission - in a comparative test published in February 1983. So we were keen to try the new "Big Brother" Alfa to assess the gains for ourselves and early this year, we were given our chance.


FASTEST PRODUCTION CAR

As a result, the Alfa GTV6-3,0 now takes the laurels as South Africa's fastest locally built production car with a top speed of 224,2 km/h. But although its power boost and other changes have cut its 0-100 km/h time dramatically from 10,8 to 8,36 seconds, compared with the 2,5-litre model, it cannot quite match the accelerative powers of the muscular 535i, which recorded a time of 7,9 seconds.

The gap is less than half a second but it's there, all the way up to the 1 km post which the BMW flashes past 29,3 seconds after blast-oft, with the three-litre Alfa on 29,35... As we noted earlier, Alfa were obliged to build at least 100 versions of the three-litre car, in order to race it in Group One, and when BMW disputed whether this had in fact been done, Alfa South Africa emerged from an official enquiry with honour undimmed. One of these cars was used for this test.

 

DESIGN ON THE SHELF

The 2 934 cm3 six retains the functional balance of the smaller motor because both bore and stroke are increased from 88,0 x 68,3 mm to 93 x 72 mm. When the South African company needed to stretch their Group One power plant to fight off the BMW, the basic designs were already "on the shelf" in Milan, for Alfa had designed a three litre version of their cammy V6, then aborted its production because of the tax problems which arise in Italy with large capacity cars. However, the development work needed to put the unit into competition fettle had still to be done and this was carried out by ARSA's competitions department. They imported the cylinder head casting, crankshaft, special pistons and sleeves from Autodelta - the components required for the capacity change and had larger valves made in Italy to South African specifications.

Everything else was done in this country - including the machining of both block and cylinder head - and performance mods were carefully evaluated stage by stage, to ensure that the development work stayed strictly on course. It was decided to go for low and medium range torque rather than sheer top-end power, to secure aggressive acceleration out of the corners. Big, downdraught Dellorto carburettors were fitted, instead of the electronic fuel injection used on the 2,5-litre motor, to make the mixture easy to tune and achieve optimum low speed torque. The carbs were those used on the Alfa Six sedan, rechoked and rejetted to suit the larger capacity and bigger valves. To eliminate any chance of restriction, a larger air cleaner was designed and made locally and this alone contributed 7,5 kW to the net output.

AGGRESSIVE POWER BULGE

Apart from its lower, road-hugging stance, the three-litre car's main distinguishing feature is a superbly crafted GRP bonnet which incorporates an agnressive power bulge rerquired to accommodate the revised induction system. This was also locally designed and made, along with a deeper front spoiler which lowers radiator temperature by 5oC and makes the car marginally faster at the top end. In toto, the three-litre development programme raised the power output by 8,5 per cent - from 118 kW at 5 600 r/min to 128 at 5 800 - while increasing peak torque by 4,2 per cent from 213 N.m at 4 000 r/min to 222 at 4 300. But the real gain, as previously noted, was in low speed torque, which shows up in a graph - and on the road.

STANDARD GEAR RATIOS

The five-speed rear-mounted overdrive transaxle retains standard ratios, including the 4,1 to 1 final drive, but the car is dropped closer to the tarmac - and given enhanced traction and stability by fitting fat 205/50 VR 15 Pirelli P75 on Compomotive sectional alloy rims. This lowers the overall gearing to 33,7 km/h per 1 000 r/min in top, compared to 35,6 km/h per 1,000r/min in the standard GTV6, and this, in conjunction with the much higher power-to-mass factor (up from 97,2 W/kg to 112,5W/kg due to a power increase of 8,5% and a 6% drop in mass) accounts for. the dramatic gain in sprinting capability.

MARKEDLY UNDERGEARED

However, the present gearing is not ideal and may be modified in future by using larger rear wheels and/or a close-ratio transmission. For road use, the big Alfa is a magnificent sports machine but is markedly undergeared, requiring almost 3 000 r/min in fifth for the 100 km/h limit and with a top speed limited to a theoretical 218 km/h by a rev-limiter set at 6 500 r/min. In fact, we recorded 217 km/h in this trim and the limiter was then discarded, at the request of Alfa themselves, to allow us to establish the car's true top speed. This was not a risky procedure because the limit is conservatively set and the motor is good for 7 000 r/min when raced. In this trim we recorded a true figure of 224,2 km/h. At this speed, the rev-counter which is five per cent fast, indicated 7 000 r/min for a true 6 666.

MOST DRIVERS MOVE OVER

The Alfa's power bulge, deeper front spoiler and much lower stance give it the look of a racer that has strayed onto the public highway and causes many drivers to move over, after the first glance in their mirrors. The GTV6-3,0 is also distinguished by its special wheels and red accent striping on bumpers and side mouldings, while inside it is fitted with leather-trimmed steering wheel, Recaro seats and Italian velvet upholstery. No air-conditioning or sound system are supplied - despite the price of R29 495 - presumably because if they were, they would have to be fitted to the Group One racers, which would suffer a mass penalty as a result. However, for South African use, we regard air-conditioning as essential in a car of this class, because of the high heat input through the strongly raked screens. It is available as a factory-installed option.


 

RESERVES OF POWER

Apart from its sheer performance and superb handling characteristics which are, in some respects, in a class of their own, the great pleasure to be got from driving this car comes from its engine, which combines enormous reserves of eager power with docile tractability. In top gear, for example, you can amble along at 60 km/h on under 2 000 rlmin, then accelerate smoothly and with no trace of brittleness to the car's top speed. At virtually any intermediate point a stab on the pedal produces a husky burst of acceleration with no need to drop into fourth - a particularly endearing feature in a car whose gearchange, while acceptable, is among its weaker features.

As the test car was almost new, the shift was stiffer than on other GTVs we have driven and by current standards rates as heavy and "mechanical" in character, with a tendency to baulk when pushed across gate really hard. This actually affected our times for the 0-100 km/h sprint, because two gear-changes are required to reach a genuine metric "ton". The motor starts stumbling at around 96 with rev-limiter off, and in this trim we were unable to beat the times recorded with it on. The other limiting factor is, of course, the wheel-spin which has to be controlled to secure the best times. If the overall gearing (or second) were a shade higher, the motor's husky flow of low- to mid-range torque would produce even better times. But unless you are obsessed by BMW comparisons the issue is really academic, because on road or track the car is spectacular.

THROATY RUMBLE

Despite its lively stage of tune it bursts into a throaty rumble at the first touch of the key and warms up smoothly and quickly. Although the choke control is connected, it has no useful function in summer months (when the air cleaner flaps are kept open) and the car pulls away smoothly, without enrichment.

You gentle it along until the motor is thoroughly warmed up and from then on, every thrust on the throttle produces a muffled roar and the Alfa leaps forward like a leopard charging a baboon. The ride is close to the road surface and harsh, as the stiffened spring and damper settings transmit every bump, every crease in the tar, through the close gripping Recaro seats. There's a few snarls from the exhaust as you thread through traffic with gut-quenching ease, then a series of bellows as you push her up through the gears on reaching the open road. Soon you're cruising briskly with that marvellous ease of the true sports car, the ride smoothing out and the car responding to every nuance of throttle or steering pressure. Sure, the gearshift has a longish, slightly cranky action that needs knowing and the noise levels are high; but the feeling of piloting a relaxed but powerful cat, ready to pounce at the first breath of a command, is exhilarating, to the man who enjoys fast cars.

SATISFYING FEEDBACK

Perhaps the greatest single satisfaction to be had from this potent GTV is the feedback from its chassis - the feeling that your nerves extend into the extremities of the car. As you work up the speed through the corners, you sense power train and suspension interacting to give perfect control. The wide track and low stance give a feeling of immense stability and the grip of the big Pirellis is such that you - man and machine -hug the road within precisely acknowledged limits. Initial understeer soon neutralises out, under power, and you are into a widely defined area where the car responds instinctively to steering inputs with a poised, balanced feel. Most sporting drivers will drive with flair and satisfaction, without ever reaching the limits of adhesion. But the enthusiast seeking something more can corner on the throttle with smoothly predictable control.

For the driver who likes to combine with his car, instead of travelling in cocooned comfort, this is one to go for. But of course, the test car was not without its snags. A simple and obvious improvement to ventilation through-flow could be made by transferring the electric window winders from the front of the car - where we would rather have "manual" anyway - to the rear, where the winders are difficult for the driver to reach and where open windows provide a useful extractor effect.

Alfa have not yet introduced the much cleaner fascia design now used in Italy and the fragmented binnacles -the middle one positioned so that the driver's left hand masks some iinstruments - are something you accept and live with, in a GTV.

SUPERB BRAKES

Predictably in an Aifa of this type and background, the brakes are superb - 269 mm vented discs in front and solid, inboard discs at the rear. Designed to pull the sleek car to a standstill from speeds over 200 km/h, they do it forcefully and stably on only moderate pedal pressures. But their reserves of stopping power make them a little sensitive when working from lower speeds, such as in our 100 km/h braking programme.Moreover, they tend to improve (instead of fade) in initial usage and were producing times of 3,3/3,8 seconds towards the end of our 10-stop test -about half a second quicker than the first stops.

One problem we struck that we're assured won't bother private owners was an irritating interaction between engine movement and throttle linkage. If you were at all tentative with the throttle on pullaway or after a gearchange (as is sometimes unavoidable in traffic), it could set up an escalating jerkiness which shook the whole car. We're told this will be avoided in future production by using a new cable throttle control.

Although fuel consumption is not likely to be a priority concern for the man who runs this type of car, in fact the three-litre GTV has only moderate thirst when driven smoothly at reasonable speeds. As our tabies show, it consumes 7,77 litres/100 km at a steady 60 km/h, rising to 8,93 litres at 100, which indicates a theoretical cruising range (on its 75-litre tank) of 840 km. Driven with verve on the open road, this figure would fall appreciably, but the car would retain an exceptional cruising capability in keeping with its grand touring character.