Buyers Guide Alfa-Romeo GTV/Spider Type-916
Alfa Romeo is no stranger to producing distinctive and desirable cars, but the Type 916 GTV and Spider are on another level when it comes to standing out from the crowd. Designed by Enrico Fumia while working at Pininfarina, with the interior penned by Walter de Silva, these wedge-shaped sportsters were launched more than a quarter of a century ago, yet they still look fresh and are thoroughly usable modern classics. Words: Richard Dredge. Pictures: John Colley.
Alfa Romeo GTV/Spider Type-916
The problem for Alfa Romeo is that even now it’s a brand with a reputation among the uninitated, for building shonky cars with suspect ergonomics. As a result depreciation is often poor and the values of 916s has been low for a long time, so there are some neglected examples about, although the worst examples have generally been broken for parts. On the flip-side, these are also cars that tend to appeal to enthusiasts, and as a result there are cherished examples waiting to be snapped up. Sharing its Fiat Group floorpan with the front-wheel drive Alfa Romeo 155, the front-wheel drive GTV and Spider came with multi-link rear suspension and zesty engines that ensure they’re great fun to drive, without costing a fortune to buy or run.
The 916 market
Twin Sparks were sold in much bigger numbers than V6s, so the chances are that you’ll be looking at a four-cylinder car, unless you specifically want a six-pot. That’s no bad thing as most people who are in the know, reckon that four cylinders are generally better than six; see the separate panel for the reasons why.
Gary Fisher of Totally Alfa comments: “At the bottom end of the market the GTV and Spider are worth the same, with saveable projects starting at £500. If you want something roadworthy you’ll pay £1500-£2000 for a GTV, and even then it’ll probably be a bit scruffy. For £5000 you can buy something really nice, while the best GTVs generally fetch no more than £8000. However, a really superb 3.2 V6 or Cup edition might be worth a bit more.
“Spiders are worth a premium over GTVs, with the cheapest usable cars priced from £3000. Few open-topped 916s fetch more than £10,000, although a truly superb 3.2 V6 might get a bit more. However, very few 3.2-litre cars were sold in the UK, so at any one time there are very few – if any – for sale.”
There are enough good cars to go round in the UK, so there’s no point looking in Europe, unless you particularly want a 2.0 V6 Turbo. A few of these have been personally imported into the UK, with some owners wanting one just because they’re a bit different.
KEY CHECKS: BODYWORK
It’s generally good news where the 916’s bodywork is concerned, because most of the panels are either plastic (including the bonnet, front wings and valances), or galvanised steel. As a result corrosion shouldn’t be much of a problem, and while crash damage is obviously a very real possibility, the front-wheel drive configuration makes the 916 much more surefooted than its rear-wheel drive predecessors.
Check for uneven shut lines, but bear in mind that even when fresh out of the factory sometimes the panel fit wasn’t all that great. Analyse how the bumpers sit; if they’re wonky left to right you know that the car has been badly repaired. Predictably it’s the V6s that get crashed the most, but it’s easy to drive a TS off the road too. If there are any signs of significant problems in terms of corrosion or crash damage, just walk away, because there are enough good examples of these cars to go round. Corrosion in the sills is a possibility, with things not helped by the fact that water and debris collects behind the plastic sill covers, and corrosion then breaks out hidden from view. Catch it in time and you can fix it with a basic repair panel; budget £1000 per side including paint. But if the sill has dissolved the car is fit for parts only.
The other common rot area is the rear wheelarches. The metal rusts from the inside out and no panels are available, including repair sections, so everything has to be made. Budget £1000 per side including paint.
If you’re looking at a Spider, check the condition of its roof very closely. Even when new the fabric roof didn’t always do a good job of keeping out the elements, the main culprit usually being the seal at the leading edge of the windscreen, where it meets the door. All of the seals that you’re likely to need are available, and at reasonable prices. If the roof is tatty you can buy a mohair replacement for around £600; by the time it’s been fitted you can expect to pay closer to £1000. If just the rear window is damaged you can zip in a new one; budget around £220 for one made to a decent standard. Some Spiders came with an electric roof which adds unnecessary weight and complexity, as the manual roof is simplicity itself to use, so don’t go out of your way to find a car with a powered hood.
KEY CHECKS: MECHANICALS
In some overseas markets Alfa sold a 1.8 Twin Spark (TS) unit and a turbocharged 2.0-litre V6, but in the UK we were offered only a 2.0 TS and a fabulously indulgent 3.0-litre V6, which had its displacement upped to 3.2 litres in July 2003. The 2.0 TS engine features variable valve timing, twin cams, 16 valves, two contra-rotating balancer shafts, plus two spark plugs for each cylinder, and in JTS guise (from 2003) it featured direct injection too. The V6 is even more enticing with its 24 valves. It looks and sounds fabulous and it also turns the 916 into a serious performance machine, with the 3.2 V6 even quicker.
Both engines are fitted with a cambelt, and if it snaps the engine will be beyond saving, so check that it’s not overdue for replacement. It should be renewed on four-pot cars every three years or 36,000 miles, while the V6 stretches this to every five years or 48,000 miles. The tensioners need to be replaced at the same time, and on V6 models the water pump too, but it’s a straightforward DIY job. You can buy a kit of parts for around £250, while getting a specialist to do the work doubles this.
The Twin Spark engine has eight spark plugs, and for good-quality items you’ll pay about £20 for each one. So even if you do your own maintenance, expect to pay £160 just for new spark plugs when the 60,000-mile service is due, on top of all the other parts that will be needed.
Both engines can suffer from failed head gaskets, while the oil pump on the early TS had a short pick-up tube, which caused seizures; Phase 2 cars got a longer tube. If you’re buying a car with a Phase 1 engine just check the oil regularly, keep it up to the mark and you’ll be fine.
Parts are getting scarce to rebuild engines, but some owners are taking this route rather than just fitting a used unit. Overhaul a V6 and it’ll cost anywhere between £2500 and £5000 depending on its condition and how much you want to replace.
Both four- and six-pot engines have a low-hanging sump which gets bashed readily, so check that it’s not bent out of shape. Also check that the drain plug thread hasn’t been stripped as this is common, although this can be helicoiled. It’s not unusual for the V6 engines to get through a litre of oil every 2000-3000 miles, while the Twin Spark units can use a litre in just 1000 miles, so check that the sump isn’t empty. When test driving see if the oil pressure light flickers. It might be a low oil level, but it could just as easily be worn main bearings. Catch it in time and the engine is saveable, but leave it too long and the powerplant is scrap.
An erratic idle is probably down to a failed idle control valve. Budget £200 to fix things, which is also the cost of sorting a faulty airflow meter, which leads to a lack of topend power. Both of these jobs are easy DIY fixes, with the parts readily available.All 916s came with a five-speed manual gearbox, apart from later V6 models which got an extra ratio. Gearboxes are tough, but the synchromesh eventually wears on second or third gears, so feel for baulking as you change up and down. The only solution is a gearbox rebuild for around £1000, or decent used replacement transmissions are available for £250.
Four-cylinder clutches can easily last 100,000 miles or more, but V6 clutches often get heavy from 30,000 miles, because of worn torsion springs in the pressure plate. The clutch will sail past 60,000 miles but the stiffness soon gets tiring, although an improved design of clutch is available and many cars already have one. Expect to pay a specialist around £600 to replace a clutch.
The suspension is reliable and everything is available at reasonable prices; new Koni front dampers cost £150 apiece, while the rears are £100 each. The suspension bushes wear out though, leading to uneven tyre wear, and fitting a complete new set costs £1200. The same symptoms can also be down to the tracking being out front or rear, or both. It’s adjustable at each corner and the track rods ends wear out. A four-wheel alignment check every 10,000 miles or so is a worthwhile investment.
The rear suspension has a degree of passive steering and for this to work properly the bushes need to be in excellent condition. If the cornering is vague at high speed and there’s a chattering noise like a worn wheelbearing, a fresh set of bushes is due.
If the car has been driven on worn bushes for ages, it might have damaged the rear subframe if it’s a Twin Spark edition. It’s a straightforward DIY job with used subframes available for £250 (no new subframes are available), although many owners use the opportunity to indulge in some cleaning and powder coating which pushes up the cost. The V6 came with a rose-jointed rear subframe which doesn’t get damaged.
Anti-lock brakes were fitted to all 916s along with discs front and rear, ventilated at the front on all cars. It’s generally a reliable set-up but a lack of use will take its toll. Even cars used regularly can suffer from the rear calipers seizing up, so listen for scraping sounds as the car is driven at low speed. Removing the calipers, dismantling them and cleaning them before reassembling and refitting them is the solution; this is something that can be done at home easily enough.
With the V6 the front and rear brakes can stick on, leading to the discs overheating and warping. It’s all because of a metal insert between the caliper and brake pad, which suffers from electrolytic corrosion. Occasionally taking out the pads and cleaning everything up is the key, but if new discs are needed it’s not the end of the world as replacement front discs are £110 each, while a set of pads costs £75. The V6 and TS have the same rear brakes, while the Phase 1 V6 had the same front brakes as the TS but they weren’t up to the job. The Phase 2 brought much more capable Brembo brakes.
Alloy wheels were standard fare for all 916s, with corrosion a problem if the lacquer isn’t kept free of brake dust. Porous wheels can be a problem, the only fix for which is to fit replacements. There’s no shortage of OE wheels, but all sorts of aftermarket replacements are also available. Alfa fitted 15”, 16” and 17” wheels depending on the year and model.
To get the best out of any 916 you need to fit good-quality tyres and keep them properly inflated. If the car is on Korean ditchfinders be wary as it’s clearly been run on a budget. To get the best out of any 916 dynamically, you’ll need to spend around £500 on a set of decent-quality branded boots.
Expect to get no more than 10,000 miles from a V6-powered GTV or Spider’s tyres, because of the weight of the engine.
KEY CHECKS: TRIM AND ELECTRICS
The interior quality is reasonable, but creaks and squeaks are par for the course thanks to the GTV’s hard ride and the Spider’s lack of stiffness. The convertible’s roof isn’t inherently rubbish, but some have seen better days, leading to leaks and then mouldy carpets. A lot of 916s came with a cloth interior, but most owners now want leather, but it’s easy to make the switch as there’s no shortage of decent used parts available to upgrade from fabric to hide. You’ll pay £250 for a good pair of Spider front seats, and £350 for a set of four GTV seats.
Some cars came with air-con, which can suffer from failure of various components. If it’s not working it might just need to be re-gassed, but it’s more likely that the condensor needs to be replaced as it’s in front of the radiator and it gets punctured by flying stones. Phase 1 condensers are available, but Phase 2 items are not; nor are many of the necessary hoses. Throw in poor access to replace parts, especially on the V6, and it’s easy to see why many owners simply live without air-con.
The 916’s electrics weren’t all that good as Alfa cut costs, so despite Bosch parts being fitted, problems aren’t unusual. Electric windows can be temperamental and so are wiper motors on early cars, but it’s just a question of keeping the motor’s contacts free of grease. The switchgear is becoming increasingly unreliable with age, and while some new parts are available they tend to be expensive. Used parts are cheaper but you never know how much life is left in them.
A buzzing noise from behind the rear seats in a GTV, or from under the rear shelf of a Spider, will be the fuel pump. Sometimes they get vocal, but they tend to just keep working. Early ones have to be rebuilt but later ones are available new. They’re a £250 Bosch item which is easy to fit thanks to good access.
RESTORATION AND MAINTENANCE
Think twice before taking on any GTV or Spider that needs a significant number of replacement parts, because availability of new bits is becoming more and more of a problem. There’s no shortage of used parts though, as so many of these cars have been broken over the years, and they continue to be broken.
All of the plastic panels (bonnets, front wings, valances) are plentiful, but apart from the odd item coming up, you’re unlikely to find any replacement metal panels – not even repair sections. Interior trim and all mechanical items are easy to find though. Some new bits can be sourced from European suppliers, but these are getting expensive because of increased transport and import fees. Maintenance is generally no problem, although you will need special tools for some jobs, such as replacing the cambelt. But these tools are readily available and they’re cheap enough to significantly reduce running costs.
Gary Fisher concludes: “Stay away from E10 petrol as the in-tank fuel pump is held by a rubber bush. These are disintegrating through age, and the process is being speeded up with the use of E10. A new pump costs £250, with the same part used across all models.”
There’s a whole raft of things that you can do to make your GTV better. Some of the bigger jobs include fitting a 3.2-litre V6 to a 3.0-litre car, or if you’ve got a four-pot 916 you can fit a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine from the Fiat Coupé for some extra go with relative economy.
From June 1999, V6 models got a six-speed gearbox; all other 916s had a five-speed manual transmission. If you’ve got an earlier V6 you can fit the later gearbox, but four-pot cars are stuck with five ratios. If you’ve got a V6 car and you drive it hard, fitting a Q2 limited-slip diff is money well spent, but you’ll need to allow around £1000 to have one fitted.
None of the braking systems are especially reassuring, with the Phase 1 V6 especially poor. Phase 1 V6 brakes can be swapped for Phase 2 stoppers, or if your pockets can stand it you can fit Alfa 156 GTA six-pot calipers with 330mm ventilated discs, but you’ll need £1500 for the parts alone. On the Twin Spark and JTS you can fit Alfa 166 calipers, the brackets for which are readily available; budget £500 for the conversion.
On the Spider it’s worth fitting a strut brace to stiffen up the front end; £120 buys something decent. Koni adjustable dampers start at £150 apiece, with Eibach springs that lower the car by 20mm another popular fitment. While you’re at it fit uprated anti-roll bars front and rear; kits are available for £600. Fitting a sports exhaust, ideally with a tubular manifold, will free up some power, while also providing a sportier soundtrack. Choose between mild or stainless steel, but get a decent-quality full sports system and it’s easy to spend £1500 whether your 916 has four cylinders or six.
One small tweak that’s well worth making on the GTV is to fit a relay to the heated rear window. The timer can fail so that the heating element doesn’t switch off automatically, which can lead to overheating and potentially a fire. Just a tenner along with half an hour can stop your Alfa from going up in flames; all you need to know is at tinyurl.com/yb7k8dnt.
Gary Fisher runs Totally Alfa and is also the 916 registrar for the Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club. He comments: “I got into 916s about 20 years ago when I bought my first GTV to do a driving holiday in Italy. I’d owned Alfas before, including several 146s.
“Before I went on holiday I serviced the GTV, which meant having to buy quite a few special tools. I went to Italy, returned home then looked at all of the special tools which had cost me a lot of money. So I started making these special tools at a lower price. Things then snowballed, so I set up a website selling tools for Alfas from the 1930s to the present day.
“In 2013 I ramped things up to start selling parts, some of which I made. Items such as brackets were made from stainless steel rather than mild steel. Other bits were sourced from elsewhere and now I reckon Totally Alfa offers the widest range of 916 parts anywhere.”
Join The Club Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club aroc-uk.com
Gary Fisher of Totally Alfa, and Mark Higgins, owner of the Spider pictured.
REAL CARS FOR SALE
£2395 2000 GTV 2.0 TS. Near-perfect condition, 91,000 miles. new MoT, recent cambelt change, lots of history.
Silver paint, black trim. tinyurl.com/yemsfwn4
£6000 1996 Spider 2.0 TS. Blue paint, black interior with 28,441 miles on the clock.
Comes with three keys, lots of history, very original. tinyurl.com/c8fbppan
2001 GTV Cup #13. Owned for six years, completely original, 81,200 miles. One of 58 left, from 155 RHD examples produced. tinyurl.com/3hwybe89
- April 1996 The Type 916 GTV and Spider are launched with a 2.0 twin-spark engine.
- September 1998 The GTV is now offered with a 3.0 V6 and the 2.0-litre engine gets a power boost from 150bhp to 155bhp.
These are the Phase 2 cars.
- April 2001 The Spider gets a 3.0 V6 option. October 2001
- The GTV Cup arrives in 3.0 V6 and 2.0 TS guises. In all 419 are made, 155 for the UK; all UK cars have the V6 engine. Each gets teledial alloys, half-leather trim and a unique bodykit, but mechanically there are no differences.
- July 2003 The GTV and Spider are facelifted inside and out to become the Phase 3, a 3.2 V6 supersedes the 3.0 unit, and the 2.0 JTS brings direct injection to replace the 2.0 TS.
- November 2004 The Special Edition GTV and Spider are introduced, with just 80 examples of each sold.
The best 916 for you
Relatively few V6s were sold in the UK, so whatever you buy it’s most likely to have the 2.0-litre Twin Spark engine. While the glorious V6 might seem like the only way to go, don’t dismiss the four-pot too readily. With its 7000rpm red line and a free-revving nature, the Twin Spark unit is lusty and sounds superb as you explore the upper reaches of the power band; it’s also better balanced and significantly cheaper to run. However, as long as you buy a good example, you’ll love the great handling, strong performance and still-fresh looks of the GTV.
Gary Fisher comments: “I’d take a Twin Spark over a V6 every time because it’s cheaper to run and better to drive. Having said this, the V6 is better for cruising as it has usefully more low-down torque. Thrash a V6 and it’ll return 18mpg, but on a run 28mpg is more realistic, whereas you can get 40mpg or so from a Twin Spark on a run.”
I Bought One: MARK HIGGINS
Mark Higgins was brought up around Alfa Romeos, which is why he’s owned several of them, including the Spider pictured here. Mark says: “My dad was an Alfa mechanic at a main dealer, so since I was a kid I’ve been immersed in them. In 2014 the chance came up to buy a scruffy Spider 2.0 TS for not much money. The car needed some maintenance and recommissioning, so it was treated to new rear suspension, fresh tyres and brakes, plus a full service including a new cambelt.
“The car has been very reliable so far and I love the way that it drives. It also looks different and these Phase 1 cars are now getting very rare, so this car is especially unusual with its smaller wheels and slightly different design. Considering it’s a compact two-seater convertible the practicality is good; my car took me away on my honeymoon for a week last year, touring the UK. Apart from being noisy on the motorway there’s nothing that I would change. Some bits are getting hard to find, but Alfa Romeo is investing in some parts remanufacturing and all of the important stuff is available.”
- Key Specialists Totally Alfa, Devon. 01884 821 076 totallyalfa.com
- Alfa Workshop, Herts. 01763 244 441 alfaworkshop.co.uk
- Alfaholics, Somerset. 01275 349 449 alfaholics.com
- Alfatecnico, Notts. 01623 510 570 alfatecnico.co.uk
- Autodelta, London. 0208 838 3300 autodeltashop.com
- Autolusso, Beds. 01582 869 560 autolusso.co.uk
- Autolusso Bournemouth, Dorset. 01202 861 699 alfamotive.co.uk
- EB Spares, Wilts. 01373 823 856 ebspares.co.uk
- Gazella Racing, Yorks. 0113 815 0185 gazzellaracing.com
- Motormech, Birmingham. 0121 633 9823 motor-mech.co.uk
- Simply Alfas, W Midlands. 01384 424 022 simplyalfas.co.uk
- WAD Alfa Romeo, Wolverhampton. 01902 401 711 wad-alfaromeo.co.uk
“Whether your preference is for a GTV or Spider, the Alfa 916 is fantastic value for money and a great way into classic Alfa ownership. It really is a thing of beauty, and who could resist that sumptuous ribbed leather Momo interior? The days of bargain-basement pricing are well and truly over, and good cars are now starting to appreciate. Whichever style you prefer, the Alfa is a true example of a modern classic.”
Senior Operations Manager at Lancaster Insurance
|916 Vital Statistics||GTV 2.0 TS||GTV 2.0 JTS||GTV 3.0 V6||GTV 3.2 V6||Spider 2.0 TS||Spider 2.0 JTS||Spider 3.0 V6||Spider 3.2 V6|
|Top speed (mph)||134||137||155||158||134||137||155||158|
|0-60mph(seconds)||7.9||8.4||6.7||6.0||7.9||7.9 ||6.7 ||6.0|
|Gearbox||5-speed manual||5-speed manual||5/6-speed manual||6-speed manual||5-speed manual||5/6-speed manual||5/6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|Length (mm)||4290||4290||4290||4290||4290||4290 ||4290||4290|
|Width (mm)||1780||1780||1780||1780||1780||1780||1790||1800 |