Dial "916" For Style

Produced between 1994 and 2004, the GTV and Spider "916" are perhaps the most collectible Alfa Romeo models of the modern era, with the possible exception of more exotic machinery like the 4C and 8C Competizione.



And it's easy to see why: their design looks every bit as fresh and attractive now as it did a quarter of a century ago. Add to the mix the lusty "Busso" V6 engines or the characterful Twin Spark 16 valve four cylinders, and the cachet of being the last Alfa models ever manufactured at the historic Arese site, and it's no surprise that prices for good survivors are firming up.


Genesis

The story of the Spider and GTV began in late 1987, shortly after Fiat's takeover of Alfa Romeo and the successful introduction of the 164.

Interestingly, the project's initial codename was "169," following the Alfa Romeo numbering scheme inaugurated with the "101" assigned to the Giulietta in the 1950s. Since Fiat had been doing the same, Alfa's new owners decided that all future Alfa Romeo projects should instead use the "900" series of project codes that had, until then, only been used for the Alfasud and its derivatives.

Consequently, the GTV and Spider were reclassified as "916" during development, and the practice of using "900-something" codes for Alfa projects continues to this day.


The Spider and GTV, like the 155 saloon that preceded them on the market, were based on the Fiat "Tipo Due" platform with a transverse engine and front-wheel drive. The wheelbase remained the same too, for both the coupé and the spider body styles.

But you'd never tell, thanks to Pininfarina's gorgeous exterior design, penned by Enrico Fumia, the same person who'd previously designed the 164.

The wedge shape of the GTV and Spider is characterized by the side scallop already seen on the 164. Cleverly, this styling feature plays on the GTV and Spider a functional role by integrating the bonnet's shut lines and form a visual connection with the Spider's hood cover or the base of the rear window in the GTV's case.

One more nice touch from Fumia has been the integration of a minimalistic push-button to open the door instead of a bulky handle to avoid spoiling the car's clean side surfaces. Although initially not part of the design, the full-width lightbar we all know and love was implemented to maintain a family-feeling with the 164 saloons, at the request of Alfa's management.


Launch

Although the design of the Spider and GTV was approved in the late 80s, the world had to wait until the 1994 Paris Motor Show to see the new sports cars from Alfa Romeo. This was due to Fiat's top brass's decision to launch the Fiat Coupé, whose development had started later, before the Alfa Romeos.

However, not all of that time went to waste, as it allowed the GTV and Spider to have their own specific multi-link rear suspension design mounted to a substantial aluminum subframe to maintain the existing pick-up points of the "Tipo Due" floorpan.

The engines available at launch were a brand-new 2.0 liters inline-four engine, the first of a new generation of 16 valve Twin Spark engines, and the existing "Busso" V6 engines: the 3.0 liters 24 valves and the 2.0 liter 12 valve turbo for the GTV, with the milder 3.0 liters 12 valve V6 reserved for the Spider instead.

Public and critics alike loved the new Alfas, with the GTV and Spider pair selling over 25.000 units in their first couple of years on the market. However, there was room for improvement, especially as far as the interior design was concerned.


Improving The Breed

The so-called "Phase Two" models introduced in 1998 are my favorite of the breed, as Alfa Romeo wisely chose not to mess with the GTV and Spider's exterior but markedly improved both cars' interior.

A new center console was clad in fake aluminum trim with three circular vents on the top, while the climatization controls were lifted straight out from the newly-introduced 156 saloon. It may not sound like much, but these modifications made the GTV and Spider's interiors look much more attractive than before, at least in my view.

The "Phase two" Spider could now be had with the V6 turbo engine previously available only on the GTV, but that option would be short-lived, as the production of the V6 turbo ceased in 2001 together with the 3.0 liters 12 valve engines due to Euro 3 emissions regulations.

The "Phase two" GTV and Spider also received the revised 2.0 and 1.8 liters Twin Spark engines launched with the 156, equipped with a variable geometry intake manifold that improved their torque characteristics.

The smaller four-cylinder versions weren't offered in all markets, though, and surprisingly few were sold, leading to their discontinuation in 2000.


That year saw Alfa Romeo cars' production on the Marque's historic site of Arese ceasing for good. The GTV and Spider assembly operations were transferred to the Pininfarina factory in San Giorgio Canavese.

By then, both models' yearly production had dropped significantly, as the cars were aging and newer rivals emerged.


To try slowing the model's decline, Alfa offered several limited-edition models, but only the 2001 GTV "Cup" currently commands a premium among enthusiasts.

Inspired by the cars competing in the Italian one-make series, the GTV Cup wore an attractive body kit that comprised the existing wing and side skirts from Zender, plus a new front splitter that integrated two brake cooling ducts. Less than 500 cars were made, each carrying a numbered plaque on the console.


Twilight

The 2003 Geneva Motor Show saw the launch of the "Phase three" GTV and Spider models, whose redesigned front end was meant to ape the new 147 hatchbacks. Mechanically, the most important news was the introduction of the 2.0 liters JTS direct-injection engine lifted from the 156. However, the older Twin Spark unit remained available as an entry-level proposition.

The latest GTV and Spider also received the last iteration of the much-loved "Busso" V6, the 3.2 liters first seen on the 156 GTA.

All "Phase Three" models are rare cars indeed, as only around 4700 cars were made during the short production run that ended in December 2004.