By on May 12, 2010

[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.

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23 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1975 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT Coupe/GTV...”

  • avatar

    The only Alfa I ever bought “New” was a 79 alfetta GT. Sweet car. I regularly consider picking up a GTV6. Big improvement in quality, but I kind of liked the quirky dash.

  • avatar

    I always thought that these cars looked like the front end melted slightly and drooped.

    I also found it amusing that the back seat had a large sticker onit that said “Not to be used as a seat”.


  • avatar

    I still remember falling in love with this very car the first time I ever saw it. Possibly my favorite car in Eugene.

  • avatar

    This car and its predecessor are two of the best looking non-exotic cars ever, to my eyes.

  • avatar

    Here in Canada I always considered an Alfa as an “exotic”. As in “No. You can’t afford one……..”. This was one of my favourite body styles. But it should red or midnight blue. The colour of this example is what you would paint your kitchen cupboards……
    Nice find Paul!

  • avatar

    I smell an Isuzu Impulse CC. Be it JR (1st gen) or JI (2nd gen).

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two 1979 Sprint Veloces and enjoyed them both. One midnight blue metallic Mille Miglia Edition that succumbed to rust and a red one that met it’s end after an inattentive high school student turned left in front of me.

    Both had the ANSA exhaust which made them sound great. Although the horsepower was lacking and the shifting took some getting used to, they were enjoyable to drive.They appear for sale on from time to time and I’ve been quite tempted a couple of times to get another one. Of all the cars I’ve owned, even my mother tells me the Alfas were her favorite and she’s not really a car person.

    Owning one used to be easy in the Atlanta area since there were three good shops to service Alfas. All gone now.

  • avatar

    Enough photos of Alfettas to make my eyes water at their beauty:

  • avatar

    I was offered one of these Alfa’s in ’75 when I started college, but I elected to buy a Scirocco instead (also a Giugiaro design.) One of my classmates bought one, though. By the end of our five year program in Ithaca, NY, the rust holes on his car were a whole lot bigger than those on mine (not that my car didn’t need a bit of work too). Still, the Alfa was a beautiful car.

    Stingray, I too have been wondering when we would be getting a CC of the Giugiaro designed Isuzu Impulse. Granted, in Philly at least, I have not seen one of those in a decade or more!

  • avatar

    A dialed-in GTV-6 is a lot of fun to drive. But . . . with that huge rear window they became a hothouse in any sunny weather.

  • avatar

    “The Alfettas were delightful cars when they were running right.”

    Yes, but then week 2 of ownership kicks in.

    I’d still like to have a late 1960’s boat-tail Duetto spyder.


  • avatar

    I learned to drive stick in an alfetta sedan owned by my mother. What a sweet car! Much prettier than the GTV if you ask me. Eventually rusted out though…. I still see plenty of them in great shape in Italy when I go there.

    I guess I have odd tastes, because I find that 75 Corolla to be prettier than either of the other two photos in that group.

  • avatar

    Never knew Alfas centered the tach in front of the driver, thought only MiniCoopers did that. I have to admit that in a sporty car with a clutch, it’s a nice set up.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    “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”

    Surely the ugly side marker lights/reflectors on this car were only fitted to US models .

    • 0 avatar

      Looks to me like a 78 or 79.  The thick rubber gasket around the hatch window was introduced in 78.  The euro bumpers were an easily available swap here in the USA.

  • avatar

    Look at the Volkswagen Passat B2 (1981-88). The side profile is almost a dead ringer for the Alfetta GTV. Giugiaro involved in both designs.

  • avatar

    That is a rare sight! 15 years ago an Alfetta GT would have still managed to be a rare sight .. But a pleasure to these eyes when spotted. First impression of a new black GT at Auto Italia in Bergenfield NJ with the cromodora 5 star wheels was a lasting one. Thought the solo center mount speedometer was pure inspiration (if not genius). Had a GTV-6 for several years but was not impressed by all the plastic pimpin add on pieces that only served to spoil the pure Italianate design. Though I much preferred the V-6 engine my first choice would have been the 4 cylinder GT pictured had I been able to find a good example, and that was over 20 years ago! Would love to see the Italians playing ball in the affordable car market here in the US again.

  • avatar

    When I was in high school, one of my classmates owned what I believe to be on of these. I clearly recall the center mounted tachometer. He was a total hoon; he wrecked a few cars before his parents gave him the Alfa. We were lucky in that there were a lot of cool cars in the student lot. BMWs were not that common in the mid/late ’70s but we had a couple of 2002s. There was even a Lancia. Anyway, the “hoon” got involved with anything on the road he could. One day he was behind a Porsche 911 on a road that closely followed the shoreline of the Long Island Sound. This road had a lot of tight turns and he goaded the 911 driver from behind. The driver took the bait and had to show his superiority. At the end of the road, a quick right turn and the two cars headed up a seriously winding road called Snake Hill. Aptly named, the lower portion had tight twists and rapid grade increases in the middle of the twists. The upper portion flattened out for the most part, but still had tight twists and bumpy surfaces. Narrow from the bottom to the top, the road had large trees om both sides. Because of the tight twists at the bottom, the 911 didn’t get too far from the Alfa. As the road began to flatten out, the 911 began to increase its distance from the Alfa and the driver went all out to show who’s car was better. At the top of the hill the 911 was screaming as it tried to wind through the bumpy tarmac. At one of the tighter turns, the 911 driver lost control and the car spun out and broadsided a large tree. The impact caused the car’s passenger door to fold around the tree; the fold was so severe that the driver’s door missed its latch point by six inches. Inside the car the driver was wearing a Porsche jacket and leather driving gloves; in the passenger seat was a small infant which was seriously injured but survived. The Alfa caught up with the wreck but never ‘fessed up to the village police about the race up the hill. I recall asking him if he felt guilty for his contribution to the accident. He stated that initially he felt partially responsible but then felt that the 911 driver didn’t have to respond to his taunting…every time I see an Alfa I think of this accident.

    • 0 avatar

      It was a tragic story.   But this is a perfect lesson in why “neutral steering” cars are so much faster and SAFER than “oversteering” cars.   911’s are a real handfull to drive fast.

  • avatar

    The Alfetta was a nice-looking car, but otherwise a disappointment. As a kid in Greece in the 70s, Alfas were then what BMWs are now–the sports sedan/coupe!

    The 1960s Guilias looked sporty, had nice interiors. But somehow, BMW managed to improve, while Alfas got worse. The interior in the featured car is an ergonomic nightmare–what a contrast to the tasteful 60’s cars.

    And the Alfetta coupe was followed by ugly cars. Whether you are Alfa Romeo or GM, you can’t live off your past glory forever.

  • avatar

    I believe this is a 1975 or 1976 Alfetta. The very first ones to come to the US had the European bumpers as this one does. Soon thereafter large American-specification bumpers were mounted spoiling the lines of the orginal and adding extra weight at the far ends increasing the polar moment of inertia.

    These are great cars to learn on-track performance driving: not enough horsepower to get you into too much trouble and very neutral, forgiving handling. It lets the beginner really feel what 10/10th driving is like. Many newer cars are faster when even driven at 5/10th, but then those drivers really aren’t learning anything (their traction control system knows more than they do).

    Besides you can’t be a true gearhead until you have owned an Alfa: the high highs and the low lows!

  • avatar

    This used to be my car. It is a ’79 with tinted windows, hard to find euro bumpers, hard to find five star wheels and it had a custom Sheelman leather interior with and Alpine stereo and MB Quart speakers. I traded straight across for a GTV6 Balocco which I still have. I have 4 Alfetta coupes, 2 GTV6 Baloccos and an Alfa Spider. I live in Oregon and sense we don’t use salt the roads, rust isn’t usually a big problem. I have no idea how that once sweet Alfetta got so rusty, but sense ALFA means Always Looking For Another, I might try to buy that one back.

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