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1986 Giocattolo Group B: Italian with an Aussie twist.

1986 Giocattolo Group B: Italian with an Aussie twist.

It was the decade of excess, Michael Douglas famously quoted, "Greed is good" in the movie Wall Street. Boys and their toys were what it's all about and for the wealthy, the more extravagant, the better.

In Australia, what was a self-respecting millionaire to do if he wanted to up Alan Bond and his lame arse Lamborghini? Choices in the eighties were limited; you were pretty much stuck with Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche, that is until Paul Halstead from the Toy Shop came along.

Paul was a sports car enthusiast who played with the supercars for a living. He founded the Toy Shop sports car emporium and ran it with such success that he was encouraged to have a crack at creating his own take on a supercar, albeit not without some pasta thrown in, using an Alfa Romeo donor car.

See, the eighties being the decade of excess, didn't just apply to wealth, the excess was slathered about everywhere, including car racing. The most extreme and dangerous racing ever was born and died in the eighties, a monster called Group B.

For those of you that didn't know Group B rallying was producing cars capable of putting out more than a thousand horsepower and weighing less than a thousand kilos, road rockets with acceleration better than a current Superbike and on gravel! All this and absolutely no electronic safety nets to aid the drivers keep their cars on the straight and narrow. Is it any wonder there were numerous fatalities and Group B was banned.

What has all this got to do with the Giocattolo you might ask? Well, Alfa Romeo were going to participate in Group B rallying and even went as far as creating a prototype, the Alfasud Sprint 6V. Based on the regular production Alfasud of the period but totally re-worked as a rear mid-mounted V6 as opposed to front-engined four cylinder. With the demise of Group B and Alfa's financial woes, they killed the project, but Halstead saw the prototype Alfasud as the answer to cashed up Aussie millionaires wanting a uniquely different supercar, a supercar with an Aussie twist.

The Alfa Romeo's Group B prototype inspired Halstead to create his version of a road-going supercar, believing the then current Alfasud Sprint liftback was the ideal platform. He fully expected delivering a small, lightweight, mid-mounted coupe with big power would rip the competition a new one.

The Giocattolo (Italian for the toy) wasn't just some amateur mashed together halfbreed, but a sophisticated re-imagining that underwent such significant engineering making it a new car in its own right. Engineering like a whole new rear subframe and reinforced body. Kevlar and carbon fibre used throughout the body panels and structure, in 1986, especially in Australia were almost unheard of at the time.

Halstead mustn't have dealt with Italians before, as anyone who has would have warned him, things tend not to be straightforward with them. He intended to not only use the Alfasud chassis but was hoping to source the V6 engines from Alfa as well. When that proved to be problematic, Holden and Walkinshaw/HSV came to the party in supplying an Aussie 5.0 litre V8. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as power outputs from the 5.0-litre donk were well more than anything Alfa could supply.

The original HSV tune, rated at 180kW, but with fettling by both HSV and Halstead it was now rated at 220kW, but the rumour mill at the time suggested the reality was somewhere in the vicinity of 240kW plus. In a package weighing just 1085kg, that is some serious grunt.

Halstead's Giocattolo project was ambitious; he didn't just want to create a crazy fast car, he also wanted it to be sumptuously appointed and for the fifteen cars completed his vision was largely successful.

Things came unstuck for the Giocattolo and Halstead, however, because as much as the Aussie rich wanted their toys and were happy to pay big biscuits, they weren't going to pay silly money. The cost of manufacture ended any hopes of the car reaching significant production levels.

The biggest hurdle being Alfa's unwillingness to provide bare Alfasud bodyshells. It left Halstead with little choice but to buy new Sprints and strip them. Also adding to his financial woes, the exorbitant import duty on the German 5-speed ZF transaxle transmission required to cope with the prodigious power output of the 5.0-litre V8 it was mated to. All up, it saw manufacturing costs soar past the $90,000 mark, huge money for an unknown quantity.

It all contributed to the Giocattolo ceasing production in 1989, a shame because its performance was truly spectacular, belting out the 0 to 100 km/h sprint in just 5.4 seconds, quicker than both the Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach of the same period.

Of the fifteen Giocattolo built, thirteen are believed to exist still, every now and then you'll see one pop up on carsales.com.au for $110K AUD or so. A bargain? Maybe, considering its history and it's a unique piece of Australiana. 

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