Design fascinates. Victorian architecture. New York Gothic Revival. Post-punk leather jackets. Bespoke Saville Row suits and overcoats. 1940’s camouflage, Roentgen Secretaries, Bren Guns. Automobile marquis. I knew little of Alfa Romeo outside the Spyder Graduate—symbol of the spyder driven by Dustin Hoffman in the film the Graduate. I knew even less about the Italian design meastro Giorgetto Giugiaro who famously designed the Lotus Esprit.
In 1983 I was seventeen years old. I caught sight of the most marvelous gray colored hatchback in the film Octopussy. James Bond pinched an Alfa Romeo GTV6 from a German woman during a chase scene and slung the Alfa all over the road whilst being chased by an equally cool BMW R100 police bike and a pair of wicked cool 5 Series BMW police cars. It goes without saying I was enamored by the Alfa Romeo. The car’s lines and the Busso V6 inspired exhaust note were like nothing I had seen nor heard before.
Fast forward. Autumn 1986. I was a university sophomore at Brigham Young University. Walking across campus I heard a familiar exhaust note. Turning I glimpsed a brown GTV6 accelerating through a green traffic signal. The brunette behind the wheel I recognized as an unobtanium from one of the girl’s social clubs on campus. Gobsmacked I watched that gorgeous work of Italian engineering dash by me in the high-altitude mountain air. It was the first time I had witnessed a GTV6 in person and this would remain with me until—
—2006. I was living in Los Angeles by this time. I stopped at a street-side news stand where Ventura Blvd met Van Nuys in the Valley. On the cover of Classic Car Magazine was a silver 1986 Alfa Romeo GTV6. Snatching up the magazine I quickly paid the chap working the stand, ran across the street to the petrol station where I refilled my Geländewagen, climbed inside and as I slammed the door quickly went to the article. As soon as I saw Alfa’s sexy nose, all those sharp angles, black plastic and those fantastic recarros with their netted headrests I heard Robert Plant’s etherial “In The Mood,” a soundtrack to my life—return me to the hedonistic days when Gordon Gecko said: “Greed is good.”
The hunt was on.
Within a few weeks of searching I located a red 1985 GTV6 “Callaway” in Connecticut. The car was rather poorly. It had been in a wreck sometime in the past and displayed what looked like quite a lot of rot. However, the motor, intercooler and IHI turbos were described as “in good order.” I bought the motor with complete Callaway system for $4,600. The owner offered the wretched remains of the car for free.
So then now I needed to source a clean GTV6 to use as a donor. It wasn’t long before I found a red ’86 with 32,000 miles on the odometer. More importantly it was advertised as being free of rot. I snagged it for $6,000 USD.
A week later the donor arrived from Arizona to Sherman Oaks, California by truck and trailer. It was a runner. Everything checked out. A good daily driver with acceptable leather seats, good carpets, glass and rubber seals. The only rust found was beneath the battery tray under the rear hatch. I drove the car just the once—off the trailer and over to my paint & body man to begin the initial strip down of the car. That one drive verified to me what I suspected all along—the de-dion suspension and transaxle made for a sublime driving experience like no other.
I went round for a visit ten days later. He had the car stripped and identified what need painting and where. The engine was pulled and the car painted. I went off to New York for work for a few weeks. One week in I tried to ring my paint man. I say tried as his shop telephone rang and rang. Three days later I called again only to discover the number disconnected. Uh-oh.
Returning to LA I went round to my paint & body man’s shop in Van Nuys. I was quite disturbed when I discovered it was locked up and the shop empty. My car gone. I found the owners mobile number in my Alfa file and rang him. After some twenty attempts over a period of a week he picked up. Debt issues forced him into insolvency. My Alfa was in his back garden. I raced over to his home to find the car shell filled with rain water under a tree with bird lime all over it. In his garage were boxes of Alfa parts, and after a quick look it was evident a large portion of parts were missing, including the custom Callaway rear wing his fiberglass expert had built for me.
Everything else was abandoned in the shuttered shop for which he had no interest in returning to. I offered him a $1,000 USD bribe to let me in. Myself and two mates went inside in the dead of night liberating near the GTV6’s missing bits. In the end I gave up trying to locate the triangular plastic insert for the door arm rests. Weird.
Frustrated, but happy to have my Alfa back—albeit in pieces—I sent it off to a nondescript block of buildings in Costa Mesa where Historic Race Engineering* and its maestro Greg Armstrong are busily at work saving classic automobiles rarely seen outside of museums. Greg is old-school. His garage the type you see only in movies. Respected world-wide for his genius with turbo systems he designed the bi-turbos for the Lambourghini Diablos and it wasn’t unheard of for an oil-sheik to have his Lambo flown into LA from Saudi to have it tweaked. Greg is in such high demand he has no marquis outside his garage. All work is word-of-mouth. Once inside you never want to leave, so full of amazing classics and stories.
A week later I received a telephone call from Greg letting me know the Callaway and 2.5 litre Busso motor had arrived. But what of the rest of the car? No car. Just the motor and Callaway system. The seller had a change of mind without bothering to tell me. Never mind then.
Greg went to work. And the long wait began. Three years. Part collection continued, a lighter weight hood scoop was manufactured, seats bespoken in Connolley leather with suede piping. Dash and headliner recovered also in suede. Bespoke HRE 540r wheels. The donor 2.5 litre motor was torn down and rebuilt in total including the gold clawing of a lot of the minor parts to assist in the prevention of leaks.
The IHR turbos looked quite good but in the end we decided to rebuild them also. Power steering was added along with Mega-squirt Pro Controller for the fuel management system. The GTV6 transmission was replaced by one from a Milano with lightened gears. Brembo brakes sourced. The list did does not end. The additions and tweaks almost too numerous to mention. Greg grew frustrated at times with the restoration and the Alfa sat idle for months on end without progress.
Three years passed—my work took me all over the world—Moscow, Milan, Paris, London, Hong Kong, New York. There was a marriage. Later a divorce. Two house moves. New cars were bought. Others sold. Beloved cats got old and died. Many trips from my home down to Costa Mesa to check on the progress of the GTV6. Life.
July 2009. The world was in a bit of a mess. Economic Crisis. World-wide finances in ruins. But my Callaway was street ready. The first time I heard the Busso V6 fire all my apprehensions vanished. I got behind the Nardi steering wheel and began the running in—gently. Mind you it was hard not to step on the accelerator. The sound of the new Magniflow exhaust system. The whoosh from the waste gate as the IHI turbos fired off. Of course the achilles heel of the GTV6 remained even with a new gearbox. That second gear crunch I had not yet mastered. The Tropic-Aire kept the cabin cool in the California summers. The Alpine stereo system with navigation kept me from getting lost. Small issues were found and then ironed out.
The workmanship of Gregg Armstrong was self-evident. An Alfa fanatic, he rebuilt the 2.5 litre Busso in the GTV6 with high-boost in mind. The engines compression is only 7.8 to 1 and he engineered the pistons for a very high load. The cylinders O ringed. The gasoline in CA was only 91 octane, but in the EU I could easily get 98 octane at most petrol stops making a huge difference in the timing the GTV6 can run and the boost as well.
In 2010 I changed the path of my life and moved to London. The GTV6 went along with me. During a incredible run through the windy roads of the Ashdown Forest—Winnie the Pooh country—I slammed hard on the brakes to avoid a deer darting across the roadway. I avoided it, but in minutes my brakes became soft and then gone entirely. I pulled into a layby and had a look under the car. Brake fluid dripped from a rubber hose and down over the transaxel. A single break line Greg had not replaced with braided steel hosing had burst. For some reason unknown to me he linked the brakes to a single system, leaving me without brakes. I was able to nurse the GTV6 home by observing traffic trends and a shed load of downshifting.
Alex Jupe Motorsport entered the picture. His shop in Chichester, West Sussex wasn’t terribly far from me. I delivered the car to him on a flatbed with the idea of having the brakes sorted. He soon had other ideas dancing in my head.
After sorting the brakes Alex replaced the GTV6’s stock suspension with an RS Racing coil over suspension. To this he added a 30mm anti-roll bar in the front, caster ball joints, and anti roll bar bushings. As it turned out had a spare set of restored IHI Callaway turbos. These were part of deal gone wrong that left Alex IHI turbos but no Callaway intercooler. Having a set for the spares was a dream come true. I accepted them for a good price, indeed.
The both of us agreed the Grand Prix bodykit on the car was an abomination. I searched far and near for years for a Zender bodykit but they were virtually non-existant. Alex was on the case. In no time at all he sourced one from a spares yard in Scotland. It was not in great nick with no less than eight different resprays on it and a bit of damage. Still, it got sorted out and mounted on the car. When it came time to paint we made the decision to respray the entire car rather then attempt to match the bodykit to the existing paint. It was expensive but worthwhile.
In July 2012 I did a breathtaking road trip from London to my new home in the Costa Brava, Spain. I came off the ferry in Santander, Spain to countless thumbs up from Spanish customs agents in the porto.
With many kilometres of virtually empty toll roads across the neck of Spain, I delighted in endless bursts from the Callaway’s bi-turbos—a thrill hard to put into words—and the constant deep growl from the Magniflow exhaust. Pure automotive delight. I arrived at my destination without a single issue.
In 2017 I came very close to a catastrophic engine fire from some dodgy wiring. I decided to replace the wiring harness. My electrical specialist got into the wiring and told me too many hands had been involved in the car over the years. So many in fact, the car would be better served with a replacement of all the wiring. We proceeded. It took the poor fellow eight months—there were no blueprints for all the bespoke work done—and nearly €7,000 Euros. I also put thicker sidewall tyres on the HRE wheels allowing for a smoother ride over uneven road surfaces.
Thirteen years after acquiring my GTV6 it is finished. Time for accounting. Between the costs incurred in purchasing the original ’86 GTV6, the donor ’85 Callaway, strip down in California by my paint & body man, Greg Armstrong’s epic restoration, the bespoke HRE wheels, Magniflow exhaust system, top end Alpine navigation head unit with ten speakers, amp and sub-woofer, the massive amount of improvements done by Alex Jupe Motorsports in England, the extensive electrical rewiring completed in Espana, and three resprays—I have a substantial amount invested. $113,700 USD in receipts (€99,582 Euros. £86,295 GBP) I realize in no way is this cost logical. Logic does not always govern Alfa Romeos. I didn’t begin this project with thought of returning a profit at some future date if I sold it on. A semi-gifted spanner turner could have done this car up at a quarter of the price I’m sure. I am not a mechanic. Just an enthusiastic driver. Every expense was done with the expectation I would keep and enjoy driving this 1986 GTV6 for years and years to come. In it I have bombed along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Traversed high and heavily wooded roads through the Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England. And wound through the windy roads of the Costa Brava overlooking the Mediterranean. Just these three driving experiences makes the cost worthwhile.
I get asked from time to time if it’s a real Callaway? Is it one of of the original 35-37 GTV6’s? Its heart is. The 2.5litre V6, Callaway intercooler and IHI turbos came from one of the original 35-37 cars. That car was beyond salvaging. The body and frame that now contains the Callaway heart began life as a standard GTV6. But, all Callaways began life as standard GTV6’s. None rolled from the factory a Callaway. That happened either in Lime, Connecticut at the workshops of Callaway or a dealership nationwide in the USA.
*A footnote. Historic Race Engineering has shuttered in Costa Mesa. I traded email with Greg Armstrong in January 2019. He’s alive and well living in Virginia with a nice 5 acre spread and a custom built garage where he still works on classics. At the moment he was restoring a 911ST Porsche 3.6 litre widebody for himself. In his own words: “Nothing like a 2,200lb car with air-con and 300hp.”
As always—may the road rise with you.