[An expanded and updated version of this CC is here]
We’ve had a lot of utilitarian vehicles last week, and even into this Monday, so with yesterday’s Corolla AE86 leading the charge, we’re going savor some delicious sporty coupes. This Alfetta GT coupe is an interesting follow-up to the AE86, for at least two reasons. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, this lovely Alfa was not only a feast for the eyes in that largely vulgar mid-seventies period, but was also an influential one. The Alfetta GT was one of a few key designs of the period that had a profound and lasting effect on styling trends, including the Corolla itself. The other reason: cars like the fast, cheap but ultra-reliable Corolla GT-S helped put Alfa out of business in the US.
At the time of the Alfetta GT, Japanese styling was lost in a wild and woolly jungle that was a bizarre mixture of US influences combined with homegrown touches (1975 Corolla at top). But for a few exceptions, it did not result in handsome or timeless cars. The clean and angular school of design that was particularly practiced by Bertone and others in Italy was adopted by the Japanese wholesale (1985 Corolla bottom), and even exaggerated. It was one of the more dramatic and sudden shifts of Japanese styling ever.
Of course, we can take that one step back further to explore the influences on the Alfetta GT. The 1968 Lamborghini Espada was one of the most, if not the most significant milestones in this trend. Its influence on the Alfa is all too obvious, keeping in mind that the Espada was a very long and low car, while the Alfetta sat on the platform of the sedan that was also the source of its name.
The Alfetta sedan that arrived in 1972 was a significant new vehicle for Alfa, inasmuch as it ushered in a new generation of cars that finally were not a direct evolution of the Giulia/Giulietta that dated back to the early fifties. The Alfetta sat on a new platform that located the transmission at the rear of the car, for better weight distribution. The rear axle used a de Dion axle, a solid hollow beam connecting the wheels but not carrying the weight of the differential and axle shafts.
The Alfetta and the GT were sold in the US starting in 1975, under a variety of names. The sedan petered out by 1979, but the coupe had much longer run, thanks to the implant of Alfa’s first modern V6 engine, which turned it into the GTV-6, from 1981 through 1986. That delicious confection of chrome induction tubes and soul-stirring mechanical music gave the Alfetta a new lease on life, especially in the performance-hungry US. The 1.8 and 2.0 fours of the early version put out some 124hp, which was not sufficient in the face of competition from new small hot hatches like the VW GTI, the Corolla GT-S, and others, especially considering its higher price tag.
Alfa’s reliability woes were a heavy drag on its reputation and sales during the seventies. Alfas, like other certain European cars had been fundamentally well-built cars in the fifties and sixties, although always needing a bit more TLC than average. But during the seventies, many European makes suffered from the twin effects of having to make many drastic changes to meet US emission standards as well as the amenities Americans increasingly demanded. And labor problems exacerbated these issues.
Adding power windows and numerous other electric and electronic devices that were not well engineered, integrated or built caused a large portion of the woes, and it was endless failures with these peripherals that contributed to the declining rep of cars like Peugeot, Alfa and others that were once fairly easy to fix and simple cars. And vulnerability to rust was of course another significant factor, but then they weren’t the only ones to suffer that fate.
This particular example is a bit of an enigma to me, because I’m having a hard time placing it exactly in terms of its year of build and origin. I’m suspecting it may be a European model, because the bumpers don’t look like the larger ones fitted to US imports. But the speedometer reads in mph. BTW, that highly unique dash layout places the tachometer alone directly in front of the driver, and the other instruments including the speedometer are in the center nacelle. Looks cool, but lets just say it was not commonly replicated.
The Alfettas were delightful cars when they were running right. The rear transaxle made for almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and everyone raved about the superb handling. And the GTV-6 of course added that oomph and sound which became legendary. But Alfetta GTs have not become the collector cars that their timelessly beautiful predecessors are, and are languishing in a state of; well, similar to this one. Running, but not exactly completely intact. It was a pleasant surprise just to find this at all, ironically sitting in front of that symbol of enduring ruggedness, a might oak tree. Makes for a nice juxtaposition.