In the world of classic Alfa Romeo, it’s sometimes easy to view things through a set of rose-tinted glasses. With the 1990s GTV however – known by Alfisti as the Tipo 916 – it tends to go the other way. Many criticise this era of Alfa Romeo for being front-wheels drive and deep into the era of Fiat unification. Jokes of ‘typical Italian build quality’ still lingered on from the horror show that was the 1970s too.
Most of it is nonsense of course. Much time was spent making the GTV a capable, but more importantly, entertaining car to drive. Benchmarked against the M100 Lotus Elan, the quick steering and sophisticated multi-link rear suspension helped to deliver in the corners, while a gutsy 2.0-litre Twin Spark and glorious 3.0-litre Busso V6 provided the punch.
Build quality and reliability were a pretty big step up from everything that had gone before, and was verging on respectable. Rust was largely a thing of the past too but depreciation was still fairly savage. For a time, values were very low but numbers have thinned out considerably and values have seen a considerable rise in the last few years. A modern classic worthy of your attention? Absolutely.
Which one to buy?
Available in GTV (coupe) or Spider (convertible) body styles, the engine options in the UK were a 2.0-litre Twin Spark motor or 3.0-litre and later 3.2-litre V6s. A quick steering rack and taut chassis with a clever multi-link rear setup gave the GTV a very sporty feel, however the Spider tends to suffer from scuttle shake, and if you’re a particularly keen driver the GTV is the better option.
The majority of cars were specified with the 155bhp 2.0-litre engine in the UK, although the V6 cars are the most sought after. While the 2.0 is lighter and arguably the better balanced car, the V6’s intoxicating exhaust note trumps all other factors.
Lusso versions of the Spider came with electric soft tops, with the V6 engines only becoming available in these cars from 2001. Phase 2 cars introduced in 1998 had improved interiors and detail exterior changes. Phase 3 models introduced in 2003 had a number of notable upgrades such as traction control, upgraded suspension and interior improvements.
419 limited edition Cup variants were built, 155 of which were right-hand drive, and all equipped with the 3.0-litre V6 engine.
As a weekend cruiser a V6 Spider is hard to beat – if you can find one – but for the back roads a 2.0 GTV is perhaps the best package. The V6 GTV is a tempting buy, but you may want to invest in an aftermarket LSD to get the most out of the front wheel drive chassis.
Performance and specs
1997 Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 24v
||2959cc 24 valve DOHC V6
||217bhp @ 6300rpm
||199lb ft @ 5000rpm
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• The Twin Spark engines require regular cambelt changes, every 36,000miles or three-years, and if they exhibit flat spots at the upper reaches of the rev range the MAF may need replacing. A rattly sound during start-up may mean the cam variator needs replacing.
• The V6’s cambelt is more expensive and difficult to change, however the 72,000miles interval means it needs doing less frequently.
• Both engines are known for their oil consumption, so checking the level regularly is vital.
• Oil cooler pipes on V6 models can corrode so take a look underneath the car.
• The electrical system is (mostly) reliable, some owners complained of wipers going on the blink and interior lights working intermittently. Check that all the switches and buttons are working as they should.
• Gearboxes are strong and should not exhibit crunching or notchiness. A reluctance to engage fifth gear could mean a loose nut that may just need tightening.
• The front section of the GTV/Spider is a plastic composite which means no rust but the nose is susceptible to stone chips.
• Paint quality was not always top notch, and cars with red bodywork tend to fade or turn orange with age. While rust is not a major issue, any signs of bubbling or overspray may indicate a botched repair job.
• Lusso versions of the Spider had electric folding roofs; issues with the mechanism can usually be traced to faulty micro-switches or stretched cables. If the motor is gone it can mean a pricey repair bill.
• The rear suspension bushes on early 2-litre cars tend to wear out prematurely, so listen out for knocking sounds when traversing bumps. Upgraded bushes are available which alleviates the problem.
1995: GTV Coupe launched. Engine options are a 2.0 inline-4 or 3.0 12v V6. A 2.0 V6 turbo engine available in some markets, such as Italy. Five-speed manual gearbox is standard fitment
1996: GTV Spider introduced to the UK. Available initially in 150bhp 2.0 Twin Spark form. Lusso specification added climate control, leather interior and a powered soft top
1997: 3.0l 12-valve engine dropped for new 24 valve unit
1998: Phase 2 models launched. Detail exterior changes included chrome grille inserts and body coloured skirts. V6 models get six-speed manual gearbox as standard
2001: Spider version can now be optioned with 3.0-litre V6 engine by UK customers. 419 GTV Cup special editions built, with 3.0 V6 and 2.0 engine. A unique body kit distinguishes these cars from standard models. 155 RHD versions built, exclusively with a the 3.0-litre engine
2003: Phase 3 model introduced. Notable improvements were the addition of traction control, an upgraded sound system and more supple suspension settings. Frontal treatment now in line with rest of Alfa Romeo range
2005: GTV production comes to an end
2006: Spider production stops
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.alfaworkshop.co.uk – The Alfa Workshop
• www.aroc-uk.com – Alfa Romeo Owners Club
• www.the-alfa-romeo-specialist-register.com – Alfa Romeo Register
• www.squadra916.com – GTV enthusiast site
Summary and prices
There is a saying that any true petrol head should own an Alfa at least once in their lifetime. When it comes to the GTV/Spider range, the enjoyment of driving does not come with the usual frustrations that can be associated with older Alfa Romeo ownership. Aside from their reliability, they are extremely good value with the 2.0-litre twin spark GTV models ranging between £1200 for an early high-miler to a £2500 for the last Phase 3 models. 3.0-litre models start at £5000 for a decent Phase 2 up to £9000 for a mint condition Phase 3 or Cup model. Add around £500 to these prices for Spiders, although the extremely rare the V6-engined cars carry a significant premium.