Remembering the Alfa Romeo Busso V6, One of the Best-Sounding Engines Ever Built

If you ask most enthusiasts to name some of the best-sounding engines of all time, screaming V12s or rumbling V8s will top the list. However, most people fail to remember a glorious six-cylinder built in the 1970s that sang a tune comparable to that of a racing unit.
Alfa Romeo Busso V6 20 photos
Photo: Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A.
Alfa Romeo 6Alfa Romeo 6Alfa Romeo Busso V6Alfa Romeo Busso V6Alfa Romeo GTV6Alfa Romeo GTV6Alfa Romeo 6 FaceliftAlfa Romeo  75 (Milano) Quadrifoglio VerdeAlfa Romeo S.Z.Alfa Romeo Busso V6Alfa Romeo R.Z.Alfa Romeo SpiderAlfa Romeo Busso V6Alfa Romeo 166Alfa Romeo 156 GTAAlfa Romeo 147 GTAAlfa Romeo Busso V6Alfa Romeo Busso V6Alfa Romeo's Legendary Engineers: Orazio Satta Puliga, Giuseppe Busso, Giuseppe Luraghi and Carlo Chiti.
Giuseppe Busso, the legendary engineer behind this powerplant, started his career at Fiat where he worked as a human computer. Yes, back then, the term was used to describe an occupation, since digital computers were still in the early stages of development.

His huge potential didn’t go unnoticed and, after about two years of computing, he joined Alfa Romeo’s research and development division (Servizi Studi Speciali) where he worked on cutting-edge race engines.

Italy’s involvement in the Second World War meant that the industry’s focus quickly shifted to building war machines, so the engineer eventually lost his job. A year after the dreaded global conflict ended, he was appointed technical director at Ferrari, thanks to another illustrious engineer by the name of Gioachino Colombo. The story goes that Enzo Ferrari approached Colombo to develop the company’s first engine and offered him the technical director role. The latter refused to give up his job at Alfa Romeo, mainly because Enzo couldn’t offer a similar wage. However, he agreed to secretly design the V12 in his spare time, and instructed Ferrari to hire the talented Busso to oversee its development.

Alfa Romeo's Legendary Engineers\: Orazio Satta Puliga, Giuseppe Busso, Giuseppe Luraghi and Carlo Chiti\.
Photo: Wikimedia Coomons, Unknown Photographer
This unholy alliance lasted about a year. Alfa management got wind of Colombo’s off-duty project and, in typical Italian fashion, a huge scandal ensued. In the end, Colombo officially joined Ferrari, while Alfa made Busso an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Shortly after rejoining the Milanese manufacturer, the engineer began working on a new powerplant which is now affectionately known as the Bialbero (twin-shaft). A small, aluminum-block, twin-cam unit, it was one of the most advanced engines of the era and it powered many iconic Alfa Romeo models for more than four decades.

The Bialbero helped the company thrive and expand, but it had its limitations in terms of power. To build bigger and faster cars, Alfa needed a better engine, so in the late 1960s, Busso and his team started developing a new six-cylinder. By 1973, an advanced prototype of the motor was ready, but that year, an oil crisis crippled the auto industry all over the world, and Alfa was forced to suspend the development of the new unit.

Alfa Romeo Busso V6
Photo: Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A.
Busso would officially retire in 1977, but unofficially, he continued refining his beloved engine which finally entered series production two years later. Mounted under the hood of the Alfa Romeo 6, a four-door sedan designed to rival BMW’s successful 5 Series (E12), the new powerplant started as an all-aluminum, 2.5-liter V6 that could produce 156 hp.

It came with a forged, fully counterweighted crankshaft, cast pistons, and forged conrods. Unlike most V6 engines, the Busso didn’t employ balancing shafts. Instead, it was balanced externally using the flywheel and an offset weight crank pulley. It also used two valves per cylinder with a single, belt-driven camshaft per bank and six carburetors.

At the time, many established carmakers were using electronic fuel injection systems, but the legendary engineer wanted his unit to deliver superior throttle response and designed it with six individual throttle bodies. No commercially available electronic injection system could support the configuration in the late 1970s, so the first iteration employed six Dell'Orto FRPA40 carburetors.

Alfa Romeo GTV6
Photo: Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A.
Fortunately, that changed a year later when the Busso V6 received a Bosch L-Jetronic system. The upgraded motor was fitted inf the most powerful version of the freshly redesigned Alfetta fastback coupe, which was now called Alfa Romeo GTV6.

Both the motoring press and Alfa owners were in love with the car. Despite not being the most powerful, or the most beautiful coupe out there, it delivered an engaging driving experience, and the sound of its six-cylinder soothed the soul of those who drove it. Because of its distinct tune, the engine subsequently earned the nickname Aresse’s Violin (Arese was the location of Alfa’s factory at the time).

The fuel-injected Busso V6 was so successful that by the end of 1985, in addition to the GTV6, it powered the facelifted Alfa 6, the 90, and the 75 (known as Milano in the U.S.). The amazing mill was now available in either the traditional 2.5-liter, 156-hp configuration, or a smaller 2.0-liter, 130-hp variant.

Alfa Romeo  75 \(Milano\) Quadrifoglio Verde
Photo: Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A.
A year later, Alfa Romeo was acquired by Fiat and merged with its archrivals Lancia to form a new division called Alfa Lancia Industriale S.p.A. This move marked the end of the iconic rear-wheel-drive Alfas, but thankfully, its popular V6 survived.

The first modern front-wheel-drive model was released in 1987. Called 164, it replaced the 6 as the brand’s flagship and its most powerful trims came with a transversely mounted Busso.

Now displacing 3.0-liters and generating 189 hp, it boasted a new, high-performance camshaft, a low-restriction exhaust system, and a set of chrome intake runners that became its most striking visual feature. This iteration of the V6 was used in the quirky limited-edition, Zagato-designed Alfa Romeo S.Z., and R.Z. performance models, gaining various upgrades that boosted its output to 210 hp.

Alfa Romeo S\.Z\.
Photo: Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A.
In 1991, Alfa introduced a new, 2.0-liter turbocharged version. Initially available for the 162, followed by the GTV, Spider, and 166, it was based on the upgraded architecture of the 3.0-liter and according to the manufacturer, it could make 207 hp.

The late-1980s 3.0-liter was also overhauled, receiving dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and several other improvements in 1993. It was used on many Alfa Romeo and Lancia models until the early 2000s, with power ranging from 208 to 227 hp (depending on the model year).

The last version of this great motor came in 2002 when the high-performance Alfa Romeo 156 GTA was released. Known as Bussone (Big Busso), its displacement was enlarged to 3.2 liters and it became the most powerful variant of them all, spitting out 247 hp.

Alfa Romeo Busso V6
Photo: Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A.
The last batch of engines left the plant on the 31st of December 2005. Four days later, Giuseppe Busso passed away and as he was being moved from the church to the final resting place, hundreds of attending Alfa owners revved their Bussos simultaneously, as a sign of respect.

The Busso was neither the most powerful, nor the most reliable V6 ever created, yet it was unquestionably the best sounding of them all. Arguably the last great engine produced by Alfa Romeo, it is an engineering work of art that earns its place among the most iconic powerplants ever produced. You can hear it sing its unmistakable tune in the video below, posted on YouTube by Car Curiosity.

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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