Used buying guide: Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
1 November 2021 - autocar
Powered by the legendary Busso V6, Alfa Romeo’s early-2000s hot hatch is quickly rising in value
There’s surely no better illustration of the bizarre motoring times we live in than a 17-year-old Alfa Romeo hatchback with 72,000 miles having recently sold for only around £7000 less than it cost new. But that’s modern classics for you, and despite all its faults, the 147 GTA can quite justifiably be called a classic.
Faults? Only if 247bhp through the front wheels alone doesn’t strike you as particularly sensible. Ditto a nose-heavy set-up that made many 147 GTAs take a straight line through a corner (a limited-slip differential was an option for a time) and brakes that were distinctly below par (larger front discs were also briefly an option before becoming standard).
However, if you think prices that start at around £8000 and peak at twice that are just another symptom of today’s overheated post-pandemic car market, think again. They’ve been steadily climbing for the past four years. Back in 2017, you could pick up a 147 GTA for around £4000.
Whether £4000 or £8000, though, no one buys a cheap 147 GTA and thinks they’ve got a good deal. There will always be work needed. Around £12,000 is where genuinely good cars start, although you will need to keep on top of things and prepare to spend big now and again – and that’s without considering its day-to-day costs (expect around 23mpg and new front tyres every 5000 miles). That’s £12,000 for a manual car, by the way. Automatics (with a robotised manual called Selespeed) are a little cheaper. They’re mostly Japanese imports with lower mileages and in good condition, but Alfisti reckon the stick-shifters are the ones to have.
Anyway, enough cold water: the 147 GTA is simply one of the great hot hatches. It’s powered by a 3.2-litre 24-valve V6, fondly called the Busso V6 after Giuseppe Busso, the Alfa engineer who designed the original 2.5-litre version in the 1970s. It has achieved legendary status, admired for its muscular, sweet-revving and sonorous nature. It looks good, too, with its six polished intakes. It produces 247bhp, which was quite a thing in 2002 and more than the Audi S3 and Volkswagen Golf R32. However, both of these rivals were four-wheel drive, leaving the front-led 147 GTA with some serious questions to answer when the road turned difficult. Dangerous flaw or thrilling characteristic? You decide.
Judging by the examples we saw for sale, 147 GTAs can do the miles. However, if the work hasn’t just been carried out, they’re probably due a suspension refresh. The body is galvanised, so rust is mercifully rare. Any you do find is likely to be the product of a bad repair. Interiors preferably with leather seats, are surprisingly robust, but check it all works. The steering should be quick; in truth, quicker than the chassis can really deal with. The ride should be soft to firm; if it’s baggy, it’s time to fit some coilovers by Eibach or Bilstein.
Don’t worry about the cost: you’re investing in a classic.
An expert's view
Jamie Porter, the Alfa Workshop: “If you want some excitement in your life, buy a 147 GTA. Whoever thought that putting 247bhp through the front wheels without the benefit of a limitedslip diff was a good idea needed their head examining, but what fun! I had one for six years and still miss it. I have a Giulia Quadrifoglio now, but I swear the GTA was more fun. You’re buying that wonderful, sweet-revving 3.2-litre V6; the rest of the car is free. It’s not cheap to run, though. You will get no change from £1000 for a timing belt, while I only ever saw 4000 miles out of my front tyres. Whatever you buy will doubtless need new front brakes, upper and lower wishbones and an anti-roll bar. Budget around £1500.”
Engine: The timing belt should be changed every 60,000 miles or four years. Check the condition of the front oil cooler, which is prone to stone chips. On later cars, make sure the engine doesn’t overheat at speed – a proble often caused by the impeller in the water pump breaking up. Look for oil leaks underneath and perished hoses.
Transmission: The manual can get stiff and notchy with age as the bearings wear. Check for oil leaks from the main bearing and the clutch pedal isn’t failing. Be sure the Selespeed automatic operates smoothly, since repairs are expensive.
Suspension and brakes: The front wishbones tend to need replacing at around 70,000 miles (replacement costs about £750). Listen for an anti-roll bar rattle (£350). The shocks ease up at about the same mileage, but check they’re not leaking. The heavy V6 strains the front bushes, so if they’re original, expect them to need changing. Check the life of the front pads and discs, as they wear quickly and cost about £250 for a set.
Body: Most cars are rust-free, but some are now showing the dreaded tin worm on the floor behind the front seats. Check for crash repairs, that the external door handles are firmly attached and, if the car is red, that the paint isn’t fading or peeling (the only fix is a respray).
Interior: It’s no Golf in here (but not bad), so check all is secure and functioning.
Also worth knowing: Many cars have an LSD, fitted either by Alfa or as an aftermarket upgrade. It’s worth having, since it tames the car’s nose-heavy understeer. If the car you’re looking at isn’t so blessed, chipthe seller the price of buying and fitting one. Alfa Workshop recommends the official Q2 differential at £1490 all in.
How much to spend
£7500-£9499: Privately sold manual cars with around 70,000 miles plus rust-free automatic Japanese imports with about 50,000.
£9500-£11,499: Japanese-import automatics in good condition and with low mileages.
£12,000-£14,499: More private-sale, UK-registered manual examples in good condition and the cleanest Japanese automatics.
£14,500 and above: The best UK-registered manual cars, priced on condition and rarity rather than mileage, which tends to be high.
One we found
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, 2003, 92,000 miles, £9000
This is a well-maintained private sale, with a full service history, upgraded suspension, larger (330mm) front brakes and heated leather seats. Check the date of the last timing belt change and the condition of the tyres and brakes. It’s £3000 cheaper than a pretty, private-sale 2004 car with 84,000 miles and recent Alfa history.