We’ve all heard of Alfaholics at this point. Chris Harris has hooned an R-290 around a track for the Beeb, Catchpole has compared the Alfaholics build to a modern Quadrifoglio. So, you may think they’re the only way for you get the iconic 105 series Alfa that you want. Not so.
Ian Ellis has to be one of the worst kept secrets of the classic Alfa world. These days Ian is backed up by his team of 5, has around 250 cars on the books, and he’s been rebuilding and setting up 105s since ‘95.
Where did it all start for you?
If something works, I need to know how. As a kid with a push bike, I’d take it apart, clean everything, paint the frame, put better bearings in, make it look beautiful… what I do now really.
When I was at university my friend used to buy and sell cars. One day he said, ‘I’ve got this Alfa and I think you’re gunna like it’. It was from there really - I was amazed that despite the door skins flapping in the breeze the engineering was so way ahead of anything the British were churning out at the time in 1981.
So you’ve always had spanners in your hands… when did the business start?
[I had] a Spider, which was disintegrating around me. It was booked in with a guy called Malcolm Morris, who’s unfortunately no longer with us. He had an 18-month waiting list, as I do now. When I took the car to him he said, ‘it’s too far gone, it’s not worth doing’. I always appreciated his honesty, he could have fobbed me over or whatever. He was a good role model. So I decided to [restore the car] myself. It took me about 2 years and my only regret was using cellulose paint. haha.
I had another career that allowed me to dovetail in this business to get this going. In 95 was when I took the plunge really. I kept quite a low profile for about 10 years until I knew I was absolutely confident that if anybody took a car to me that needed fixing, I could do it.”
So now you only work on 105s, that’s quite a niche…
I think it’s good to focus on one model, they [were built] for a long time, 1963 to 1993. There’s still a lot of cars out there that need looking after.
Hang on, so you’re basically the Alfa Romeo 105 guy for the whole country, then?
For 105s… pretty much I think. Especially if you want to take your car to one place and get everything done. There are other specialists that do mechanics or bodywork - but we’ll take it in and pretty much do everything that’s needed for the car. People trust us. You can rest assured your car is going to be in very good hands.
Why the 105?
Mainly because of my own passion for the model, that’s how it started. Like many people in their mid-20s was attracted to the styling of a 2 door convertible. Actually, my first Alfa was an Alfetta 1.8 which shares a similar twin-cam Nord engine. It was really the juxtaposition of the engineering and the design of bodywork that got me into them… Looking back the Giulia, the 105 series, it was way ahead of its time really with the twin-cam engine, twin choke Webers, 5-speed gearbox, disk brakes all around.
What makes a car an ‘Ian Ellis’ car?
Attention to detail. It’s a big umbrella but that’s applied to every aspect. I keep on-road testing, the cars are in and out, adjusting and tweaking until I’m happy that it’s as good as it can be or as close it can be to when the car left the Alfa factory. I use my own cars as test mules, sometimes things go wrong, but then I’ll know I can’t recommend something to a customer.
Which build are you most proud of?
Probably that one outside, the red Sprint GTA replica. The attention to detail I’m really happy with - it’s a beautiful car to drive. It exactly fits the brief the owner wanted. A compromise between something he can take on track, he uses it around Goodwood and Silverstone. He also wanted to be able to do European touring with his wife.
It’s quite a hard brief to fill and get just right, and he says we have, so that makes me proud.
So if I want a 105 done any way I want, you can do it?
What 3 things go into making a good build then?
[Firstly, I’ve got to] know what the brief is, where do you want to use it, track, on the road, whether you’re going continental touring, if you live in the centre of London or something, speed bumps etc. I’ve got to know your needs as a package.
Then, the heart of any Alfa is the engine. Alfa knew what they were doing, so probably the only thing we [consistently] change is the rubber Pirelli carburettor mounts to solid ones, just because they’re then fit for life.
Other than that it’s tuning; we get involved in the Twin Spark engines quite a bit. If they’re not set-up right they deteriorate quite quickly and the engine won’t last very long. If the carbs are not set-up right, they just pour fuel into the oil, that’s not very good.
So, this gorgeous step-nose we’ve been showing you photos of…it’s a Giulia Sprint GTA recreation by Ian. A custom build for a very lucky guy. The finish on this thing is sublime. It smells of new, it looks and feels like a product. It matches a modern car on that level of ‘togetherness’. If you’ve got a friend that for some stupid reason doesn’t like Alfas, this is the car to change their mind. Got a 105? Want a custom spec Giulia? Ian is the guy to see.