You've heard it all before: the giant killer that took all before it until the opposition wised up and well, that was that. Yes? If not, there is of course the story of David and Goliath! These analogies do, in my opinion, very much relate to how things continue to progress in Australian motor sport. See, the psyche in this arena is very much based around the V8 engine, with the current crop of V8 Supercars dominating the television limelight.
Apart from the obvious, our interest in V8's stems from their original success in events such as the Australian Touring Car Championship and the world's best road race, Bathurst. Mind you, if we go way back, the Mini, Cortina and even the Hillman once ruled supreme. Then along came the XR GT Falcon, XU-1 Torana, the 350 Monaro and finally the Commodore. With five litres of bent eight under other hoods, the 2.5-litre pint-sized Alfa GTV never had a chance. Or did it?
This is where that giant killing analogy comes into the equation. Some decades ago, Italian vehicle manufacturer, Alfa Romeo, embarked on the production of engines offering superior power per cube figures to other makes, vastly so when compared to the dinosaur push-rod V8. But hey, 2.5 into five still makes two, and you don't need to be an Einstein to realise how difficult if must have been competing against such large engines (knowing that major preparation and care can entice a pushrod V8 to develop reasonable power).
Incredibly, thanks to the vast skills and assistance of former F1 World Champion Alan Jones, and accomplished Aussie racer Colin Bond (amongst others), Alfa actually fared extremely well in the mid 1980's Australian Touring Car racing. Regardless of the fact that the Alfa's engine capacity dictated that it competed in a different class to the Outright V8's, the Alfa was always up there mixing it with and regularly beating a fair percentage of its muscle-bound associates.
Yep, Alan Jones (AJ) and Bondy created the marque's notoriety with some amazing drives in 1984 and 1985. Adding kudos to the car's talents was AJ's incredible two-wheeled driving style along with team manager Colin Bond's ability to drive both on the tarmac and the dirt. In fact, in March of 1985, having taken the 1984 Rallysprint title in a standard production car, Colin decided to swap the Group A Alfa's tarmac suspension for a package more suited to dirt, while donning the rims with hand grooved wet weather pattern Dunlop tarmac tyres, and having a go at the 1995 Toshiba-sponsored Canberra Rallysprint championships.
Amazingly, he won! That against a field made up of genuine purpose-built rally cars steered by some of the country's best rally drivers!
Back to the tarmac surface, it was taken for granted that a 2.5-litre V6 engine simply hadn't the grunt to match it with the five-litre V8's, and to a large extent, this was proven correct. But only on the higher speed circuits - where top end grunt was hugely advantageous - did the V8 show a clean set of heels to AJ and Bondy's Alfa's. In fact, the Alfa took the odd pole position, set fastest lap in various races and was always up there giving the front running V8's more than a run for their money.
Fifteen years later the question 'where have all of the old race cars gone?' begs to be asked. Well, it turns out that the only remaining Ignis (the Australian factory-backed Alfa team's major sponsor) Alfa GTV spends most of its time gathering dust in a Bayswater, Melbourne workshop. It's owned by Hugh Harrison of Alfpa Repairs, who himself is a dab hand at steering a race car. In 1990/91 he won the over two-litre Sports Sedan championship, was a consistent winner in Alfa club events, his team won the 1994 Winton 6-hour race - plus there's a sprinkling of other significant race wins. Nowadays though, Hugh is more interested in the club scene and steers clear of the highly competitive state level races. "I do it for fun these days", he said.
The Alfa Romeo factory built the car in left-hand drive form for use by both AJ and Bondy. Part of the package was two engine specifications; both offering the same 2.5 litre capacity, with one developing 187kW and the other a staggering 198kW. For Bathurst engine power was passed on to a 3.54 diff, which gave the car a top speed of 241 km/h. Purchased by Hugh in 1989, and raced with 255/570/16 slicks, the Alfa proved more than capable of reeling off lap times that would still hold it in good stead!
Obviously, it's an extremely well-sorted car, and it came with an extremely reliable engine. For it to deliver vastly more power than the standard package, the Ignis team made significant advancements in the areas of oversize valves, high lift camshafts, they played with compression ratios before settling on 11.0:1, and of course there was considerable match porting. Power delivery is through a specific close ratio transmission, the rubber 'doughnuts' in the tailshaft have gone in favour of universal joints, there's a range of diff ratios, and the limited slip arrangement is about as tight as you can go. The brakes are relatively small vented discs front and rear (279mm and 254mm respectively) with twin and single spot calipers, plus there's adjustable brake bias.
The GTV is suspended with cast aluminium lower control arms and large 36mm front torsion bars, front and rear chromoly sway bars, adjustable height coils, rose-jointed trailing arms and a Watts linkage. Bilstein shocks are also in place.
Hugh maintained the original specifications for some years before deciding to search for some extra thrills with additional power. In turn, he extracted the 2.5 litre (which is still in perfect condition resting under a workshop bench) and in went a new 3.3-litre engine based on an Alfa 75 block complete with the original crank and heads. Thanks to the inclusion of Carillo rods, oversize valves, high compression Venolia pistons, enlarged bores, custom exhaust headers and MoTeC management, the engine comfortably delivers a staggering 186kW to the rear wheels! That's around a 30 percent increase over the smaller 2.5-litre engine.
Interestingly, the engine bay itself appears almost standard - but it's how quickly the car travels that matters.
Meek 'n' Mild
A road-going example of the same car is Victor Lee's 1984 GTV 6. Wrapped in a Zender body kit, this too is a fast car thanks to a number of Alfpa Repairs enhancements. The suspension has seen a vast change in that it's lower by 75mm, there're 28mm torsion bars (up from 23mm), adjustable Koni shocks and a sprinkling of urethane bushes. Fifteen by seven inch Simmons B45 rims aid and are equipped with A008 tyres for road use and A008R's for race.
Engine modifications include shaved heads for increased compression, the ports are machined for extra flow, there's custom extractors and engine chip changes. All up, it's resulted in an increase to a HSV-beating 134 rear wheel kilowatts! Delivering the power to the ground is a higher ratio diff centre complete with LSD. The result of these mildish mods was a two-year class dominance in the MSA championship.
Alfa's popularity has never quite been 'up there' in Australia, perhaps due to the concern about rust and unreliability problems. But the thing is, a well-sorted vehicle is past these concerns and the result can be a bloody good thing. Indeed, I remember a fellow journalist running a GTV in Targa Tasmania and in club level races who achieved unbelievable results (certainly considering his average driving skills, anyway!).
As such, it seems that the four leaved clover is a highly underestimated machine, perhaps one that we should place a little more credence in.
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