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

CAR (UK) - - Our Cars -

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

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