Thank Frankel it’s Friday
If you are reading this on Friday morning, there’s at least a chance that, as you do, I’ll be accelerating up the Goodwood hill in a new Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm. And having reading near universally great things about it, it’s an event I’m looking forward to very much.
But unable as I am write now to talk any further about a GTAm I’ve not driven, allow me instead to talk about one I have. An original GTAm, or so it is purported to be.
The story of the first GTAm is so murky even today people can’t agree on matters a fundamental as how many were built, what precisely constitutes a GTAm and even what those letters stand for. Some contend the ‘m’ stands for ‘maggiorata’, or ‘enlargened’ to denote it’s bigger engine, but Tony Adriaensens in his masterly ‘Alleggerita’ insists it means simply ‘American’. What no-one disputes is that these little 2.0-litre Autodelta missiles won the European Touring Car Championship in both 1970 and 1971.
Of course many conclude quite incorrectly that the ‘m’ denotes merely that the car is a modified GTA. Save a few strange exceptions, it was nothing of the sort. Indeed most of the 40 (or so) GTAms were based on the later steel GTV body and not the aluminium-clad first GTAs.
However there were some GTAs that became GTAms, transformed from one to the other either with parts sourced from Alfa’s then race team Autodelta, or by Autodelta itself. And this is one of those. It actually started life as a GTA Junior, so one of the 500 1.3-litre cars that followed the same number of 1.6-litre GTAs, but after taking part in the 1971 Italian Touring Car Championship was upgraded to full GTAm spec, except and in fact it’s even better than that. For not only does it retain the lightweight aluminium body, while most Ams had a 2.0-litre, eight-valve twin-spark engine, this one has an incredibly rare 16-valve head on it. Breathing through twin 48mm Webers, it produces around 240PS (177kW) in a car weighing about the same as a family bag of cheese and onion crisps.
But engine power aside, the biggest difference between an original GTA (or junior) and a GTAm is its rear suspension. In place of the standard live axle there is a sliding block system designed primarily to lower the rear roll centre and therefore increase traction. It works brilliantly well and does far more to change the feel of the car than the apparently rather more serious changes under the bonnet of the car.
To drive a race-prepped GTA and GTAm together is fascinating. The GTA is a recreation, and a wonderful one at that. It keeps you very busy not just because the engine is so cammy the car needs always to be in the right gear, but its flawed rear suspension which locates the rear roll centre somewhere north of the diff means you spend your entire time on track going sideways. Which is wonderfully entertaining and so innate to the car’s character and easy to control most of the time you actually forget you’re steering in one direction while the car is travelling in the other.
The GTAm is not like this at all. Sitting on fat tyres because it is a child of the ‘70s, it has no problem at all transmitting all its power to the ground through that modified rear suspension. It will slide but only when provoked; all it really wants to do is push you forward and fast. You see at once why it was such an effective weapon even against the big BMW CSs and Cologne Capris. It may have had rather less power, but unlike them, it could use every ounce of it.
I mean no disrespect when I call the GTA a toy by comparison, but that’s what it is. The GTAm is a serious racing machine, honed to a level of deployable performance its delicate and dainty forefather could not imagine.
So now the acid question? Which one would you race? So much of me says it should be the GTA, because it’s certainly more fun to drive. But the Am is a proper weapon and while I have over time become a little frustrated at the GTA’s traction issues, forcing us to run near 2CV rear spring rates in order to gain some purchase on the track, the delights of the GTAm are more subtle for sure, but more enduring too. So over a lap or a short sprint, I’d probably drive the GTA, but over a proper stint it would be the GTAm every time. As it is I feel absurdly lucky simply to have driven them both.