During the 1960s, Touring Car racing was passionately supported by the general public, and consequently also by car manufacturers. Cars derived from standard production models battled it out on Europe’s most prestigious race circuits, cheered-on by crowds of eager race fans and car enthusiasts. And the best drivers were not ashamed to race in this category. Great names included Jim Clark, Sir John Whitmore and Andrea de Adamich.
So the scene was set as, in 1964, one of Alfa Romeo’s most glorious periods of competition involvement began. To coincide with the company’s decision to officially return to the race track, Alfa set-up Autodelta, a specialist centre in Udine with responsibility for all its racing activities. Within a few months Autodelta had moved from Udine to Settimo Milanese, on the outskirts of Milan, not far from the Alfa Romeo factory in Portello.
An old friend of the company headed the new structure – Carlo Chiti – who had previously worked for Alfa in the early 1950s. He was the ‘father’ of Alfa’s modern racing activities, and Alfa cars immediately started winning both overall and class laurels in 1964 – a total of 41 outright wins and 121 class victories were racked up in that year alone.
On 18 February 1965, Autodelta’s first creation made its public debut at the Amsterdam Motor Show. It was called the GTA, (A standing for alleggerita, or lightened), and was developed from the Bertone styled Giulia Sprint GT. The GTA was what came to be known as a ‘homologation special’. It was of course built to allow Autodelta to compete in the ETCC. Just under 500 versions of the 1600 GTA were produced, along with a similar number of 1300 cars.
Lightweight and high power was what these original cars were all about. A Giulia Sprint GTA weighed around 600 lbs less than the production Giulia GT, thanks to an aluminium skin, a complete lack of sound-deadening material, Plexiglas side windows and a very basic, stripped-out interior.
Alfa’s 1600 Twin Cam engine had a twin-plug cylinder head and higher compression, and racing versions could produce up to 170 bhp at 7500 rpm. An oil cooler was fitted and the gearbox was equipped with lightened, drilled gears and closer ratios. Magnesium was used for the camshaft covers, the sump and bell housing, and even the halfshafts were made hollow in the interests of further weight reduction.
The suspension benefited from special front uprights and revised steering arms.
Externally, however, there was little to tell a GTA from its less powerful siblings. Only 14 in Campagnolo wheels, a mesh grille and bent tube door handles gave the game away. The GTA was a winner right from the start. Seven GTAs took the first seven places, for example, in the Jolly Club 4-hour race at Monza. With Andrea de Adamich and other great drivers at the helm, the cars steadily began to steal the thunder of the Lotus Cortinas that had previously reigned supreme. Finally, de Adamich won at Zandvoort in the Netherlands to take the European Touring Car Championship that year.
GTAs continued their domination of European Touring Car racing over the next few years, with drivers such as de Adamich, Ignazio Giunti and Nanni Galli at the wheel.
In 1968, Alfa Romeo introduced both road-going and racing versions of the 1300 Junior. Again, the new GTA looked similar to the standard production Junior. The racing version delivered 160 bhp, (the on-road version 103 bhp), and it immediately won its class in the ETCC, with six victories in nine races. Meanwhile the 1750 GTA won the ETCC outright.
GTA domination lasted into the 1970s. The arrival of the GT Am in 1970, which was derived from the 1750 GT Veloce America, was the precursor to more success. The body was completely transformed compared to the original version, as was the engine – a 230 bhp 2.0 litre unit. The car, with Dutchman Toine Hezemans at the wheel, won the European Touring Car Championship in 1970 and 1971, taking six first places from eight starts, including the Brno Grand Prix and the Madrid 4-Hours race.
In 1992 Alfa Romeo returned to racing with a version of the 155 Q4, renamed GTA, prepared to Italian Superturismo Championship regulations. This car retained very little of the standard production version, sporting carbon wings, a rear spoiler that could be tilted to different angles, and a 16-valve intercooled turbocharged engine capable of 400 bhp (compared with 186 bhp of the road version).
The four team cars were driven by Nicola Larini, Giorgio Francia, Nannini and Tamburini, and the new GTA won 17 of the 20 races it was entered for, while Nicola Larini won the title. During the following year, this model made way for the successful 155 V6 TI prepared for the German DTM Championship.
With the GTA, Alfa Romeo won the European Touring Car championship on three consecutive occasions: 1966, 1967 and 1968. Today, as the reigning ETCC champion, (2001), Alfa Romeo continues to race in this category, and has recently won the 2002 championship, beating BMW, Volvo, Honda and others on the race tracks of Europe for the second successive year.Published 31 October 2002