Might as well face it, they’re ad­dicted to Al­fas

You know those beau­ti­ful but laky old Al­fas? They’re still beau­ti­ful but no longer laky once Al­fa­holics has worked its magic

CAR (UK) - - Icon Buyer - Words Ben Barry | Pho­tog­ra­phy Alex Tap­ley

H OW CRED­I­BLE ARE Al­fa­holics, the UK-based Alfa Romeo spe­cial­ists? Try this: in one cor­ner of a work­shop sits an ul­tra-rare Alfa Ju­nior Z. Orig­i­nally de­signed by Za­gato, it’s been booked in by McLaren F1 mas­ter­mind Gor­don Mur­ray for a re­build to his own spec­i­fi­ca­tion; Mur­ray some­times drops by to chat sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try. An orig­i­nal 1966 Au­todelta Gi­u­lia Sprint GTA race car is close by, re­stored and re­turned to the ex­act chas­sis set-up listed in the orig­i­nal doc­u­men­ta­tion – ag­gres­sively nose-down, ag­gres­sive cam­ber – that suited Jochen Rindt so well he won in Swe­den and Vi­enna; prob­a­bly worth a mil­lion quid, that. Or how about work­shop man­ager Rick Cot­ton, who used to fly mil­i­tary heli­copters and was in­stru­men­tal in Jaguar’s Spe­cial Ve­hi­cle Op­er­a­tions, where he helped de­liver the F-Type Project 7 pro­gramme? Still wa­ver­ing? The multi-coloured 1600 GTA rac­ing car was shipped from Italy by an Ital­ian who hap­pens to be Ital­ian su­per­car maker Pa­gani’s big­gest ex­ter­nal share­holder. These aren’t giddy anoraks mess­ing about with span­ners.

We’re vis­it­ing Al­fa­holics at its premises near Bris­tol.

Now run by Banks broth­ers Max and An­drew, Al­fa­holics’ roots date back to dad Richard buy­ing and sell­ing, and later restor­ing, 105-se­ries Al­fas in the 1970s. That 105 code is the des­ig­na­tion for the Gi­u­lia sa­loons made from 1962 to 1978, and the re­lated coupes that span 1963 to 1977. Hun­dreds of thou­sands were pro­duced. Richard al­ways loved how they drove, and reck­ons that ‘any­one with half a brain could take them to bits and put them back to­gether again’.

The Al­fa­holics name was coined around 1999, when Richard or­gan­ised so­cial events for own­ers of older cars, and it later be­came the name of the busi­ness. Max and An­drew soon took the reins. Both law grad­u­ates, they grew up rac­ing karts, and com­pete in his­toric se­ries like U2TC to this day. They’ve de­vel­oped Al­fa­holics into some­thing Richard proudly ad­mits is far be­yond any­thing he dreamt of.

Those 105-based cars – still in plen­ti­ful sup­ply, of­ten sourced from Italy – con­tinue to be Al­fa­holics’ bread and but­ter, to­gether with the 105-based Spi­der that lived into the 1990s, and the far more ex­pen­sive TZs that use sim­i­lar com­po­nents with a tubu­lar space­frame chas­sis.

The coupe in par­tic­u­lar is a great base, with a com­pact and el­e­gant bodyshell de­signed by Gior­getto Gi­u­giaro dur­ing his time at Ber­tone, an all-alu­minium four-cylin­der en­gine with twin cams and carbs (108bhp/103lb ft in the 1.6-litre Ve­loce), a circa 1000kg kerb­weight and re­spon­sive rear-wheel-drive dy­nam­ics mar­shalled by all-round discs, dou­ble-wish­bone front sus­pen­sion and a live rear axle.

There are myr­iad vari­ants of the coupe, but it boils down to this. The Gi­u­lia GT Sprint coupe was launched in 1963, us­ing the sa­loon’s 1570cc en­gine and a short­ened ver­sion of its plat­form. The Gi­u­lia Sprint GT Ve­loce su­per­seded it in 1966; 1967 saw an in­crease to 1779cc and the 1750 GTV, which was fol­lowed in 1971 by the 2.0-litre 2000 GTV. GT Ju­nior mod­els with smaller en­gines (first 1300cc, later 1600cc) were also avail­able, as were rare GTA ver­sions ho­molo­gated for rac­ing.

Ba­si­cally, they all look the same to your mum, bar some nu­ances. Early cars got the dis­tinc­tive ‘step-front’ de­sign (45-de­gree creases lead from the front edges of the bon­net to the ex­trem­i­ties of the body­work) and tend to be most sought af­ter. Later cars fea­ture a smoother de­sign and a quad-lamp grille.

De­spite the crav­ing they in­spire, prices are rel­a­tively af­ford­able: you’ll get a us­able car for £20k, £30k can get you into much higher qual­ity while £40k or so bags the best re­stored cars. The Sprint GT and 1750 GTV (the lat­ter re­garded as the best non­step-front car) might add £5k-£10k, while most of the non-stepfronts – a later Ju­nior, for in­stance – are typ­i­cally £5k cheaper.

As Max puts it: ‘There’s a lot of de­mand from re­stor­ers, rac­ers and resto-mod­ders – it’s a car of the mo­ment – but for a sen­si­ble bud­get, you can get a 911 2.4S ri­val for a third of the price.’

Al­fa­holics fills three work­shops on the same in­dus­trial es­tate, each around 10,000sq ft. It’s the go-to Alfa spe­cial­ist for ev­ery­thing from a pe­riod-cor­rect restora­tion of a road or race car to fast-road chas­sis up­grades and Al­fa­holics’ own GTA-R builds – es­sen­tially road-le­gal track­day spe­cials of vary­ing lev­els of in­san­ity. With the orig­i­nal GTA race cars cost­ing up­wards of £250k, the idea of the GTA-R is to of­fer some­thing even more ex­cit­ing for far less out­lay.

Me­chanic Bren­dan Sel­lens, who has worked here for seven years, neatly sums up the di­ver­sity of his work­load: ‘I love do­ing the GTA-Rs, with the big brakes and all the mod­i­fi­ca­tions, but there’s some­thing very spe­cial about putting an orig­i­nal Au­todelta race car back to ex­actly how it was. There’s lots of look­ing back through books.’ For all the wow fac­tor of the cars in the work­shop, it’s per­haps the parts busi­ness – estab­lished in 2002 – that’s most im­pres­sive and sur­pris­ing. Con­sid­er­ing we’re deal­ing with a gen­er­a­tion of cars that went off sale mostly in the 1970s and are rarely spot­ted, there’s a trea­sure trove of com­po­nents stacked neatly on packed shelves. Down­stairs is more pro­saic, with ex­hausts (£40-£60), head gas­kets (£25-£30) re­place­ments discs (£30) and pads (£15-£20), and pis­ton and liner sets (£450), as well as a stash of twin-spark en­gines await­ing re­builds. If you need a part to keep your 105-se­ries Alfa on the road, chances are it’ll be here.

‘It’s a proper one-stop shop, from a rub­ber bush to full body pan­els and crate en­gines,’ says Max. ‘Noth­ing is OE these days, so if an ex­ist­ing [re­man­u­fac­tured] part is good enough, we’ll buy it; if not, we’ll man­u­fac­ture our own.’

Each day, 30 to 40 parts con­sign­ments leave the ware­house. Max says they can of­ten do next-day de­liv­ery through­out the US. Rac­ing at La­guna Seca this week­end but some­thing’s bro­ken? Give ’em a call.

Walk up­stairs and things be­come un­be­liev­ably ex­otic, a panoply of be­spoke parts to make your dream track­day Alfa. There’s a choice4

De­spite the crav­ing they in­spire, clas­sic Alfa prices are rel­a­tively a ord­able

of fi­bre­glass or car­bon­fi­bre pan­els (a 3kg car­bon bon­net saves 17kg), bolt-in or weld-in roll cages; side glass re­duced from 5mm to 4mm for a 2kg sav­ing; six-pis­ton calipers; bil­let-alu­minium throt­tle bod­ies with car­bon trum­pets, mag­ne­sium-al­loy wheels, ti­ta­nium wheel nuts… There are some hen’s-teeth spares too, in­clud­ing the alu­minium win­dow mech­a­nisms that re­placed heav­ier steel com­po­nents in the ho­molo­gated GTA rac­ers. I ask parts man­ager Jim Spack­man what most cus­tomers want. ‘A trol­ley dash,’ he quips. Al­fa­holics uses trusted spe­cial­ists to pull to­gether its parts in­ven­tory: the crate en­gines come from Ger­many, alu­minium pan­els are hand-crafted in Coven­try, the paint and in­te­rior trim­ming out­sourced to tal­ented lo­cal spe­cial­ists, six-pis­ton brake calipers are man­u­fac­tured to Al­fa­holics’ own spec by an en­gi­neer­ing firm in Devon.

Those parts have been re­fined through their use again and again in the cars Al­fa­holics is con­stantly build­ing. Some end up in per­fect restora­tions, some are for re­strained up­grades that re­tain the ba­sic feel of the orig­i­nal car and are no­tice­able only be­cause the car feels too good; the ap­par­ently stock Gi­u­lia Sprint GT Ve­loce I drove was a per­fect ex­am­ple of that.

Then there’s the GTA-R. It’s the full trol­ley dash, with cus­tomers mix-and-match­ing to cre­ate their per­fect spec­i­fi­ca­tion, and Al­fa­holics in­ter­ro­gat­ing the re­quire­ments to make sure it’s all fit for pur­pose. The builds of­ten in­clude car­bon­fi­bre body pan­els, a lim­ited-slip diff, wider rear track, ti­ta­nium wish­bones and uprated sus­pen­sion. All GTA-R en­gines are based on the nar­row-an­gle, twin-spark head de­sign used in the Alfa 75 and first seen on the GTAm tour­ing car rac­ers.

The first of 16 cars so far com­pleted, Max’s own GTA-R was ini­tially cre­ated 12 years ago to show­case what was pos­si­ble, and has been end­lessly re­fined with work trips to the Nür­bur­gring and other tracks, and was com­pre­hen­sively up­dated two years ago to re­flect progress. It’s to ‘290’ spec, with its 240bhp en­gine and 830kg kerb­weight good for a pretty fierce 290bhp-per-tonne.

A sec­ond blue GTA-R sits re­cently com­pleted in the work­shop, bound for street use in LA with its gor­geous tan leather in­te­rior, air-con­di­tion­ing and elec­tric power steer­ing. The de­tail­ing is per­fect, with CNC-milled alu­minium air vents de­signed to match per­fectly the pe­riod in­stru­ments, and all com­po­nents for the door trims – winders, han­dles, strips – repli­cat­ing the orig­i­nal items, but again CNC-milled from alu­minium.

It’s so per­fect it’s im­pos­si­ble not to de­sire a GTA-R. But you’ll need cash and pa­tience. Builds typ­i­cally cost £120k-£200k, and you’ll need to wait 18 months for a build process that’ll ex­ceed 3000 hours. There’s no short­age of de­mand: the cur­rent wait­ing list is 18 months, mean­ing it’ll take three years from plac­ing your or­der to tak­ing de­liv­ery.

‘We aim to bring out the best in the car,’ says Max, ‘but leave the pu­rity of Gi­u­giaro’s de­sign and put into pro­duc­tion by Alfa.’

It’s all a long way from tin­ker­ing about with Gi­u­lia coupes in the 1970s, but that same pas­sion still shines through. See more stun­ning Al­fa­holics images at www.car­magazine.co.uk or in our dig­i­tal edi­tion

Me­chanic Bren­dan Sel­lens and, below, Al­fa­holics-branded brake calipers made in Devon

Car be­ing worked on is an­other of Mur­ray’s, here for sub­tle up­grades

You want re­place­ment parts? They’ve got them, or they’ll ind them, or they’ll make them

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