I Could Afford That / Classified Dreaming #2

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all cardshops, department stores or Moonpig adverts recently, then you would’ve missed the fact it was Valentine’s day yesterday. Fortunately I did remember so I’m here to bring forth another installment of I Could Afford That/Classified Dreaming. To perpetuate a very tedious link (for which I apologise profusely) Italy and the Italians are often considered to be very romantic; so this weeks edition has a certain Italiano flavour. So if music be the food of love, lets look at some cheap cars.

I Could Afford That

Finances only extend to Cava not Champagne? Tesco value chocolate over Thornton’s? Fear not, below is an ensemble of vehicles sure to win you affection with the Azzurri.

1998 Alfa Romeo 156 1.8 16v – £1,495

As saloons go, you cannot deny that the 156 is a looker

So the antipasti for today’s menu is this really rather lovely Alfa 156. Along with being an incredibly successful touring car, the 156 is possibly the car which signalled the emergence of Alfa from the doldrums. I have to admit, this Walter de’Silva styled machine is truly beautiful, even if the photos make the car appear almost a strange light blue colour. But read the advert; it may throw in the classic clichés of “elderly owner” and “maintained regardless of cost” but for some reason, despite my cynical self, I’m prepared to believe all that without question on this occasion. And that’s probably because I saw the interior:

I don’t care what anyone says, I love that steering wheel

Typically I despise wood in cars. Timber belongs on furniture, boats or trees. Not in cars; unless it’s a Morgan. But something about the tree derived helm of the 156 makes me smile. It elevates this car from simple saloon to wannabe Maserati Quattroporte. Granted the 1.8 Twin Spark isn’t going to provide Maser levels of performance (0-60 in around 9.5 seconds) but who really cares? All you need are your string-back driving gloves, aviator shades and Classic FM on the radio to transport you from Tewkesbury to Turin. Were it not for the fact it will go horribly wrong; my Father infamously banned 156’s as company cars once upon a time after some bad experiences, I’d genuinely love to buy this and ferret it away in a barn somewhere. Mark my words, in twenty years time this will be looked upon as a genuine classic. You heard it here first.

Verdict: My drive isn’t big enough, nor my parents stupid enough to store it for me. Pass.

2001 Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 V6 – £2,850.00

Rakish. Wedge-like. Certainly distinctive, that’s the GTV

If the 156 is perhaps a little bit too tepid and mundane for an Italian themed special, how about a proper Pininfarina designed coupe then? This isn’t just any GTV it is, after all, the 3.0 V6 powered version. The three litre Alfa motor is widely regarded as one of the best sounding units ever wedged into a car; don’t just take my word for it however, take a listen to this. You’ll notice a lot of places refer to the GTV as the “baby Ferrari” and it’s quite easy to see why.

With 220bhp the GTV has more than enough power to back up the sonorous sounds coming from the exhaust. 0-60 in under 7 seconds and a top-speed of 150+mph were, for the mid-nineties at least, impressive performance figures. Combine that with the distinctive looks, bespoke(ish) interior and the fact it isn’t easy to get into due to how low it is, to produce a genuine mini-supercar experience. However, I’ve been in a GTV 3.0 V6, and from that “event” it’s fair to say that hanging a big engine over the front end doesn’t make for amazing handling. In fact it possibly borders on scary, such is the sheer amount of mass out front. The 2.0 Twin Spark four-cylinder is by far the sweeter steering car; but the thought of an Alfa V6 is very appealing.

Less appealing perhaps, is the amount of new parts fitted to this advertised GTV. Granted the car is Italian and over then years old, but new radiator/thermostat and new brake lines do make a little part of me uneasy. At this age and mileage have all the issues been ironed out, or are bigger and badder things about to start happening? It’s also a little over budget at £2,850 but can you really put a price on love? Perhaps you can if you sell off the “GTV” number plate to claim back an estimated £400 and set it aside for running repairs. Make no mistake, this is not a bad car per se but the thought of repairing that V6 if it goes wrong makes me a little edgey. Much like the GTV’s handling.

Verdict: No. Go to YouTube, listen to other people’s GTVs, safe in the knowledge it’s their money not yours at risk.

Classified Dreaming

Italian week seems to have strayed completely into Alfa week unfortunately. Believe me, I did look for non-AR cars, but all the ones which leaped out just happened to have the Biscione badge on them. Save for finding a 155 Touring Car hanging around somewhere, there could only be one real contender:

2009 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione – £119,850

Words fail me

It had to be the 8C. Thinking about it, I genuinely cannot think of a more beautiful car which has been produced in my lifetime. You can forget your Ferrari’s or Lamborghini’s, based on pure aesthetics the 8C wins every time in my eyes. Styled by Wolfgang Egger, the man responsible for many late 20th Century Alfa models, the 8C was intended to recreate the classic cars of the 1950s and 60s. But having compared it to the 6C 2500 or even the Giulia Sprint Speciale I happen to think this 2009 model is actually even prettier than what it is meant to be imitating.

The Alfa shield-shaped grille can sometimes look a little bit overstyled on some cars such as the 147 or 159. But on the 8C it flows flawlessly into the overall design, creating just enough open-mouth aggression to offset the rounded curves of the rest of the body. The proportions are perfect; look at the way the short Kamm’d tail plays against the long bonnet. In an age of ever increasing pedestrian safety and crash-test requirements, that something so stunning can be road legal is a joy in itself.

And all this before we even get to discussing performance. The 4.7 litre engine is not bespoke, being shared with the Maserati Quattroporte and Gran Turismo, but this doesn’t stop it being special. Also, if you thought the GTV noted above sounded good, try listening to this instead. With 450bhp the 8C will hit the magic 60 in a touch over 4 seconds whilst continuing to accelerate, loudly, to the best part of over 180mph.

If there is perhaps one slight flaw in the 8C’s perfect world, then it may be the interior:

Looked at in isolation, the 8C interior could easily have been transplanted from a MiTo or Brera. It does not shout opulence or luxury like a Maserati or crazed racing technicality like a Ferrari. Instead it appears that costs had to be cut somewhere and that came on the inside. But sometimes, only sometimes, it is what is on the outside that matters. And for that I happily forgive the 8C.

Verdict: Buy it, look at it, pay someone to drive it around whilst you look at it. Just don’t think about the interior.

So there we have it; Italian week without even a sniff of mentioning the Panda 100HP.

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