The First Modern Alfa

They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and that's been very much the case with the Alfa 164. With the many units sold spending the last two decades on second-hand car lots at best or scrapyards at worst, it's high time to appreciate once again the Alfa Romeo 164.



The year is 1982, and to say that Alfa Romeo was facing an uphill battle for survival would be an understatement.

The state-owned company came out from the 1970s with heavy losses, an inflated headcount, and crippling debt. But the political wind in Italy had changed, and the company couldn't count on the State to bankroll the ambitious product renewal program it needed to stay relevant on the market.


Alfa Romeo then approached Fiat, and a deal between the two companies was signed in October the same year. Fiat and Alfa Romeo would jointly design and manufacture vehicle components and subsystems to achieve better economies of scale while remaining fully independent corporate entities.

The 164 debuted in September 1987 at the Frankfurt motor show, and it indeed was a breath of fresh air, the promising start of a new era.

This allowed Alfa Romeo to develop its new flagship saloon from the "Type 4" platform Fiat was then co-developing with Saab. Still, while the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and Saab 9000's whole center section shared the same design, Alfa Romeo used just the floorpan. It's important to point out that, while the 164 was launched after Fiat had taken over Alfa Romeo, the car's development took place when Alfa still was an independent company.


Arese's proud engineers and test drivers made sure the 164 handled like an Alfa regardless of the driven wheels. The McPherson-type front and rear suspensions were redesigned, and the height of the front struts lowered compared to the Fiat design to clear the 164's lower bonnet line. The "Busso" V6 engine's intake had to be redesigned for the same reason, resulting in those iconic six polished aluminum inlet tubes.


The 164 debuted in September 1987 at the Frankfurt motor show, and it indeed was a breath of fresh air, the promising start of a new era.

Pininfarina's designer Enrico Fumia created what must be considered one of the finest looking four-door saloons ever designed. A true masterpiece that was strikingly modern at the time, yet it's now aging beautifully like all the best Pininfarina works.

Starting with a completely new design meant Alfa finally upped its game in comfort and build quality, making the 164 arguably the best car the company had made.

At least, up to that point!

The 164 arrived in the USA in 1990 as a replacement for the 75 Milano but never managed to outsell it

Available at the launch were the 2.0 liters Twin Spark four-cylinder and the 3.0 liters V6 engines, while the Fiat 2.0 liters Turbo four cylinders engine joined the range in 1988. Compared to the same engine used on the Lancia Thema, the Alfa's higher power rating was achieved by deleting the engine's counter-rotating balancing shafts.

This version was superseded by the 164 V6 Turbo in 1991: its engine derived directly from the 3.0 liters unit, with new crank and cylinder bores to keep its capacity below 2.0 liters. The Garrett turbocharger more than made up for the loss in displacement, though, making the 164 V6 Turbo actually faster than its naturally aspirated 3 liters sister in most conditions.


The 164 arrived in the USA in 1990 as a replacement for the 75 Milano but never managed to outsell it, despite the company's lofty expectations.

Alfa's management quickly lost interest and pulled out of the market altogether in 1995.


Meanwhile, the restyled 164 "Super" debuted in late 1992: the exterior changed very little and arguably not for the better, but the best news laid under the bonnet, in the form of the 24-valve 3 liters "Busso" V6, rated at 210HP. But the ultimate 164 is the rare Q4, produced between 1993 and 1995, and whose V6 engine sent its 230HP to all four wheels via a newly-designed six-speed gearbox.

The last 164 left the Arese production line in 1997, but the model remained in the catalog until 1998, when its replacement, the 166, became available.

But that's a story for another time.

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