The 147 GTA – A year of ownership and transformation

By James Rose:

Even before I was able to get into Alfa ownership, the 147 GTA was a car that I knew about and admired, probably because it was crazy in a good way and watching it on the Clarkson, Hammond and May era Top Gear made me want to own one someday.  The styling was also really cool; it wasn’t over the top like a lot of modern cars I find tend to veer more towards now, however you could tell it had that unique curvy smooth lined Italian thing going on.

Over the years I had a few opportunities however ultimately I went with one of the other Alfa options at the time it was on the table.  Each time there was some afterthought of “what if I had gone the 147 GTA route,” so there was always a slight underlying sense of kicking myself as well.  As time goes on, cars like this predictably are becoming harder to find good workable examples of, and are also on the rise when it comes to prices.  March 2018 an opportunity came again and this time, I went for it.  It was a red (which was pretty faded) 2003 plate example that had covered just over 65000 miles, so a low one for the age.  Being aware of a lot of useful information out there regarding maintenance and what to expect, I was preparing for the fact that I would have a lot more to do than just a respray, however I do like me a project where I can put my own style on and also bring back up to scratch and save it from the spares bin.  This is the progress over the past year from last March to the present day, where more work is still planned, however a large chunk has been done, in which you’ll see quite a transformation has happened already compared to how it was in the first place.

The first bit really was to get the car checked up which sets in motion what the problems are and which ones were in more urgent need of attention.  Turns out there was quite a long list of them, many of which were smaller service items which had not been kept up to date with, these are the sort of things that over time on each visit I am having ticked off the list.  There were however some more serious ones.  These included a leak from the power steering rack and NSF driveshaft, worn structural/stability areas, exhaust blowing, cracked cambelt cover, not the best tyres with one wheel buckled, no undertray and previous bits of work not being done to a very good standard, including the cambelt.  Quite a bit to do then, many thanks to Gareth at Northern Alfa Performance for carrying out all this work to make it how it is now, it wouldn’t have been possible without his superb service as always.

The good thing was there were no cylinder misfires and nothing serious on the engine side so thankfully the car wasn’t at the stage where a big bill is looming for a rebuild.  The core essentially was still fine and with the work going to get underway I wanted to avoid things getting into serious territory like that.  A Quaife differential was already installed so thankfully no worries there about a cowboy style explosion occurring in the gearbox casing.  The clutch had already been replaced and gearbox rebuilt, wasn’t done the best however for now it’ll do.  While it was in for the first time being checked up, I had a new fuel filler cap installed as the original was past it and had broken off its tether quite a while ago.

Over the summer months of June into July the first bits of work started.  A full service was carried out which always helps make things feel a lot less stiff and creaky, I always get it done each year on every car I have.  New front upper wishbones with front and rear transverse arms were fitted to replace the worn old ones, so that was the stability side given a much needed bit of health there.  Partsworld are very handy for new old stock parts being sold for a nice price, so I was able to get a brand new undertray fitted along with buying a new steering rack and NSF driveshaft ready to be fitted next time.  The wheels also got laser aligned.  Finally, the first signs of things getting more interesting began; a Wizard exhaust backbox I ordered a bit ago ready was fitted to replace the Scorpion that was on before.  That change began to liven things up a bit; it was a bit more trouble than usual due to the previous exhaust not being fitted on to the best standard.  There was still a blow from the exhaust system too however that didn’t stop me from taking a long detour home that day, the sound was still nice enough there!  As it turned out the cause of the blowing came from one of the original flexi pipes leaking and past it.

With that problem identified, I ordered a set of new Wizard flexi pipes to be fitted and solve the blowing problem fully as well as making the sound even better as the quality of the Wizard stuff is way nicer, incredibly light too.  It was getting towards the back end of summer now and along with the flexis going in yet more areas were being addressed on this visit.  Shortly before, I managed to find a really nice set of Imola leather seats Autostilo were selling which are my favourite seats for these cars.  You might have seen originally a Ducati Course interior was in there.  I have not got the original interior back yet which was the all black one, it could be that it was in a poor state and the Ducati seats got fitted in previously.  Either way I made no hesitation buying them as it desperately needs an original interior in, just in time for all the other work at this time.  The oil leaks especially around the wheels were getting quite a nuisance by now (I went through two wheel cleaning brushes it was that bad and messy) so the new steering rack and driveshaft were fitted to finally put an end to that issue.  An aluminium Biscione strut brace was fitted in at the same time to further help with the structural rigidity, especially in the handling area.  Along with all this this visit was wrapped up as the car also had its MOT, which it passed fine however the tyre wear was an advisory and something to get on top of.  The car now was feeling and sounding a whole lot better though, quite a leap already from where I began.  It really starts to take shape from here on in too.

It was getting near the end of the year now, not long before Christmas and one last big job was due to be done, the cambelt.  While it had only recently been done the way it had been done was just, well, rubbish. Not smooth, in fact driving with just the wheels and no tyres is probably more comfortable.  This was a great time to do what quite a few have done, which was give the engine a really nice paint and detail and make things take yet more shape.  Given the whole car is due for repainting it gives a glimpse of how the outside would look.  It took a bit of time planning out what gets painted one colour and what gets painted another.  In the end it was a mixture of black around where the bottom covers and parts were mixed in with a metallic red at the top and on the inner cam covers.  The lettering and horizontal lines around it was brushed down so that it contrasted in a polished greyish look.  I also purchased a brand new set of stainless steel screws from StigFasteners to replace the old and worn screws around where all the engine parts and covers hold everything together.  A new coolant tank was fitted at the same time to replace the old pretty jaded looking old one, so much so you couldn’t read the coolant level!  With the cambelt done right this time and the engine now looking the part it was a good way to finish off the year and solid progress to date.  Big thanks also to Richard and the team at Re-Finishing Maltby for a really nice job on the engine detailing and painting.

Straight into 2019 and I pretty much wasted no time in getting things going to complete the main noticeable transformation on the outside.  Just before painting I had luckily got a set of refurbished 18 Jetfins with new tyres to have fitted on, along with new front and rear badges.  I do like the original 17 GTA teledial alloys so they will probably return one day, for the time being I am enjoying the Jetfins.  Then it was time for the full on repaint, pretty early into January I dropped it off at the paint place who I have known for quite a few years and have done quite a bit of work for me before, the wait then began.  Along with the respray, the black parts including the grilles, number plate plinth, window pillars, even the black plastic under the windscreen and wing mirror surrounds were repainted in gloss black to compliment everything else.

In terms of the red that I went with, that took me quite a while to decide, at the time I was keen to do a metallic red and go different from the original non-metallic solid red.  Originally I had my eyes set on one of the fancy Alfa metallic reds for quite a while, however not far from when the engine was about to be detailed I went and explored a bit more, which led me to Ferrari metallic reds.  There was one that really stood out, however finding the code for it proved to be quite difficult.  It was a rare colour to begin with; Nuovo Rosso F1 2007 was its original name I believe from some reading.  I then found it had been re-introduced on I think a La Ferrari a few years back and called a different name; Rosso Scuderia Metallic, which luckily did have a code which I managed to find.  While it was quite a risk that is the colour I went with, deep down every bit of my mind was telling me to go for it.

When it came to applying the colour to the car, things took longer than expected.  This was due to the colour being difficult to apply, so much so that it had to be applied wet.  Even getting the mixture right was a task given it is one of those dynamic metallic pearl colours which have quite a few layers.  A few panels took a few attempts to get right, a big thanks to Tony and the team at Webbs Auto Bodyshop for keeping on at it until it was right and also letting me know of the bits they wanted my authorisation on before going ahead.  As you can see from the pictures it did spend quite a bit of time looking like something from a Mad Max film!

The end result however was all worth it, after 6 weeks that felt like forever given the obstacles the car was finished.  The weather had decided to turn just in time for the makeover but I could still see it looked superb and well worth all the work that has been done.  The colour is so dynamic, under the more fluorescent lighting in the spray booth it goes a really dynamic metallic red similar to 8C red, at night it does similar but has the orange aspect enhanced more.  The colour itself is an orangey red and can change quite a bit in the different lights and conditions.  On a less bright day it comes across as a more solid colour, sometimes a vivid red and more often in general a reddish orange.  On really bright days is where it shines most, hard to capture however it comes out in a very metallic strong orange but still with signs of red, it heavily changes depending on the viewing angle.  On a really nice blue spring/summer day it again enhances and goes even deeper.  It has had quite a few stares on those days around the restaurants I am parked at when I am out with the car.

It wasn’t long before the Italian Car Meets were happening, so I had a few other bits squeezed in before then as well, quite a few were parts I had ready and waiting for a bit.  I had a nice set of 330mm brake calipers which were fitted with new MTEC grooved discs all round with Pagid pads.  The rear calipers needed replacing and along with the front calipers could do with a painting in the future.  I also put in a new set of custom GTA interior carpets I ordered from Autostyle which were really nice quality and a huge step up from the bare floor I had in before.  A new set of steering wheel buttons and badge got fitted replacing the originals which looked past their peak.  It doesn’t sound like a lot but even these parts have improved the look of the interior even more now.  The broken cambelt issue also got sorted out.  Late in 2018 a much better one was in the process of being made out of carbon fibre.  This was not only a large quality improvement over the original but also a really nice styling upgrade too.  It fitted in without issue and is holding up really nicely as time goes on which is great.  Finally upon advice from Gareth I had the old aerial replaced with a much sleeker and stylish shark fin antenna, the old one with all the cosmetic enhancements on the outside looked like an old dilapidated building.

I was really looking forward to taking my GTA in its current form out to a meet; the first one was the Enzari Meet at Ferrari’s Country House on the 24th March.  That Sunday finally came and I headed off there.  It was also a bit different as I had not been to one of these meets before, so along with pretty much a new car to take to shows this year it was also a new experience in terms of places to go.  It was a very good first outing for the GTA and a great meet, I got chatting to new faces and the location I thought was a great place.  The weather was cold and a bit overcast but that didn’t stop it from being a great meet overall.  No doubt I’ll be back and will see everyone again which I look forward to, the turnout was also very good so hopefully it will be the same next time.  Was nice to see a strong selection of different Italian cars there, a very well balanced selection, there really was a little bit of everything.  The coffee at the house was also really nice and the whole place both inside and outside at the meet had a very good atmosphere.

That pretty much wraps things up so far, it has been quite a year and my biggest and so far best project yet in relation to my previous Alfas.  I have gone way further than anything before and I’m not finished yet.  In terms of what is next; I have a few cosmetic refinements under the bonnet to sort out.  Then some more mechanical/reliability aspects underneath as well as focusing on how it sits, I might even alternate wheels too at some point, there’s a lot of different outfits in terms of original wheel options for the GTA’s and Busso Alfas so who knows.  There is likely always going to be some little refinements as well.  I also have other Alfa projects now upcoming so things might slow down a little on my 147 GTA however I definitely know there is more to come.  Hope you enjoyed reading and a big thanks to Jason King and everyone at Enzari for letting me do this article.

Would you like to share you Italian car passion and tell us about your car; drop me an email jason@enzari.com we would love to hear from you.

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