Aside from the obvious supercar merchants like Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini, it’s Alfa Romeo (with a few Lancia-shaped exceptions) that’s been tasked with injecting some Italian flair, passion and style into the automotive market, and the Milan icon has a long history of producing beautiful road and race cars. To celebrate the fact that Alfa Romeo is easily one of the coolest car makers in the world, we sent Jarkle (our resident car geek) off to put together a comprehensive list of the greatest Alfas ever built.
Disagree with his rundown? Feel he’s missed out an essential car? Then let us know in the comments section!
Alfa Romeo Alfetta 158/159
If you were to ask any motor racing fan from the immediate post-war period as to the greatest name in F1, chances are they would’ve answered with Alfa Romeo. The firm’s crowing glory from this period was the 159 Alfetta, a car dripping in style and driven to great success by two of the greatest names in motorsport, Nino Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio. Initially drawn up in the pre-war period as the 158, the 159 really came into its own in the early ’50s when Alfa opted to fit a two stage Roots supercharger to the thundering straight eight, and title wins in 1950 and 1950 soon followed, the latter with Fangio at the wheel.
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
The full blown arms race that is the hot hatch market has resulted in some truly astonishing cars, and the 147 of the early noughties was one of them. Launched into a market dominated by turbocharged four-pots, the GTA instantly set itself apart by being powered by a 3.2l 24v V6, a naturally aspirated engine that sounded sensational when driven in anger, and looked better than anything its competitors could muster. Power was never an issue – its 247bhp helped it complete the 0-62 dash in 6.1 seconds and on to 155mph, but handling finesse was. Put it this way, Alfa found no shortage of takers for its aftermarket Q2 Limited Slip Diff!
Alfa Romeo Alfasud
The ’70s saw Alfa Romeo build some of its best handling cars and the Alfasud, quite possibly the world’s first hot hatch, was a genuine classic. What made this all the more surprising was that the ‘sud was actually Alfa’s first foray into the then new fangled art of front-wheel drive, so its sweet handling was all the more welcome. Affordable and relatively fast, the ‘sud could for a long time be found snapping at the heels of far more exotic and more powerful rivals at club race meetings throughout Europe, though its propensity to rot has ensured that very few have survived to this day.
Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione
Proof that Alfa Romeo hadn’t forgotten how to turn out a beautiful car arrived a decade ago when the firm unveiled the 8C Competizione, a stunning supercar powered by a bored and stroked version of the 450bhp V8 also found in the Maserati Quattroporte. It sounded even better than it went (though it still went pretty damn well), and Alfa managed to sell out the complete production run within moments. Good stuff all round then, but then there was the styling; swooping lines and purposeful curves, classic lines brought right up to date. Prettier than a Ferrari? We think so.
Alfa Romeo SZ
The yin to the 8C Competizione’s yang? Depending on how you view the SZ, then quite possibly. It’s become a bit of a tired motoring cliché, but there’s a rumor that the man charged with styling the SZ, one Robert Opron, took his inspiration from a block of cheese he had in the fridge. Whatever the truth of the matter, the wedge-y SZ (for Sprint Zagato) has been defined by its looks ever since, with some even unkindly re-christening it the ‘Il Mostro’ – ‘the monster.’ Whatever you think of its appearance there’s no denying that the SZ looks far fresher than its contemporaries from 1989.
Alfa Romeo GTV V6
The GTV is proof that Alfa Romeo really does come into its own when it’s tasked with designing a pretty coupe for not much money. Power came from the legendarily sexy Busso V6 (an engine that crops up more than once in this list) that fed 220bhp to the front wheels, and all without any namby-pamby driver aides like a Limited Slip Diff or traction control! The combination of late ’90s Italian Coupe and rip-snorting V6 meant that handling was always going to be somewhat divisive – entertaining if you were feeling charitable, ragged if not, but you couldn’t argue against the stunning looks.
Alfa Romeo 164 ProCar
The 164 ProCar is easily the most bonkers car Alfa Romeo has ever produced, and the bare stats alone are enough to underline just how out there this almost-but-not-quite race car actually was: 600bhp from an F1-sourced V10, a 0-62mph time a whisker over 2 seconds, and a three part body made from carbon fibre, Kevlar and Nomex, meaning it tipped the scales at 750kg. It had a top speed of 217mph and, best of all as far as we’re concerned, didn’t look a million miles away from the regular, road-going 164. So what happened? Formula S, the silhouette formula it was designed to compete in, was cancelled due to lack of interest, meaning that the 164 ProCar never got to show its worth.
Alfa Romeo GTV6
Easily denoted by its bonnet bulge, the GTV6 was another Alfa classic powered by a V6, this time an early, SOHC version of the engine that would go onto become the Busso. It made loads of power and the rear-wheel drive chassis proved a keen handler, but it was on the race tracks and rally stages of the world that the GTV6 really staked its claim. It became an especially potent Group A rally car in the mid ’80s, the Gallic combination of Gema Racing and Yves Loubet able to win its class three times in succession on the Tour de Corse between 1984 and 1986, and it was even fast enough to take a half minute out of the works Renault 11 Turbo of Jean Ragnotti on the first stage alone!
Alfa Romeo Giulia Cloverleaf
Rarely has a car been the subject of so much anticipation and speculation as the all new Giulia Cloverleaf, the range topping model intended to take the fight to the M3 and the RS4. Recent years have seen Alfa produce visually stunning cars that have all too often let down by slightly ‘woolly’ handling, so there’s a lot riding on the new Giulia. Looks are entirely subjective of course, but we think all versions of Giulia are stunning looking bits of kit, with the Cloverleaf being achingly pretty but also massively aggressive. M3? Not a chance.
Alfa Romeo 155 Q4
We nearly opted to include the 155 Silverstone in this list because of the controversy it caused when it made its British Touring Car Championship debut, but in the end it had to be the Q4 that made the cut. All you really need to know about this car is that it had the underpinnings of the all conquering Lancia Delta Integrale, so it was four-wheel drive and pulled along by a 1995cc 16v making 190bhp – a huge amount in the mid ’90s. We’ve been in one of these and can attest to its grip and power (lots of the former and a decent amount of the latter), but also its build quality: the glovebox lid seemed to be made almost entirely of lead and primed to slam into the passenger’s knees the moment it came on full boost. Did is stop us loving it? Not even slightly.
Alfa Romeo 75
Well, the last car designed entirely by Alfa Romeo before Fiat came on board has to get a mention, right? Boxy looks were de rigueur in the late ’80s but the 75 managed to wear its slab-sided lines with pride and a fair amount of style, so much so that it’s dated pretty well in our opinion. That blocky body housed a technically polished chassis with a transaxle mounted next to the differential, meaning that this, the last rear-wheel drive mass market Alfa Romeo, had an almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution and excellent handling. The Turbo Evoluzione version was developed for homologation purposes and allowed Alfa to take the 75 racing, while the V6 powered QV offered sports car thrills in a family car shell.
Alfa Romeo 4C
It’s probably fair to say that the recently launched 4C has been a more divisive car than its maker would’ve liked, but it’s still one of the finest cars to have emerged from the Alfa stable for years. The looks, an area that Alfa has never really dropped the ball on (except from the time when they outsourced the styling of the Arna to Nissan in the ’80s), are predictably gorgeous, as is the engine – a singing, high-revving 2.0 turbo making 237bhp. The drawbacks? Sightly unpredictable handling that’s forced many a led-footed journalist to re-consider their driving style, but then again it is a mid-engined Italian sports car – aren’t they meant to be like that?
Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
Want to bag yourself an astonishingly fast Alfa that can still be used on a daily basis for not very much money? Then snaffle up a 156 GTA while they’re still cheap and able to be hunted out! The legendary Busso V6 makes yet another welcome appearance, this time in the nose of one of the finest looking mid-size cars of the last 15 years. Again, this unit pushes all 247 of its bhp through the front wheels, a recipe that gives both understeer and torque-steer by the bucket load, hence why many owners opted to splash out on the Q2 diff when new. What it lacks in chassis finesse it more than makes up for in visual appeal though, and it really is hard to believe that early examples will soon be celebrating their 15th birthday.
Alfa Romeo 155 V6 TI
While the British Touring Car Championship was providing door-rubbing thrills on this side of the channel, the Germans were (as ever) taking things to the next level with the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft ), the ultimate tin-top series. The ’90s saw the DTM enter a golden era, and from 1993 to 1996 Alfa was represented by the V6 TI, a race version of the 155 with four-wheel drive and, you guessed it, a 2.5 V6 that could rev all the way to 11,500rpm and generate up to 480bhp. It raced against equally trick offerings from Opel (the Calibra) and Mercedes (190E) and proved very competitive indeed, enabling Nicola Larini to take 11 wins on his way to the title and claiming manufacturer glory for Alfa Romeo.
Alfa Romeo Montreal
There are many, many pretty cars on this list, but the Montreal might just be the prettiest of the lot. Designed by Marcello Gandini (the man tasked with penning the Lamborghini Miura a year earlier), the Montreal started life as a concept car and was unveiled in Montreal in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s centennial. The Montreal was so well received that Alfa Romeo took the brave step of putting it into production almost completely unchanged, albeit with the addition of the baby 2.6 V8 from the T33 Stradale. The result was a car that went as fast as it looked, and Alfa had no problem at all shifting all 4000 before production ceased in 1977.