Expert tips for keeping an Alfa Romeo GTV6 on the road

Photograph Courtesy Alfa Romeo

To create a world-class GT, starting in 1980 Alfa Romeo grabbed their four-cylinder Alfetta GT and injected a 2.5-liter V6. Compared to the four-cylinder cars, the GTV6 is easily identifiable thanks to its iconic hood bulge and pitch-perfect exhaust tone. U.S. imports started for the 1981 model year.


Joe Cabibbo and Robert Steele
Centerline International

In stock form, the GTV6 makes a fine touring car that can be used for pleasure driving, club rallies, autocross and casual track days. They can also be used as a daily driver in moderate climates. However, they are robustly engineered cars and can handle modifications without compromising reliability. 

Like any Alfa, owners have been modifying the GTV6 engine for more power since the cars were new. Headers or a set of high-performance downpipes will offer a useable power increase. Adding a set of modern performance cams will further wake up the 2.5-liter engine.

Many cars have seen a 3.0-liter engine transplant from a Milano Verde or 164 sedan. This is a popular upgrade because it is essentially a bolt-in conversion that yields 30 more horsepower and 30 more lb.-ft. of torque in stock form. Plus, all the modifications that work on the 2.5-liter engine translate directly to the 3.0-liter as well. Unlike some other marques, the engine transplant does not diminish the value of the car significantly. 

Another popular modification is exchanging the narrow (but beautiful) stock 15x6-inch wheels for a set of wider and larger diameter wheels. While the original GTV6 wheels are adequate for touring, they are somewhat narrow for performance-oriented driving at just 6 inches wide. Popular upgrade sizes are 15x7 inches or 16x7 inches.

Without a doubt, the best bang-for-the-buck on the GTV6 is freshening and upgrading the suspension. Even a “refreshed” stock suspension (new ball joints, tie-rod ends, and bushings) with a set of high-quality shock absorbers (we recommend the Koni Sport versions) yields a capable and comfortable GTV6 with a slightly more modern feel.

If less body roll and quicker transitional handling are desired, we offer higher-rate rear springs, torsion bars and front and rear sway bars. However, we would advise against installing the stiffer setups on a car primarily assigned to street duty as they can be excessively harsh.

Three simple, low-cost modifications for the GTV6 are listed below: 

  1. Install high-quality tires and get a “performance” alignment.
  2. Add relays to the headlight circuit.
  3. Replace the stock steering wheel with a smaller-diameter wheel. 

All of these will give very noticeable results at minimal expense.

The GTV6 has three common rust areas: the inner fenders near the shock mount, the front of the rocker panels (under the plastic trim, especially on sunroof-optioned cars), and the rear hatch and tail light area. Also, the sheet metal between the base of the windshield and the inner corners at the A-pillar is very important and sometimes rusts.

Most electrical issues can be traced to faulty ground or prior hacks to the electrical system. A good cleaning of all accessible grounds, especially in the engine compartment, is recommended. 

The best thing you can do to a GTV6 is provide frequent fluid changes with top-quality fluids, make sure the car is fully warmed up, and then drive it as hard and frequently as possible without being abusive. As with any old car, reliability is directly correlated with maintenance and care. 

As we are finding with all Alfas using the Bosch L-Jetronic engine management system, a careful inspection of all vacuum hoses in the engine bay will frequently uncover vacuum leaks, even on an otherwise good running vehicle. Eliminating these leaks, and ensuring the temperature sensor and oxygen sensor are both working to specification, will yield a smoother, more powerful engine at all speeds and temperatures.

When used on a demanding track, the inboard rear brakes can quickly overheat and cause a soft brake pedal. The transaxle, brakes and exhaust occupy a small space without much airflow. Performance brake pads, cross-drilled rotors, a good high-temp brake fluid, and wrapping the exhaust pipe where it passes close to the rear caliper can help minimize this brake fade. However, the ultimate cure is to swap the solid rear discs for a set of vented units with widened calipers. Brake fade is not a concern for cars driven on the street. 

Another issue for track use is lack of traction from the stock, open differential. A swap to a limited-slip unit from a Milano is the most common cure.

Now for some shopping advice:

While I generally recommend the 1985.5-1986 cars as the best-sorted GTV6 models, the best advice is to purchase based on condition over all other considerations. Finding a car with good cosmetics and no rust is paramount, as many of the interior and exterior trim pieces are very difficult to source. Conversely, most mechanical parts are readily available so a car with running issues is less of a concern.

Most of the special editions (Balocco, Maratona, Grand Prix) were cosmetic packages only, and as such they don’t command much of a price premium, if any. Beware neglected special editions as the trim parts are even more difficult to find than a standard car’s. The Callaway twin-turbo GTV6 is perhaps the most notorious special edition–it was a ground-breaking car for its era, with a significant, but reliable power upgrade from two turbochargers and a unique intercooler. But with only about 30 cars sold through Alfa dealerships, the Callaway is extremely uncommon.

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oldeskewltoy UltraDork
4/1/16 11:11 a.m.

Paging Hungry Bill.... is the above accurate???

stafford1500 Reader
4/1/16 12:22 p.m.

I believe the total Callaway build count was right at 50 cars. I had the opportunity to do some work on one about 15 years ago. It surprised quite a few people on the street and made awesome noises. I did manage to get a copy of the Callaway build info that the owner kept with the car.

Hungary Bill
Hungary Bill UltraDork
4/7/16 9:58 a.m.

In reply to oldeskewltoy:

yeah, very accurate! Now that begs the question: Where was this article when I bought my car!?! (hacks in the electrical, rust, ....)

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
4/7/16 10:06 a.m.
Hungary Bill wrote: In reply to oldeskewltoy: yeah, very accurate! Now that begs the question: Where was this article when I bought my car!?! (hacks in the electrical, rust, ....)

Thanks!--- and yes, Joe Cabbibo and the guys at Centerline International know Alfas inside and out. It's great to have resources like them and Vick Auto when venturing into the intimidating world of Italian car ownership. It's reassuring to know that there's help when you run into issues.

and we always do our best to publish accurate information

GLK New Reader
2/19/19 7:10 p.m.

The reason for a bit of confusion on the production numbers of Callaway GTV6’s is because 30 cars were built by Callaway at his facility in Connecticut and 20ish more were assembled off-site at various dealerships. Search Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube “2016 Callaway Corvette Aerowagon” at 15 minutes 38 seconds Reeves Callaway makes an appearance and gives a nicely detailed history of their Alfa GTV6 Turbo Project complete with pictures. It’s worth watching. 

Apologies in advance to any Maserati Biturbo fans out there. Jay and Reeves are merciless in poking fun at those cars.

GLK New Reader
2/19/19 7:33 p.m.

In reply to Joe Gearin : Thanks for featuring one of my favorite cars. Mine has no rust or electrical gremlins. Intimidating? Ha! I go forth unafraid.



86blkspider None
2/20/19 9:16 a.m.

Love the Alfa GTV6.

 I attended Auburn University. We had a dealer there, University Motor Cars.  They sold only imports and specifically sportscars and specialties. They were new car dealers for Alfa, Fiat, British Leyland, and more.  It was not unusual to see a Lotus, Ferrari or Maserati sitting on the lot in the 1980’s. I was a penniless student but still visited often.

I bought my Black 86 Alfa Graduate there in 1989.  I remember the salesman’s name too!  Brian Chad.  He was an Englishman.  

Brian also sold a Black 86(?) Callaway GTV6 to one of my teammates.  A guy named Bo Jackson.  Remember “Bo Knows”?  Yes that Bo Jackson.  I will have to ask him what happened to that Callaway someday.

pyrce None
2/23/19 10:53 a.m.

have had a GTV6 for many years. Reliable,fun  daily summer driver. Best upgrade ever made was a stiffer front sway bar from OKP.  What a diifernce on the turn in and less body roll.  Also converted rear light clusters to homemade hardwired LED bulb setup as the OEM bulb sockets always losing contact. No worries about failiing inspection or getting pulled over anymore for lights 



GLK New Reader
2/25/19 7:01 a.m.

In reply to pyrce :

I think I will try that. Is your sway bar 27mm?

5/16/23 1:47 p.m.

I think you there is a typo in the article. It should read there are three common areas that don't rust

CaptWSims New Reader
6/10/23 11:48 a.m.

I first had an Alfetta.  Sold an Austin-Healey at a collector car auction and made the Alfetta into an autocross and track car.  Bought an '82 GTV-6 for $1000 with idea of making it into a race car also.  Had the 3.42 diffy, and was not as quick as my Alfetta, so made it my daily driver.  After 2 rear-end, accidnets it was totaled, and with the proceeds I bought a Milano Verde.  Ended up making a race car out of the Milano, crashed it, and bought an '01 GTV-6 that had a burnt exhaust valve but great body and interior.  Put a spare 3 liter in it and later sold it, to my great regret.  The GTV-6 had almost the same suspension as the race Alfetta and my Wife hated it!  I still miss that car and still do not understand why I sold it.  Was 2 seconds/lap at NOLA Motorsports Park than my modified BMW E-46 M3.  And looked and sounded great!  As for rust, the car had none.  Bought in Los Angeles and I live near New Orleans, so has never been on salt.  And I have no idea who the guy in the pic is.

wspohn SuperDork
6/11/23 12:57 p.m.

Had a friend that scored one of these. Owner was disgusted with it because he figured it had blown the clutch and sold it for $500.  Apparently that is a lot of work on this model. Friend bought it, checked it over and stuck in a $15 clutch slave rubber kit  and fired it up and drove away!

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