The Story Of The Unforgettable Alfa 75 / Milano
It would be an understatement to say that the people in charge at Alfa Romeo in the early 1980s had the cards stacked against them. Crippled by an unsustainable debt burden, Alfa desperately needed new models to lure buyers into its showrooms but lacked the resources to fund them. However, what Alfa Romeo's people had in spades was ingenuity, and the beloved Alfa 75 undoubtedly is a testament to that.
Little to celebrate
Launched on May 17, 1985, the Alfa 75 owed its name to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the company's foundation in Milan and, although there was little to celebrate about the state of the company, the model went on to become a success, at least in its home market of Italy.
Due to the aforementioned budgetary constraints, the Alfa 75 wasn't an all-new model but rather a comprehensive evolution of the Giulietta it replaced, of which maintained the running gear and most of the body structure, doors included.
However, the creatives at Alfa Romeo's design center, headed by Ermanno Cressoni, cleverly disguised the carry-over doors via a plastic molding that ran around the car and emphasized its dynamic wedge profile, becoming its main styling feature.
The Alfa 75's interior was a completely new design, and the 60mm longer rear overhang provided ample luggage capacity compared to its predecessor.
The power of tradition
Under the hood of the Alfa 75, no surprises awaited the traditional Alfa Romeo customer, once again presented with the company's long-established range of twin-cam inline-4 engines between 1.6 and 2 liters of displacement fed by two side-draft carburetors.
But the uncontested peak of the range was, of course, the Alfa 75 2.5 V6, equipped with the same sweet, melodious fuel-injected V6 engine already on use in the GTV6 coupès. Like those, the 75 V6 also needed its specific bonnet pressing to clear the tall engine plenum.
The first significant technical development in the Alfa 75's history was the launch of the 1.8 Turbo: not the fastest, but certainly the sportiest version of the 75, destined to replace the GTV6 in the European Touring Car racing scene.
Moreover, it was Alfa Romeo's first turbocharged model to be mass-produced in the Arese factory, as opposed to the low-volume specials made by Autodelta over the previous years.
The 1.8 liters inline-4 twin-cam made 155HP at 5800Rpm thanks to a Garrett T3 turbocharger feeding intake air at a maximum pressure of 0.9 bar through an intercooler.
Although it was half a second faster than the V6 in the classic naught-to-sixty sprint, the Alfa 75 turbo was remarkably understated in its appearance, with color-coded bumpers and subtle wheel arch extensions.
Up to eleven
Anything but subtle was, instead, the Alfa 75 Turbo Evoluzione, a homologation special manufactured in 500 examples over 1987, all painted in Rosso Alfa.
Its aero package was worth a two-point reduction in Cd, and the suspensions received thicker anti-roll bars, revised geometries, and reinforced hubs.
To comply with sporting regulations, the engine's displacement was slightly reduced from the original 1779cc to 1762cc to stay within the three-liters category once the 1.7 coefficient for turbo engines was applied. Despite this, Alfa Romeo likely underrated the engine's power output at 155HP, given the higher boost pressure and redesigned exhaust manifold exclusive to this now highly sought-after version.
February of 1987 saw the introduction of perhaps the most important version of the 75, the 2.0 liters Twin Spark.
Rated at 148HP at 5800Rpm, the Twin Spark engine offered a level of performance right at the top of the two-liter class, thanks to its new and innovative cylinder head design.
Not only the two valves per cylinder were inclined at a much tighter angle, which allowed for better thermal efficiency and a straighter inlet port, but the two spark plugs on the side of the combustion chamber left space for an intake valve of larger diameter. The package was completed by Alfa's variable valve timing system and Bosch Motronic ME7 electronic fuel injection.
This new level of performance, together with a limited-slip differential as standard and some well-judged exterior design tweaks, transformed the 75's previously rather staid image, and the TS remained very popular in Italy until the model's demise.
Contemporarily to the 2.0 TS, Alfa Romeo also presented the range-topping 75 3.0 V6 "America," with exterior and interior specifications close to the models sold on the other side of the Atlantic. Later the same year, the so-called "America" appearance package, with the more prominent bumpers, was extended to the 1.8 Turbo as well.
Coming to America
The 1980s saw the affirmation of European sports-luxury saloons in the USA, and to win Alfa Romeo a slice of that potentially lucrative pie, the Alfa 75 became the Milano.
The Milano was, in essence, a 75 2.5 V6 quite extensively modified to comply with federal legislation, which, at the time, was considerably more prescriptive than the European one.
Built on a specific production line in the Arese factory, the Milano had more robust hinges to support the doors, made heavier by the side impact bars. The fuel tank was larger and repositioned in a more secure location between the rear seat and the boot, whose capacity decreased quite markedly as a result.
The larger bumpers complied with the "5 Mph" impact requirements, and the bonnet's hinges and catches were redesigned to eliminate the risk of intrusion into the passenger compartment during a crash.
Sold between June 1986 and August 1989, the Milano was initially offered in three trim levels: Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The sportier Milano Verde, equipped with the new 3.0 liters V6, joined the range in late 1987.
October of 1988 saw the launch of the revised Alfa 75 range, easily recognizable by the new front grille and red taillight plastics.
With stricter anti-pollution laws on the horizon and the need to offer catalytic converters in some European markets, Alfa Romeo replaced the carburetors with the Bosch Motronic fuel injection system and variable valve timing on the entry-level Alfa 75s, first the 1.8, then the smaller 1.6 for 1989.
But perhaps the finest, most desirable 75s of all were those introduced in 1990, known by enthusiasts as the "Potenziate." That year, the 1.8 Turbo and 3.0 V6 "Quadrifoglio Verde" were uprated to 165 and 192HP, respectively. But the party wasn't going to last much longer...
By 1991, the writing was on the wall for the 75.
Its sharp lines were out of fashion, and although it was as fun to drive as always, the age of its basic design was becoming increasingly apparent.
During the year, Alfa Romeo tried to prop up the 75's falling sales with a few particularly well-specified limited-run models, like the 1.8 "Indy," "Trofeo" or "Le Mans," and the gorgeous "Allestimento Sportivo Numerato" series, offered with the 2.0 Twin Spark and 1.8 Turbo engines.
For 1992, the 75's range was restricted to the 1.6 and 2.0 Turbodiesel, both finished with color-coded bumpers and side mirrors as standard.
Although the model was still listed in Italy at the beginning of 1993, the last 75, a red 1.6 liter model like the one preserved in the Alfa Romeo museum, left the Arese production line in 1992.