Alfa Romeo GTV/SPIDER 916 REVIEW

It may be one of the cheapest routes into classic Alfa ownership, but is the 916-series GTV a safe bet? We find out...

 

The coupé and Spider tend to appeal to different driving styles. The soft-top is arguably at its very best in V6 guise, the better to hear that amazing howl and tune out the inevitable scuttle shake and understeer-prone handling. As such, it works best as a quasi-grand tourer, and suits a more laid-back driving style.

Hardcore drivers, meanwhile, tend to gravitate to the 2.0-litre Twin Spark coupés – this is an engine that simply begs to be revved hard, and its lighter weight renders the front-drive handling less prone to pushing on ahead in the corners. Factor in the greater shell rigidity offered by the coupé body and an engine noise that’s almost – but not quite – a match for the V6, and it’s noticeably the better driver’s car.

It’s wise to try before you bu, though. The cabin might look amazing, – especially when swathed in ribbed Momo leather – but the driving position is still very Italian and doesn’t suit everyone, with taller drivers in particular often finding it difficult to get comfortable in the coupé.

 

VITAL STATISTICS

1997 ALFA ROMEO GTV 2.0 TWIN SPARK

 

Engine                                    1970cc/4-cyl/DOHC

Power (bhp@rpm)                  155bhp@6400rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 138lb ft@3500rpm

Top speed                                134mph

0-60mph                                  8.4sec

Consumption                            32mpg 

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

For once, there should be no evidence of rust anywhere on any of these cars, since they were galvanised at the factory, and every panel forward of the scuttle beneath the windscreen is made from a special plastic composite. A damaged bonnet clamshell is bad news, since it is pricey to replace. Rot anywhere else on a 916 can only be as a result of badly-repaired accident damage, so walk away. Likewise if you find uneven panel gaps, panel bolts that have obviously been disturbed or overspray.

Look down both flanks and check for impact damage. GTVs left the factory with no bodyside protection mouldings and so are vulnerable to unwanted attentions of neighbouring parked cars. Dents in the characteristic bodyside slash are particularly tricky to repair, so adjust the asking price to suit. Fading paint – especially on red cars – and lifting lacquer are common. A localised re-spray is the only answer.

 

ENGINE

Low oil on the dipstick points to indifferent maintenance, which is bad news on the Twin Spark engine in particular since it is known to use oil and requires weekly inspection. A loud rattling on 2.0-litre cars from cold means the cam variator is not long for this world. Oil cooler pipes corrode on V6s and are difficult to replace – expensive, too, since the radiator usually needs replacing at the same time.

Ask for evidence of cambelt changes. Alfa Romeo dictates 72,000-mile intervals for both 2.0-litre and V6 cars, but the general consensus is that they should be replaced every 36,000 miles. A full service history is a must, too – many owners fail to twig that a Twin Spark engine has twice the number of spark plugs usually fitted to a ‘four’, which in turn bumps up servicing costs. Any corner-cutting here will do the engine no good. A car that feels down on power probably just needs a new air flow meter.

 

ELECTRICS

Only buy a car that’s missing its brown master ignition key if you are absolutely sure of its provenance (or the car is extremely cheap), since rectifying a problem as simple as a flat battery can soon lead to big bills without it. Make sure you have the security code for the stereo, too.

 

RUNNING GEAR

Running gear is pretty bullet-proof, so graunching gearshifts point to a neglected or routinely badly-driven car. Clutches that only bite at the very top of the pedal travel are overdue replacement and only keep going by dint of their self-adjusting design. An excessively heavy clutch pedal on a V6 is often evidence of a slipping friction plate.

Noticeable slop in the corners (especially if accompanied by an irritatingly loud squeak) is almost certainly doesn to worn suspension bushes. This is a particular problem on 2.0-litre cars since the rear bush contains a steel insert that, if left for long enough, will eat into the aluminium subframe.

 

BRAKES

Make sure that the three main self-diagnostic dashboard warning lights (for the engine management system, airbags and anti-lock braking system) go out shortly after you start the engine. If they remain on (or don’t come on at all), then either the dashboard lights have failed or (more likely) there’s bad news lurking within one or more of these systems.


INTERIOR

Interior trim is generally pretty durable, but the side bolster eventually wears on the driver’s seat, whether it’s vinyl or leather trim. Make sure everything – windows, mirrors, air conditioning, stereo, sunroof – operates as it should. Failure to work could be down to something as simple as a blown fuse, but could also be indicative of something more serious.

 

OUR VERDICT

As with most Alfas, you tend to buy a 916 more with your heart than your head. You certainly don’t buy one for practicality, since the cabin is essentially a two-seater (token rear seats aside) and the boot is capable of swallowing a folding toothbrush, but not much else. No, the 916 unashamedly plucks at your heart strings, with its slash-sided Pinifarina-designed flanks and potent, tuneful engines.

They’re temptingly priced, too – most of the best ones won’t set you back by much over £5000, good foot-soldiers command no more than a couple of grand and, for those in possession of brave pills, serviceable ones are readily available for under £1000.

All generate addictive, sonorous top-end power, but the Twin Spark models tend to be more popular since they’re generally acknowledged as the better handler and cost less to run.

Actually, who are we kidding? Hang the expense, get yourself a soulful V6, and move into a house built next to a nice, long tunnel!

A 916 GTV can be hugely rewarding, offering as it does a brilliant steer and blinding value for money. Buy carefully, though – they’re colour-sensitive, so cars painted anything other than Alfa Red, black or silver can be hard to sell on again. Likewise, Alfisti prefer a leather interior and Teledial alloy wheels above all else. The pick of the crop? Budget £3000 on an early (pre- facelift) solid red/black leather GTV coupé 2.0.

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