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2017-02-21 08:00:00
by Christopher Butt
(comments: 2)

Alfa Mista

The Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV is not quite considered a Canon Alfa®. Yet neither its breeding, nor its pedigree could possibly be blamed for this. 


Transaxle, dry-sump lubrication, De Dion rear suspension, Alfa Romeo, Gran Turismo, Giugiaro - each one of these terms by itself should be good enough to get the enthusiasts’ heart to beat at a frenetic pace. Mentioning all of those words in the same context should therefore inevitably lead to a serious bout of acute hyperventilation. 

Yet Alfa Romeo’s Alfetta GTV, this (mostly) Giugiaro-penned, race engine-powered, transaxle-equipped coupé, remains a bit of a fringe car in the wider automotive realm. At least as far as the most subjective terms of prestige are concerned, it simply cannot hope to match the reputation of its more illustrious forebears - despite the fact that the Alfetta GTV was shaped with said predecessors very much on the mind of its creators. The traces of which are all too obvious. 

Alfa Montreal, Alfa Giulia GTV, Alfa 33 Iguana, even the Lamborghini Espada - the list of car designs that have had a concrete influence on the Alfetta GTV’s styling is as long as it is illustrious. It could almost be considered some kind of ‘Best of Italian Coupé Styling Of The Early 1970s’ compilation. Does that mean it’s a slightly blatant, eager-to-please concoction that’s ultimately lacking in terms of outright charisma? After all, only Alan Partridge would ever call The Best Of The Beatles his favourite Fab Four album…


It actually isn’t hard to see why the Alfetta GTV would pay homage to this particular set of cars at all. GTs, the quintessential modern Gran Turismo motorcars - powerful coupés, which had been designed with the passengers’ needs in mind, as well - were an Italian speciality, which used to be served particularly well by Alfa Romeo of Milan and Arese. The Giulia’s GTV variant and the exotic Montreal, the Alfetta’s immediate predecessors, were all the proof one could need of this. 

It had been the footsteps of the compact Giulia GTV (often referred to as the Bertone in continental Europe) in which the Alfetta GTV was supposed to follow. Despite its moniker, that two-door Giulia’s perfect proportions and stance actually bore the signature of none other than young Giorgetto Giugiaro, who headed Bertone’s styling department at the time of its conception. The Alfetta GTV incidentally happens to quote that very car with a joint at each corner of its front end that is very reminiscent of the early Giulia GTV’s ‘step-front’ bonnet. 

The Alfa Montreal, however, was of a different kind: it was a solitaire, a marketing exercise, as well as an engineering effort. Based on a design by Marcello Gandini, which had actually been supposed to be produced in mid-engined form, this V8-powered GT eventually ended up being put into production on the Giulia’s rather humble chassis, which explains why the Montreal’s chassis and body never appeared to be in perfect stylistic harmony with one another. This was a trait it shared with Gandini’s Lamborghini Espada, which was cut from a similar cloth as the Montreal, in that its rather weak stance is offset by its positively mad styling details. 

So the list of people who played some role - actively or indirectly - during the creation of the Alfetta GTV includes plenty of Italian styling greats, with Giugiaro, who had meanwhile left Bertone and founded his own studio, Italdesign, being the most significant one among them. And yet the typical ‘Design Giugiaro’ badge is conspicuous by its absence on the Alfetta’s wings - why would that be? 


There are a few theories revolving around the extent of Giugiaro’s involvement in the Alfetta GTV’s design process. One of them claims that Il Maestro took exception to Alfa management’s refusal to put the concealed windscreen wipers he’d proposed into production. Another version of the story points out that Giugiaro wasn’t pleased with the Montreal-influenced details Alfa’s own Centro Stile added to his proposal - which would’ve constituted quite an affront, considering this was the period when the gentlemanly rivalry between Giugiaro and Marcello Gandini was at its peak. 

No matter how it actually came about: the Alfetta GTV turned out to be much more than just a collection of mere stylistic quotes. Its - or should that be: her? - roofline possesses an unmistakeable silhouette, even if, when seen from certain angles, one is faintly reminded of Giugiaro’s Alfa Iguana concept car and Gandini’s Espada (with which the GTV shares the trait of a very short wheelbase). 

Apart from designers and preceding models, it obviously was the engineers who left the biggest imprint on the Alfa’s extravagant, as well as noble technological basis. This resulted in a veritable 2+2 seater that made quite a few unforgivingly stiff sportscars appear somewhat silly, just in terms of engineering and handling characteristics. 


Also slightly silly, but handsome nonetheless is the Alfetta GTV’s cockpit. At least the upper part of it, that is, where the arrangement of its instruments surprises and delights. The driver is only presented with a tachometer, while all other gauges are shared with the other passengers by virtue of them being placed in the middle of the dashboard. However, the fact that those gauges are not perfectly legible under all conditions is a bit of a shame, also because their octagonal Veglia faces - presented in a very classy light blue - are such a pretty sight. 

As with many Italian motorcars of the 1970s, the overall impression of the cockpit is of the rather schizophrenic kind. Aside from the upper dashboard and the instrument pack, most components actually appear to be quite sloppily made and crude, almost as though there had been a division of labour between one team for the upper and another one for the lower part of the dashboard, the latter of which wasn’t paid as well as the former and hence went on strike. Or maybe the Gentiluomini of Arese simply ran out of money and/or time at a certain point. 


Regardless of this, there obviously still was enough funding for the steering wheel’s design - thank God. It may very well be the very last (and unreservedly pretty) example of a wooden steering wheel that was fitted as standard on a production car. In contrast to this (and as a sign of things to come), the gear knob was already made of fake wood/plastic. This reminiscence of the similarly wooden Alfa volants of yore constituted a most welcome inconsistency in this otherwise modern cabin ambience, rather than mere kitsch. 

In a similarly direct connection to the preceding Giulia model were the headrest struts, which had already been subject to a plastification process. But modernity also has its boons, as demonstrated by the strikingly contemporary shape of the Alfa’s fauteuils, which are most likely to have once more been influenced by Italian furniture design of that time. Even the operation of those seats, as well as the functional wind-down rear windows, applies a modernist approach, the aim being to demonstrate that there is more to rotary buttons than had previously been shown.



Rather surprisingly, the supposedly gimmicky trapezoidal rear-view mirror turns out to be a practical device, as well, what with its shape closely resembling the field of vision through the rear glass hatch. And if this kind of attention to detail was to be expected at this point, it is put into even sharper contrast yet again by the oh-so-obviously crude oil-based door cards and trim panels (which are at least adorned with pleasing graphical elements). There simply is no escaping the Alfetta GTV’s Janus-faced character, it appears. 

Light, yet voluminous - this is the contradictoriness of the Alfetta GTV’s body. Its light weight is conveyed though its styling, but at the same time its silhouette makes it blatantly obvious that this is not some tight two-seater - although, admittedly, not quite as obvious as in the case of the Lamborghini Espada’s quirky outline. But Giugiaro (ever the packaging fetishist) would have had a field day working on a GT, which should, by all intents and purposes, be offering little in the way of space efficiency (courtesy of its transaxle chassis), and bestowing it with surprising amounts of interior space.

Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV Coupé pretty

Surprisingly practical, with plenty of thoroughbred engineering, penned by the hand of a true master, exhibiting plenty of stylistic nods to noble ancestors - taking all of those virtues into account, it remains baffling that the Alfetta GTV remains firmly in the shadow of its predecessor. That cannot entirely be blamed on its tight wheelbase. 

It is more likely that it is the complexity of a car that’s not easy to grasp in simple terms. Its engineering excellence and stylistic allure may be hard to ignore, but they are often presented in often contradictory and challenging terms, which has lead to the Alfetta GTV being denied the kind of boundless affection other Alfas have been enjoyed for so long.

The Alfetta GTV is to its ancestors what the Porsche 928 is to its air-cooled relatives. Is that a backhanded compliment? If one believes so, then he or she isn’t quite ready for transaxle delights. Which would be a pity. 


©, all rights reserved

Christopher Butt

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Comment by Richard |

The last photo is superb.
Rust, sir, was the problem. That was such a pity as the design itself had much to commend it. Imagine if BMW had produced this. Alfa's production methods lagged terribly.

Reply by Christopher Butt

It's a tragedy how the efforts of stylists and efforts were sabotaged by manufacturing deficits. 

This hardly being my home turf, I'd like to learn more about how West German manufacturing gained such a decisive advantage in this field in the post-war years. 

Comment by Dave |

Sorry to spoil the party, but the Alfetta in general and its GT derivative in particular are quite a mixed blessing when considered as cars.
My two pennies of thought:
The car pictured here is a GTV and therefore has a wooden steering wheel. An original GT would have a black plastic rim.
The assumption that Alfa ran out of money during the Alfetta’s development is true. Once the mechanical setup had been defined all the development and production budget was spent on it, forcing them to fit the cheapest possible interior. In order to somewhat hide its cheapness it was given outrageous looks with separate locations for the instruments.

The GT shared most of its problems with the Alfetta saloon and these were not predominantly production based.
The Alfetta’s transaxle design looked good on paper but was deeply flawed in execution.
Quick comparison with the superficially similar Porsche 924 clearly shows the Alfa’s deficits.
Mounting the gearbox under the rear seat is not a good idea because it puts the box’s front where there’s the least room under the car. The Porsche has its box under the boot and between the rear wheels where it’s far less in danger of making unwanted ground contact. The Alfa has its clutch at the gearbox and therefore placed where there’s no room, forcing engineers to use a very small diameter clutch or, in the case of the GTV6, a twin plate design for lack of space (Alfetta saloons with automatic gearboxes had self levelling rear shock absorbers to keep the larger torque converter housing from being ground through on the road). The Porsche has the clutch up front at the engine where it can be of standard size. Another big design flaw in the Alfa is its flexible prop shaft connecting engine and gearbox. The shaft itself is plagued with short lived Guibo (rubber) couplings necessary to filter out engine vibrations that otherwise would kil the gearbox. The long gearshift linkage is running unsupported at fresh air, resulting in unacceptable shift quality (that the gearbox itself is of fragile design and uses very weak synchromesh isn’t particularly helpful, either). The Porsche has a rigid ‘torque tube’ connecting engine and gearbox, offering a solid mounting base for gear lever, gearshift linkage and exhaust system, avoiding the Alfa’s problems. Last, but not least, the Alfetta has a DeDion axle that looks good on paper but makes for old fashioned road manners and in later years prevented Alfa from taking advantage of progress in tyre technology because a rigid tube for an axle strictly limits the choice of tyre size and section.

In addition to these faults, the Alfetta GT followed a peculiar Italian formula of full four seater coupé with a large boot that was quite unattractive for any other market. This oddball concept was combined with flawed mechanicals, nasty and cheap interior and produced in shoddy quality.
Small wonder its market success was somewhat restricted.

Reply by Christopher Butt

Fair enough, Dave.