454-cube big-block 1982 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV – flashback

Just like another famous Italian-American, this Alfa punches above its weight

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

VARIETY is the spice of life they reckon, and life doesn’t get much spicier than this big block-powered Alfa GTV.

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Street Machine

The GTV has always been a good-looking ride but the well-fitted body kit and Black Magic paint make this one a standout

David Piciocchi reckons in some ways it’s a bit of a sleeper. “Everyone sees the plates but no-one believes them,” he laughs. “People’s jaws drop when you open the bonnet. It pulls a crowd.”

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s wind the clock back to 1987. Dave bought the four-cylinder Alfa for his wife as a neat family cruiser, and why not? Back in the 80s an Alfa GTV was a pretty cool bit of machinery. With slick European styling and Italian heritage, GTVs were popular. But they weren’t known for their reliability.

“It was a two-litre and eventually the motor needed reconditioning,” Dave says. “At the same time my friend Leo was putting a V8 in his Escort. I said I wouldn’t mind putting a Chev V8 in the Alfa — I was only thinking about a 350 Chev or something — but Leo looked at it and said: ‘Why don’t we do something different and put a big-block in it?’”

Dave’s mate Leo Banks is well known to Street Machine readers; he’s the owner and driving force behind The Muscle Car Factory (SM, Jun ’13).

“We thought we’d do an Italian muscle car,” Dave says.

Work started quickly enough, with Leo getting into the massive fabrication job while Dave sourced a crate big-block. Nobody guessed then that the car wouldn’t see the road again for more than a decade.

Changing businesses and careers, relocating workshops, getting other project cars and a dealing with a deregistered engineer all conspired to derail the project.

On top of that, “my XY GT replica was taking most of my time”, Dave admits. But the boys persevered despite all the obstacles and distractions.

No-one wanted to just plonk several hundred kilos of Chevy big-block over the front axle so Leo took on the massive fabrication effort to set the engine way back into the firewall. Because the GTV runs the transmission with the diff, at the rear, they also had to fabricate a new trans tunnel and floor to incorporate the big-block and Powerglide set-up. Then there’s the rear end.

The factory transaxle wasn’t going to be any help at all so they dragged a custom 35-spline nine-inch under the butt and welded in a custom four-link with a Watts linkage set-up to keep the handling up to scratch. All that fabrication meant they needed to incorporate a three-quarter chassis into the Alfa bodyshell, and with massive tubs and a ’cage too they had no choice but to lose the back seat.

Extensive tubs and ’cage replace the back seat. The LPG tank holds 65 litres of usable gas, good for a 250km range, and sits under the boot floor

While Leo was busy with the shell, Dave was handling the driveline. A mechanic in a former life, he had no problems with the Chev and started with a boat-spec motor that needed a fair bit of work before it was ready for the road. Swapping out the reverse-rotation cam set-up, he decided to go LPG to make it easier to pass emissions testing and had Wade Cams grind him up a nice LPG-spec bumpstick. The heavy cast-iron top end was ditched in favour of Edelbrock aluminium heads and a Torker intake supporting a pair of Gas Research LPG mixers.

Down in the guts, he kept the factory crank and rods but went with a set of high-comp forged pistons to squeeze the best out of the barbeque gas.

On the dyno, the 454-cuber punched out a lazy 500hp and a massive amount of torque. With just 1400kg to shove along, it’s a spirited ride.

They went with the Powerglide for two reasons: it could handle the big-block and it was the smallest trans they could find, and so the easiest to graft into the Alfa shell.

Naturally, before they started cutting the boys consulted an engineer and were given the green light. But years later, with the project closer to completion, they discovered their engineer had been deregistered.

“We started ringing around but when engineers heard ‘big-block’ and ‘Alfa’ they said: ‘No way,’” Dave recalls. Eventually they found someone willing to look at the car.

“There’re a few 350 Chev Alfas out there, but no big-block cars. I didn’t think we were going to get it passed to be honest because it’s the only one like it.”

Nestled way back into the engine bay, the 454 is a snug fit. With 500hp it’s got some mumbo and runs LPG to keep the hippies happy

The engineer threw every test imaginable at the car and it passed with flying colours. It was 2007 and the GTV was back on the road but the boys weren’t finished with it yet.

At this point the car was still gunmetal grey and looked almost stock apart from the wheels. But that 80s styling wasn’t as hot as it had once seemed, so Dave decided to fix it with a slick bodykit, which he picked up from Claude at the Alfa Club.

“Leo and George spent a lot of time fitting the kit,” Dave says. “Normally they’re just bolted on but the boys put a lot of work into making it all sit right.”

Then they slathered the panels in VW Black Magic to give this Italian stallion some real sex appeal.

Sitting on 18×8 and 20×10 Scorpion wheels, the GTV has an amazing stance and street presence. Better still, Dave reckons it’s a joy to drive.

“The front cylinders are level with the stub axles so the weight distribution is about 60/40. The alloy heads and intake took a lot of weight off the front end. But it’s comfortable to drive. I might look at power steering, though.”

They’ve Dynamatted the floor pan to keep heat and noise to a minimum, and ditched the factory seats for a pair of leather-trimmed Procar items

While he’s got no plans to race it, he reckons the GTV is quick enough: “It gets the power to the ground with no fuss; it just squats and launches. I reckon it would do 10s.”

For now he’s happy cruising. “It’s not an every day car. I just drive it on weekends, but it gets a lot of attention.”


Colour: Black Magic

Engine: Chev 454
Intake: Edelbrock Torker
Throttlebodies: Gas Research x2
Heads: Edelbrock
Pistons: Forged
Cam: Wade gas
Ignition: ICE
Exhaust: Custom headers, twin 2½in system

Transmission: Powerglide, full manual
Converter: 1900rpm
Diff: Nine-inch, 3.5 gears, LSD, 35-spline

Brakes: Hi-spec six-piston, 330mm rotor (f), VL Commodore (r)
Springs: HD torsion bars (f), coil-over shocks (r)
Shocks: Bilstein (f), coil-over (r)

Rims: Scorpion, 18×8 (f), 20×10 (r)
Rubber: Falken, 225/35 (f), 275/30 (r)

Claude at Alfa Club, Sam & Charlie at The Italian Job, Leo & George at Muscle Car Factory