Fiat took over Alfa Romeo while the Alfa 164 was in development, so the car is considered the last independent model of that illustrious marque. In fact Fiat’s influence anticipated the 164’s genesis by years, because in 1978 Alfa Romeo had agreed to co-build the Type Four chassis with Fiat, who made it their Croma model, Lancia (Thema) and Saab (Saab 9000).
By the time it appeared, the Alfa 164’s design had benefited from each of the others, just as it had from the Ferrari Testarossa, the project Sergio Pininfarina completed before designing the Alfa 164. With his habitual genius, Pininfarina synthesized all of this, adding references to Alfa Romeo’s own, earlier Alfetta (famous for its ‘long nose, square light’), and created the best, four-door, executive saloon ever made to that date by Alfa. It was a smack in the eye for the Mercedes, BMW and Audi club. The Alfa Romeo 164 was front-wheel drive fun. Its 3 litre V6 engine said so, growling loudly.
At the same time, no function, system, gadget or executive motoring toy was ignored in the 164’s attention to driver and passenger comfort. Everything was power-adjustable, remote-controlled, pushbutton-sensitive, or merely tinted to attract unwanted paparazzi. What wasn’t electronic in the engineering was computer-guided, and its surefooted road handling and agility defined the 164 as art exemplar of Alfa Romeo’s best traditions.
It was even good enough to override Alfa’s reputation as the stylish buffoon broken-down by the side of the highway — though undeniably there were still problems, if not with the magnificent engine. The 164 set a standard for development testing that everyone else had to imitate; and while Pininfarina made sure that its styling would become a landmark in automotive design, it was one which could never quite be followed.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Italy
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1988 (until 1997)
ENGINE: 2,959 cc V6
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 139 mph (224 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The ‘Pro Car’ series was a 1980s Formula One race curtain-raiser, in which famous drivers raced a ‘silhouette’ (i.e. more-or-less body shell) car based on a high performance road car. When the BMW M1 ceased production, a new ‘silhouette’ car had to be chosen to be modified. Alfa Romeo’s racing division built a ‘silhouette’ 164 with the only Alfa Romeo V10 engine ever built — and its bodyshape made its top speed of 210 mph (338 km/h) quicker than the F1 cars. It never raced.