Launched in 1997 to worldwide acclaim, the Alfa Romeo 156 needs no introduction. Its combination of stunning looks, brilliant handling, and lusty engines, plus a very successful racing career, made the 156 one of Alfa's greatest commercial successes.
Let's revisit one of Alfa Romeo's best moments by looking at five things you probably didn't know about the 156.
One - Lightweight materials
The Alfa 156 was, at launch, one of the production cars that utilized the highest number of magnesium components. The dashboard carrier, steering column support, steering wheel frame, and front seats' frames were all made of this material, leading to significant weight savings. For example, the magnesium seat frame weighed four kg less than a conventional one.
Two - Call me Juliet
During much of the Alfa 156's design phase, the people working on the project started referring to it using the iconic "Giulietta" nameplate, which appeared on sketches and even full-size mock-ups.
However, this clashed with the naming conventions used for the rest of Alfa's range. Hence, the Fiat group's management chose the rather less inspiring 156 instead, in continuity with the marque's recent past.
Three - From Thailand with love
At the turn of the Millennium, the Alfa 156 was at the peak of its popularity in Italy and abroad. To increase its market penetration in south-east Asia, Alfa Romeo took advantage of Fiat's ties with General Motors to assemble the 156 saloon in the GM plant of Rayong in Thailand. However, local 156 production lasted only two years, between 2002 and 2004, with only a few hundred cars made.
Four - A blast from the past
Alfa Romeo interiors had often been kind of an afterthought, but the 156 was out to change that. In a nod to the marque's 1960s models, the gear lever of the 156 was placed further forward and in a more upright position than usual. This caused quite some consternation among Fiat's ergonomists, though, who believed the effort needed to change gear would then be unacceptably high.
Cunningly, Alfa's interior stylists invited the ergonomists to have some fun driving a 1970 GT Junior. They must have appreciated, as from then on, that gear lever positioning ceased to be a problem and went into production as intended.
Five - The stillborn GTAm
Presented at the Bologna Motor Show in December 2002, this black beauty caused quite a stir but was soon forgotten, as it never made production. Developed by N-Technology, the outfit that raced the 156 in the European Touring Car Championship, the GTAm aimed at transferring some of the racing car's technology into a road car.
Powered by a 3.5 liters Busso V6 producing a claimed 300 HP at 6800 Rpm, the 156 GTAm had composite bonnet and fenders, 19" wheels, adjustable shocks, and larger Brembo brakes. Unfortunately, the Fiat group had much bigger problems than putting such a low-volume enthusiasts' special into production, so it remained a one-off. It currently resides in the Alfa Romeo Museum's reserve collection.