Celebrating affordable examples of brilliant-engined cars now seems more pressing than ever. Examples like the 24v V6 Busso that Alfa Romeo produced in the early parts of this century. What a thing that was: the 3.2-litre motor arguably remains one of the most exciting ever produced, and with six chrome inlet trumpets protruding from the head, it's a work of art too.
It was used extensively, as well. It was shoehorned into 147 GTA with dramatic results, while in Spider format its glorious vocals were most easily accessed. But we'd argue the 3.2 Busso-powered car most worthy of hero status was the 156 GTA Sportwagon - estates are just cooler, after all. The 156 was a handsome thing, with an aggressive face, a set of lovely teledial alloys and a boxy rear that exuded Italian style. Compared to German and British alternatives, it looked properly exotic.
That being said, not even the 156 GTA saloon was ever on par with the likes of BMW's E46 M3 or Mercedes' C55 AMG, with its 250hp motor, front-wheel drive and sub-£27k pricing leaving the Italian firmly in the class below. No, the appeal of a 156 has always centred around that engine and those looks - especially as the handling left a lot to be desired. It's not bad, exactly, but there's a bluntness to the way a 156 goes about its business, no doubt partly thanks to the heft of the big old lump over its nose.
Such dynamic foibles are more forgivable when the car in question is an estate, though, so the 156 GTA Sportwagon arguably makes more sense still - if it's possible to use such a word when shopping for an old Alfa like this. The added practicality and coolness combined with the glory of the six-cylinder upfront means there's plenty to distract you from its lack of athleticism. Here's hoping the same is true for cars using the Selespeed auto instead of a six-speed manual...
Because, well, that's what you get in today's Spotted, a red GTA Sportwagen Selespeed with 39,000 miles on the clock. Ageing Alfas are prone to all sorts of problems, but this is a Japanese import, which the internet would have us believe means it lacks underbody rot, city dings and other bad things accumulated during life in Britain. The interior looks spotless, as does the engine bay, so it's quite possible that this is the best-kept example of the 156 estate out there. Yet the car is advertised for under £8.5k, suggesting the Alfa bug hasn't quite reached an early noughties model like this just yet. With a petrol and diesel ban now on the far horizon, however, that might change soon.
SPECIFICATION - ALFA ROMEO 156 GTA SPORTSWAGEN
Engine: 3,179cc V6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 250@6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221@4,800rpm
Recorded mileage: 26,000
First registered: 2004 (2018 import)
Price new: £26,900 (saloon)
Yours for: £8,495