In the 1980s, Alfa Romeo was known in the US for the Spider and really only one other model that also debuted years prior but had an unusually long shelf life. For over a decade the Tipo 116 coupe, or Alfetta, made up that second major half of Alfa’s sales volume in the States, even as other models made cameo appearances. It was also during this era that Alfa’s presence stateside seemed to peak.
Of course, the problem with the Alfetta’s success was that once the model exited the stage there wasn’t a sporty coupe to replace it, with Alfa relying on sales of the aging Spider as well as newcomers like Milano and the 164 sedan. Alfa Romeo struggled along on 164 and Spider sales before calling it quits in 1995.
The model itself landed stateside 20 years prior, wearing a very stylish suit. But it didn’t arrive alone, being the coupe half of the Alfetta duo that also included a sedan. And it didn’t get a V6 engine at first. Rather, the Alfetta GT debuted with four-pots underhood, only gaining a V6 for 1981. And it received it from a car that never made it to the states, with the automaker keeping the boxy Alfa 6 for Europe.
But that 2.5-liter V6 did wonders in the wrapper of the much lighter coupe with a five-speed transaxle, transforming it into the brand’s main sporty offering just at a time when it needed it most.
How much of an upgrade was the V6 over the 2.0-liter four-cylinder?
Not as much as you’d think: the four-cylinder churned out 124 hp, which was enough to move the car along, while the 2.5-liter V6 was good for 154 hp and 152 lb-ft of torque. While the difference on paper does not look vast today, the difference in performance was noticeable, and buyers agreed. The car now know simply as the GTV6 had other strengths, of course, including a responsive chassis, a roomy cabin and good weight distribution, so it was definitely the right car at the right time.
There were also a few weaknesses, including rust issues on display on this example. Of course, Alfa Romeo was not the only one with those issues at time, which helped chase Fiat out of North America at the time, but it assured that examples sold in the salty American northeast might need some bodywork after just a few years of ownership.
Even more of an upgrade arrived with the rare 3.0-liter V6 later on in the model’s run, with that 3.0-liter offering 188 hp and 184 lb-ft torque. So the model certainly picked up speed and power as it aged, moving along with the expectations of buyers of the 1980s. But 1987 would be the final model year for the coupe, even though it probably still had some life left in it, perhaps enough to take Alfa into the 1990s with a major exterior refresh.
Without it, Alfa Romeo dealers did not have much to fall back on, as the automaker did not offer the Arna, the 33, or the smaller Sprint stateside. Out of these three, the 33 perhaps held the most promise, but the larger problem was that Alfa was entering a period of focusing on sport sedans. The 155 had a shot at picking up the baton from the Milano, but it never made it stateside. It was likely obvious for a while, even without the benefit of hindsight, that Alfa Romeo sales couldn’t get by on just a large sedan alone, which is why the 155 and the 145 never made it stateside in the first half of the 1990s, with the debut of the next-gen 916 coinciding perfectly with Alfa’s departure from the US.
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