Like the glory days, but better
To mark the return of Alfas to BTCC we hook up with a 155 full of ’90s Touring Car goodness. By Phil McNamara
JOHN CLELAND IS at the wheel of his Vauxhall Cavalier Touring Car, chasing Tim Sugden’s Toyota Carina E around Silverstone. Out of nowhere, an Alfa Romeo 155 enters stage right – backwards – slews across Cleland’s path and into the gravel trap, which conveys driver Giampiero Simone helplessly into the tyre wall.
Look on YouTube and you’ll see the other 155 of Gabriele Tarquini barrel-rolling through the air at Knockhill, all four doors thrown open in flight like a butterfly’s wings. It’s chaotic, exciting stuff that sums up the British Touring Car Championship in its 1990s heyday.
Every weekend Scott Austin would get home from his own saloon car races and watch each round, complete with frenzied Murray Walker commentary. Every smash, every overtake, every podium carved the Alfa Romeo 155 a little deeper into his heart. Today he owns five of them, including the mintest of 155 Silverstones, the homologation special for the 1994 championship. And I’m on my way to meet him in the most exciting Alfa Romeo saloon car since those days, the Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde.
The destination is Thruxton Motor Circuit, host of the ’94 season’s first race. Closing in on the track, the B3084 is deserted. I accelerate hard, the biturbo V6’s pistons propelling the Giulia on its wave of surging speed, the exhaust bellowing, the overrun expelling gases with a gunfire rat-a-tat. Clicking the crescent-shaped aluminium paddle imperceptibly slots the next gear: here we go again.
I line up the Giulia for a long, sweeping parabola and keep feeding in the power, the car feeding back its unyielding grip. The A303 overpass looms, and I kid myself that this curve is the one emblazoned with ‘Dunlop’ at La Sarthe. Mate, this is a Hampshire B-road. But it’s easy to get carried away by the Alfa’s sensations: its jink-jink steering, its begone-plodding-Astra overtaking rush, the exhaust’s deep tuba blare. None of those pleasures have faded, even after nine months of stewardship.
Scott’s cherry red 155 is waiting just inside the circuit’s perimeter. While the cab-backwards, rear-drive Giulia is clothed in curves, the 155 is all pronounced straight lines. Up front, the Giulia’s teardrop LEDs wink at the 155’s rectangular lamps, its vast shield grille dwarfing its forebear’s.
More fascinating still is comparing the aerodynamics. The 155 Touring Car was defined by its aero. The team’s mechanics could extend its jutting front splitter and riveted rear wing in attack mode. It looks rudimentary today but it decimated the 1994 field. Tarquini took pole for five of the first six races, winning five of them. Ford and Vauxhall complained that the aero kit’s angles did not mirror the 155 Silverstone homologation car’s, leading to Alfa being docked points and flouncing out of a round in protest. But ultimately the points were restored, other teams were allowed to add wings and splitters – and Tarquini and Alfa Romeo won both that year’s BTCC titles.
Today’s Quadrifoglio has an active front splitter; its action is reminiscent of a fish’s mouth opening and closing. Motors separate the splitter to boost downforce in corners, then it becomes one streamlined whole to reduce drag on straights. The motorsport-style rear diffuser helps sucker those P Zero Corsas to the road, useful when they’re agitated by 503 horses.
Its cutting-edge bespoke aero was honed in the wind tunnel – the complete opposite of the 155 Silverstone’s wing. Scott makes me slide my fingers underneath the spoiler and there’s a recess – ‘for the rear wiper on a 33 hatchback,’ he confides, amused by my incredulity that key aerodynamic parts were pilfered from the parts bin. The Silverstone’s wing came bolted flush to the bootlid: to raise it, customers had to use the ‘lift kit’ brackets left in the glovebox. The front splitter was similarly DIY.
Of the 2500 produced for homologation, only 248 found homes in the UK, painted strictly red or black with a sunroof the only option. Scott found his six years ago on eBay, up for
Cheeky lift kit, provided with the Silverstone edition, let owners raise the wing clear of the bootlid