Alfa Romeo GTV

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The British will argue of course, but real sports cars are Italian. Always have been. In recent years however, the Latin makers, like our own marques, have allowed the Japanese to dominate in a market that was never theirs. No longer.

From 1996 to 2005, Alfa Romeo's GTV models did a fine job of establishing themselves in the UK just as the affordable European sportscar was enjoying something of a renaissance. Its pleasant to report then, that these are cars which do this famous marque much credit. A good few are available on the used market and are tempting propositions indeed.

One of the most beautiful sportscars you can buy at any price. The GTV is beautiful and sounds even better than it looks. The styling is unmistakably Alfa Romeo , from that trademark triangular grille, through those distinctive twin circular headlamps, to the stubby, dynamic tail treatment of the GTV. Certainly, build quality is up to the highest Teutonic standards, an essential attribute given that Alfa had Audi, BMW and Saab in its sights when designing the car.

Even the sports seats have Germanic firmness, though reveal themselves as being comfortable and supportive over longer distances. Just as surprisingly for long suffering Alfisti will be the excellence of the driving position. The steering wheel is adjustable and the stylised dashboard, with its deeply recessed dials, easy to absorb.

The two-litre GTV is the most affordable of the three versions, with prices for the first N-registered models starting at about £4,000 and more typical P-platers starting from around £4,200. A 01X will be around £7,800 and you could pick up an W-plater for about £7,100. Want a three-litre GTV? Rob the piggy bank for at least £6,300 which should get you a 98S; another £8,700 might well secure a 2000X example.

Watch out for cars that have been thrashed and badly repaired. Check for electrical problems and interior creaks and rattles.

(approx based on a 1997 GTV 2.0 Twin spark, excl. VAT) A clutch assembly will be around £205, while a headlamp will set you back £225. A starter motor will be about £194 and an alternator approximately £120.

Brake pads front and rear are about £49 and £53, respectively.

Under the bonnet of most of the cars youll find, there's the gloriously melodic 2.0-litre 16-valve TwinSpark engine that was also enjoyed in the 145, 146 and 156. In a sense, you won't care that its 150 horses actually take you to sixty in 8.4 seconds on the way to 130mph. What will matter is the sound it makes, inviting you to rev and rev again. The V6-engined models are considerably thirstier as you would expect while the extra weight in the nose adversely effects handling.

On the plus side, you get one of the most charismatic engines ever built and the later 3.2-litre V6 models will launch you to 60mph in 6.3s. The direct injection 2.

0-litre JTS which showed up in 2003 is more refined than the older 2.0-litres and can return a respectable 31mpg. The 0-60mph acceleration time is roughly the same as in the older 2.0-litre cars.

On the move it's fair to say that these Alfas are more at home on smooth Italian tarmac than Britains bumpy back-roads. The Italians were quick to point out that the GTV was one of the stiffest cars in its class and, frankly, it feels it. If you like a sporty drive, however, this wont put you off. Perhaps the highest accolades should be reserved for the front wheel drive handling.

If you've always thought that proper sports cars should be powered from the rear, then stand by for a change of heart. Alfa wisely used the outstanding Lotus Elan as a benchmark in development, but improved upon it in a number of key areas. First, there's power steering that, in contrast to the Lotus, offers the kind of direct steering that you'd normally associate with a racing car. Secondly, the Italians managed to design a multi-link rear suspension system that allows a degree of rear wheel steering. There's certainly none of the twitchiness that normally affects powerful front-driven sports cars under heavy acceleration.

If you can find one, buy it. You wont be disappointed.
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