The 164

Developing a new car can be very expensive. During the late 1970s Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Saab and Lancia decided to share some costs and between them they produced what was called their Type Four platform, which was a front wheel drive engine and chassis layout. This meant that not only could they save on development costs but they could also benefit from economies of scale by sharing body parts amongst themselves.

Alfa Romeo at the time was unprofitable and the Italian government agency that controlled it was getting impatient and so a good profitable line was needed. The company decided that it was time to build a large executive car to compete with the likes of the Ford Granada and the Mercedes-Benz E class, based on the type four platform.

The Pinninfarina designed, luxurious and spacious 164 V6 was a result and it was launched in 1988 to a receptive market. With a 3 litre V6 engine creating 228 brake horsepower it had power aplenty; top speed was an excellent 152 mph and it could go from nought to 60 within seven seconds. Many steel parts were galvanised, so it didn't rust too much. There were luxuries such as automatic climate control, and the leather covered seats were not only heated but also electrically adjusted. Anti-lock brakes, an electronically controlled suspension system, and an engine supported by hydraulic mounts to iron out vibration made this, on the face of it, an excellent car.

It had not one but three computers controlling engine management, instruments, and the Aircon system; and a microchip controlled the dashboard functions.

More variants followed, offering different levels of trim and different engines, including even turbocharged options.

This car was really Alfa Romeo's last throw of the dice and they were taken over by Fiat before it was available for sale. The Fiat executives must have been very pleased that it was such a good seller; more than a quarter of a million of them were sold before production ended in 1988; but they would have been less pleased with the warranty claims.

The car was packed with electronic wizardry but this meant that it needed the most complicated wiring harness that Alfa Romeo had ever fitted. To compound the problem, there was a battery of buttons, every one of which looked identical to the rest, to control the various electronic functions and pressing the wrong ones at the wrong time could lead to unexpected consequences. Minor problems very quickly became major ones when faults started to develop and motor engineers who were called in to fix them could only gaze in wonder at the huge mass of wiring that they were expected to make sense out of. Oh and timing belts (which should have been changed after every 50,000 miles) had a habit of snapping well before then, with expensive consequences. Result? These cars suffered from horrible depreciation.

Yes the 164 was a sales success which brought in much needed funds but it also lost Alfa Romeo a great number of fans, and prestige, in the process.

Next - the Brera V6