It’s always a bit of a delicate exercise to write a post about a car that one’s co-CContributors (or, dare one say, CColleagues?) is known to be keen on, to the point that they actually bought one. In the present case, our very own Roger Carr wrote an impassioned piece about his new steed, a red 1997 Alfa Romeo Spider with the 2-litre 4-cyl. twin spark. So when I uncovered this later blue V6-powered GTV coupé, I knew I had to tread carefully, hoping that it might perhaps be different enough to be safe.
Not that I fear attracting the Wrath of Roger if I decide not to wax lyrical about this Alfa, but it’s just not good politics to write anything detrimental about another CContributor’s cherished automobile – especially one like Roger’s that deserves and demands a lot of attention. Because it’s an Alfa, you know.
And it’s an Alfa from the era of brittle Alfas, according to some. Mind you, with Alfa Romeos, there are several periods of dodginess to pick from: the ones from the ‘70s disintegrated as you drove them, the ones of the ‘80s were always in the shop for one reason or another. By the ‘90s, Fiat had sorted the worst defects out of Milano’s products by imposing new ones from Turin. You just can’t win, but at least you can choose how you lose.
Said ‘90s also ushered a time when RWD cars, even sporty ones, would be a thing of the past. Alfa Romeo still had a couple rear-drive models in their range at the start of the decade, but Fiat recognized that they were well past their sell-by date and mercy-killed them. The Giulia 105-based Alfa Spider, in production since the late ‘60s (about 15 years too long, in other words), was finally pensioned off in 1993. As it expired, the brave old Spider passed the baton to its replacement, the Roger-approved Tipo 916 Spider and its fraternal twin the GTV coupé, which were previewed in 1994 at the Paris Motor Show, though order books were only opened at the Geneva show in early 1995.
The new Spider / GTV twins were designed by Enrico Fumia for Pininfarina, but the interior was done in-house, apparently. The styling was approved by mid-1988, but it took quite a while for the oily bits underneath to be arranged in a roughly presentable shape. The platform was a Fiat Tipo Due base – the one they also used for the Alfa 145/146, the Fiat Tipo, the Fiat Coupé, the 2nd gen Lancia Delta (booo!)… The Alfa 155’s front suspension was adapted to this platform, and a bespoke multilink IRS completed the picture to make for a… car, I guess?
In 1998 came the 916’s first facelift. This was chiefly evident inside the cabin (e.g. new steering wheel, redesigned centre stack, etc.) but there was one addition on the front end, in the form of a thin chrome insert in the grille.
Luckily, they didn’t change the 916 too much. The GTV’s strongest suit has to be the styling, which our Roger perfectly described as “distinctive, striking, attention catching, elegant and more complex as you look at it more.” I quite agree. That wedge profile is a stunner, but it has none of the ‘70s aftertaste one might expect from such a shape. Quite a feat, as there aren’t too many ways to draw a wedge. Keeping the flanks relatively uncluttered – aside from that deep and steeply rising beltline – was achieved thanks to cool little tricks like this door latch (there is no handle per se).
Perhaps this shapes works because it is not an actual wedge. It’s more like a half-wedge, with extra parmigiano on the front end. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough space to fit a 3-litre V6 to drive those front wheels. Engine-wise, the 3-litre Busso V6 – an Alfa stalwart if there ever was one! – was added to the options list for the GTV in its 24-valve 220hp form in 1997. Not to imply that the Twin Spark isn’t a great (cough*Fiat*cough) engine, of course. The torque steer with the big six can become an issue if the suspension is tired, which after 20-odd years has to be the case, so the lighter 4-cyl.’s long-term value is clearly evident. Phew, got there in the end!
I’m not sure what colour this car has exactly; safe to say that it’s not “Alfa rosso.” (as if Alfa Romeo were the first ones to paint their cars red, eh?) I jest, of course. Red is great. Red is good. They say the East is of that very hue. Crimson and clover, over and over, and so on. But this car still looks great in navy blue. I realize some UK-based Alfa 916 owners who happen to write for CC may wholeheartedly disagree with this assertion. Those people, whoever they may be, are accustomed to seeing red and I hope this GTV won’t make them feel blue.
In summation, I trust you all will have read between the sarcastic jabs and general joshing, and concluded without my needing to spell it out that I dearly love these Alfas, I respect and value the marque’s long history, and that our Roger Carr, who loves and knows them far more than I do, has a bulletproof sense of humour. I really hope he does, anyway, as he owns a classic Alfa.
Curbside Classic: 1996 Alfa Romeo Spider – Forbidden Italian Fruit, by David Saunders
CC Outtake: An Alfa Romeo Lover Lives Here, by Yohai71