It was a quarter of a century ago now that the 156 completely transformed expectations of an Alfa Romeo saloon. Out went the boxy 155, to be replaced by the suave, handsome 156; it looked great, drove really nicely, and even had a smart interior to seal the deal. With a decent range of engines as well, it was the ideal compact exec to take Alfa into the 21st century.
Well, almost. It needed a flagship. Because the 156 was an Alfa Romeo, first and foremost, but also as it was soon looking outgunned by the rivals. The 190hp, 2.5 V6 went head to head with the BMW 328i perfectly, but once the latter was replaced by a 231hp 330i the Alfa was made to look a little tame. Less than 200hp simply wasn’t going to cut it in the upper echelons of the small saloon market.
Enter the GTA. Launched in 2002, it was powered by a 3.2-litre version of the Busso V6, taking power all the way to 250hp - much more competitive. It was given a visual overhaul, too, meaner and moodier than standard but without compromising that innate style; the brakes were larger, the suspension was stiffer and the wheels were bigger to complete the flagship facelift.
Nobody was ever going to dispute that the GTA look was perfectly judged as a styling exercise. Whether as a saloon or swoopy Sportwagon, it was glamorous in a way that no rival could ever be. But 250hp proved too much for an unsuspecting front axle; as alternatives like the Honda Accord Type R used limited-slip differentials to such great effect (or were rear-wheel drive), the GTA floundered somewhat.
Now that hardly seems to matter. Specialists can sharpen the handling if required, but the way a GTA turns seems almost irrelevant when it continues to look and sound as it does. Alfas of this era may not be that fondly remembered for how they drove, but in the 156, 147, GT and 166 it had a beautifully designed range of cars.
GTAs seldom come up for sale these days, as it was never quite as popular as the established Germans in the sector. And, to be frank, the GTA’s time as a new car was a long while ago - even the youngest ones will be nearly 20 years old, and plenty will have fallen by the wayside in that time.
Which makes this one even more special. Not only is it unmodified - even without the Q2 diff that many now boast - this 156 has covered a mere 14,000 miles since new. It’s been with only two owners in 20 years, the most recent since 2004, and hardly seems to have accumulated any wear at all since rolling out of Westover Alfa Bournemouth in November 2002. It appears for all the world to be a spectacular example.
In 2022, that makes it an almost unrepeatable opportunity for the dedicated Alfa fan, a throwback to a simpler time when large, magnificent engines could find their way into family saloons. Of course, you’ll pay for the privilege - £29,990 - but we wouldn’t be at all surprised if this finds a place in an Alfa collection alongside the rest of the legends very soon.
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