Yes, you read that correctly, there is a 2005 Alfa Romeo 147 GTA here in the United States, and I just had a go in it. You are likely asking “how”, which is the most common question the owner is asked. Often that is not followed by anything other than utter confusion. People literally walk up to him and say “….how”. I’ll get to that in a bit, but if you follow my exploits here on Hooniverse, you’ll know that I’ve been in crossover purgatory for the past few months. I’ve tested no less than a dozen of America’s favorite vehicle and I needed a palate cleanser.
This was about as good as I could possibly do.
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA Overview
The Alfa 147 was in production from 2000 to 2010, and as you likely already know, it was never sold here in the United States. That means many of us likely experienced the little Alfa via Gran Turismo or some other virtual game. Unsurprisingly, the 147 replaced the…145 and 146. You could spec your 147 in three-door and five-door hatchback layouts and it came with a variety of engines including a three petrol engines (1.6L, 2.0L, and 3.2L), as well as a 1.9L diesel.
We’re here to talk about the hot hatch version, the 147 GTA. Launched in 2002, most GTAs are powered by a 247 horsepower 3.2L V6. Dubbed the “Busso V6”, it was a 60° V6 engine produced by Alfa Romeo from 1979 to 2005. The engine had a number of variations and displacements and was named after Giuseppe Busso who actually died in 2006 just three days after the Busso engine left production!
The GTA is wider by 15mm to accommodate larger tires (tyres?) and has a racier body and a ton of little details. Mercifully, most were produced with a six-speed manual, though some came with the Selespeed automated manual transmission. The stock version would hit 60 mph in around six seconds. Alfa Romeo only made 5029 147 GTAs between 2002-2005.
This one is even rarer though.
OK, so first of all, how the hell is this car here in the States? Well, if you caught a glimpse of the license plate, you already know how this 16 year old car made it here. James Lawson is here on a diplomatic holiday from the U.K. on assignment here in the colonies, and basically he just shipped his car here. That’s it, $1,000 USD and it was tossed on a cargo ship. He tracked online during its journey to Amsterdam, on to Canada, and then to nearby Baltimore. It sat for less than 24 hours, he showed up, signed something and someone was like “it’s right over there bro” and tossed him the keys.
No inspection, no emissions, no taxes, nothing. His role at the embassy meant that he already had his diplomatic plates in hand, and he heading down 95 south in no time.
James bought this Nero Metallico (Metallic Black) 2005 RHD UK Spec GTA in 2007 as the second owner, and it had around 20,000 miles on the clock.
While this Alfa GTA still looks pretty stock, it certainly isn’t. Visually, the only cues are the slightly larger wheels and the lower ride height. The wheels are a set of optional 18″ Alfa wheels, and the suspension is built around KW V3 shocks with adjustable damping and rebound, updated KW springs, Eibach anti roll bars, and front and rear strut connectors.
The stock KW springs didn’t feel right with the new kit, so he swapped them for a set with a bit more travel. James was shooting for a setup that would be track-worthy, while not absolutely punishing the occupants on the way there. The first mod was the limited slip differential though, the powerful FWD car was in dire need of a better option that the stock unit. James added an Alfa Q2 diff that, at the time, was found as standard on another lesser car and only cost £500 ($690 colonial). Once Alfa realized it was desirable, the prices went to £1,000! around the same time, Quaife came out with one around the same price and he noted that most people just started to buy those instead.
The big story is under the hood though, this is one of a handful of U.K. cars that have the bored out to 3.8L. So it now produces a dyno-confirmed 330 bhp, and the car only weighs a little over 2800 pounds.
The larger displacement was just the beginning of the engine updates. Ported CF2 manifolds are accompanied by other engine mods including a cool Ferrari 360 throttle body, Mocal oil cooler and Mocal catch can, and Autodelta Carbon Intake pipe, plus a larger aluminum (*a-lum-in-um) radiator.
Almost all of the work and modifications have been carried out by a London-area garage called Autolusso. They are known for their Alfa work, and James’ GTA is one of around ten bored out 3.0L GTAs in the area (their area, not ours). The SCS Delta 800 ECU is all new and was moved from the stock ECU location in the hot engine bay (really Alfa?) to the glovebox. The sea of wires above shows the job in progress. James said that the stock ECU was worth $1,000 due to being in short supply, so the $1,500 upgraded version was well worth it and now has things like launch control and other cool features.
Elsewhere you’ll find a short shifter, Raggazzon quad outlet exhaust, braided brake hoses, Zeatek metal under-tray, 12mm Spacers, and polyurethane bushings. The body remains largely the same, save for the front splitter. Technically the splitter and quad-exhaust are also cues that the GTA isn’t stock, but you’d need to know what you are looking for. The stock GTA only has an exhaust outlet on one side, but the stock body kit has an outlet on both sides.
The only mod he’s made since being here in the U.S. is an Antigravity-brand battery that only weighs six pounds. As for what’s next, well that’s the beauty of project cars right? They’re never really done. Just ask Jeff.
Driving an Alfa is filled with little things that add up to something particularly special. Outside of the updates made by James, there are tons of small things you’ll notice if you look closely (or have an owners just show you). The Alfa Romeo script on the mirror is also present on the wiper blades. Pop the fuel filler door and you’ll find a billet-metal looking Alfa fuel cap.
“Sitting in an Alfa Romeo feels like you’re sitting in bar in Milano. Sitting in an Audi feels like you’re trapped in a Berlin post office”– James May
Captain Slow lives in James’ village back home and has checked out the GTA.
James (Lawson, not May) crafted the shroud on the right side of the engine bay himself, but he notes that the most impressive part on the car is the custom fluted sandwich plate that connects the Ferrari 360 throttle body. It was made by a shop in London that makes McLaren Formula One parts and ensures a free flow of air all the way to the engine.
You won’t be shocked to hear that this car is an absolute blast. James has driven the GTA on a host of tracks, their outlines are visible in the under-hood shot above in the mini-gallery. It’s a mix of U.K. tracks including Goodwood, Bedford Autodrome, Castle Coombe, and Silverstone, plus well known European tracks like Spa-Francorchamps as well as tackling over 100 laps on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. He’s also been traveling around the mid-atlantic and southern U.S. hitting up Watkins Glen, Summit Point, and others. It’s even been down to the Tail of the Dragon which he described as the most like the Nordschleife he’s experienced, but with speed limits.
I’m not sure what to compare the 3.8L GTA to that our readers might be familiar with, picture a Fiesta ST with a lot more power. Overall length, width, and wheelbase are comparable, as is the FWD layout. The car just pulls hard while making a magical sound that few cars this small make. The Busso engine sings, and the Raggazzon exhaust pushes out a raspy deep tone that would never get old, especially through a tunnel.
After experiencing the car on public roads, I’d say it drives like a normal (if performance-focused) compact FWD car when you’re not pushing it. However, it’s low enough to have to pay attention to road surface changes and oddly sloped driveways. James noted that on track it starts to understeer when pushed to the limit but you can really feel the diff pulling you into the corner. The short steering rack means that you can start to feel the torque steer and he said that aspect actually makes it very engaging on the track. Also, it’s not exactly 50/50 from a weight perspective and with a big V6 in a a small hatchback, you can clearly feel the weight up front.
Still, the naturally aspirated Italian 3.8 V6 delivers power very evenly across the entire power band and that was noticeable in any gear. He said that the dyno graphs were very linear, unlike a lot of the turbo cars we see today.
The interior is compact car spec, with a bit of Italian flair. The seats are bolstered just right, if a bit slippy because of the leather surface. The small details continue on the inside, the alcantara, red stitching and overall materials feel great and even the curved dash on the passenger side makes for more legroom.
The steering wheel is just about perfect, with a great diameter, flat at the bottom, and it has little indentations for your thumbs. The rear seats are removed for the moment for track-day fun. The Lawson family drives around D.C. in an Escalade, while James rides his motorbike to the embassy, so the GTA is mostly a weekend car.
This is truly a special car and I’m fortunate to have been able to experience it. James is set on ensuring that anyone who wants to check it out or experience the car is welcome. He has made some good friends in the U.S. Alfa club and plans to continue to hit up as many shows and track events as possible. For now, I’m happy to have broken up my crossover testing with something incredibly magical. When this thing his 25 years old (in close to a decade) keep an eye out for imported versions. It’s a literal ton (and and not-quite-a-half) of fun!