After the beauty of the Alfa Romeo 156 came the beast that was the GTA. It should have been everything we'd asked for, yet the GTA fell frustratingly just short of brilliance when it was launched in 2002.
With a 250hp 3.2-litre V6 engine and suitably beefed up looks, it was cleverly positioned below the BMW M3 in performance and price. It cost £26,900 for the saloon or £1,000 more for the Sportwagon estate, which made it decent value too. However, those early press reports plus that lingering doubt about Alfa reliability suppressed sales.
The result is that the 156 GTA is a rare bird today and prized by those who own them. Time has also helped sort the niggles that held the GTA back from its true potential when it originally went on sale; this being a car where an effectively modified version is more desirable than a standard one, unless you want to preserve it in aspic.
None of these modifications is particularly difficult or expensive to add to an untouched GTA, so you could own a sorted, sure-footed and swift sports saloon from around £10,000 including having the work done to it. For that, you'll also own one of the best looking saloons or estates ever to grace tarmac and an Alfa that is gently appreciating in value.
Alfa offered its automated manual Selespeed gearbox in the GTA, but there were few takers. As few as six are thought to have been sold in the UK during the GTA's production run between 2002 and 2005. Our advice is to stick with the manual, make the right mods, service it religiously and cherish that V6 noise.
Bodywork and interior
Bonnet catch gets gummed with dirt in the grease so the latch doesn't secure properly. This can cause the bonnet to flip up as you drive and crash into the upper edge of the windscreen. Look for signs of repairs to paintwork here and regularly clean and re-grease the bonnet catch mechanism.
Check for corrosion around the wheel arches and their inner lips. Also inspect the chassis legs behind the bumpers.
Front wings are unique to the GTA.
Make sure the engine's undertray is fitted to protect the vulnerable sump.
Make sure the airbag warning light goes out with the engine started. If not, it's likely to be a dislodged wire under the driver's seat that needs to be reconnected. This will also need the ECU reset to extinguish the dash light.
Engine and transmission
Service intervals are every 12,000 miles or 12 months for the GTA and cost from £180 at an independent for a minor service. A major service comes at 60,000 miles to include the spark plugs and another at 72,000 for the cambelt. However, specialists recommend carrying out the cambelt service at 48,000 miles or four years and should include the belt, tensioner, two idler pulleys, water pump with metal impellers, cam cover gaskets, and spark plugs and gaskets. That lot will set you back around £650.
The Q2 limited slip differential is a very desirable option to have. A Quaife unit can be retro-fitted from around £900 from Auto Lusso.
Any rubbing sound from under the bonnet is probably the cam belt beginning to wear against the cam covers. If left, it will result in a destroyed engine and replacements are £3,000.
The six-speed gearbox should have a smooth shift and reasonably light clutch action. A heavy clutch indicates it's reaching the end of its life and a new one is £180 plus fitting.
The clutch can fail and hole the gearbox casing. The same can happen if the differential fails. A rebuilt replacement 'box is around £1,200.
Selespeed automated manuals are very rare and, consequently, difficult to get replacement parts for.
The MAF airflow meter should be replaced at 70,000 miles. Poor idling, lack of power and flat spots are most likely due to this component failing.
Keep an eye on the water temperature gauge during an extended test drive as the radiators are known to corrode. It can cause the head gaskets to fail. A silicone coolant hose kit is £165.
Suspension and steering
Listen for any creaks from the front suspension as the upper wishbone bushes wear.
Front lower arm bushes also wear very quickly and are tricky to access, though replacements are reasonably priced at £100.
Front anti-roll bar bushes are £120 in parts but three hours in labour.
Rear suspension bushes also degrade, but are not expensive to replace with original equipment items or to upgrade to poly bushes.
Koni FSD springs that are 15mm shorter than standard combined with Eibach anti-roll bars transform the GTA's handling and ride.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
New front discs and pads will set you back around £285 fitted at a specialist, which is for the later and larger 330mm discs. A set of rear discs and pads will be £180.
Earlier GTAs had 305mm front discs with Brembo calipers mounted by lugs. These are reckoned to be more prone to warping than the 330mm discs, which are radially mounted. Later discs arrived in November 2003 and some early cars were upgraded to this under warranty.
SPECIFICATION - ALFA ROMEO 156 GTA
Engine: 3,179cc V6
Transmission: 6-speed man/auto
Power (hp): 250@/6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221@4,800rpm
Price new: £26,900
Price now: £7,000 upwards