Love At First Sight - The Restoration Of A 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior

Love At First Sight - The Restoration Of A 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior

Story by Mike Bevels, photos by Mike Bevels and courtesy of Andrew Golseth

Did you know Alfa Romeo translates to “first love” in English? No, not really—I made that up. In reality, “Alfa” is actually short for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili and “Romeo” is the the last name of one of the company’s founders, Nicola Romeo. Regardless of the name’s origin or meaning, one thing is for certain: Andrew Golseth’s initial encounter with the marque’s 105 series coupe of the 1960s and 1970s was love at first sight and the inspiration for building one bad-ass 1969 Alfa Romeo GT Junior.

Having grown up in a military family that frequently moved, and then later serving in the USAF himself, Golseth had the unique opportunity to experience car culture from sea to shining sea and beyond. After honorably separating from the USAF in 2014, he and his wife Samantha embarked on a few additional cross-country moves with a classic Italian automotive restoration in the mix, eventually ending up in Alexandria, Virginia in 2022.

Similar to his lengthy resume of locations lived, Golseth has an eclectic taste in automobiles that he describes as “all over the place.” Like many gearheads, his automotive passion manifested at an early age with a love of American cars that he attributes to his Great Grandfather’s and Grandfather’s influence. In middle school, Golseth developed an interest for Japanese imports, which in turn introduced him to his first B sedan. He says, “When I started getting into Japanese cars, there was an import car magazine that featured the BRE Datsun 510. I really liked the two-box layout–-very timeless and instantly recognizable.” Datsun 510s were Golseth’s B-sedan gateway drug, which led to BMW 2002s, and eventually Alfa Romeos.

Golseth remembers seeing his first stepnose Alfa and says, “It was my seventh to eighth grade summer break. My dad was watching TV and there was an XM Satellite Radio commercial that featured a red GT Junior. I was freaking out and asked, ‘Is that a Ferrari?!’ My dad said, ‘No, that’s just some Alfa Romeo—you don’t want that.” Golseth laughs, “So, I’ve wanted one ever since and here we are. The Alfa has always been the end goal.”

Of course, a GT Junior wasn’t in the cards right away. Golseth owned, tracked, and learned to wrench on a number of drool-worthy enthusiast cars, including multiple Integra Type Rs, a Datsun 620 pickup, a Toyota Century, a Land Rover Defender 110 HCPU, and a BMW E36 M3, just to name a few. But as Alfa Romeo 105 coupe prices continued to climb, he realized a now-or-never situation was presenting itself. So, after selling his E36 M3 and moving to Mexico Beach, Florida in 2018, he was determined to fulfill his dream of Italian B sedan ownership.

Why search for a GT Junior specifically? Golseth explains, “The benefit of a late GT Junior is you get all of the early aesthetics, like the original distinctive stepnose or ‘scalino’ hood gap design with two large seven-inch headlights and the more elegant small taillights, while gaining structural benefits like the later tall rear-wheel arches, which permits running a wider and square wheel and tire set up. Plus, it features thicker chassis rails up front, which are a notorious weak point for the early cars. It also has larger ATE four-wheel disc brakes.” Golseth continues, “The GT Junior was the base model or economy version in Europe, so they're still relatively plentiful overseas.”

As Golseth points out, another added benefit is that, “You don't have to feel bad about modifying one because it's not an early stepnose car—and those are getting rare.” So, these GT Juniors are a perfect blend of early GT looks with later GTV improvements, all while remaining affordable and providing a guilt-free platform to execute your own project vision.

The metaphorical trigger was pulled on a GT Junior not long after parting ways with his M3, but it was not pulled by the person you might think. Golseth recalls, “I was on the beach one day, having margaritas with my wife. I started bidding on this Junior because it was in California, already titled in the States, and it was modified extensively. I knew that it had a lot of good parts. It was a perfect base for what I wanted to do.” What happened next was a big surprise.

Golseth continues, “Up until this point, I hadn’t told my wife I was bidding on it. I just handed her the phone and said, ‘I'm out at $25,000.’” When someone bid $25,500, his wife Samantha bid $26,000 and won the car. He jokes, “So, my mistress (the GT Junior) is my wife's fault. She's super supportive and knew I always wanted one, so we were both happy.”

This particular GT Junior was originally sold new in Italy and then shipped to the Netherlands where it competed in the Tulpenralley, or Tulip Rally, for a number of years. While it wasn’t competing wheel-to-wheel with other vehicles, the Tulip Rally was a competitive time trial race and it may have seen the wrong side of a hedge or two. Golseth describes the state of his newly acquired Junior as “driven hard and put away wet,” with “missing jack points and the lower third of the car full of Bondo.” It had certainly seen some action, but it was a running, driving, and complete with an LSD rear axle and a 2.0-liter engine swap from a late GTV replacing the stock 1.3-liter motor to boot.

Golseth didn’t dive right into restoring his GT Junior. “I drove it for about a year-and-a-half in that state. But at one point, it was leaking so much oil that I decided to pull the motor one weekend,” he says. Things snowballed from there and within two weekends of pulling the engine, he had the Alfa stripped down to a shell and ready for bodywork.

Golseth towed the Alfa six hours south to SaltWorks Fabrication in Sarasota, Florida to have the body restored. After media blasting, he says, “Unsurprisingly, it needed a lot of metal work. The rust wasn’t so bad, it was just a lot of previously poorly repaired rust.” In true go-big-or-go-home fashion, Golseth had SaltWorks replace the majority of the bodywork using Alfaholics supplied panels.

It was fortuitous that Golseth had already developed a relationship with Alfaholics. As the former Staff Writer for Petrolicious, Golseth had taken a trip to England in 2017 where he met Alfaholics owners Richard, Max, and Andrew Banks, and wrote a feature article on the Clevedon-based company. Golseth says, “I just love their products. They're very genuine guys. They literally do all the R&D for their parts on their own cars, and when they perfect it, they put it into production and sell it.”

How much metal was replaced? Golseth sums it up saying, “The only original metal in the car is the roof and the top-third of the quarter panels. That included replacing the fenders, nose clip, upper core support, rockers, lower quarter panels, and rear valance.” But he wasn’t done just yet, as some “upgrades” were performed along the way. Golseth says, “And then I got stupid and bought the aluminum hood, door skins, and trunk because ultimately, I wish I had a GTA. I tried to make it as true to an original GTA 1600 as I could.”

Exactly one year later, the GT Junior’s bodywork was complete. Golseth and his wife were in the process of moving to Oklahoma, but there were a few body-related issues he wasn’t happy with. While Golseth had some frustrations, he was ultimately happy with the end result and gives credit to the owner of SaltWorks Fabrication, who corrected the issues and delivered it all the way to Oklahoma at no additional charge.

With a perfected rolling chassis in Oklahoma City, Golseth’s next task was finding a local painter. After asking around the “old hot-rod town,” he got the name of a retired painter, Donnie Dukes. Golseth wanted “a single stage paint job—the old-school way,” and Dukes replied, “That’s all I do.”

Golseth and Dukes joined forces and with an original estimate of six-to-eight weeks, Golseth jokes, “Nine months later the car was painted AR-501, Alfa Rosso (Red). It’s one color and shiny, which was my original request.” Golseth laughs, “While the restoration took three years, it only took me two weekends to strip it and about six months to put it back together. The rest was out of my hands.”

With the car back and reassembly underway. Golseth continued making his GTA-hommage vision a reality, sourcing the majority of the parts from Alfaholics. He back-dated the dashboard, gauges, and trim on the dash and doors. He installed a GTA Hellebore helm, GTA roll-hoop, and GTA vinyl floors and rubber mats. Alfaholics GTA Stradale replica bucket seats and special-ordered British Racing Green Willans harnesses hold Golseth in place for those spirited drives.

The Willans harnesses are one of Golseth’s favorite things about this build. There are a few green items throughout the car, like the Quadrifoglios on the fenders and rear tail panel, and the spark plug wires under the hood, which all tie in with the Italian colors theme–red,white, and green. When he ordered harnesses from Willans he saw the British Racing Green option and contacted the company, asking “Are they true British Racing Green?” The response: “We make them at Silverstone, mate. What do you think?” Golseth reflects, “So, it's a goofy little detail, but it's something I appreciate every time I get in and put them on.”

The wheels are modern 14x7-inch raw aluminum units from Classic Alfa, with a wrinkle-gray semi-matte finish that mimic the look of the original magnesium Campagnolo GTA wheels. A set of solid brass lug nuts add some color against the gray wheels to complete the period correct look. A modern wheel with vintage design is a smart choice as 50-year-old magnesium examples get brittle with age and wouldn’t be safe to drive on.

One of the more intimidating aspects of the project for Golseth was the wiring and plumbing. He admits, “I had essentially zero experience—I knew nothing about wiring. That, and making all the brake lines and clutch lines from scratch. Wiring and bending everything were two very intimidating things because, one, if there are wiring problems it's on me, and two, if I screw something up with the brakes and clutch I’d have to pull these lines back off and re-flare them.” Taking the “less is more” cafe racer approach included deleting the radio, heater, dome lights, reverse light, side fender indicators, antenna, and plate lights, there were no direct plug-and-play wiring harnesses. So, Golseth used a wiring diagram from the Alfa Bulletin Board, layed out the wires one by one, and cut them to length. Once he was happy with the fitment, he loomed the harness and installed it. Golseth exclaims, “Once it was all back in—knock on wood—everything worked!”

The final piece of the build was installing the updated 2.0-liter GTV engine that came with Golseth’s GT Junior. It had been resealed by a friend, but once reinstalled, there were a number of issues. After some investigation that involved pulling the head, Golseth found the #2 cylinder piston sleeve came right out–a bad seal. He says, “That’s probably my bad as I drained the motor and then it sat for three years without any prep for storage. It was a tired motor and it was probably unwise to think I could just drop it back in problem free.”

With a move to Virginia scheduled two months out, Golseth didn’t have time to rebuild the 2.0-liter engine on an otherwise complete restoration. Thankfully, a friend’s father had a spare, freshly built 1.3-liter GT Junior engine sitting in his garage. Golseth says, “If that hadn’t worked out, the car might not be driving today.” And while reluctant to put a smaller engine back into his GT Junior, he says, “It’s not as torquey, but it revs to 7,500 rpm. It has 1600 cams, slightly larger valves, and some head work. If I were to guess, it probably makes 100-110 horsepower.” While that’s quite good power for a 1.3-liter four-cylinder, consider it’s also in a car that only weighs 1,980 pounds. Golseth adds, “I’m really happy with the 1.3-liter. It reminds me of my Integra Type R, where you really have to rev it out to get the most of it.”

With the GT Junior cake iced, Golseth looks back on the help he received during this restoration and says, “It’s like the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a kid.’ The car would not be finished if I didn’t have three good friends in Oklahoma.” First, Golseth’s friend Mido offered space at his shop for the Alfa’s reassembly. “Anytime I hit a roadblock, Mido was always there and helped me work through it,” he says. A mutual fiend, Cole, helped put the glass, headliner, and various other parts back in the car. Additionally, a talented fabricator, Clark, helped fix a broken clutch pivot arm, modified the exhaust manifold for more ground clearance, and modified the roll hoop to fit in the car properly and accept the Willans harnesses. “Without Mido, Cole, and Clark, the car wouldn’t be done,” Golseth says. He also gives a shout out to Dorian Valenzuela of DV-Mechanics and Anthony Rimicci of Santos Italian Car for being available to take calls, answer questions, and lend their expertise.

Was it all worth it? Golseth pauses and reflects, “I went back to England for Goodwood this past year, and I was chatting with Max Banks of Alfaholics about all of their amazing builds. Max said, ‘You did a really good job with your car.’” And while Golseth didn’t build this car for the approval of others, it’s always reassuring to hear praise from a well-regarded expert like Banks. “That conversation with Max made me realize that it is nice. I did it—I followed through and I actually completed it,” Golseth remarks. Then he smiles and says, ”And now I’m itching to do another one!”