If you asked any vaguely aware person to name three unreliable car brands, there's a good chance that Alfa Romeo would be one of them.
This downbeat vision of an entire brand is great news for the Shedhunter as it has depressed market values of certain Alfas way below their true value. For Shed, this 'true' value doesn't necessarily have a specific money number attached to it. It's more about the state of mind that a characterful, reliable and entertaining car can generate in its owner. If it does that for peanuts money, then so much the better.
In what passes for Shed's mind, the Alfa that right now best exemplifies this 'true value' philosophy is the 916 GTV. On sale from 1995 to 2005 (or 2006 for the Spider version), Progetto 916 was a Pininfarina-styled, Tipo Due-platformed one-hit replacement for the Giugiaro-designed GTV6 coupe that had been phased out in 1987 and, in its soft-top form, for the 105/115 'Duetto' Spider, another legendary Pininfarina piece.
Even though both these predecessors had their issues just as the 916 did, the 105/115's 28-year love affair with the public established it as a proper classic, making it a tough act to follow. Anyone who was around when the 916 went on sale in 1995 will tell you that the act was indeed well and truly followed. The GTV was a wow. The wedgy, clamshelly body style took a bit of getting used to, but as long as you stood in the right place it looked amazing, as did the Walter de Silva-devised interior. Autocar made the GTV its 1995 Car of the Year and chief engineer Bruno Cena (who was also the project director for the 156) picked up the Engineer of the Year award for his efforts.
In certain LHD markets, an interesting 197bhp turbocharged 2.0 V6 GTV was available. In Britain, however, the choice was between the 220hp 3.0 Busso V6 (155mph, 0-60 in 6.6sec, or 6.0sec if you were an Auto Express tester) or one of two Twin Spark fours (a 1.8 with 144hp, 130mph, and 0-60 in 9.2sec, or the 2.0 with 150hp, 130mph, and 0-60 in 8.0sec). In 2003, the TS was replaced by the JTS (Jet Thrust Stoichiometric), an engine that used direct injection to increase horsepower to 165hp and maximum torque to 152lb ft at 3250rpm.
The 1415kg Busso gave you torque too, but through displacement and cylinder count, plus a wonderful noise and a slightly pushy front end. There was no limited slip diff as standard, which was a shame as anyone retrofitting a Q2 unit found that it transformed the drive. What the 1370kg 2.0 Twin Sparks lacked in performance over the V6 they made up in the extra precision of their handling. Chassis-benchmarked against the Lotus Elan M100, the multilink-rear Tipo Due-based platform was a very good starting point. In the 2.0 Twin Spark this was optimised by the lightness and more centralised location of a four-pot engine that really fizzed over 4000rpm and that was connected to a sweet gear change.
Now, Shed knows from personal experience and that of his pals that 916 GTV ownership will never be a bed of roses. Although in fact that's exactly what it will be if you take the thorns into account. Every day a GTV owner will have something to wonder about, like why the fuel needle drops in a way that bears little relation to reality, and why one of the bunch of keys you get doesn't seem to answer its 'opening things' brief when you show it to the boot or the glovebox.
Here's the thing though. The rate of GTV disappearance has slowed right down in recent times. When the numbers of a given car begin to stabilise, as they have done with the GTV, the average quality of the cars that are left in the 'parc' for that model lifts too, as the last remaining bits of rusty chaff are separated from the, er, solid metal wheat. Rubbish metaphor, but you know what we mean.
This enticing state of affairs can't last long though. A lot of scruffy Twin Sparks have already been scrapped. A point will surely come when the price line takes a turn for the better (or for the worse, if you're buying). With sub-£1500 GTVs still popping up in the PH Classifieds pool on an almost weekly basis, now might be the time to dip your rod in and haul one out. Read on to find out about some of the naughty Jack Russells that might relieve themselves on your keep net.
Remember that these Guides are meant to alert you to possible troubles, not to frighten you into thinking that every GTV will have all - or indeed any - of these troubles.
Bodywork & Interior
GTVs were well galvanised, but the floor pans eventually perforate and crumble, usually at the back rather than the front, and on the inner arches and behind the sideskirts. So if you find a clean GTV that you intend to keep, whatever you can do to rust-proof it would be a good idea.
The way forward is lots of rust converter plus lots of stone chip prevention as they do suffer from that as well. The paint colour of your car can be found on a sticker at the back nearside of the engine bay. Lacquer peel is common.
The Alfa badges front and rear are known for fading, but aftermarket (ie non-factory) replacements are cheap and easy to fit. Rear light bars crack or haze over with the passage of time and replacements are becoming harder to find. Original electric radio aerials are no longer available so it's very much worth checking that the one on the car you're looking at is working. Aftermarket options are available but make sure you get the right item as the Spider aerial is different.
The clips designed to keep the screenwasher jets on the wiper assemblies regularly disappear, but a small tiewrap will solve that and upset no-one apart from a concours judge, and who cares about them anyway. It's easy to break the fuel filler cover, operated by a button release on the dash or an emergency release in the boot. The chrome grille trim pieces on phase 3 cars break and door mirror internals get loose.
Alfa has never been that good with window seals, and the GTV's ones are no exception, being prone to perishing and cracking. Spider hood covers are suspectible to scratching. The electro-hydraulic hood itself has a few sensors, any one of which can interfere with correct working. It is possible to operate it manually though, so it won't be a write off if the electrics go pear-shaped.
The trim pieces between the doors and the rear wings routinely fall off and are getting scarce/expensive. Holes in the trailing edges of GTV door cards are very common, caused by seat belt buckles that haven't been moved out of the way when the doors are being closed. If you don't fancy your chances with proprietary repair pastes - and who would by the sounds of it - specialists are around to do a good colour-matched repair for under £100.
The heavily sculpted design of the GTV seats means that the backrest bolsters wear and crack, but this is not dear to rectify. Worn gear knobs are not so easy to sort if you want an original factory item. The bits holding the central armrest/cubby and ashtray on are shockingly feeble and the tweeters like to fall into the doors.
Instrument bulbs will go, more often on one of the three central gauges. The ABS light is often 'fixed' by the application of a lump of black tape, but an airbag warning light is rarely anything worse than a loose underseat connection. If all three original keys are present and correct, that's a potential money-saver, but the old fears about £700 replacements aren't an issue any more as you can get a clone key done for a tenth of that.
Alfa took the phrase 'boot space' quite literally with the GTV. One pair of boots and it's pretty much full. That's because the spare wheel is taking up most of the room, and it's a space-saver at that. Plenty of GTV owners take this out to increase the cargo space and then forget to put it back in when they're selling.
Many folk would say that an Alfa without leather is not an Alfa at all, but there are more than a few GTV owners who swear that the cloth seats are more comfortable than the moo ones. They would say that in an ad, mind.
Engine & Transmission
As noted, UK GTVs come in Twin Spark four or Busso V6 flavours. The Twin Spark engine has been around since the the 1986 Alfa 75, its light alloy block and head design later changing to iron block/alloy head with cams driven by a belt that was originally claimed to have a 72,000-mile service life.
By 2006 Alfa had acknowledged the folly of this interval advice and officially reduced the belt/tensioners change frequency to 36,000 miles or three years. The GTV community knows better and suggests 24,000 miles. You need to replace the water pump and cam variator at the same time. Odd dieselly or rattly noises on startup may be telling you that the cam variator is on its way out.
If your TS feels a bit lacking in urge it might need a new mass air flow sensor. If it needs spark plugs, it's got eight and they're about a tenner each. The big air intake pipe on the right can split, as can the top and bottom cooling hoses. Oxygen sensor connections are weak. Otherwise the Twin Sparks are strong and very long-lasting. Rule one is, check the oil on a weekly basis, as this engine can use a bit. They also leak from the rocker cover or from the main crank seal at the back of the engine, which is a gearbox-off repair job. Smart owners will change the oil at least every 6000 miles to avoid possible camshaft wear.
Pre-1999 phase 1 CF1 and 1999-2001 phase 2 CF2 GTVs had just the one main catalytic converter, but post-2001 CF3 cars also have two pre-cats on the downpipe below the manifold. Shed thinks it's possible to remove the two pre-cats, or bash out their internals at least, to gain a bit of power and still (allegedly) pass the MOT test, but of course PH denies all responsibility. Raggazon exhausts sound great.
The V6s are less prone to belt trouble but that doesn't mean you should ignore this side of things. Oil can seep out of gearboxes and from the oil cooler on V6s. Exhaust manifolds don't last for ever either. If your car has the drive-by-wire throttle system make sure that any wiring associated is all secure otherwise ECU errors may/will occur.
Again with no guarantee from PH, Shed thinks that the annoying DMF setup can be replaced by a normal clutch (or a GTA one if you can get it) plus the flywheel from a 2.5 V6 156.
Immobilisers and central locking systems can play up. Clutch slave cylinders go and driveshaft gaiters split. Starter motors are pretty reliable, but the alternator can fail and its position up behind the engine means that fixing it is a case of dropping the subframe or removing the intake manifold. Poor starting could be down to the fuel pump or main injection relay
2.0 Twin Sparks have been known to suffer from oil starvation, most likely from oil pump failure. That's a hard one to guard against. You'll know it when it happens, though. Rads and thermostats are fragile too. Radiators tend to go at the bottom first, and the support brackets will rust. Oil cooler pipes rust away and sidelight housings disintegrate.
Suspension & Steering
We mentioned the weight of the V6 motor relative to the Twin Spark. Not only does this exacerbate any tendency of the GTV to understeer, it also places the already fragile front suspension under extra stress. Aluminium suspension is great when it's new, but less good when the holes for the fixing bolts have been worn larger over time. Then, no amount of four-wheel alignment will reduce the accelerated rate of tyre wear.
Subframes rot. Front lower wishbones go and are about £50 to replace plus an hour's labour. Front control arms, drop links and anti-roll bars should also be seen as consumable items ,but they are mainly cheap and not that hard to change.
At the back, bushes wear (Powerflex is your friend). Spring pans may look fine from underneath but they will sneakily rust from the top down, which you wont be able to see without a flexy camera or a detachable head. When those pans go, the springs will simply drop through. Some GTV models have rose joints - not the 2.0 though, Shed seems to think - and dust can get into these, necessitating a rebuild.
Eibach or Bilstein aftermarket suspension is a popular way to inject some juice back into your GTV's chassis, and 30mm lowering is not unheard of.
Wheels, Tyres & Brakes
GTVs do suffer from brake difficulties at the rear. Calipers seize up, especially in cold weather. Reconditioned items often haven't had the concentric actuator for the handbrake looked at, so the car will fail its MOT on that.
Rear brake compensators go too. This is a potential problem as new ones don't exist and even used ones are hard to find. Of course, brake pipes will degrade, but that's not just a GTV trait.
Alfa alloys can be a bit soft so if you want to afford an expensive refurb be careful how you park. A used set of five-hole teledials can easily cost £750.
For many, the idea of owning an Alfa is more attractive than the idea of actually buying one. Some are worried by what might go wrong. It's a fact that in 2001 Alfa came bottom out of 22 marques ranked by Motor Warranty Direct. There was only one direction to go from there, and they did start to do that over following years, but Alfa always continued to be a little hamstrung in the UK by a poor dealership network. Luckily there are some great specialists around who will see you right.
Others are scared that they might become Alfaholics, permanently hooked on the particularly addictive brand of motoring crystal meth that has been peddled by this company for more than a century now. As addicts, they are blind to all failings.
But other than the issues detailed in the sections above, how many inherent GTV failings are there? Well, the old-school shortarse driving position will be an amber light for even averagely tall drivers who may find that their view of traffic lights is obstructed by the roof. The back seats are little more than KFC platforms, and the switchgear will never fill you with the joy experienced by owners of classic Bentleys. But other than that, if you don't mind the clack of plastic and you fit inside you'll almost certainly enjoy a GTV.
This is a Shed guide rather than a used car guide because MOT'd and perfectly useable GTVs regularly pop up in Shed's sub-£1500 trawlings. In his view, even at somewhere between £2000 and £3000, better quality Twin Sparks still represent good value. At these prices there should be no temptation for an owner to store a GTV away. That would be a daft thing to do, for two reasons: one, you're missing out on the whole point of the GTV, ie driving pleasure; and two, well-maintained GTVs seem to thrive on mileage.
Filthy V6s rarely limbo in under the £2k mark, and you could easily pay £8k for a really mint one. If you're holding that amount of folding, though, you might want to consider one of the road car versions of the GTV Cups. These single-series 1215kg racers produced 230hp from their V6s at a yelling 6900rpm. Although some European-spec Cup road cars had four-pot engines, all the UK Cup cars were 220bhp 3.0 24-valvers. They came with bodykits, Momo sports seats and 'black chrome' teledials, and they look incredible in red. It's thought that of the 155 road Cups built, fewer than 60 remain, so even with an entry price of £8k it's a tempting prospect from both driving and investment perspectives.
If you're taken by the idea of 916 ownership and need more info than the meagre amount Shed has provided here, a chap called Robert Foskett has written a very good book on the subject. It's essential reading for anyone who may be thinking of buying a GTV, or for anyone who already has one and is wondering why weird things be happening.