My Alfa Romeo
The Alfa Romeo 164 was first unveiled in 1987 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It was introduced to the American market in 1991. The 164 was considered the first of the “new generation” of Alfa Romeos and it was quite successful in Europe, attracting driving enthusiast who wanted an affordable and reliable sports sedan as an alternative to the German offerings of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. It was Alfas first, large front wheel drive, Executive Class, 4-door saloon. In the U. S. market, two models were offered: the 164 which was the base model with a cloth interior; and the 164L which was the luxury model with a full leather interior. Both models were powered by an impressive 3.0L (185 H.P.) V-6 engine. The Alfa 164 proved to be a comfortable and sure-footed car, with distinctively sporting character matching the marquees heritage and tradition. The motoring press of the day gave the 164 high marks as a worthy successor to the company’s sports car and motorsports tradition.
My Alfa Romeo
I was about ready to turn in my Audi Quattro for a new company car, and I wanted something different. Something not too ostentatious, something conservative so that the employees and shareholders wouldn't think we were diluting the per share earnings. After considerable research, a Saab seemed to meet those qualifications.
The local Saab dealer was Sports & Specialist Cars. They sold Saab's plus a few other more exotic marquees. I visited the dealership and began giving the Saab a closer look. Saab's are (or were) very well build, solid cars manufactured in Sweden by a company that also made aircraft; it was well engineered and was known for its safety and quality. It was a quirky car, not for everybody, and it met the criteria set by the company auto policy. The policy basically said that it must be a four-door sedan and meet a certain price limit. Otherwise, the executive could select any car they liked. Since I was in charge of writing and administering that policy, I made sure that I also lived up to the rules and spirit of the program.
I walked around the Saab showroom kicking tires and familiarizing myself with the different models. Their model range was limited, but the Model 9000 seemed to meet mine, and the company's, requirements. It was conservative and had four-doors.
There were mainly Saab's on the showroom floor since that was their biggest seller, but Sports & Specialist Cars was also an Alfa Romeo dealer. There was only one Alfa in the showroom, but it occupied center stage. It was a model 164L in dark metallic green with a mustard yellow leather interior. It was an absolutely stunning combination! It made the Saabs, by comparison, look pretty boring. If you're an Alfisti, you know that the 164 was a four-door sedan. It was designed by the renowned Italian designer studio, Pininfarina. Pininfarina has designed some of the most beautiful cars in the world including Ferrari, and they certainly hit a home run with the 164 Alfa Romeo design. Under the hood, it was equally stunning. Alfa makes great engines, and the horizontal V-6 filled the engine bay completely and gleamed with chrome and polished aluminum components. I circled the Alfa several times on complete sensory overload, my heart palpating. To my educated car guy eye, the car was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. As my vision cleared and my pulse rate normalized, I looked at the window sticker, and not unexpectedly, the price of the Alfa was well beyond my company's policy guidelines.
The salesman, timing his move, approached me and asked if I would like to take a test drive. I'd never driven an Alfa and of course I jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel even knowing that it was above my price bogey. He maneuvered the car out of the showroom, handed me the keys and said, "Enjoy."
The highly engineered V-6 had a throaty rumbling sound as the exhaust flowed through the headers and sporty stainless steel exhaust system announcing that this was not your father's Oldsmobile. The handling and acceleration of this car was amazing. The Alfa drove like it was on rails, and it was agile and responsive. It was a very fast car; designed for the Italian Autostrada and the German Autobahn...it was the complete package.
As I returned to the dealership, the salesman waited ready to make a deal, but I knew that the window sticker, and my company's price limit, was too large a gap to bridge even with my superb negotiations skills. I told the salesman my concerns and gave him my limit. This was January 1993, and he said that he may be able to find a hold-over 1992 that might meet my price. The 1992 and the 1993s were identical. Without hesitation, I told him that if he could find the exact same paint and leather combination, at my price level with a 5-speed manual transmission, I (the Company) would buy the car. He said he'd try.
A few days later he called me at the office and said he had located a brand new 1992 in nearby Pennsylvania that met all of my qualifications including the price. The deal was done. Forget about conservative, dull and boring...Alfa Romeo was never accused of that...and she was mine!
Alfa is now owned by Fiat, the Italian car maker. Fiat's reputation for quality was not that good and, in fact, people who drove them said Fiat stood for: "Fix It Again Tony." I had been driving the Alfa now for about two weeks and within two blocks of my home the 164 stopped dead. The impressive array of warning lights on the dash instrument cluster all lit up at once like a Christmas tree, and the car refused to restart. It was an immediate "Ah-Shit" moment! Fortunately, I was on neighborhood streets, and I was able to easily push the Alfa off the road and walk home. I called the dealer, and he immediately sent out a roll-back and towed the car into service.
As I was walking home, I couldn't help but think of the "Fix-It-Again-Tony" slogan. Fiat was notorious for electrical gremlins, but this was an Alfa, not a Fiat; it had to be better. Well, the next day the service manager, Juliano, called and said they had found a loose ground wire, tightened it, and the car was ready to go. That was the last problem I ever had with it. I liked it so much, I bought the Alfa from the company and drove it for ten years rolling up over 74,000 enjoyable miles. It was a great, memorable automobile.
In fact, with my penchant for cleanliness, I entered the Alfa twice in the prestigious New Hope Auto Show in New Hope, Pennsylvania and won First-in-Class both times...the car was that nice.
Alfa left the United States market in 1995, due to low volume sales, excessive Federal government regulations and a poor dealer network. But, as you probably know, Chrysler is now owned by Fiat and there has been speculation that Alfa will re-enter the U.S. market under the Chrysler dealer network. I've traveled to Italy many times on business over the past several years, and Alfa Romeo has just gotten sexier and better. In my opinion, it is one of the most exciting marquees in the world, and I wish them success in their market re-entry. If and when they return, buy one; you won't be disappointed.
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