Meet Cameron Nicholls. A man with a love of Alfas that’s lasted for forty years.
Owner of both an '84 Alfetta GTV and an '03 156 GTA we had to ask: What does it really mean to be an Alfista?
Words & Photography by Cameron Nicholls
Melbourne ~ Australia
Cars currently owned:
Red 1984 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV (owned for 14 years)
Red 2003 Alfa Romeo 156 GTA (owned for 4 years)
1978 Mazda RX7 S1
Cars previously owned:
Black 2002 Alfa Romeo 156 2.5 V6 manual
"Both my Alfas have spent periods of time as daily drivers over the years. I find myself looking for any excuse to jump in and go. It could be a drive up to the hills or an extended coffee run into the city, there’s something great about getting out early in the morning."
I find myself cringing when I hear the words 'character', 'passion' and 'emotion' used around Alfas. Though I don’t think these words are necessarily untrue, I do think they are clichés, a front to distract people from the shortcomings in the car. I don’t deny the shortcomings, I laugh at the fact that when I drive the GTV I spend more time looking at the small gauges than I do at the big ones, if they start to drift off centre I break out into a sweat!
The 156 GTa
The 156 GTA is standard and 90% of the time I intend to keep it that way! The other 10% of the time I think about the club sprint and have been very tempted to give it the 330mm brake upgrade, some decent shocks and an Eibach anti-roll bar kit. It could also certainly do with being a little louder…why have a Busso V6 if you can’t hear it properly? I need to stop thinking about this now for fear of jumping on a couple of websites and emptying my bank account!
I recently returned to club sprints with the 156 GTA. It went well down the straights but suffered with its nose heavy handling and really struggled under brakes, so now I’m tossing up whether to persist with the GTA or do some minor preparation to the GTV and return to sprinting in a car that is nowhere near as quick, but feels really sweet and balanced.
The Alfetta is reasonably standard. The twin spark LSD gearbox that was in dad’s Alfetta was transferred over, being much smoother with the taller first and second gears. Three years ago the head gasket failed which subsequently lead to a more significant engine rebuild.
Like a lot of Alfisti you get to know your mechanic (as many non-Alfisti like to joke!), and Hugh at Monza Motors was good enough to allow me to do some of the basic work myself under his guidance. It was a great experience being that intimate with the mechanical components of the car and seeing the simplicity of the engine itself, and yet the absolute drawn out pain in the backside of getting it all back in and hooked up to run. The rebuild saw some minor upgrades, 10.4:1 pistons, balancing, flow ported heads (it already has 105 cams), lightened flywheel, refurbished carbs, Koni’s and steering rack. I’m really happy with the result, a really sweet, smooth and responsive little car. I have a beautiful exhaust manifold out of dad’s original Alfetta that I will refurbish and fit as a next step.
How did your passion for Alfas begin?
My interest in Alfas came from my dad. He bought a Giallo Ochre 1750 GTV new in 1969 and was heavily involved in the Alfa club throughout the 70’s. There were also a few Alfa books at home that I constantly read, books by Peter Hull & Roy Slater, Evan Green and Great Marques - I grew up loving all of the cars I read about. In 1990 dad bought an ‘85 Alfetta GTV in which I learned to drive and spent the next 10 years sprinting in club events, great times for a young guy.
What is your experience of the Alfa community?
The Alfa community is a supportive one, with a wide mix of ages and backgrounds. People enjoy and appreciate each other’s Alfas and are often seen huddled in groups around open bonnets or jacked-up cars wanting to help solve a problem! On the whole there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ego in the community, Porsche guys are hard to even get a ‘hello’ out of. More recently I have joined Instagram (@charlieoski) and found a really great bunch of people with similar tastes and a genuine interest in each other’s cars and posts.
What defines an Alfista?
I think that a genuine Alfista, will at least in their personal life, have a strong tendency to make decisions with their heart and not their head. I remember years ago I was being interviewed for my first job in logistics and when the senior manager read down my CV to the part about an interest in Alfa Romeos he proceeded to lecture me on the importance of logic in the role I had applied for!
Alfisti become so connected to their cars they often can’t sell them, and I would say most Aflisti I know subsequently own more than one. Others you talk to regret the ones that got away.
I also believe that the real Alfisti don’t just drive Alfas because they can’t afford a Ferrari, which is not to say I’d kick a Giallo 355GTB out of the garage. They drive Alfas because they are inexplicably in love with them, not as a status symbol, something to impress others.
How do you feel about Alfa’s latest models, the 4C and the Giulia?
I am pleased and excited that Alfa is moving in the direction they are now focusing on rear drive, lightweight cars with a reasonable driving position. I will be interested to see how the market accepts Alfa SUV’s, but I guess people asked the same question of Porsche and it seems to work for them…perhaps it’s just that I don’t like SUV’s.
What is it about Alfas that makes them so special?
For me, it’s the entire sensory package. The way they combine a look, smell, touch, feel and sound; from a cold morning kick into life, to pulling through the rev range, exhaust and induction noise bouncing off shop fronts, to shutting down. when I park, I position myself whenever possible to be able to see them so I can constantly look back.
There's also the mechanical connection to it all and the responses it gives you. Nothing to do with speed, just complete connection. You just get to know them so well, they become a part of you that you can’t shake and don’t want to leave. I was heartbroken the day my black 156 V6 was taken away after being backed over by a truck, it was the feeling of losing someone close. Ridiculous I know, but that’s what I’m stuck with.