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  • Writer's pictureMatteo Licata

The Legendary Alfa 164 ProCar

The ancient Roman writer Virgil warned us against trusting appearances too much, and that's especially true for this pair of Alfa Romeo 164, as under their skin hides the heart and bones of a Formula One racer.

This is the story of the legendary Alfa Romeo 164 ProCar.

The FIA ProCar series was intended as a sideshow to the Formula One weekend that would have seen the drivers compete on Fridays using cars that looked remarkably similar to showroom models. The regulations stipulated that the racing cars should be based on a model manufactured in at least 25.000 units per year, whose exterior dimensions could not be changed. For example, the rear spoiler couldn't extend beyond the car's length and width, and the tires had to fit within the original car's contours.

However, things were allowed to get much more interesting under the skin: manufacturers were left free to design their chassis, while the powerplant followed the upcoming 1989 Formula One rules that prescribed 3.5 liters naturally-aspirated engines.

Alfa Romeo already had such a powerplant in-house, as Alfa Corse started work on a naturally-aspirated 3.5 liters Formula One engine all the way back in 1985.

Alfa Corse's engineers settled on the 72° V10 format because it offered a valid compromise between size, weight, and power output. Their choice was remarkably prescient given the success V10 engines later had in F1. In fact, Alfa Romeo's V10 was actually the first, as it ran on the benches by June of '86, thus predating both Honda and Renault's units.

However, FIAT's takeover of Alfa Romeo in November of 1986 brought on new management and plans, so from 1987, Alfa Corse started work on the aforementioned "ProCar" series.

The choice for the base car naturally fell on Alfa's newest model, the 164. After some initial work by Alfa Corse and Dallara, the design and construction of the chassis was contracted out to the British F1 team Brabham, which supplied two tubs codenamed BT57/01 and /02.

Alfa Romeo test driver Giorgio Francia was the first to drive the ProCar at the company's Balocco proving ground. This 164 "on steroids" proved tricky to handle but wickedly fast, in a straight line at least. After all, the enclosed saloon car shape gave it a much better drag coefficient than any Formula One car and, without large spoilers to generate downforce, the 164 Procar flew on the straights. However, that lack of downforce, coupled with the relatively narrow tracks, made it a bit of a handful on high-speed corners.

Had the ProCar series become a reality, surely more aerodynamic development would have been made, as the car's rear spoiler was largely ineffective: Giorgio Francia himself remembers losing it once and hardly noticing its absence.

A close look at the two 164 ProCar built suggests that these cars were created to be much more than development mules, though, as Alfa Romeo went to great lengths to make them look good and as similar to a standard 164 as they could possibly be. The composite clamshells were clearly molded on an actual 164, as each shut line you'd find on the road car is duly present. The paint finish is excellent, and even some interior details were reproduced with remarkable accuracy.

In short, it's evident that Fiat Auto and Alfa Romeo were dead serious about the ProCar championship, but, alas, it was not to be.

With no other manufacturer showing similar commitment, the ProCar never became a reality, with the fastest 164 ever making just one public appearance at Monza, during the 1988 Italian GP weekend.

Driven by F1 star Riccardo Patrese, the wail of its V10 engine wowed the crowd during a few flying laps, after which it was consigned to the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, near Milan, where the two cars built are preserved to this day.


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