Alfa leans on Sauber and ‘in-house’ Ferrari for hottest Giulia of them all
Trawling through 110 years of history to replicate a fascination of half that age is either Latin folly, or limited production genius, highlights Iain Robertson, as he reflects on Alfa Romeo’s commemorative GTA and even more extreme GTAm.
In June of this year, Alfa celebrates its biggest birthday. It is making 500 of each GTA and GTAm versions of its truly lovely but grossly under-rated Giulia available for the most ardent of fans that might be prepared to fork out well over £85,000 for the privilege this summer. The much-storied brand has struggled with sales for years, a factor not helped since the new Giulia was clarioned into the new car scene in 2015.
Great expectations came to nought. As a rear-driven rival to the BMW 3-Series, it seemed so right, yet it has failed to do much more than stir a few latent emotions. In fact, almost every ounce of emotive energy emerging from its ‘cuore sportivo’ appears to have frittered away on a breeze of fading memories. Giulia is a beautifully proportioned saloon, possessing a long nose and bobtail, allied to flanks devoid of over-stylisation. It has every right to believe in better.
The irony lies in a reputation that is every bit as grandiose and probably more so than that accorded to Jaguar, which, let’s face it, only ‘won’ at Le Mans, whereas the ‘green cloverleaf’ championed numerous racing series around the world for several years. However, I venture to suggest that the two brands have run parallel courses: albeit one packed with Englishness to its core, the other with Latin charm. Has it been enough for either? Nope. Both hoped that trading in their pasts would win them resilience. Both hoped that hiking up prices would make them profitable. Both are failed marques.
The GTA designation and its more hardcore GTAm alternative have their roots in saloon car racing of the mid-1960s. Alfa Romeo dominated with its Bertone designed Giulia, the achingly pretty compact coupe benefitting from a major lightening exercise carried out in conjunction with Autodelta, the firm’s racing department. The ‘A’ stands for ‘alleggerita’, which translates as ‘lightweight’ and, tipping the scales at a mere 740kgs, it is no surprise that it was nimble and fleet on track, even with a mere 170bhp propelling it from a 1.6-litre engine. Only a notional 500 examples were produced.
The new GTA is based on the £64,900 Giulia TT. Thanks to Alfa’s association with the Sauber F1 team, some detail work has improved the aerodynamic efficiency, while Alfa has been able to rely on the support of its Ferrari step-sister for some of the lightweight panel-work, which includes carbon-fibre and aluminium for items as diverse as the propshaft, bonnet, bootlid, front bumper, front wings and even the shells of the competition style front seats. The result is 100kgs saving over the regular car, which does not read as impressively as the performance gains, because it is more than twice the kerbweight (1,520kgs) of the 1965 original.
Be under no illusion, the 2.9-litre V6 engine installed in the stock Giulia is not shy of potency, boasting a solid 510bhp. The GTAm installation whisks that to 540bhp, enough to quicken the heartbeat, as it scalds tarmac from 0-60mph in a cool 3.3s. However, the ‘m’ designation also demands a removal of the rear seats, replaced with a red roll-over hoop, to which are attached the Sabelt racing harnesses, while a pair of helmet bins sit in an extended black Alcantara-clad interior. Lexan replacement glazing is used for the sides and rear of the car. Mind you, producing 500 road-legal examples of the GTAm may still be too many, despite the fact that both Mini and Bentley have ditched the back seats for ‘carpet’ on some of their rarer, racier variants.
The mechanically identical GTA retains its four-seat cabin, makes do with a less overt, carbon-fibre rear hoop (boot wing) and retains the chromed metal door-pulls, changed for red straps in the GTAm. The differences in performance are minimal. Akrapovic, which has been fitting its exhaust systems to several hot VW Group products, does a similar duty for Alfa. You may have noticed that the black wheels are slightly larger at 20.0-inches diameter and feature a race-style centre-lock system. Both front and rear tracks of the Giulia have been widened by 50mm to enhance stability, while springs, dampers and all suspension bushes have been uprated to cope with the extra verve.
Needless to say, Alfa Romeo is hoping that numbering each model will enhance its collectability. Potential owners will benefit from a personalised experience package, which includes a Bell helmet in special GTA livery, a full racing set by Alpinestars (race suit, gloves and shoes) and a personalised Goodwool (perhaps intended to be confused with ‘Goodwood’?) car cover for protecting their GTA or GTAm models. Those customers can also take part in a specific driving course devised by the Alfa Romeo Driving Academy at locations yet to be specified.
From a purely personal standpoint, I refuse resolutely to hop onto the ‘iconic Alfa’ bandwagon. It is an over-wrought impression fostered during a period, when the company was producing badge-engineered versions of other Fiat products that possessed scarcely any character at all. As handsome as the regular Giulia is, I do not accept its glorification. If Alfa is to retain a place in the world, it needs to do so with representative products, because a reliance on its past is simply not substantive enough.
The brand’s historical badge is just a badge, not an icon. Yet, I can see the iconic value in the ‘green cloverleaf’, which I am glad has been applied to both versions of the GTA/GTAm. For my money, the Audi RS4, or BMW M3, stands for significantly more in today’s trying automotive scene, pegged at similar retail prices.
Conclusion: Performance car buyers are amazingly fickle. Fear is the biggest factor in not choosing an Alfa GTA/GTAm over the German rivals, as Italian cars are just too nervous, skittery and ‘knife-edge’ for the majority.