Ital­ian stal­lion: Fo­ley's Moff­s­tang-beat­ing Alfa

Australian Muscle Car - - Front Page -

The fi­nal years of the Im­proved Pro­duc­tion era saw big V8s bat­tling it out, with smaller ma­chines nip­ping at their heels, such as Brian Fo­ley’s four-cylin­der Alfa GTAm. Fo­ley soon bought into the ‘big into lit­tle’ mantra by fit­ting a V8.

The ad­vent of a multi-race se­ries for the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship in 1969 ush­ered in a new phi­los­o­phy for the Im­proved Pro­duc­tion class, whereby a car and driver could pre­vail as a re­sult of con­sis­tency. That year, Alan Hamil­ton’s two-litre Porsche 911 T/R al­most stole the ti­tle from Ian Geoghe­gan’s familiar Mus­tang.

Two sea­soned class cam­paign­ers, Jim McKe­own (Lo­tus Cortina) and Brian Fo­ley (Mor­ris Cooper S) took no­tice and both grad­u­ated to 2.3-litre Porsche 911STs for 1970. McKe­own fared bet­ter, even snar­ing a win on his way to fin­ish­ing run­ner-up in the se­ries. For Fo­ley it was a dif­fer­ent story as he strug­gled to get to terms with the rear-en­gined Stuttgart stormer.

While McKe­own re­mained with the Ger­man marque for 1971, Fo­ley, who had just opened a new Alfa Romeo deal­er­ship in Par­ra­matta in the heart of Syd­ney’s west, looked to­wards Mi­lan, Italy for his next Im­proved Pro­duc­tion race­car, an Alfa Romeo GTAm.

Alfa Romeo and its fac­tory race team Au­todelta had won the 1970 Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship in the wheel-lift­ing 1750 GTAm (‘Am’ for Amer­ica, as the US 1750 GTV was ho­molo­gated for Group 2 FIA-based se­ries).

The GTAm fea­tured an all-steel con­struc­tion but with fi­bre­glass doors, bon­net, bootlid and flared wheel arches. A two-litre en­gine – a devel­op­ment of the ‘Nord’ pro­duc­tion en­gine with ‘monosleeve’ liner, a nar­row-an­gle twin-cam and twin-plug head with Lu­cas slide-throt­tle fuel in­jec­tion – gave over 200bhp through a closer­a­tio five-speed gear­box to a ZF LSD with var­i­ous diff ra­tios. Sus­pen­sion was sim­i­lar to the GTA, with front wish­bones and a live axle lo­cated by trail­ing arms with lat­eral lo­ca­tion by a crude but ef­fec­tive slid­ing block. Wheels were 13 x 9 inch Cam­pag­nolo (up­graded to 13 x 10 inch Minilites). De­spite lib­eral use of mag­ne­sium, alu­minium and fi­bre­glass, the ho­molo­gated weight was 920kg.

Fo­ley’s spon­sors, Ch­ester­field, Cas­trol, and new sign­ing Al­i­talia gave Fo­ley the green light to go Ital­ian. With sup­port from the new (fac­tory) dis­trib­u­tor Alfa Romeo Australia, Fo­ley trav­elled to Italy in early 1971 to in­spect his ‘new’ GTAm. Only it wasn’t new...

“Well, I think the fi­bre­glass flares may have been new,” re­mem­bers Fo­ley to­day. “They looked like they had just been riv­eted on. It had the fi­bre­glass doors and ev­ery­thing it should have but ev­ery­thing was worn out – the en­gine, the gear­box and even the diff!”

The car didn’t come with a log­book or any com­pe­ti­tion his­tory and was likely used as a ‘muletta’ – a devel­op­ment or prac­tice car for Au­todelta’s fac­tory driv­ers to learn the Targa Flo­rio cir­cuit.

Fo­ley’s chief me­chanic Col Devaney re­mem­bers first lay­ing eyes on the GTAm.

“It was like an Ital­ian taxi! We re­built the en­gine and it gave 144kW (194bhp) on the dyno which was 30 less than the Ital­ians claimed.” On­go­ing devel­op­ment saw this rise to an even­tual 162kW (217bhp).

The rebuild de­layed the de­but of the GTAm un­til March, miss­ing the first three rounds of the ATCC. In its first race, a non-cham­pi­onship event, at Oran Park it fin­ished a dis­tant sec­ond to Ian

Geoghe­gan’s Mus­tang.

At the GTAm’s first ATCC round at Surfers Par­adise it fin­ished sixth be­hind the big V8s and McKe­own’s Porsche. At the next round at Mal­lala the GTAm fin­ished a re­spectable fifth and at Lake­side it was sev­enth.

The bot­tom-line was the GTAm wasn’t com­pet­i­tive against the V8s and with­out an ad­van­ta­geous class pointscore, which did come in 1972, it seemed fu­tile to con­tinue. Fo­ley was a no-show at the sea­son fi­nale at Oran Park. In fact, his en­gine was pow­er­ing the Ch­ester­field ‘se­ries pro­duc­tion’ 1750 GTV of jour­nal­ist racer David McKay to a fine sec­ond in the Du­lux Rally.

“The GTAm was quicker than the Porsches at War­wick Farm, but it strug­gled at longer cir­cuits,” laments Fo­ley. “It got around there in 1:40, not far be­hind Geoghe­gan in his Su­per Fal­con. In­deed it was the tight Syd­ney cir­cuit that would be the barom­e­ter of Fo­ley’s fu­ture Alfa suc­cess.

At Ch­ester­field’s be­hest, Fo­ley took the GTAm over the ditch to the end of year meet­ings at Bay Park and the NZ GP at Pukekohe in early ’72. Again the GTAm was out­classed by heavy iron, with Al­lan Mof­fat’s Mus­tang pre­vail­ing at the Auck­land cir­cuit.

V8-pow­ered

Un­will­ing to make up the num­bers in the (Im­proved Pro­duc­tion) ATCC for 1972, Fo­ley con­verted the GTAm to the sports sedan class by putting in a V8.

This was no or­di­nary Amer­i­can cast-iron V8. Fo­ley had ac­quired a real rac­ing Alfa Romeo V8 from the Alec Mil­dren Rac­ing sta­ble. This alu­minium V8 with its flat-plane crankshaft, quad camshafts and twin-plug ig­ni­tion had (in the back of a Brab­ham BT23D) taken Kevin Bartlett to con­sec­u­tive Aus­tralian Driv­ers Cham­pi­onships in 1968 and ‘69. This V8 in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties was also used for the fac­tory 33 Sports Pro­to­types and even briefly in For­mula 1.

The V8 en­gine was in pieces when Devaney picked it up.

“A pre­vi­ous blow-up had dam­aged an oil gallery, so we welded that up. On Wag­gott’s dyno it made 228kW (305hp), more than when it was with Mil­drens. I said ‘that will do.’”

Mak­ing the 2.5-litre V8 fit into the en­gine bay was a chal­lenge. The floor had to be cut to fit the V8’s larger bell hous­ing and Devaney de­vised a novel so­lu­tion in con­vert­ing the steer­ing to right­hand drive. “We did this at Ray Mor­ris’s (fa­ther of Bathurst win­ner Bob) work­shop. We ac­tu­ally reversed the LHD steer­ing box by mount­ing it in the in­ner guard and fab­ri­cated the idler arm to fit. We also fab­ri­cated a re­stric­tive ex­haust sys­tem which cost us a lot of horse­power.”

Fo­ley thinks the loss was as much as 50bhp, which along with the ex­tra en­gine weight, 70kg, was not the ad­vance that it may have seemed. De­spite the new en­gine, the rest of the driv­e­train and sus­pen­sion was left alone. This was a tes­ta­ment to the strength of the Alfa’s orig­i­nal com­po­nents.

Af­ter a low-key de­but at Oran Park, the GTAm V8 went on to wins in Ade­laide and Ama­roo Park. There were strong sec­onds to top guns like Bob Jane’s Ca­maro at Wan­neroo and Ian Geoghe­gan’s Mus­tang at War­wick Farm. How­ever, the high­light of the Fo­ley GTAm V8’s ca­reer was down­ing Al­lan Mof­fat’s Mus­tang at his beloved War­wick Farm.

“War­wick Farm re­ally suited the Alfa,” re­flects Fo­ley. “The tro­phy event was the ag­gre­gated times of two races. I won the first race by a tenth and in the sec­ond he mis­cal­cu­lated and fin­ished a tenth be­hind me over the two races. I got into the 1:38s, not far off the lap record.”

The GTAm V8 ven­tured to Malaysia in Septem­ber com­pet­ing in two events at Ipoh and Se­lan­gor. It beat the lo­cal GTAs at Ipoh but re­tired from the Se­lan­gor GP sup­port race at Shah Alam.

The GTAm V8 was usu­ally re­li­able, but to­wards the end of the year at Sym­mons Plains and Surfers Par­adise it suc­cumbed to nig­gling elec­tri­cal prob­lems that flum­moxed the team.

Dis­heart­ened, Fo­ley put the GTAm V8 up for sale, turn­ing to his GTA Light­weight sports sedan (the for­mer Mil­dren GTA raced by Kevin Bartlett) for the 1973 sea­son.

Like most rac­ing Alfa Romeos, the GTAm V8 headed west to Perth. Pur­chased by Fiat dealer Frank Cec­chele, it was mainly raced by Gor­don Stephen­son be­fore run­ning into el­i­gi­bil­ity is­sues. Sports Sedan rules dic­tated pro­duc­tion-based en­gines. The rac­ing V8 en­gine may have in­spired the V8 used in the ex­otic Alfa Romeo Mon­treal, but there were no in­ter­change­able parts at all.

The Alfa was side­lined for a while be­fore fel­low Alfa racer Gor­don Mitchell in­serted a twin-turbo Rover V8. The Alfa won state ti­tles into the 1980s be­fore the Rover was re­placed by a twin-turbo Fiat V6. Sadly, it was badly dam­aged testing at Wan­neroo. The team parked the battle-weary Alfa in the cor­ner of the work­shop to con­cen­trate pre­par­ing its (jinxed) Group A Fiat Uno Turbo for the 1986 Bathurst 1000 (see AMC #60). And there it sat for the next 20 years...

Off to Pace

Vin Sharp of Pace En­gi­neer­ing in Mel­bourne has been work­ing on rac­ing Alfa Romeos for 30 years and knew ex­actly where the GTAm lived. “A lot of peo­ple pestered Cec­chele over the years, but he wouldn’t part with it. Any­way, the orig­i­nal V8 en­gine had been re­united with the Mil­dren Brab­ham. I only ever wanted to re­store it back to its orig­i­nal GTAm spec­i­fi­ca­tion,” says Sharp.

In 2006 Sharp per­suaded Cec­chele to sell the GTAm in its dam­aged state. “It wasn’t too bad re­ally,” he re­calls. “It needed a new front cross­mem­ber, chas­sis rail and front panel. The floor­pan, fire­wall (al­tered for the V8) and boot floor (where a larger fuel tank lived) were re­in­stated. Oth­er­wise the bodyshell was re­mark­ably orig­i­nal – all the orig­i­nal sus­pen­sion pick-up points were there. Cec­chele used a Ford diff cen­tre and axles but welded brack­ets to take the orig­i­nal Alfa sus­pen­sion arms. They used a dif­fer­ent Alfa gear­box and stored the rare orig­i­nal. All the ir­re­place­able Au­todelta parts – Cam­pag­nolo wheels, brake calipers, front hubs, pedal box, race seats, 80-litre fuel tank, front knuckle ris­ers and in­tri­cate slid­ing block were all there. Even the orig­i­nal al­loy roll cage sur­vived. I couldn’t be­lieve it!”

The only sig­nif­i­cant part miss­ing from the GTAm was the en­gine, but this didn’t faze Sharp.

“Back in the 1980s my late fa­ther and I pur­chased a nar­row-an­gle eight­plug en­gine from Gor­don Stephen­son. It was re­ally only a col­lec­tion of parts – mag­ne­sium sump and cam cov­ers, a monosleeve, new spe­cial pis­tons and the like,” re­mem­bers Sharp. “We were go­ing to build it up with We­ber car­bu­ret­tors and use it for a rally GTV but it never hap­pened. The en­gine was never built.”

Sharp be­lieves this en­gine was quite likely the one from Fo­ley’s GTAm. “I can’t be sure, but I have my the­o­ries as to what tran­spired. The only thing miss­ing was the Lu­cas slide fuel in­jec­tion, which is im­pos­si­ble to find. Luck­ily an­other col­lec­tor who owned the ex-Fo­ley GTA Light­weight at the time had the com­plete in­jec­tion sys­tem which he sold to me.”

Well-known Alfa re­storer Vy­vian Hirons from Art on Wheels re­stored the body back to its orig­i­nal bur­gundy Ch­ester­field colours. He made a new fi­bre­glass bon­net, bootlid and flared guards. Sharp re­built all the me­chan­i­cals and as­sem­bled the GTAm be­tween pay­ing jobs.

The GTAm was about 90 per cent com­plete when it de­buted at the Vic­to­rian Alfa Club’s ‘Spet­ta­colo’ dis­play in 2013. Brian Fo­ley was present for the un­veil­ing.

The GTAm only needs plumb­ing and wiring and sorting the fuel in­jec­tion be­fore it can be fired up. Un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances have pre­vented Sharp from mak­ing this hap­pen to date.

“I would like to be able to run it in Reg­u­lar­ity and demon­stra­tion runs,” he says. “I’m hop­ing I can bring it up to the 2015 Mus­cle Car Masters.”

Top: The par­tially-opened bon­net was all about cool­ing. This is War­wick Farm in 1971. Right: The car’s lo­cal de­but came in March 1971 at Oran Park. Fo­ley be­lieved the four-cylin­der GTAm could beat the Im­proved Pro­duc­tion heavy­weights, such as Pete Geoghe­gan’s Mus­tang, at tighter tracks, but it didn’t come to pass.

Top right: An­other car from the ATCC’s fondly re­mem­bered Im­proved Pro­duc­tion era is back! What a lit­tle rip­per. Far left: It lived in WA for 30 years un­til pur­chased by cur­rent owner Mel­bur­nian Vin Sharp who un­der­took a ma­jor restora­tion pro­gram. Right: Sharp says the en­gine likely com­prises ma­jor or­gans from its days in Fo­ley’s hands. Be­low: Brian Fo­ley him­self un­veiled the re­stored ma­chine at Spet­ta­colo.

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