Half of the images may have been quite badly Photoshopped, but Alfa Romeo still managed to blow us all away with its reveal of the limited-edition Giulia GTA and GTAm. With the latter’s huge rear wing, bulging wheel arches and stance for days it’s one of the prettiest and most purposeful compact saloons we’ve ever seen.
It’s clearly a special car to the brand, which is the only reason they’ve used the precious GTA badge. You can read more about the new car’s tantalising specs via the link above, because here we want to remind you of the GTAs that have come before. Some were hits, some were misses, and one never even made it to production.
Genesis for the GTA badge – meaning Gran Turismo Alleggerita, or lightened grand tourer – came in the mid-1960s. Developed specifically as a starting point for competition by Alfa’s racing wing, Autodelta, it used lighter body panels, lighter magnesium-alloy wheels, lightweight interior trim and clear plastic side windows. It was a wonderfully rich and charming thing to drive.
Performance came from a 1.6-litre engine with the first of Alfa’s Twin Spark cylinder heads, then known as Twin Plug. It used larger 45mm Weber carburettors and a close-ratio gearbox with machined gears to save weight and allow faster, more brutal shifting. Without fluids you were looking at just 740kg being pushed along by 113bhp. It was a little rascal, and the race-tuned ones even made up to 217bhp. Just 500 were made for low-level racing and homologation. Less than 550 more were built in special race series-specific configurations, including a faster GTAm.
Fast-forward over three decades to the year 1997. The 156 was revealed as the successor to the 155, and it soon became clear that Alfa was going racing. Touring cars were bigger business back then and a track version had started work as soon as 1998. It wasn’t until 2001 that it spawned a road-going sidekick: the 156 GTA, respawning the GTA tag as an appendage to what had become its core nomenclature. It combined desperately good looks with the famously warm and charismatic 3.2-litre Busso V6.
Good for 247bhp and 221lb ft, it still has many fans today for its GT-lite demeanour, enthralling ownership experience and simply for its beauty; all pepper-pot wheels and subtle bulges. Yum. It had Brembo brakes, lowered suspension and a faster steering lock. Less than 2000 of them were made across the saloon and achingly handsome Sportswagon estate body styles. These days they’re not common at all.
Alfa was really pushing the GTA thing in the early 2000s, adding a 147 GTA to the year-old 156 GTA in 2002. For some bonkers and brilliant reason, company executives signed off on the idea of shoving the 156 GTA’s heavy Busso V6 into the 146 hatchback. Why? Not because it drove well, that’s for sure. The engine was a symphony in metal, but the stubby 147 platform just couldn’t cope with the weight and/or the 247bhp. Understeer was the name of the game and it couldn’t compete on the road with other hot hatches of the era, despite being head and shoulders above them in terms of exotica and desirability.
The 147 GTA was offered not only with a six-speed manual but also with an automated manual Selespeed gearbox. These made up about 20 per cent of the total order book; just over 1000 cars out of just over 5000 built. Avoid them. Don’t avoid genuine Autodelta-tuned ones, which are like hens’ teeth and sport up to 328bhp. There was also an Autodelta supercharged version with as much as 400bhp, which must have been certifiably insane.
This ill-fated project never reached fruition. It was March 2009, the world was in turmoil after the financial crash of the autumn before and Alfa Romeo desperately needed something to show the world it was still doing okay. Enter stage left a hot concept version of the company’s utterly miserable Mito, a remodelled and less than half-heartedly re-engineered Fiat Punto. Using the GTA name felt a little… desperate.
It housed a turbocharged 237bhp 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, so at least it wouldn’t have suffered the same overweight nose as the 147. Unfortunately the financial reality Alfa was facing meant it couldn’t justify taking the rapid Mito to production: neither the customers nor the money were there at the time. We’ll never know what might have been. As it happened, eventually Alfa made the Mito fun with the addition of Fiat’s riotous TwinAir two-cylinder engine. Maybe it could have gotten there much sooner if the GTA had survived.