LEADER OF THE PACK

By Stuart Grant with photography by Oliver Hirtenfelder

Leader of the pack (5)

What wins on Sunday sells on Monday. This train of thought saw to it that in the early 1980s the South African Group 1 racing series was littered with manufacturers fighting for top honours and some very special machinery taking to the track. Rulings stated that a minimum of 200 road-going versions had to be made, so regular road users got some equally special machinery. BMW blew the doors wide open with their 535i, and Alfa’s 2.5-litre GTV proved a little outclassed. But the local Italian subsidiary punched back with a 3-litre alpha male in 1983.

Increasing the GTV capacity from 2493cc to 2934cc resulted in the new road-going Alfa claiming the title as the fastest locally built production car of its era. The output numbers quoted read 128kW at 5800rpm and 222Nm of torque at 4300rpm. On track it did the job too with the homebrewed Italian Stallion scooping the 1983 Lodge Group 1 International 2 Hour at Kyalami on debut, scoring a one-two in class during the Killarney Castrol 3 Hour and nabbing the Index of Performance title at the Kyalami World Endurance Championship 1000. Of course winning brings with it protests, and the 3-litre GTV was never shy in controversy. BMW disputed the fact that Alfa had built enough for homologation purposes, but investigations put Alfa in the clear. Then there’s the story of how, when one race car engine was sealed for officials to measure, the following day it was discovered that somehow fresh unused internals had been fitted overnight. The rumour mill claimed that the Alfa crew had removed the illegal components and replaced them with legal ones via the sump.

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Luck was on Alfa Romeo South Africa’s side because Autodelta (the tricks department at Alfa in Milan) had, unbeknown to the masses, already developed a 3-litre version of its 2.5-litre six-pot engine. With development done the plan was scrapped because of the capacity-based taxation structure in Italy. When a South African contingent, including Roger McCleery (Alfa Romeo PR), visited the Autodelta works they stumbled across a rally-prepared GTV6 in a corner. Ever inquisitive, McCleery asked what it was and learned it had a 3-litre mill. He immediately phoned Alfa SA’s MD Dr Vito Bianco and the plan for Sampi Bosman (Alfa Romeo South Africa Motorsport Manager) to build a GTV6 in South Africa took shape.

Autodelta supplied cylinder head castings, crankshafts, pistons and sleeves while the local lads did the required machining, manufactured a new flywheel, added a tuned exhaust manifold and tossed the electronic fuel injection in favour of a six-pack of downdraught Dellorto carbs sourced from the Alfa Six sedan. This in turn meant a larger, South African-designed and developed air filter, which not only saw a 7.5kW increase in power but also made it imperative to remake the bonnet from fibreglass featuring a serious power bulge to house the air-guzzling package. If the lump in the hood wasn’t enough to frighten off the robot racers, Alfa South Africa beefed up the front end with an aggressive-looking but fully functioning cool air ducting and deep front spoiler and dropped the car on some 15-inch Compomotive alloy wheels.

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The more sporting theme continued inside the cabin with fully adjustable Recaro bucket seats decked out in some period-fashionable velour, and leather three-spoke steering wheel. Radio and aircon were not offered in standard format, despite the 3-litre commanding a relatively hefty price of R29 500, but this is quickly forgotten when the key is cranked and the exhaust and carburettors combine to make a snarling aural overload. The GTV will trundle along at 2000rpm all day long but even though it sounds very lumpy it will still pull effortlessly from this number with a stab of the loud pedal in any gear. The zero to 100km/h sprint comes up in 8.36 seconds and the top speed is claimed at over 220km/h, but road tests of the time indicate that the recycling of the 2.5-litre gearbox ratios was not ideal, with 120km/h in fifth seeing the tacho sitting at 3000rpm and the top speed cut to 218km/h by the standard 6500rpm rev limiter. Cornering is a thrilling experience, not only because the lower stance and beefier takkies make it work but also because the feedback coming through the wheel and seat of your pants is spot on. You know what the car is doing at all times and inputs made to correct have an immediate effect. It drives like it looks.

Handling prowess is an attribute that the 2.5-litre passed on thanks to an almost 50/50 weight distribution created by the use of the same five-speed transaxle. When the red mist sets in, and it will with such a thrilling drive, it is good to know that the brakes are up to the mark with power-assisted vented discs at the front and solid discs (mounted inboard) at the rear.

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On track the 3-litre worked, scooping victories well into 1985 with names like Nicolo Bianco, Abel d’Oliveira, Arnold Chatz, George Santana, Serge Damseux, George Fouche, Maurizio Bianco and Dick Pickering spending time behind the wheel. In the sales department (according to Auto Data Digest) 174 units were sold in 1984 at a cost of R33 490 each, and 68 in ’85 at R35 995. That gives a total of 242 but as is the norm with SA specials, there is not much consensus as far as the official number, although the numbers 212 and 220 seem to be the most bandied about.

Alfa pulled out of South Africa in 1985, killing any further 3-litre GTV production. The rarity factor therefore ensures that an original 3-litre GTV6 is a worthwhile investment and an extremely enjoyable classic. Sadly though, you’ll have to shell out 3, 4 or even 5 times the amount of loot today than you would have had to in the mid-ʼ80s. But beware – there are plenty of 2.5-litre cars parading in a 3-litre’s manly outfit.

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