By on January 11, 2010

quickly dissapearing from the streets

(Curbside Classics paid a quick visit to TTAC Command Central in Portland on Saturday, and came away with a few goodies to share from that CC Elysian Fields this week)

With the presumed return of Alfa to our shores, its easy to forget that it seems like just yesterday (to us oldsters) that Alfa was selling its handsome 164 sedan hereabouts until 1995. To the more youthful here, the 164 may have been something you ogled from the back of the family Caravan on the way to grade school. Regardless; it’s a quickly disappearing part of the street-scape, and has some fascinating history behind that tasty exterior.

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The 164 was the last new car developed by an independent Alfa Romeo before they were bought by Fiat. But that doesn’t mean Fiat wasn’t already a major player in the 164′s genesis by another means: the 164 was one of four cars developed on the joint “Type 4″ platform, which included the Fiat Croma, the Lancia Thema, and the Saab 9000. Even a grade schooler could see that the Fiat, Lancia and Saab were the chummy trio of the foursome. The doors from a Croma will install right on the Saab; etc. Obviously, the Alfa got special treatment; up to a point.

While the 164 certainly benefited from the  distinctive styling from the other three, courtesy of Pininfarina, it failed to make sure there was an exclusivity clause in its contract with the storied design house. The 164 and the concurrently Pinin designed Peugeot  605 show a remarkable degree of familial similarity, perhaps even more so when they’re not right together like in this picture.

pininfarina double-dipping

The 164 was a serious effort to move Alfa upscale, which had failed badly in its previous efforts to expand beyond its roots as sporty brand. Its prior effort, the Alfa 6, was about as successful in the larger sedan category as Fiat’s interesting but also unsuccessful 130. The Italians have never been able to crack the stranglehold of the German bigger sedans, even on their home turf. The “type 4″ platform cars were to be the big breakthrough.

I don’t have all the sales stats and contemporary reviews in front of me, but my recollection is that the Croma and Thema may have been, at best, only marginally successful for Fiat in holding off BMW, Audi and Mercedes’ inroads further. The Thema 8.32 was a wild variant, featuring a Ferrari -sourced V8 mounted transversely, and a very high-grade interior; an Italian version of the Taurus SHO (not the interior part, that is).

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I’m getting off topic again, as usual. The 164 and the Saab 9000 were probably the most successful of the four; the Saab’s fairly strong presence in the US being a major contributor. The 164 was taken quite seriously in Europe as a competitor in the executive saloon sector, and enjoyed a degree of success, both critically and commercially, that was unprecedented for a larger Alfa, at least since the days of the 2600 in the fifties and sixties.

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In Europe, the 164 came with a variety of engines; the twin-spark 2.0 fours, both normally aspirated and turbo; a small-bore 2.0 turbo V6 (primarily for markets with a heavy displacement tax); a 2.5 diesel; and the beautiful 3.0 V6 which solely powered the US versions: a 12 valve version until ’93; then a 24 valver until the end. The power ratings were pretty healthy for the times too: from 183  hp (12 valve) to 230 hp for the 24 valve S version. The 3.0 was a sweet sounding and fine running motor, and went a long way to dispel any lingering doubts about a FWD Alfa, at least in a sedan.

alfa V6

I can’t claim any seat time in one of these cars, but maybe some of you can add your experiences. And although the 164 doesn’t (or does it?) have “Italian Reliability Nightmare” written all over it, it may still be included in the fine print. Any 164 sob stories out there?

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44 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1991 Alfa Romeo 164...”


  • avatar
    findude

    I remember what I said when these came out: it looks like a Jetta that got rear-ended.

  • avatar
    midelectric

    The quoted horsepower figures are indeed incorrect, the base and L versions had 183 while the S had 200.  the later 24v versions had 210 in the LS and 230 for the Quadrifoglio.
    Amongst the Type 4 cars, the Alfa had exclusive suspension systems front and rear that allowed a lower hoodline in front and a multilink in back that was more sophisticated than the dead axle in the Saab, for example.
    Never had one but drove a few before getting another Milano instead, for me the 164 was too big and front drive for what I was looking for.  They were very nicely detailed cars though, the interiors were very satisfying.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Monday morning brain fart: I was looking at the KW ratings! Fixed; and thanks for the wake-up!

    • 0 avatar
      midelectric

      I used to be a regular at Difatta Bros. on Belair Rd.  when I  enjoyed my Alfas  as daily drivers but parts availability and old car issues just became too big an issue to risk putting them out there every day.  Thanks for highlighting the 164, I still love seeing their distinctive and dashing profile. These came out when I was in high school and there were several occasions when a friend and I went over to the Dodge/Peugeot/Alfa dealer to sit in the 164s and try to finagle a test drive. Never worked.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    The alfa has a Chrysler Radio. Things have come full circle in 20 years.

  • avatar
    Disaster

    The last Alfa I lusted after was the RWD GTV6…and even that one didn’t have quite the pretty lines of the older Alphas…but it did have that typical Alpha throaty grow and racing history.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, common sense overtook me and I bought something more practical (ie. something that didn’t require a toolbox to be stored in the trunk.)

    Perhaps the GTV6 will make another Curbside Classic edition.

    P.S. I just remembered my first comment isn’t entirely truthful. I lusted the heck after those 4WD Alfa rally cars….but there was little chance of getting them in the states. IMHO, Alfa has got some nice looking cars out now.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I almost bought one of these for 500, it was is good shape and the thought of owning a genuine Alfa was tempting. But I realized that I would have to go through alot of trouble and money to get parts for an Alfa.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    When I first came to Europe in ’92, we had two of these in the company car park, a red one (driven by the CEO) and a dark green one … after the CEO retired, the red one joined the green one in the general pool.  Aside from the sexy looks, no one ever wanted to drive these, and they were sold off much quicker than even the Ford Scorpios which everybody seemed to like much better!

    By the way, I don’t have the number in my head any more, but look to the final number of 164′s sold at the end; it was pitiful … if Alfa re-enters the market the way they left it God help them.

    Finally, looking at those headlights, I wonder if one has to mount a red and white stick to the front bumper when one drives at night!!  Damn!  Those are “headlights” in name only!

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    I’d rather be in an Alfa praying that I’ll get to church than be in church praying that I get an Alfa.
    Check out alfabb.com for all you ever want to know about Alfas.
    http://www.alfabb.com/
    Make sure you take a look at the Award Winning Giulietta Restoration at the bottom of the page. If you love cars you’ll definitely like this.
    @ Disaster
    Back in our younger years my cousin and I did 120 mph in the Windsor Tunnel underneath the Detroit river in his GTV6. He was the driver, I was the …. well, you know what I was doing on the passenger seat ;) and it didn’t smell good. For sure I thought we would be led away in handcuffs at the Canadian side. Got away with that one!!

    At one time owned a 1988 Spider Quadrifoglio, even came with a removable hard top.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      +1000 but only if it’s a second car and I got it for a stupid cheap price.  If it’s my collector car baby, yes.  If it’s my primary means of transportation, no!

  • avatar
    cc-rider

    Paul- you owe it to everyone to post an underhood shot of the lovely alfa V-6 found in this 164.  The chromed runners and detail is wonderful.

    These motors sound glorious, but need careful attention to their timing belts and tensioners!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    The 164 had the most beautiful engine bay of any contemporary car. Google that and then dare to say I’m wrong. Jamie Kitman owned one for a long time and wrote about it often. Quoting from memory: bad torque steer, unreliable electrics, great sound, great handling. I’d like to own one myself but even its successor, the 166, suffers from untimely timing-belt snappage, which is too much for me to handle.
    Off-topic, am I wrong to believe that a life lived well will necessarily involve cars mainly designed by Pininfarina, Bertone or Giugiaro? Life is too short for ugly cars, I would say. (I had a Gandini-styled car too, no not a Countach, but that’s neither here nor there).

  • avatar
    essen

    I saw one of these at an auto show over one weekend, thought it was a pretty nice and comfortable car, then the news that Alfa was pulling out of the US on the following Monday – end of story.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    I owned a Saab 9000, an Alfa 164L and 164S. The Alfas were so much …. less phlegmatic than the Saab. Handling and gearbox just in a different league. Engine smoothness and sound ditto. I still miss the 164S but it would have looked better without the spoiler and spats. I finally had to give it up in 2005 when rust got it, but it was already a real problem finding scrounged parts and bits to keep it on the road. Then you had stupid things, like mounting the gas lines to the engine on the firewall with 3″ sections of rubber tubing to decouple engine vibration. You could barely put a hand between firewall and the engine, so these $0.25 parts involved a lot of labor when they cracked and leaked – leaked right next to the engine, too, for maximum downside.
    In L trim, these were very handsome cars and look good today – so many cars evoke that ‘whatinhell were they thinking question’ after even a decade out of production.
    A word on the Scorpios – had one of them too. A wonderful stretched wheelbase 5 door but in the US, Lincoln/Mercury was to 1980s Merkur Scorpios as Buick was to 1970s Opels.  Need I say more?
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Thanks for the insights; I’ve got a Scorpio in the can for a future CC.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Paul,
      If you have it, and haven’t shown it already, I humbly request you a CC two-fer edition … and you write about the tragedy twins Scorpio and XR4ti … (btw, the Scorpio was a product of Maximum Bob when he was President of Ford Europe, and the idea of Merkur was pushed by Edsel Ford II when he was Director of Marketing for Mercury Div. (seems this post is a dead-head-stop for the shallow side of the Ford gene-pool – Merkur was pushed about the same time as Edsel pushed for those huge Cougar emblems and the goofy new Mercury “road” logo.)  BTW, talked my sis into a Nagelneu ’85 XR4ti, and it was ok until the automatic transmission blew up with low mileage (in like ’87)… and she noticed that all the other drivers of this car were white male geeks with pocket protectors … she ditched it not long afterward.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Robert, I so want to, but haven’t yet found an XR4ti. Must be one out there somewhere around these parts. I’m familiar with Lutz’ role in it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      In ’84 or ’85, I attended an SAE dinner event at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, and the featured speaker was Max Bob introducing the XR4ti … there were plenty of pics of him smoking cigars and, as is his wont, living large (if IIRC, and it is so long ago I am not longer sure … he had also just been named VP of Ford Truck Div., but was, unbeknownst to all, slighted at not getting a higher posting, so he as preparing to hit the silk and head for Highland Park.) 

      Oh, one more thing, the Lutz XR4ti pontification hour was sublimely more entertaining than the SAE dinner, coupled with the Robert Stempel snooze-a-rama introduction of the Saturn in guess 1989/90, this one was up off Telegraph in Bloomfield Hills … Stempel’s sonorus tones could cure insomnia … I came away with the impression that he seemed like an engineer’s engineer, and a nice guy, but couldn’t help shake the feeling that he had by-passed the level of his incompetence (had also the same impression of Lloyd Reuss.) 

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I couldn’t help but see Stempel as anything but a deadly boring mid-level engineering manager who somehow fell out of his comfort zone. It was a very rare day at GM indeed when they actually gave him the axe.

  • avatar
    pbr

    In the late 90′s I worked in a shop that serviced ALFA/Ferrari/Lambo/BMW/Porsche … 164s were light-years ahead of the GTV-6/Milano platform, and not nearly the maintenance headache (at least not the 2wd variant. I have a vague recollection that we saw one 4wd S example, but it had low low miles and didn’t need any serious work while I was there).  We did two types of expensive repairs on that car: R&R the bearings on the I/O end of the gearbox and the stepper motor on the HVAC system. T-belts and tensioners were routine maintenance.  They weren’t particularly hard to work on, if you already had the standard set of special tools for ALFA, you were set. Interiors held up OK, there was evidence of cost engineering of course, but they actually seemed to hold up better than the just-plain-weird switches knobs handles that came on the GTV-6/Milano series.
    They drove GREAT and nothing in the segment sounded half as good. They were perfectly comfortable in all weather,  even our hot, humid southeastern North American summers.  Contemporary 5-Series BMWs probably were cheaper to maintain, and likely have stood the test of time better, but the 164 felt livelier and more agile, and seemed like it had more space in the passenger compartment and in the trunk.
    I’d say it was easily the most livable ALFA ever sold in the U.S.,  it had fine dynamics and it sounded right.  Really a pretty fantastic car except it was hard to find parts/service, and it wasn’t exactly Toyota-cheap to own. But then the iconoclasts who drive cars like this wouldn’t be caught dead in a Toyota and are perfectly willing to pay for the privilege.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Oooh, forgot the stepper motors. Bent coathangar applied to the mixing door did the trick in both Saab and Alfa – same crappy Bosch(?) unit. Missed out on the gearbox problem.

      Before I lost interest, I read accounts of the AWD 164 – only one in the US, I think. Bay area? Try getting parts for that.

  • avatar
    Garrick Jannene

    AHHHH!!!
    There’s one of these for sale at a Ford dealership in my hometown right now.  I want to go get it so badly, but I’d feel terrible about it knowing that I’d have to drive it on the salt-covered roads of the Great White North.  I’m telling myself if it is still there come March, it was meant to be and that I’m going to go pick it up.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Yeah Mr Niedermeyer, that engine pic is Glorious.
    I’ve seen that engine in person in the Spyder they sold here. I always look forward to see them when there’s an Alfa around.
    However,  I sat in the company’s president 166 4 years ago (previous job) and it was gorgeus.
    Having seen both in person, I like the 605 a bit better than the 164.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    How many buttons ARE THERE on that center console.  I counted about 46 but some may be placeholders.

    Over all looks?  Meh, esp. for an Alfa.  Wasn’t there a Subaru that looked just like the back end?

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Yeah that engine was beautiful, inside and out. One of the best exhaust notes, ever. I believe the 164 is pictured in the dictionary under “torque steer,” though.
    Yes, Farina had a very recognizeable look, then and now. I always thought they had been consulted for the 5th gen Toyota Camry (SXV20).  The only good looking Camry IMHO.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Flying Vagina.

  • avatar
    loan shark

    My dad had one of these as a loaner when he fubar’ed his Peugeot 505 after putting regular gas in instead of the required diesel by accident.  I remember driving the 164 and thinking how cool it was, with so much more power and better handling than the Peugeot.  This car was my first driving experience with torque steer.   All those buttons on the dash were backlit in red and it felt like one was driving inside a computer.   It had excellent seats and was pretty spacious inside given the size of the car.   Of course I had to pop the hood and show my friends the glorious intake runners, none of us had seen anything like that beautiful engine before or since.

  • avatar

    The history of the 164 (and Type 4 project). http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/luxury-and-personal-luxury-cars/169-four-of-a-kind-alfa-romeo-164.html
     
    As for the driving experience — with manual transmission, really quite lovely. The 3.0-liter V6 makes wonderful noises, and the 164S engine has more than adequate power. It handles well, although torque steer can make it squirrely. The driving position is not exactly ideal, and there are about 5,000 buttons on the dash, but it certainly has character. The automatic really pulls the fangs of even the V6; it’s much, much slower than the manual.
     
    As I understand it, the biggest reliability hassle for the 164 is the stepper motors for the automatic climate control system, which will wear out with inevitably expensive consequences. The recommended change interval for the timing belt is 30,000 miles, which is also expensive. For an Alfa, it was not bad, though, and not any worse than the modern Germans.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    Oh how I love these cars… They are just so handsome, and the sound of the V-6 is just intoxicating.  I have only ever ridden in one, but I have always loved it.

  • avatar

    I almost bought one. But better judgement prevailed – not because it was an Alfa, but because the car I looked at was a shadetree mish-mash of bits from an L and an S. It was advertised as a 5 speed S-model, exactly what I was lusting after. Price was a not-unreasonable 3500$ (Canadian). I went to see it on a snowy night in Montreal, it was parked in a suburban garage. I started looking over it and asking basic questions. And then the owners started to flood me with the bad news, with very little provocation. It was actually an L model, but with S suspension pieces. The sunroof didn’t work. Neither did the power seats. Nor did half the electrics. The engine had a perfect service record – perfectly nonexistent, and he “couldn’t remember” the last timing belt change. I began tallying up the service costs in my head… Belt and tensioners being the main deal breaker for me. I wanted to take it for a spin, but the roads were covered in snow and it had summer sport tires. He rolled it into the driveway and I amused myself blipping the throttle and working the shifter, ensconced in a magnificent leather interior with four bucket seats and the nicest array of 80′s switchgear I’ve seen since my parents sold their Audi 4000S. The interior alone would have been enough to sell me, if I had been able to ignore the many faults of this particular example. I walked away very disappointed, my dream of owning a clean, well maintained 164S has been put on hold since then.

  • avatar
    grivetti

    Had the pleasure of driving 3 of the 164′s for a total of over 500,000 miles.  Very comfortable ride, at a far lower cost overall than the competing german models which were interspersed with the Alfa’s.  Only one major engine problem, being a timing belt which prematurely let go and was covered under warranty.  The key might have been the dealer, which was very committed and knowledgeable.  There were some minor problems, electrical and otherwise, but nothing major.  The radio was not the best, so not surprised at the s0urcing. Also drove a 91 spider for over 80K, and in that case the Chrysler input in the upgrades was a major improvement over the prior version.  Overall, very comfortable and distinctive.  Still turn heads due to rarity, and parts aren’t horrible, but it probably helps that getting under the hood is great therapy after a day of dealing with crazed divorcing couples.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Ah, the 164.

    I owned a 1995 164 Quadrifoglio, one of 30 sold for 1995, before Alfa withdrew from the market and left owners high and dry. 

    Driving?  Wonderful.  The 24-valve V-6 was probably underrated at 230 bhp, and as has already been said, the Alfa V-6 makes some glorious noises.   Simply intoxicating.  The car was a beast, easily whipping unsuspecting BMW’s.  And yes, the intake runners are a thing of beauty.

    This was probably the only car I ever owned that caused people to approach me at stoplights, gas stations, etc.  They were so rare and different from the everyday that the 164 always drew a crowd, especially the S and Quad models with their “ground effects” and spoilers.  It was especially popular with the crowd at the 2000 USGP.  Pininfarina hit a home run with the 164.

    These are front drivers, so torque steer could be nasty, and ultimate limits were not that high, but you could drive it rght up to the limit with no worries.  A great cruiser, with good A/C, stereo, comfy seats, big trunk, etc.

    God, I loved that car.

    Now for the Rest of The Storty.

    Reliability? Let’s see. Electronic adjustable shocks, $600 per. Steering rack? $800. Paint? Horrible. HVAC Display? $1,000. Stepper Motor? $600. The 164 EATS tires. That was the cheap stuff.

    Driving back from the Amelia Island Concours, the timing belt failed (at 23K miles), and bent all 24 valves. Money quote from the mechanic: “See this?  1/2 inch of valve clearance is a Very Bad Thing.”  Over $6,700 to rebuild the motor.

    As soon as I got it out of the shop, I sold it. I loved that car, but as a daily driver , a 164 will eat you up and spit you out. 

    Everyone deserves a car like this once in thier life.  Like a bad mistress, you know it will end badly, but you can’t help yourself. 

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I have a moment of contention with the TTAC faithful.
    I believe the Peugeot in question is the 405 model. I bought one of these vehicles several years ago and other than the seats and suspension system, they weren’t worth a damn.
     

  • avatar
    djn

    1991 Base edition bought with 75k.  It now has 192K.  The car is in great shape.   I use it daily.  In general Alfas have been pretty reliable but you can’t treat them as a Japanese car.  The Alfa owner must be mentally engaged in maintenance  or have a check book.  You can’t ignore a strange noises and hope it goes away.   Parts are plentiful, easy and not all that expensive, IF you plan ahead and order from any of the dozen or so internet/mail order vendors.   I’m not a trained mechanic but I’ve done a lot of major work with the guidance of the Alfa Owners Club tech hotlines and the AlfaBB.  I highly recommend a 164 now given resale prices, but get a 5 speed and a good set of wrenches.

  • avatar
    V6

    i love love love these cars, seen a few for sale but too scared to buy one…

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    My God all mighty. Somebody gets it. And that is Paul Niedermeyer. Wow, beautiful cars (Subcaru comparison c’mon get real!), best sounding engines.  Handling like none other. Though I disagree, Fiat had it’s paws (and know-how) deeply into these cars. They were the first after Fiat takeover cars that convinced Alfistas that they’re favorite brand still had a chance. Oh the 147 of that era….

    The 156 and 166 were VERY worthy sucessors. Love them both. As were the GTV and spyder. Gosh, has humanity ever made more glorious cars?

    Now, the 159 and such of today don’t hold a candle to these older cars. They were the first Alfas to come to Brazil (well not exactly as there was an Alfa built in Brazil, when Alfa was still independent). Guess what’s made them so worthy in Brazil, we had a history w/ them (the 2300) , and then they went away, and then they came back. Here’s hoping the new generation abadons the present models strark looks and goes after some more sensual italianate.

    As to personal stories, well my personal speed record was set in a friend’s Alfa (130 mph) before I chickened out. The car had more, much more in it.

  • avatar
    jeffb99tx

    I have owned a 1994 164 LS since 2004 and love it very much. The steering is spot on, not too light or heavy, and the 1994 models received a revised interior and slight exterior changes. I love the luxury interior features. It is set up for crusing the Autostrada and it will go 145 miles per hour. At 80 miles per hour, it wants to keep going. My car is dark blue with tan interior and I call it my Alfa Romeo quatroporte. I have a very trusted mechanic who takes good care of it, but yes, finding replacement parts takes a bit of planning. Several venders here in the US go out of their way to keep parts for this car in stock. Overall, I enjoy it very much. Cheers, Jeff

  • avatar

    My name is Alfisto Steve I am an Alfa164holic. See my ramblings over here http://www.alfaBB.com under 164 tab. I have driven Italian cars since 1980 such as Fiats, Lancias and now only Alfas.

    I have been driving an Alfa 164 since Jan 1991 when I took my white 164B 5-speed on a 1000 miles test drive. I bought the car in Feb and registered it with DMV with 1029 miles on it. I got $5000 off sticker buying this used demo and since I put the 1000 miles on it wasn’t to worried about the “high milege”. I still have this car now with 215,000 plus miles on original engine.

    My daughter also drives a 91 164B with 183,000 miles and I also put her boyfriend in a 164L now with about 140,000 miles. Both are silver and automatics.

    My latest daily driver ride is a Beautiful black 91 164L w/AT that has 184,000 miles.

    Granted I have had all of the issues mentioned here and on http://www.alfaBB.com with these cars. I have driven many, owned many still own to many and rescued/repaired many both mine and others owned by fellow Alfisti.

    Did I happen to mention I drive a 164? Some pix here: http://www.cardomain.com/ride/2956365

    The Italians taught it to dance and sing as David E. Davis once said.

  • avatar
    Alfisto Steve

    What else can I say about the 164 just ask me.

    Here is a Peter Vack article about the 164 using pictures and some info about my 1991 White 164B Originale:

    http://www.velocetoday.com/cars/cars_74.php

  • avatar

    Want the truth about the 164? It was a great car. It is a great car. And it remains so underpriced, even if you have to fix a few things (I think of restoration as an opportunity to upgrade with higher performance parts).

    I had two at once, a 92 manual 3.0 L and a 93 auto 3.0 L, from about 1996 to now: the manual from about 70k to 120k, which I traded to a friend for a big favor, and the auto from about 110k to 150k, which is still my daily driver. We just drove this 18 year old car from Cleveland snow to Austin record heat, and it did fine, even with a MIA engine cooling fan. It has spent many winters in the snow and has no noticeable body rust. The Alfa is a sure footed car in heavy snow.

    Debunking Myths: It’s not at all a quirky car — it is actually very solid in all meanings of the word. The auto transmission better suits the car than the manual — the torque steer is a problem on the manual, not the auto, and the auto has the shift-down program, which is a completely different experience from most coast-in-high-gear auto transmissions. It’s hard to use the gear selector to downshift the auto on the run, but if you plant the accelerator, it will happily drop two gears and take off, and it is always easy to find the right gear exiting a sweeper, using the foot. My AC stepper motor still works fine. The leather seats can be amazing, or can just be ok. In either case, the leather is better than the velour. The car is not unreliable compared to others I have owned (fewer electrical problems than a Jaguar XJ6, cheaper than a 944, recently no more expensive than a Subaru). I think I have been stranded twice — when I blew the rotor cap off while accelerating quickly uphill, and when I threw a water pump belt when the pump died. The instrument panel is completely intuitive and quick and easy to use, once you get used to it. The engine makes lovely sounds, but you will more likely appreciate how it feels at the pedal when the air is dense and cool. It doesn’t take specialized knowledge to work on the Alfa — many mechanics have contributed well to keeping mine going. The car eats brake pads faster than tires, but doesn’t do either in excess. The driving positions are excellent — really very good — anyone who says otherwise is strangely proportioned or has not actually driven the car.

    Genuine weaknesses: It handles well, but is limited by body roll (FWD is not actually an issue, as it is lively in big sweepers and too heavy to squirt around corners). You want to upgrade the springs on any 164 if you want to hustle it around bends. It has mediocre mpg — 16 and 25, on premium 93 octane. And it has terrible door locks in cold weather. One can upgrade the door handles so they don’t break when frozen, but they are still prone to freezing. The clutch on the manual tended to heat up and stick in traffic on hot days. It has a great Cd, but the location of the license plate in the front is not aerodynamic, and the shapes of the side mirrors could be better.

    Hidden strengths: The interior has many artistic touches that most will take years to notice, such as the lighting and their switches, the seat heater buttons, and the cross sections of the headrests/arm rests. The 164 alfa triangle is one of their best ever. The car interior is spacious for its narrow exterior width, and it will haul quite a bit of weight and volume without complaint. The car only really complains when it is just started and taken on the road before warming up. The car is amazingly well composed at speeds above 70mph, and compared to my Legend coupe, XJ6, 260e, 280se 4.5, 380sl, 924, or 944, all of which were capable at speed, it would seem to be hands down the safest car at european high speeds, with the best highway dynamics. Many owners have noticed that putting a racing lucky charm alfa triangle just behind the front wheel well makes the side view look terrific.

    I don’t really care how fast this car is — a 12v has plenty of torque, and the feel of the car is more dependent on the quality of the air. Speaking of which, the ANSA sport exhaust is worth the price, and I put Porterfield pads over ATI rotors to upgrade an already excellent braking system. If you are really serious, swap the stock air box with a power stack, and you’ll unleash a lot more power until the MAF sensor gets dirty and you have to replace it. I don’t think this car could benefit from supercharging, since it is already a heavy car designed for high speed composure, not outright acceleration. It is just not the right chassis for 250+ lb-ft. As Jeremy Clarkson says, an Alfa is engineered to be about as good as a car can be (for a short time), and you should just accept that the 164 is a european executive highway burner, NOT a Ford Mustang V8 or a 911. It’s not so much aimed to beat the 300e or 528i as it is meant to be its own car. BTW, even though it is a 20 year old design, it feels very modern — not like a current design, but certainly years ahead of other late 80′s/early 90′s competitors, certainly on par with a recent A4 or S40. Apparently Maximas were also good in that era, and I do know firsthand that the 300zx 3.0 feels a lot like the Alfa 164 3.0.

    Of all the cars I’ve mentioned, I prefer the 164. It is the best reflection of who I am, though the Jag came close in stature, and the 4-cylinder Porsches were much more entertaining. As an Italian, I prefer the Pininfarina 2000 to the 164, just because it is open and raw, and the 164 does not shout its Italian-ness. I do prefer the 164 to the Alfa spider 2000 … the 164 is so well thought out and well balanced, while the graduate spider is such an uneven beauty. Both are classic Alfas, but the 164 blends the heart and the mind.

  • avatar
    JJJJJS

    Funny, I just bought a 164 and it happens to be the exact same one pictured in this article. Incidentally it is a 1993 model, not a 1991 as the title of the article mentions.


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