Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint GT
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The Greatest Italian
In the early 1960s Alfa-Romeo was considered, quite rightly, to be the best of all of this distinguished line of Italian-built high-performance cars. And one of the best the company had ever produced was the brilliant 105/115 Series Coupe, the Giulia 1600 Sprint GT. This car sported a beautiful Bertone body shrouding four disc brakes, twin overhead camshafts and a five-speed gearbox. Simply put, it was a stunning motor car.
Perhaps the finest thing about it was that it did everything the driver wanted it to, instantly, instinctively, without noise, fuss, protest, roll movement or wheel hop or any of the dozen and one things which, 50 years ago, made you conscious you were in a very fast touring car. Half a century ago any car capable of 100 mph (excluding US built floating V8 barges) brought with it an assortment of sensations – and few were pleasurable.
The mechanicals would sound large in the cockpit, letting you know you were driving on the edge. The fear was palpable, not only in consideration of getting around the next corner, but that the brakes
were up to the job of bringing the car to a halt – particularly given brake fade was commonplace.
But no such nervousness would be felt if you were behind the wheel of the Sprint. You could pull 100 mph - which was not that short of the car's true maximum - about as easily as you could go from 50 to 80 mph. With it would come a little surprise that you were actually going that fast, because the only appreciable rise in the car's general mechanical clatter was an increase in the whine rate of the gearbox. And that was the secret of the car.
The Giulia was well bred, given that by the early 1960s Alfa had been manufacturing cars for over 50 years, all in a sporting vein. As you would have expected with a car with such a pedigree, the 1600 behaved as though it were built around the purpose of being a 100 mph car, not merely a slower car that could be wound out to top 100 mph with things like bigger ports, tall gearing or modified carbs.
Of course, much of its charm was thanks to the five-speed gearbox, which gave the driver outstanding command over the road conditions; the old principle of the fast driver being in the right gear at the right time found full expression in this car. During one road test of the time, a motoring journalist was cruising along at 90 mph when a truck appeared ahead. They backed off a little, changed down to fourth, then to third ... full throttle ... and they were hurtling past with a smoothness and fineness they had never experienced before. Their word for it was “breathtaking”.
On the Road
In the handling department, the 1600 was extremely controllable at all times. At the time, the 1600 Sprint represented Alfa's then latest attempt at building the four-light, close-coupled 2 plus 2 1.5 litre coupe – this type of car was becoming very popular in Europe in the early 1960s. It was, naturally, a derivation around the 1600cc twin overhead cam, slightly undersquare engine that was found in the Giulia 1600 Spider and the Giulia TI Super. The Giulia TI and Giulietta TI used a 1290cc engine. The 1600 Sprint was probably the most elegant car then in the Alfa range (most observers from the time considered the 2600 Sprint Bertone looked a more masculine car).
Alfa Romeo did not make a practice of quoting torque figures for its engines, although road testers quickly determined that it was 102 lb/ft at 3700 rpm. The bhp output was 122 (SAE) at 6000 rpm, or 104.5 on DIN rating. With bore of 78 mm and stroke of 82 mm, it used two horizontal twin-choke Webers. There was synchromesh
on all five ratios, and a single dry-plate clutch. It had discs all round, boosted by a vacuum servo, with a handbrake operating through mechanical linkages on the rear wheels.
comprised inclined wishbones, with coil springs and telescopic dampers through the centre plus a stiff anti-roll bar
that, according to some motoring journalists, proved a little too stiff in some corners. The live rear axle was located beautifully by two transverse torque arms bushed in rubber acting in compression, and a lateral radius rod similarly bushed. The axle was hung on coils and telescopic dampers. At the time, this was the perfect recipe for a fast touring car. While 6500 rpm was the factory recommended maximum, many extended this to 7000 when doing performance testing, and the engine never complained. Running it to just over the red-line, change points were at 30, 52, 75, and 101, indicating the closeness of the ratios.
Like most ohc engines, it delivered its power very smoothly, with no perceptible "cammy" point in any gear. Its flexibility in fourth and fifth was particularly good; you could trundle along at 25-30 mph in fifth and then add three-quarter throttle without the car hesitating. Considering the quality of petrol at the time was suspect, it was another string to the bow that the 1600 aluminium alloy head helped it swallow the lower-grade fuel without much trouble despite 9 to 1 compression ; it would produce pinking only up to a certain rpm point. It was obviously happier on higher octane fuel, if only for the thought that it lessened the chance of piston crown and valve damage through pre-ignition at high bmep figures.
A Brilliant Free-Revving Engine
The engine spun very sweetly, and in the lower gears you needed to keep close eye on the tachometer
. Given that many European cars struggled with the Australian summer heat, it was comforting to know that no road testers of the time could make the car overheat, and that oil pressure and temperature remained constant after considerable thrashings. Twin overhead cams, dual Webers, and all the goodies. Accessibility for tuning was better than it looked. On the left bulkhead the Alfa engineers located the servo kit, washer reservoir, and well-placed 12-volt battery
The 10-gallon fuel tank gave the car a range of about 270 miles, depending entirely on the cruising speed. Fuel consumption, according to several road tests from the time, seemed to range from 24mpg at worst to 30mpg at best. But after reading the reviews, it seemed fuel consumption had become an afterthoght, the Giulia Sprint being such a delightful car to drive that testers forgot completely about fuel consumption. The Alfa's main handling trait was understeer. The rear end could be shaken loose with too much foot and too much lock - which was not oversteer. On very fast corners - over 65 mph - you could get the inside front wheel to lift, due to the slightly too great torsional stiffness imposed by the roll bar. And through very fast (over 100 mph) descending sweepers, some axle tramp could develop at the rear.
Behind the Wheel
Some road testers were not happy with the steering
at high speeds, although it was good, if a little heavy at parking speeds, for suburban work. As speed rose, some found that the steering would vary in both feel and gearing as they applied more lock. The effect of this and the other handling characteristics was that at extreme limits at near maximum speed the 1600 could start to feel a little twitchy. The steering
would suddenly go light as a wheel picked up. Then again, such speed into corners were well beyond the ability of most, and those that were capable could easily adapt to the sensation.
The Dunlop disc brakes
were very good too. No fade, no wheel locking, no disc flexing, although it was possible to provoke one rear wheel to lock when trying an emergency brake from 100 km/h, but even then the pedal pressure would remain consistently excellent. And at a time when Alfa's really were driving perfection, the seating and pedal positions were damn near perfect - even by todays standards. The two well-upholstered and nicely-shaped buckets had squab adjustment for both coarse and fine recline, with rolls around the three edges and an adequate range of fore and aft movement. Right back, they left little room in the rear, which was adequate for children, although an adult would be forced to sit sideways. A recess in the headlining over the rear seat helped out.
On the Inside
The pedals were floor-pivoted, and moved through a natural arc. But unfortunately it was difficult to heel/toe. The steering wheel was an almost-vertical affair with alloy spokes and a black embossed Alfa Bezel in the boss. The cranked handbrake was positioned between the seats, with a ribbed grip and press-button release. The big central tunnel carried ashtray and cigarette lighter, just below the massive, chromed gear lever
, set in a thick leather boot atop the tunnel. The lever came back at angle from the box, rather than rising vertically. Topped by a smooth, big knob, it worked a fine gearbox that had the usual 1960s inbuilt whine.
The pattern was normal for the first four gears, then across and up for fifth, with reverse opposite fifth via a depressible sleeve in the lever. This was an ideal setup, and when in fifth you only had to flip the lever backward and it fell into fourth, the box being spring-laden to the third-fourth layer. Big armrests on the doors, with handles located beneath them, completed the comfort layout. Generally, seating and driver positioning was first-class. The quarter-vents were operated by small turn-handles, and it would not have been a real Alfa if they had sealed properly. The window winders, lower on the doors, were also typically Italina in being too low-geared.
Carpeting was used throughout, with rubber inserts in each of the four floor pans. The trim, in mottled two-tone pvc, was not remarkable but most cars of the era had average upholstery too. Some reviewers noted inside trim did not fit properly, and few found the facia, made out of grey patterned pressed metal, to be all that appealing. At least there was some padding around all its edges. In the centre of the facia was a patterned insert where the radio was located, and beneath it the heater, demister controls, which operated an efficient system. The driver was faced by four recessed dials. From left, they were combined water and oil temperature
with odometer and decimal trip, tachometer
reading to 8000 rpm, and combined-fuel gauge and oil pressure gauge
The ignition lock was at the right, beneath the fuel gauge, and turn and high beam indicators were centred high between the two main column stalks on the right control arm were indicators and lights, while three plain nimbler switches below the oil temperature gauge operated the panel lights, heater fan,and wipers. The long doors openened wide for easy access to the rear seat. The boot lock was a small lever concealed in the driver's door pillar, while the bonnet lock was under the facia in from of the passenger.
On the Road
These two lids opened to reveal a surprisingly big boot, with a surprisingly sparse kit of tools, and at the other end, and engine bay crammed with juicy die-cast alloy camshaft and air cleaner covers. There was good room to work around the engine, although one plug was a little hard to get at and the electrics may have been a little low in drenching rain and wet road conditions. But these issues were trifling. The level of road noise was minimal, even at top speed, and wind roar was also low. There was some camshaft drive thrash at high rpm in the lower three gears. The headlights were great for fast driving, the wipers cleared a good area - vision was excellent all round, thanks to the big rear window and large side glass areas. In all, only 31,955 Sprint GTs were produced. Few survive today, and those that do are very collectable, because they were such a very good car.