Alfa's First Turbo
Few cars have fascinated me more than this all-original, unrestored piece of Alfa history: the first turbocharged road-going Alfa Romeo.
By the late 1970s, turbocharging was the way of the future, while rallying had been steadily increasing in popularity among enthusiasts and manufacturers alike.
These factors, among others, led Alfa Romeo's racing department Autodelta, directed by the legendary engineer Carlo Chiti, to develop a rally program around a turbocharged derivative of the existing 2 liters Alfetta GTV.
Sporting regulations stipulated a minimum production of 400 road cars to obtain homologation in Group 4, which Autodelta produced between 1979 and 1980, and this is one of those.
the handcrafted nature of this turbo conversion is charmingly evident the moment you pop up the hood
Sold new in Florence in November of 1979, this black beauty is among the first 200 Turbodeltas made. Unrestored and with just 80.000 km on the odometer, this GTV has never been taken apart and, therefore, is as original an example as one could possibly get.
To avoid any disruption on Arese's production lines, the cars left the line as "regular" GTV 2000L, which then were transformed into Turbodeltas at Autodelta's facility, which was located 12 Km away in Settimo Milanese.
It's worth remembering now that Autodelta was a racing outfit, and the handcrafted nature of this turbo conversion is charmingly evident the moment you pop up the hood.
From today's perspective, the turbo installation is almost hilariously crude: there's no intercooler, the aluminum air-box is evidently welded by hand, and there are air outlets cut directly into the wheel arches' sheet metal, simply finished with a pop-riveted plaque. As under bonnet temperatures were a legitimate concern, all Turbodelta hoods had louvers cut into them and were finished in a satin black paint that could withstand higher temperatures.
Carlo Chiti's main concerns were minimizing turbo lag and maintaining a strong torque output over as wide a rev range as possible
The KKK turbocharger blew the intake air at a relatively mild 0.7 bars to the standard 40mm double-choke carburetors, whose gaskets were all replaced by Autodelta due to the new operating conditions.
An electric fuel pump replaced the original mechanical unit, the battery was relocated to the trunk, and the coolant's expansion tank was moved to the right-hand side of the engine bay.
To avoid detonation, Autodelta replaced the pistons to lower the compression ratio to 7.1:1. New camshafts, an uprated head gasket, and a larger radiator completed the package. Very little was done to the rest of the drivetrain, save for an uprated clutch and stiffer dampers.
The quoted power output of 150 HP at 5500 Rpm may seem underwhelming, but it must be said the GTV Turbodelta was intended to be a rally car, so Carlo Chiti's main concerns were minimizing turbo lag and maintaining a strong torque output over as wide a rev range as possible.
Having said that, once on the road, the GTV Turbodelta was no slouch, though: from a standing start, it covered 1000 meters in around 28 seconds, and its top speed of about 205 Km/h could have been higher had Autodelta chosen to install a longer final drive, rather than keeping the original to simplify production.
However, this choice paid dividends in acceleration: starting from 30 Km/h in fifth gear, the GTV Turbodelta covered 1000 meters two seconds faster than comparable cars like the Porsche 924 Turbo.
Unfortunately, Autodelta would not be given the time to develop the car properly, as the rally program soon fell victim to the changing moods of Alfa's management
Being, in essence, a highly modified GTV 2000L, the Turbodelta could be had in any color from that model's catalog, but black wasn't a popular option in the period, making this example even more special than it already is. Autodelta didn't intervene much on the cosmetic side of things, but the thick, brightly colored decal on the bodyside leaves no doubt this is no ordinary GTV. It's almost comically garish, at least from my perspective, but it nevertheless is a fantastic element of Disco-era style.
Inside, next to nothing changed compared to a standard GTV 2 liters, with its wonderfully 70s velour upholstery in excellent condition. Likewise, the model's stylish dashboard is unchanged except for a round boost gauge placed between the rev counter and the central instrument pod.
This Turbodelta also comes with two charming period accessories that were the height of luxury back in '79: a factory-fitted tape deck and a Veglia Digiflash digital clock. Unfortunately, the latter's positioning means it's pretty much invisible from the driver's seat, in keeping with Alfa's time-honored random school of ergonomics.
The GTV Turbodelta's rally career started in 1980 at the Rally Costa Brava. Throughout the 1980 season, the Alfas proved very fast but unreliable, often retiring from leading positions. Unfortunately, Autodelta would not be given the time to develop the car properly, as the rally program soon fell victim to the changing moods of Alfa's management, which by early 1981 had already canceled it.
In 1980 the GTV lost the Alfetta moniker and received a restyling to put its sharp Giugiaro lines up to date with the latest trends. I covered a beautifully preserved one a few months ago; please feel free to check it out in this article.