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
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