The Tragic Failure Of The Alfa Romeo Brera (2005-2010)
Dostoevskij wrote that "beauty will save the world," but it certainly didn't save Alfa Romeo, much less the Brera.
By the time production was terminated, in October of 2010, just over 20.000 Breras had left Pininfarina's production line in San Giorgio Canavese, and brand-new examples could still be purchased well into 2011.
However, as they say, time is a great healer and the greatest revealer, and that definitely applies to the Brera, which is now being rediscovered and appreciated by Marque enthusiasts.
The story of the Brera started at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show when the legendary automobile designer Giorgetto Giugiaro unveiled the stunning Brera concept car, built on the floorpan and running gear of the contemporary Maserati Coupé.
To say the car, named after a fashionable Milan neighborhood, was well-received is an understatement: critics and public alike fell head over heels for Giugiaro's latest creation, which stole hearts and awards wherever it went, so much so, in fact, that even the notoriously tone-deaf Fiat management could not ignore it.
However, those weren't happy days at Fiat's HQ in Turin, as the Group was bleeding money at the alarming rate of about 5 Million a day. Alfa Romeo had to make do with a paltry 600 Million to invest in new models, so Giugiaro had to adapt his original design to a shortened version of the so-called "Premium" platform developed for the 159 saloon.
To Giugiaro's immense credit, the production Brera unveiled in late 2005 lost little of the sheer visual impact of its 2002 forebear, despite the markedly different proportions dictated by the front-wheel-drive platform.
At launch, two powertrain configurations were available, a 2.2 inline-four and a 3.2 liters V6, the latter paired with Alfa's excellent "Q4" permanent all-wheel-drive transmission. Fiat's inline-five turbodiesel joined the range early in 2006 and proved the most popular engine option by far.
Equipped with direct petrol injection and variable timing on both intake and exhaust valves, these engines were rather poorly received by Alfa's customers. Especially so the V6, which had the daunting task of replacing the much-loved "Busso" V6, the last pure-bred Alfa Romeo engine.
Following GM's purchase of a 20% stake in Fiat in 2000, a Fiat-GM Powertrain joint venture was created to maximize economies of scale in the design and manufacture of engines and transmissions. GM took care of petrol engines and, although the Italian engineers comprehensively modified them to suit Alfa's requirements, many argued that most of the charm and character of the older units had been lost.
The fact the new V6 was manufactured by GM's Holden subsidiary in Port Elizabeth, Australia didn't help either, as it poured salt onto the wounded pride of Italian Alfisti, who were seeing Alfa's Arese factory shutting down for good after the last "Busso" V6s were made in December 2005, right when the Brera launched.
Then there was the Brera itself: a comfortable and refined grand-tourer more than an all-out sports car, it wasn't seen as a straight replacement for the departed GTV, even if it could easily out-handle one in most situations. Buyers simply didn't know what to make of it, while an ever-changing Alfa Romeo management, too busy to put out much bigger fires, never marketed it properly either.
Late models equipped with Fiat's punchy 1.8 liters turbocharged inline-four are now the most sought-after by collectors but barely moved the needle when new, with just 1300 examples made before Alfa pulled the plug.
Built like no Alfa had been before and looking perhaps even better now than it did nearly 20 years ago, the Brera was a proper Gran Turismo in the best Italian tradition, but all we did was leave it to gather dust in the showrooms. And I believe it's been a loss for everyone, as the Brera deserved far better press and many, many more sales, regardless of where the engines came from.
Who knows, perhaps this is why we can't have nice things.