The 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 that Iliya Bridan scattered all over Hoonigan’s Long Beach, California parking lot was never perfect. Or pristine. Or close to it. It was not some concours relic that had spent its days cowering in a garage, or even an unmolested derelict waiting for a restoration. It had endured a well-used life. It was little more than an acceptable driver before Iliya and his brother Nikita purchased it and turned it into a low-slung Southern California canyon carver.
“It was in decent shape,” Iliya says. “The engine and everything was super peppy. We converted it with Webers, pistons, cams, all that good stuff.”
There is a sliding scale of automotive subversion, bookended on one extreme by careful preservationists that would see something so simple as a respray as a vulgar modification, and guys like the Bridans that can’t help but tweak and massage and modify their way towards an automotive vision. In the beginning, the Alfa found itself sitting squarely in the middle, modified, but not bastardized.
Then, exactly a year ago, the Bridan brothers sent the machine to a shop for some basic maintenance, calling a tow service to flatbed the GTV. It never made it. Somewhere along the way, it came loose and fell the six or so feet from the roll back to the pavement below. The damage was extensive, tearing the rear quarters and shattering the delicate two-piece cast aluminum oil pan. In the eyes of the insurance company, the car was a total loss, the cost of the damage far exceeding the Alfa’s value. Iliya and Nikita refused to let the car go to scrap, dropping themselves into a months-long battle to save the car.
“Obviously, after that, no one wanted to even touch the thing,” Iliya says. “It was damaged goods. Yes, the GTV is an icon, yes, it’s a legend, but the insurance was just going to trash the car. At the end of the day, it got saved. It became something unique.”
The brothers got the idea to turn the battered GTV into their interpretation of a 105 Series Safari, complete with 10 inches of ground clearance courtesy of longer springs and knobby UTV tires. As designers, they were less concerned with ensuring the car was capable of bashing through Baja than they were executing a particular aesthetic. Iliya had some help from a few friends at work with the details like fabricating the custom roof rack, but most importantly, it was back on the road.
“We’d only gotten the car up and running in September of last year,” Iliya says. “We’d done some little trips in it to Palm Springs, testing its limits. Then we just kind of street parked it in our neighborhood.”
That’s when Brian Scotto of Hoonigan infamy spotted the car and tagged it on social media. As Iliya says, the rest is history.
And still, knowing all of that, it’s hard to watch the Hoonigan video that raised the Bridans and their GTV out of Instagram fame and into wider internet notoriety. Partly because the brothers come off as young, flippant, and less reverent than they actually are about the Alfa. Partly because, while it’s one thing to watch the Hoonigan crew crunch a scrap yard’s worth of Miatas, Mustangs, and 318s, there is something different about the GTV. It’s hard to pinpoint.
We will cheer with enthusiasm as drivers punch in fenders and send vintage Italian internals scattering across the tarmac of Goodwood or Laguna Seca. We will nod our approval at the sight of a 288 GTO ripping over loose terrain, gravel gnawing at quarters and paint worth more than a long decade of our salaries, but the sight and sound of the Alfa Romeo bashing against the asphalt is painful, and yes, a little blasphemous.
To his credit, Iliya understands.
“There is a certain stupidity to launching a car 30 feet off a ramp, but when you push a car, shit is always going to fail or break,” he said. “If we’d been on a trail and we hit a little jump or a rock came out of nowhere and tagged the oil pan, no one cares, right? You just fix it up.”
No machine is impervious to damage. On some level, that is the gamble that makes stretching a car’s legs fun and exciting, the chance that something may go wrong and the exhilaration that comes with cheating carnage when it doesn’t. The problem for most of us is that it wasn’t on a trail. It wasn’t a scar acquired in the quest for a little more speed or with the tach swinging wide in exploration. It was not a noble or good death. It was a stunt for stunt’s sake. Once the ramps appeared in the Hoonigan parking lot, Iliya and the Alfa’s fate was sealed. There’s nothing fun about knowing the future.
“At this point, I’ve had two weeks to reflect on it,” Iliya says. “The first five days were pretty brutal. I felt like a complete idiot. Obviously, I’m pretty terrified of going on the internet. It’s nothing I’d be proud of saying I was a part of. It’s an old Alfa, so finding pieces for it is not so easy.”
But for every person calling for his head, there was another congratulating him on not being afraid to launch his car.
“They were like, yeah, you’re a hero, man. Awesome,” he says. “But you don’t feel like a hero when you smash a car up, you know? It’s kind of a shitty feeling. I’m slowly getting to a point where I can kind of laugh about it a little bit. Getting over the grueling stage of finding parts and everything, kind of understanding that the thing will get fixed, and yeah, it’s going to take some time, but it will be back and the adventures will continue.”
That is the redemption of old metal. The grace of it. How it will tolerate your blunders and curses and stupidity so long as you’re willing to put in the hours to make it right again. How happily it teaches the hard lessons of preparation and consideration, regardless of the badge in the grille. We’ve been there. Anyone who has ever made a mechanical mistake has stood right where Iliya now stands. Like us, they recognized the look of guilt and ache on his face when he stepped from his battered GTV. It was the look of a man who’s wiser than he was when he woke up that morning.
Photography courtesy of the Bridan brothers