Deserters we’ve been called
Chose a gun
And threw away the song”
Funny how times change. If you had anyone of these cars pictured here 10 years ago, chances were that your legal record wasn’t exactly… clean. These cars were regarded as troublemakers’ favorite means of conveyance: these are the ones that if they suddenly popped up behind you on the highway, you had the only option of pulling yourself aside and let them pass. Dark and surrounded by a very bad reputation, these cars are now headed towards redemption: if you know what they are, chances are that you’re a real petrolhead. There’s an unspoken rule in the car world, in Europe at least: criminals are (almost) always right when it comes to cars. If you’re born in our generation, Alfa Romeos and BMW’s were what smugglers used to race to the border to contraband cigarettes and other forbidden goods between Italy and Switzerland. On the other hand, old Porsches were pimp’s favorite cars and the 911 was their car of choice.
Bad guys love fast cars and these three defined a whole generation. The E30 M3, the 911 Carrera 3.2 and the mighty Alfa Romeo GTV6 represented the best (and worst) part of their respective brands. Only the 80ies could have produced such interesting and highly debated motorcars and only the 90ies could have given them a very bad reputation. This escape was not an escape from certain capture, but a backwards trip in history lane, when we, the kids grown up in the nineties, considered them not worthy of attention and preferred the obvious red Ferrari 355 to anything else in the world.
Finding these cars again almost feels like meeting after 20 years with those troubled classmates your mom always forbid you to hang out with and actually discovering that… they’re among the coolest people in the world. Think of these cars as the mates that always sat in the back row of the schoolbus and always made the teacher go really mad: they’re the gang of outsiders which love to meet at night to smoke cigarettes and listen to loud heavy metal music. They’re the no good, the uneducated bunch that was the nightmare of the community, the punks and the rockers, the definition of a bad company… and that’s absolutely fine.
Like every escape, the gathering of these three cars is the perfect excuse to meet up with some proper car people. We decided to have a meeting point close to one of the best roads of the hills between Lake Iseo and Lake Garda. It is a road a little out of the beaten track, and in the first half it is characterized by a few small industrial complexes, which are perfect hide-out for some meet-up with the gang. Not to mention that it is great for driving and since these cars are made specifically for that (and not to smuggle stuff around) it’s the perfect spot for this escape.
The 911 3.2, with its dark grey color and the black Fuchs wheels, is perfect for the theme we’re trying to propose here. Before the craze for air cooled 911’s happened in the past 5 years, the “big bumpers” were accessible at a very democratic 20.000 Euros. No one wanted them, except real enthusiasts and Porsche lovers and were not normally seen as collector’s items. They were accessible and many were used as daily drivers, not counting the many not-so-clean individuals who abused them for years. Arguably, the 3.2 is the ultimate aspirated classic 911. Besides the mighty 930 Turbo and the rare 3.2 Club Sport, it is one of the Porsches to have. It’s reliable, nimble, massively fun to use and one of the definitive 911 variants to have in your collection. Introduced in 1986 with a 10% power upgrade from the previous SC and fitted with the new G50 transmission and improved brake lines, it is a great driver. It can easily be the only classic car you can own or, if you’re truly passionate about it, you’re only car. The charisma of any air cooled 911 is undeniable: the classic whirr from the cooling fan and the typical Porsche driving experience are truly a remarkable experience.
The BMW could arguably be the star of this escape for many enthusiastic readers and you can easily see the reason. It’s a legend and a great driver: it’s the most equilibrate of all the cars of this test and the only one which is a true homologation special. Born out mere necessity to have a lightweight touring car for Group A racing in the 1980ies, BMW created the M3 on the chassis of the second generation 3 series, the E30. Its engine it is exactly the 24-valve, twin cam M635 straight six with the iron block of the famous M1, just minus two cylinders: the M3 unit utilized the same bore and stroke measurements (93,4x84mm), reaching 2,302cc and producing 200hp. How can you not fall in love with it? The enlarged wheel arches and unmistakable boxy shape created BMW’s legend which is still going strong today. Perhaps, the E30 M3 is the one that proved that BMW could make an interesting and highly competitive sportscar for daily use which was able to keep its lead in the most prestigious racing series of its time. Driving it is pure joy and one cannot understand how many let this jewel go out of the bright light: not long ago, you could pick up an E30 M3 for nothing more than 15.000€. Right now, if you aim at getting a decent one, you should expect to pay between 50 and 60.000€. If you fancy one of the desirable 2.5l models or the rare Johnny Cecotto or Roberto Ravaglia special editions, prepare to pay prices in excess of 100 grand.
So, once behind the wheel, one cannot help but ask himself: is the hype real? Given the impressive racing pedigree, there are all the reasons to believe that the M3 is possibly the greatest car ever made but first, let’s proceed with calm and a minimum of rationality. Sitting inside the E30 M3 is a reminder how cars were smaller back then: it’s compact and small, with great visibility. The most interesting aspect is the old-school factor of this car: the pillars are thin and the view out is perfect and the whole car feels light on its feet and fits like a glove. The whole cabin is filled with a great sense of expectation: enthusiasts know that what they’re about to experience is a life-changing moment. What you truly appreciate is the lack of badges saying M3 everywhere and its remarkably civilized nature: there is no loud exhaust note and there aren’t bangs and flashes all around. It might get some attention on the road now, but back in its day was as discreet as almost any other regular E30 3 series on the road.
The driving experience is as refreshing, rewarding and BMW-like as it could get. It’s balanced, nimble, light and the race-derived engine pulls nicely from as low as 1.000 rpm. It might disappoint some, but the 2.3l four needs to be revved past 4.500 rpm in order to fully exploit its potential. The whole car is composed, precise and surprised for its balance between all of its elements: from the steering to the engine and overall vehicle dynamics, there is a rare harmony which is hard to find in many cars today.
Driving the M3 on a twisty road is eye-opening and makes you instantly a BMW enthusiast. The metallic snarl and the close-ratio gearbox will push you forward in driving it harder into the corners, all relying on the wonderful balance of the chassis and the excellent ride quality. Muggers sure have taste in cars and perhaps the M3 has been one of the cars that has been overlooked for too many years by many enthusiasts. Maybe we may not be glad that the prices are on the rise but surely the E30 M3 truly deserves the place among the all time greats.
Now, the Alfa. You might notice that I’ve left the most intriguing car as last, because it is the real icing on the cake. The meanest of them all, the brand that, (in Europe at least) is synonymous with smuggling and criminality is perhaps the one with the highest surprise-factor. Introduced in 1980 after the Alfa Sei of 1979, the GTV6 was the second model to have the legendary Busso six cylinder engine. Conceived as a fast GT, the ultimate version of the famed Alfetta, it was perhaps the last true GT made by Alfa Romeo before being bought by Fiat. With its 158 hp it might not seem much of a performer, but the GTV6 can truly pull one than more trick up its sleeve. Arguably, the GTV6 is perhaps the sexiest of them all. It’s the one that has the most character and the most extraordinary engine. It’s past criminal record has now been wiped away clean…you can talk about automotive laundering if you like! What it is now being regarded as the last true pre-Fiat Alfa Romeo gran turismo, was a mere project made to accomodate the Busso V6 engine of the Alfa Sei in a compact and sporty coupè. Like it philological predecessor, the venerable Montreal, was also a car which was born already compromised by not the best management team available for any car company, but it eventually conquered the hearts and minds of everyone with its character. Let me make a shameful confession: in my first meters with it I mistakenly shifted it from 1st to 4th. The interesting part is that I didn’t noticed it at all: the torque and the power are always at the ready and you’re never short of power from that magnificent 2.5 V6. It’s a super-Alfa and it emphasizes all the qualities that can be found in all cars from the Brand and It loves to go sideways. It’s strange for a car born in a very depressing period for Alfa, where it was the reign of mediocre management and cheap plastic, made with no real new project in mind.
This automotive bad company is perhaps one of the dream gathering of the cars that deserve their revenge against all those who mistreated them in all the past years. They symbolize an era and a different philosophy in car making: so, now we all hail them as the greats of the past. All of them are great, but if I have to choose one, the GTV6 is the one for me. It’s sexy and charming, a true gran turismo of the golden era, powered by one of the most charming V6’s of all times. It burbles gently at idle and its sound progresses towards the very well civilized snarl of a proper Alfa Romeo. It’s one of the definitive post war Alfa Romeos and its engine is the true star: refined as a V12, silent like a classic Rolls straight six and exciting as much as a Ferrari V12. It is so torquey that you can put it in 4th and cruise happily all day on the roads around Lake Iseo, without any power losses. As a matter of fact, irregardlessly of which gear you’re in and the speed you’re travelling, you can always enjoy the pure power from the Alfa. Besides being the most outlaw of the whole bunch, (Alfa Romeo’s criminal record is greater than BMW, always remember that), it is the sexiest. Its hump on the front bonnet give the car a whole different stance, emphasized by the wonderful 16 inch Ronal wheels and the black paint.
These cars have now redeemed themselves as true collector’s items, desired driving machines for those thrill seekers which truly believe that old is indeed, gold. What once were cars that were either languishing in rusty scarp yards or were parked in those bad parts of town are now prized possessions in enthusiasts garages, where they should be.