1966 Alfa Romeo GTA: Faster than velour, carpet or radio

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA

There’s not much to the interior of an Alfa Romeo GTA. Memory fails all but the most important details, things like highly legible gauges, the Alfa-typical dogleg shifter, the bucket seats that hold the occupant like a miser holds his ledger.

There’s the should-belt-only restraint system—no lap belt—that hopefully works better than it feels. Mamma velours need not look for their long lost babies in the GTA, however, and the only way you’ll find carpet in the car is to drive to a rug sale. There’s no radio either, but that really doesn’t matter. The Alfa has its own special sound system: Due to a total lack of noise insulation, every sound made by engine, exhaust and suspension is your constant companion.

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA (click to enlarge)

That in itself isn’t bad. As English is the international language of air traffic control, Italian is that of music, and the GTA speaks mechanicals very well. Except with it comes to broken concrete and patched asphalt crashes the Alfa Romeo GTA over cracks and potholes as if it were reinventing the soundtrack for Fibber McGee’s closet.

Of course the Alfa GTA was not bred for pothole patrol. It was built to be a racer. Based on the Giulia GT, it was a lightweight homologation special (the “A” stands for “Alleggeritea,” or “Lightened”), weighing some 400 lbs less than its parent thanks to extensive use of light allow bodywork, the Spartan interior and the aforementioned lack of insulation. Alfa went so far as to use snap-out vinyl mats in place of carpeting, and a special Hefty-bag thin upholstery.

Under the hood Alfa put a special twin-plug, big-valve head version of the Giulietta-derived DOHC four, displacing 1570cc and producing 115 bhp at 6000 rpm in stock form. About 100 pounds lighter still was and even more special version, the “corsa,” which with its compression ratio bumped from 9.7:1 to 10.5:1 and smaller valves made 170 horses at 7500 rpm. It could do 135 mph.

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA (click to enlarge)

All of this was introduced at the 1965 Geneva Auto Salon, but sufficient examples for homologation were not produced until the beginning of the 1966 competition season. The delay did not affect the car’s speed. At Sebring, on March 12, 1966, future world champion Jochen Rindt won the four-hour Touring Car Race. It was the GTA’s first win. Trailing in second place was Bob Tullius in a Dodge Dart, followed by Andrea de Adamich in another Alfa.

The race was significant for being the first TransAm ever. Alfas went on to take the Under 2.0-liter TransAm crown that inaugural year, and also garnered a class win in the European Touring Car series.

There isn’t room here to list all the GTA’s victories; suffice to say that the Alfa became a staple of the small bore class in TransAm as long as it lasted, as anyone who witnessed Horst Kwech in epic battles first (in vain) against the Porsche 911 and then (not so much in vain) against the Datsun 510/BMW 2002 can testify. In Europe, the GTA backed up its maiden year ETC title with two more, in 1967 and 1968, and the European Challenge series in both 1300cc (GTA Jr) and 1600cc classes in 1969. In 1970 the swollen-fendered 1750 GTAm (the “m” standing for “maggiorata,” or “enlarged”) won the ETC championship outright and the 2000 GTAm took class honors in 1971.

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA

1966 Alfa Romeo GTA (click to enlarge)

But not just racing served the Alfa Romeo GTA. The GTA is capable of ably dispatching smooth secondary roads. It’s classically tidy, no tricks or quirks, honest as Abe, what-you-see-is-what-you-get handling.

From the driver’s seat, one cannot see the crude wire-screen grille or the wonderfully nubby mag-alloy wheels, but they mark the Alfa as much as the no-nonsense interior and the ripping liter-point-six of exhaust. The Alfa-Romeo was, and remains, a serious automobile. And that explains why it’s more fun than velour hunts, carpet sales, or listening to the radio.