Alfa Replacement: The Contenders

Forgive this self-indulgent post, but I’ve got 40 hours to go in my Alfa GTV6 auction and 22 prospective buyers watching it. Chances are that it might actually sell (no bids as yet). So I’m trawling carsales.com.au like a man possessed at the moment.

The criteria:

  1. Must be fun to drive.
  2. Must be fun to drive.
  3. Must possess a decent quality interior.
  4. Must have reasonable ride quality for the east coast Australia trip later in the year.
  5. Must represent reasonable value for money with the prospect of not sliding in value over the near-medium term.
  6. Must be an interesting colour. No silver for me, thanks.
  7. Manual transmission preferred, but auto could be considered on the right car.
  8. Must be fun to drive.

I’ve not set a price limit because I do have reasonable capacity to pay something off. So whilst I could spend up to $45,000 for the perfect car if it had a reasonable assurance of holding value, it would have to be something really special (see below). I predict I’ll have close to $20K in savings once the Alfa and Subaru are sold.

Alfa Romeo Brera V6

Mentioned as a contender just over a month ago, the Alfa Brera has stunning looks, a beautiful V6 engine (a relative of the Saab V6 engine used in the 9-3) and it’s available for delectably reasonable money.

The downsides – what seems like good value now is not going to hold into the future and then there’s the undeniable fact that the body’s writing cheques that the chassis can’t cash. Like all modern Alfa’s, it just can’t drive to the company’s reputation and it’d be hard to own knowing that.

Nevertheless, a worthy contender for a short-term holding and one I’m seriously considering.

Red, manual V6 Q4 Breras start in the mid $20,000 range and go up from there.

AlfaRomeoBrera11

AlfaRomeoBrera9

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Nissan 350Z

This is new to the discussion but provides some serious foor for thought with a wonderful combination of performance and value. The 350Z looks fantastic, has Nissan’s rock-solid gem of a V6 engine (276hp) and has been the subject of a lot of very positive reviews. I’ve never driven one, but the ‘Z’ heritage is well known and this latest generation of ‘Z’ cars is very highly regarded.

Starting just below $20,000, the Nissan 350Z is the value choice and in many respects, the sensible choice. I think it’d be perfect for the east coast drive because of its modern construction and what I assume would be modern refinement, modern performance and interior comfort.

Downsides? I think there’s room for the price to fall further and I think the interior is a little bit plain, albeit well equipped. I’m also willing to admit that I’m a bit of a badge snob and the gravity of the ‘Z’ doesn’t quiet make up for the Nissan badge on the front. Then again, some seat time in something like this might be just what’s needed to turn that attitude on its head.

The red one below is available for A$23,000 at the moment.

Nissan350Z

Nissan350Zinterior

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BMW E46 M3

This is an interesting contender, mostly because it’s so left-field for me and offers so much performance – more than I really need. Obtaining the previously-unattainable makes the M3 a very attractive option.

The ride is renowned and the car is exceptionally well equipped, so what’s the downside?

It’s got a starting price in the mid-$30K range, which is getting up there. The E36 M3 sells for a lot less so that price is going to come down, but it’s still a hell of a lot of car for the money. Then there are the service and repair costs, which former BMW owners tell me will be considerable.

There’s a manual BMW M3 with reasonable mileage for sale here in Hobart at the moment for $37,000. There are others with higher mileage available for as low as $30,000.

E46 BMW M3
E46 BMW M3
E46 BMW M3
E46 BMW M3

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A Host of Porsches

I had a Boxster on my contender list and on my bucket list but I crossed it off that list a few weeks ago, the reason being that I don’t want to live with what seems to be a ticking time-bomb in the engine called the Intermediate Shaft Bearing. There are kits to fix this potential problem, but I’m just not sure that I want to deal with it (especially when I’m questionable on the Boxster’s interior).

So…. to the rest of Porsche’s potential replacements.

Porsche 944 Turbo

I know. I know. I’ve tested a 944 in years past and been profoundly disappointed. BUT that was an early non-Turbo model and I’m very interested in testing a Turbo. I’m an admirer of Porsche’s early front-engined cars. I absolutely love the styling and if I could find one that had a driving experience to match, I think it’d be a compelling option.

944 Turbos are available starting at just under $20,000. The red one below has 250,000kms on the clock, is reported to be in great condition and is for sale for $20,200.

Porsche 944 Turbo

Porsche 968

If I’m going to think about front-engined water-cooled Porsches, then I may as well consider what’s widely regarded as the pinnacle – the 968. I prefer the styling of the 944, but I’m warming to the 968 and the mechanical offerings only make the model more compelling. It’s got near-perfect weight balance and is renowned for its neutral handling. The 968 comes from a time where Porsche still had completely bullet-proof construction and quality and the car features a 240hp engine combined with a six-speed manual that can drive the car to 100km/h in around 6 seconds yet still use less than 10 litres of fuel per 100kms on the highway.

Landing a 968 will cost around the low $30K mark here in Australia.

The downside? There’s at least one 968 for sale here in Australia right now that was for sale by the same owner when I bought the Alfa 12 months ago. These are relatively rare cars but there’s also a lack of demand for them. I could buy one and get lumped with it.

My brother-in-law worked for a Porsche dealer in Canada and he’s often recommended the 968 when we’ve talked Porsches. Maybe I’d be happy to be lumped with it?

This black 968 is available for $27,000 and there are a few 968 Clubsport models available in the low $30K’s.

Porsche968

Porsche 911

I have two cars at the top of my potentially attainable automotive tree – the Porsche 911 and a Ferrari 308. Getting the Ferrari would mean that a lot of things have gone my way. Getting the Porsche is a possibility right now.

I’d probably be wise to restrict myself to a 3-litre 911SC but I’ve also spent some time looking at 3.2 litre Carreras. The SC starts around $30K (for a decent one) and you can add around $10K for a decent Carrera. My fear is that if I were to get the SC, that I’d be wondering about the Carrera I didn’t buy.

The Carrera I’m looking hardest at is a 911 Carrera Super Sport – a 1988 model with a genuine Turbo body, suspension, powered and heated sports seats, the famed G50 gearbox, genuine RHD (UK import) and low mileage, too, at 104,000kms. It’s in my favourite dark blue, too, though with a less palatable white/dark red interior.

Porsche911

Porsche911interior

The downside? I’ll be carrying more debt than I’d like as this one’s for sale for $45,000. I think it would hold its value pretty well, though.

The other downside is that looming thought in the back of my mind, where I wonder how I’ll learn first-hand about the 911’s propensity for lift-off oversteer.

——

This post represents a nice problem to have. I’m not complaining.

The other consideration is that my job is under some small amount of threat at the moment, though not in the immediate term. There could be some danger in 12 months or so, after what looks like a change in both state and federal governments (my role is ripe for out-sourcing by an opportunist government, which is what we’ll get).

Given that, the Porsche 911 is attainable but the debt is dangerous. The 350Z is therefore the sensible choice, one that would deliver a good drive and involve little-to-no debt. Everything between those two is risk/reward proposition.

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29 Comments

  1. I would go for the Brera. It is built on the Pixbo platform developed by Saab! It looks great without being a show off and I assume it’s much less common than the other contenders? And I suspect that it combines performance and comfort just like Saabs.

    1. That is so cool. I did not know that. I actually live in Pixbo, did not know they made the platform for Alfas there as well as for the Saabs. Is there anyplace I can learn more about this?

  2. The 350Z will never be collectible for one simple reason: the 370Z that replaced it is a better car in every way. The 370 is a sports car, whereas the 350 is a sporty car.

    The Brera intrigues me. I know that it got lukewarm reviews, but sometimes that happens when a good car match expectations (witness all the Saab reviews that mention BMW more than they do Saab). I will be interested in reading your take on it. It would certainly be my pick for a touring holiday.

    The front-engined Porsches are an odd bunch. People either love or hate them. A friend had a passion for 924 turbos, and another sold and bought-back the same 944 several times. The (subjectively) fastest car I ever drove was a chipped 944 Turbo. That car later grenaded its engine, leading me to suspect that the mod wasn’t a great idea (resist the temptation). I think that the S2 will be the collectible one. The 968 would be more collectible if it was called 944S3. They are all great drives, but they also show you why hot hatches were popular in the 1980s: half the money, all the fun, and space for stuff in the back.

    The 911 and M3 are blue chip investments. You will need some help from a marque specialist to make sure that you aren’t over-paying.

    1. I’ve read that they did indeed plan to build a 944S3, but that the car changed so much in development that they gave it a new name.

      I’m thinking that in the interest of being prudent, this car will have to be a stepping stone to the blue chip investment vehicle. I don’t want to take on too much debt.

  3. I think it goes to the question of what you want it for. If you think of any of these cars as investments then you’re going to be second guessing yourself all the time. I’d go with what’s fun to drive, practical, and won’t make you regret your choice.

    I also think you’re not considering just how uncomfortable a sports car can be on a long drive. There’s a reason why people buy Aston Martin’s and BMW’s when they could buy a Porsche.

    I’d suggest the Alpha, a cheaper BMW, or the Holdren that the Pontiac G8 was based on (as it had the closest thing to a BMW performance GM ever had over here).

    If you really want something small and sporty, get a Honda S2000. Great car and undervalued for what they are.

  4. I would think the Alfa would be your best option for the following reasons:

    1) You have a love affair with the marque.
    2) It is the newest of your mentioned choices.
    3) Seems like the best priced vehicle vs age and performance.
    4) Probably the most comfortable riding of your picks.
    5) My choice for best looking of the lot you posted pictures of.
    6) Did I mention you already have a long love affair going with Alfas? 😉

    So there you have it. Buy the Alfa…and post more pics of the car, once you have purchased it.

    1. It’s definitely on the list for serious consideration. I’ve still got my concerns about it as a driver’s car, but am very interested to give it a try.

  5. As for Porsches, I’d go for the Porsche 928 (early model) or 914.
    IMHO they are the most interesting looking Porsches (and relatively cheap too).

    1. The 928s are cheap because you’ll be broke keeping them on the road. Truthfully, they’re the only Porsches I’ve ever lusted over, but I just can’t see spending the dollars on repairs that my research has shown would be inevitable.

      1. I test drove a 928 last year. Deceptively quick, but you didn’t get the seat-of-the-pants experience I was hoping for. The dollars issue is a real one, too, especially here in Hobart where there isn’t a specialist that can set the car up properly. The owner of the car I drove set up his own workshop to do everything himself as he wasn’t happy with the people who might have worked on it here.

  6. Porsche just didn’t cut it. I’ll tell you the 944 S2 I had was very problematic. Transmission, gears, clutch. It also felt sloppy. Rear end bog accelerating and stopping. I’d go with the Alfa. 350Z is just too ordinary.

  7. I’ll put in for the 968 first, followed by by the Brera. I have a longstanding love of the 968, especially the rarer cabrio (love that sinister Speedster roofline with the top up), and the Alfa is beautiful, and something that we never got here in the US. I think either one of those would make you very happy…

    1. The brother-in-law I mentioned in the article has already emailed me and said if I get a 968, he might have to get one too 🙂

  8. Steven –

    I just ran across your ‘blog, because I finished watching “Love The Beast” for the first time, and was so blown away by the film, that I went trolling around for references and reviews. What a fantastic film for anyone who has ever had a love affair with a car (or cars).

    Imagine my surprise when I saw that you are about to pass along your GTV6 … I don’t know your story, but I have been through that process twice, and it was painful each time. I *LOVE* the GTV6 … definitely the most fun-to-drive cars I have owned. A blown engine and strapped bank account saw my beloved red GTV6 leave me just last fall … but at least it went to a fellow gearhead.

    Best of luck with the sale, and with selecting a new “baby”. Personally, I am trying to plan ahead and move heaven & earth to get my hands on a 4C in a year or two.

    Cheers!

    Eric

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the film, Eric. It’s a wonderful testament to car culture.

      I got a very interesting call about the GTV6 tonight, right on the eve of the auction ending. It’ll be a tense 24 hours.

      The 4C’s on my list, too, but not for a few years. Need the price to come down first 🙂

  9. If you do go for the 350Z, budget for aftermarket camber arms and/or a lot of tyres. Without the camber arm fix, apparently they eat tyres for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  10. I hope you make a choice that gives you the utmost enjoyment. I envy you right now because I just watched my beloved 9-3 ARC drive away this sunny morning in the hands of a new owner. I am Saab-less except for my strokers which I must now get to work on with a vengeance. It’s a great couple that got the car though, for her, and she wanted a stick shift. I thought Saabs were hard to sell now, but I had to turn down many practically begging for a chance to buy it. Maybe because of my long ad, maybe one of the longest ever: http://www.gtyurkon.com/MySaab93/

    But, sad as I am, I’ll second the vote for the Brera. Not just because of the SAAB connection, but because that car is just stunningly beautiful.

  11. Hi Swade,

    I’m surprised no one has said go for the iconic 911. Surely with its bankable blue chip nature, even if you need to move it on after 12 months, you will have had the joy of driving the most famous dreamed about sports car ever, and been able to not lose too much in depreciation. Other than the M3, the others will surely hurt your wallet more in that respect.

    If you are going to shuffle off this mortal coil early (though you are doing you best to prolong your time with us thankfully) you should do it going sideways wondering how to rectify the forward directional motion!

    A hard choice – I envy you.

  12. I work as a service consultant at a Nissan dealer and I would not recommend the 350Z as a “trip car”. If you want something that handles like crazy and has great power, than she’s the real deal. The front ends wear through tires, due to the tight suspension and alignment specs from the factory. So either have a new set of tires on before your trip or the tires will be a rough ride and/or noisy as all get out from the choppiness formed on them. Don’t get me wrong; They’re great, fun to drive cars, but can make for a rough ride due to the short wheel base and tight suspension setup.

  13. Safe to say that the RS Megane and hot Golfs are off the table Swade? If so, I think I’m for either the Brera or the Beemer. Although I do sense that you’re keen to have a holiday from Alfa to some extent, a modern one might be a different thing.

    1. Didn’t sell, unfortunately. 26 ‘watchers’ but no bidders.

      The good news is that I do have interest from the carsales ad, with a guy inquiring and seeming quite positive about the car. He sounds like the right sort of owner, too, with a couple of Alfa’s in the garage and a good appreciation of unique cars. Will see how things go.

  14. The 968 would be my choice, the 911 if it was a local delivery, it will always be an import so won’t appreciate like a local car. Give up on the Alfa, you know it will cause you pain… If you can snag a buyer for the GTV6, nail his feet to the ground and move on, there won’t be another.

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