Alfaholics GTA-R 290 – Halcyon Daze
A British specialist brings the iconic Alfa Romeo GTV into the 21st Century.
I nurtured my love for performance cars from the late 1960s through the late-‘70s. The original Singapore Grand Prix ran till 1973, the year before I got my driving licence, and the sight of a nicely modified Mini Cooper, Alfa GTV, BMW 2002, Datsun SSS or Fiat 124 Sport Coupe was always a treat for this car crazy schoolboy!
They say you should never meet your heroes, and when I finally got to drive a 105 Series Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV in the UK in the early ‘80s, I realised that maybe there was more than a little truth in this old adage.
This first GTV drive left me torn between joy and disappointment. The bark of the charismatic motor up front and the gurgle of its twin Weber carbs was pure aural delight, while the 130 lusty horses pushed this pretty little Italian coupe along as rapidly as I had expected.
However, even driving with due respect for my friend’s cherished machine, it was clear that the Alfa’s grip on the tarmac was not in the same league as its punchy 1,962cc twin cam. Whilst the GTV had lovely steering and sweet, responsive handling, its road holding fell noticeably short of the torque tube and rear anti-roll bar equipped Fiat 124 Sport Coupe AC variant that my father had owned years before.
I went as far as buying a nice 1974 Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina a decade after it had been minted. I found it a thoroughly beguiling experience in an age where mainstream four-door saloons had already begun the creeping journey towards the super fast but rather aloof performance saloons we have today. But again, its engine wrote checks its chassis could not cash.
By then however, the once great Milanese carmaker was on the brink of floundering, and like Lancia found its financial saviour in Italy’s largest car company. And as Alfa Romeo’s aesthetic brilliance and mechanical genius slowly faded under the leaden umbrella of the Fiat Empire, my patience with Latin idiosyncrasy came to an abrupt end.
Heart broken by the fall from grace of one of my favourite Italian marques, I found solace in the cars from north of the border; first the hot hatch from Wolfsburg bearing the GTI tag, and later the flat-six powered ‘atomic cockroach’ from Stuttgart.
And then one day earlier this year, whilst trawling through various used car ads for 105 Series Alfa Romeo GTVs, I noticed the ‘Alfaholics’ name recurring time and again in relation to suspension upgrades. Having only known the Harvey Bailey Koni set up as a panacea for the ‘walking’ rear axle on these cars, I Googled Alfaholics and found their comprehensive website.
The name of Alfaholics’ founder, Richard Banks, rang a bell. On making contact I realised that having both been students of the same Police Class One driving instructor, the legendary John Lyon, Richard and I had met on early ‘80s High Performance Club events. In fact, the Alfa 2000GTV I had driven in 1982 belonged to our mutual friend, Jim Brown, who only parted company with it in 2015!
In the interim, Richard had bought, sold, tuned and raced 105 Series Alfas, and in 2000 he set up a company specialising in their revival and improvement. The same bug subsequently bit his two sons, Andrew and Max, who later joined him in a family business motivated by an addiction for classic Alfa Romeos. The ‘Alfaholics’ name is thus wholly appropriate.
The cornerstone of Alfaholics is a mail order business selling OE parts for Alfa Romeo models. But as tuning and racing these cars became a serious hobby, bespoke improvements for the classic Alfa Romeo models slowly found their way into the Alfaholics mail order catalogue.
The restoration and road and race tuning of customer cars to concours standards followed, but as Max explained, “To maintain our quality standards we will never undertake to restore and build more than 10 cars a year.”
Engine tuning parts for the Nord twin-cam, which powers all the 105-Series cars in 1300, 1600, 1750 and 2000 form, follow traditional lines. But while Alfaholics still provides OE and tuning parts for these motors for clients all over the world, their more recent conversions focus around the later TS Twin Spark motor.
There is a good reason for this. The classic Alfa Romeo parts bin is pretty comprehensive, and some later components are a relatively easy swap for owners on an upgrade path. So just as the twin-cam motor and gearbox from a BMW M3 E30 will slot nicely into the engine bay of a 2002, the later Twin-Spark motor from an Alfa 75 is a relatively easy upgrade for a 105 Series car, and offers far more tuning potential.
In historical terms the production eight-valve Alfa 75 Twin Spark motor was actually developed from Alfa Romeo’s GTA race motor, which in turn was a heavily revised version of the Nord motor in the 105 Series cars. Using this motor as an upgrade for a 105 Series car is thus literally coming full circle.
For those who wonder why Alfaholics did not use the later 16-valve Twin Spark motor, the answer is that Alfa took a step backwards with this cheaper-to-manufacture Fiat B family modular iron block motor, which starts life with a weight penalty over the all-alloy eight-valve power unit. And fitting the 16v head onto the earlier alloy block is a mission impossible since the cams of the later engine are belt driven, while the 8v motor uses a chain drive.
By 2015 Alfaholics had extracted a reliable 225hp from the 8v 2.0 litre Twin Spark motor in GTA R 240 guise. However, the next step was going to be the critical one in terms of output, cost and complexity.