Alfa GT: Bertone beauty

January 29 2021
Alfa GT: Bertone beauty

Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke

I SHOULD probably be on a diet. I definitely should do more exercise.

I blame this perennial problem on the creeping onset of middle age, or a slowing metabolism. Both are lame excuses.

Car manufacturers also wheel out reasons why their products are getting bigger and chubbier. This includes enhanced safety systems, stiffer bodyshells, four wheel drive transmissions and automatic gearboxes. Extra weight is inefficient though – I know this each time I try to stagger up a hill on my irregular runs.

Alfa Romeo learnt the lesson when they teamed up with GM to build the fat, sluggish 159. The chassis suffered from some unsightly love handles that the gorgeous bodywork struggled to contain. That sleek body was also writing all sorts of cheques the asthmatic engines couldn’t ever hope to cash. The result, back in 2005, was a car far too slow, thirsty and underpowered.

Today things are better thanks to turbocharging, but the trend for SUVs means more power and fuel consumption, rather than less weight. Alfa is as stuck in the Crossover SUV rut as everyone else. Worse still, they don’t even have a competitor for the German coupes from BMW (4 series) Audi (A5) and Mercedes. What if you, the savvy used car buyer, could get hold of a lightweight, practical Alfa coupe, and all for very little cash? Enter the stunning Alfa GT.

The GT was based on the flyweight 147 and 156 when it came out in 2003. It weighed around 1,300kg whilst still offering seating for four and a large boot.

My test car is the 2.0 ‘JTS’ petrol, good for 165hp and about 135mph. 0-60 is in the mid 8 seconds, but it feels faster somehow. I think this is because the engine just wants to rev the whole time, aided by a slick (but long-throw) 5 speed manual gearbox.

JTS is Alfa-hokum for Direct Injection. In 2003 this was big news, as by directly injecting petrol into the cylinders manufacturers hoped to achieve lower emissions and fuel consumption and higher power. Today direct injection is everywhere, and does produce real fuel and emission benefits. Typically Alfa only succeeded in producing more power (the JTS engine is up 15hp on the previous Twin Spark).

No matter – the engine is a peach. The Bertone-designed body looks fabulous. Even better, prices start low: a pristine 2.0 won’t cost more than £5k. The 3.2 V6 is already up at £10k, and has ‘classic’ written all over it.

That’s the good news. The bad is that GTs are at least 11 years old now, and all will be knee deep in a perpetual cycle of repair.

An industry friend summarised the issue neatly to me years ago: A 50k mile Alfa should be approached with the caution you would have for another car with double that mileage. Maybe it’s a good lockdown purchase then? You can look at it without having to add any miles!

The GT buyer’s checklist includes: 1) Cambelt change intervals (every 36k miles). £500, and do the fragile water pump at the same time. 2) Oil burn – normal but assume 1 litre per 1k miles, check and top up with the good (and therefore expensive) stuff. 3) Suspension. Made from finest Italian chocolate, it will need constant attention. 4) Clutch health. A replacement requires the gearbox to come out, costing at least £1k. 5) The JTS eats ignition coil packs for fun; easy to replace but not cheap at £100. Not funny either, when they only last 30k miles.

Buying a GT is an exercise in due diligence. Look for a car with a history file that needs its own chapter headings and index. The seller must convince you they’ve not just maintained the car, but loved it. Otherwise you could be stumbling into someone else’s money-pit. Get a good one, though, and you won’t want to let it go. Today Alfa don’t offer anything with such a perfect, low-set driving position, naturally aspirated rev-hungry engine and lightweight chassis. You can have it all for less than the cost of a lease-hire deposit.

What to pay: Alfa GT 2.0 JTS 2003 – 2010; £3k - £5k