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  • Writer's pictureMatteo Licata

The Forgotten Alfa

Over forty years ago, in the Spring of 1979, Alfa Romeo presented its new flagship: an imposing four-door saloon powered by a brand new V6 engine, meant to compete with the world's finest. Yet everyone has forgotten it ever existed.

By the time of its presentation to the international press at the Grand Hotel Villa d'Este, the Alfa 6 had been in gestation for over a decade, and it very nearly didn't happen. Despite the boastful claims made at the launch event, it's believed even Alfa's own president doubted the model's actual chances of success.

After all, Alfa Romeo sold most of its cars in Italy, where the market for over-two liters cars, subjected to heavy taxes, was dominated by foreign manufacturers.

But, on the other hand, Alfa Romeo had already sunk so much on the car's protracted development, interrupted by the 1973 oil crisis, that scrapping it entirely would have been a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless.

To say the Alfa 6 hasn't been a success would be an understatement, as, over its seven-year lifespan, it sold little more than it was expected to do in one single year.

the truth is, as it often happens with all things Italian, more complicated than that.

Yet I believe the Alfa 6 doesn't deserve the obscurity in which it has fallen, nor the flak it often gets from people who, in most cases, have hardly even seen one in the first place.

That's the reason why I researched and wrote its story back in 2019: I felt that forty years on, it was high time for someone to set the record straight on a story that's too often been misrepresented and misunderstood.

Most people believe the Alfa 6 to be a simple derivative of the Alfetta, given their superficial similarity. But the truth is, as it often happens with all things Italian, more complicated than that.

The Alfetta and Alfa 6 were two separate projects that ran alongside one another in the late 1960-early 70s and were done by the same people.

Both cars used a double-wishbone front suspension, with torsion bars as elastic elements, and a De-Dion rear axle. But there was little to no parts commonality between the two cars, much to the dismay of current Alfa 6 owners, who can't use Alfetta spares on their cars.

The Alfa 6's bodyshell was a different design, too, larger in all dimensions.

But perhaps the key difference between the Alfetta and the Alfa 6 was the gearbox's location, as the larger saloon didn't share the Alfetta's famous transaxle configuration.

The Alfa 6's five-speed manual or three-speed automatic gearboxes were sourced from ZF and mounted traditionally at the car's front, bolted directly to the Alfa 6's party piece, Giuseppe Busso's all-aluminum 2.5 liters V6 engine.

After decades of oblivion, prices for good survivors have been firming up, and the old prejudices are finally waning

That engine had been specifically designed for Alfa's flagship but went on enjoying a much longer and successful life, one I've gone through in detail in another article.

From 1979 until 1983, the 2.5 liters V6 fed by three double-choke Dell'Orto carburetors remained the sole engine option for the Alfa 6, but that changed with the introduction of the restyled "series two" model.

The 2.5 liters V6 had the same spec as the GTV6, with Bosch electronic fuel injection, while the carburetors were retained for a new 2 liters variant developed for the Italian market. However, the new engine options, which included an inline-five turbodiesel engine and the slightly refreshed styling courtesy of Bertone, didn't prove enough to save the Alfa 6's fortunes.

Not many of these big Alfa saloons survive today, and it's a real pity, as these cars drove beautifully and their look, which was harshly criticized in the period, has now aged rather gracefully. Those cleaner, elegant series-one models are my favorites, especially if painted in one of Alfa's lovely period metallic shades.

After decades of oblivion, prices for good survivors have been firming up, and the old prejudices are finally waning, leaving the Alfisti community free to rediscover and enjoy the unique qualities of these rare classic Alfa Romeos.

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