If you can overlook the flaws still present from the original car, Xtreme's £3400 conversion is well worth the money
4 November 2003

Raw material is everything in the tuning world. Start with the wrong car, and it really doesn’t matter how much genius you bung at its oily bits, the result will always be hampered by the mediocrity of the donor vehicle. Strangely, the same can usually be said of the best metal because improving an already competent package is actually more testing than curing the wrongs of a dog.

And that’s why everyone here has always had great respect for Xtreme Autos. Every time it inserted a screwdriver into a Mitsubishi Evolution engine bay, the result was better than the standard car. And that was already something of a monster.

Now it has turned its hand to something from the opposite end of the capability scale. It’s not difficult to pad around the subjective appeal of Alfa’s 156 GTA – the bared-fist styling, chrome-erotica engine bay and late ‘60s Targa Florio racer noise – and accept one thing. That for all its charm, it’s not a very good car. So think of this as a meeting of two minds: the ultimate test. A technically brilliant tuning outfit taking on a recalcitrant pupil and seeing what can be achieved.

Badged 156GTA Evoluzione, it’s a car that aims to smooth the sharper edges of the basic car and enhance its better aspects, all the while keeping costs low enough to not push it too close to established German opposition. The drivetrain receives little attention beyond a bespoke Hayward & Scott exhaust that uncorks another 10bhp and 15lb ft of torque. Whereas the chassis has been treated to new springs and dampers all round, the small matter of race-oriented rose joints where once there were squishy bushes, and bigger front and rear roll bars are fitted too. All the hardware is manufactured by Eibach, but to Xtreme’s own specification. The spring kit lowers the ride height (46mm at the front, 29mm at the rear) to help the styling, but most importantly should rectify the standard GTA’s most obvious failing – a hard ride, combined with poor body control at speed.

Xtreme claims a nominal increase in power, but to be honest, you’re so busy fiddling with the right pedal, indulging in overrun gurgle, that you just don’t notice the extra poke. Concentrate and you’ll feel it pick up a little stronger around 1800rpm and maybe spot a touch less inertia at the top end.

But the real issue here is whether the chassis work can sort the regular GTA’s problems, and the news is mixed. Xtreme has approached the problem sensibly, though, accepting that anything riding on 225/45 ZR17 Pirellis is never going to be supple, and opting for a set-up that clearly improves vertical damping at speed (the standard car hits its bump stops quite easily, while the Evoluzione doesn’t) and tried hard not to let the ride deteriorate any further.

If you’ve already decided that the GTA’s flaws don’t compromise its appeal for you personally, there’s no doubt that this conversion is well worth the estimated £3400 plus VAT Xtreme is talking about, although it hasn’t yet set the final price in stone. But for those non-tifosi, the poor-quality raw material will always be too big a hurdle to overcome.

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