As this is the season of giving, I thought what better thing to do than give myself an Alfa 164?
I sold these cars new when I was GM of the Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa and Lotus dealership in Portland. Coming on the heels of the butt-in-the-air Milano, with its quirky interior, the 164s were a delight. They were the first Alfa a grownup wearing a suit could drive to work.
While I never owned one, I went on my first press trip to drive them at their launch, courtesy of Alfa PR rep Craig Morningstar. I also put miles on demonstrators.
Sadly, Alfa pulled out of the U.S. market after the 1995 model year, and the few 164s sold here became orphans.
Like many Italian cars, Alfa left the finishing touches like making the HVAC stepper motors work properly, up to the owners and their mechanics to sort out. High repair costs and plummeting values lead to many examples becoming neglected and eventually abandoned and scrapped. At Alfa gatherings, they are rarer than Milanos.
Right now, I know you are humming to yourself the refrain from “Fools Rush In,” which is also known as “The SCM Collecting Theme Song.”
You might wonder why, with nine cars, I would need another. And especially one that has been blacklisted by the collector-car community.
We are in the rainy season here in Portland, and I had a first-world problem discussion with myself. “I don’t want to take any of the other Alfas, the Duetto, Giulia Spider Veloce, nor Junior Zagato out in bad weather. Ditto the Lotus Elise, Jaguar V12 coupe or Citroën DS21.”
We’re saving the Land Rover Discovery II for snow days. (“Always be prepared,” is our motto, too.) I don’t mind driving the Mercedes SL55 AMG in the rain, but it has only two seats, so no room for dogs or extended family.
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata is a safe and sane option, but what fun is that?
So suddenly a vision of a 164 danced in my head.
First, I checked with our local guru, Nasko, who has been taking care of my Alfas for 40 years. “I am not afraid of 164s, even the 24V models,” he said. “Try to get a good one though.” Of course!
My research started. I need an automatic, which is a plus. I surmise the few 164s that still exist that have ZF four-speeds are likely to be in good condition and to not have been driven as hard as cars with manuals.
SCMer Fred Russell helped me decode the cars. He said a 1994 LS 24-valve would be just the ticket. The 24-valve motors are more powerful than the 12-valve versions, but much harder to work on. 1995 models have two airbags, which makes getting behind the dash more difficult.
I have posted on the Alfa BB and in the Facebook forums; a car owned by a club member is probably my best bet. I’ve found an interesting one in SoCal with 150,000 miles on it for $5,000. That’s less than I spent having the motor and tranny mounts replaced on my Porsche 928.
A friend reminded me that 150,000 miles on the Mercedes SL is one thing, 150k on an Alfa 164 is a completely different proposition. It’s more like going to the moon and back.
The SoCal car has been maintained by Alfa Performance Connection, and the seller says the timing belt, heater core, etc. have all been serviced. (Should I be worried by words like “etc.”?)
The SCM collection could have a wet-weather, four-door, front-drive, 229-hp run-around car. Surely, we need one. And surely ours would be the one magic Cinderella 164 that was devoid of electrical gremlins or surprises. And would be reliable, day in and day out, never leaving me stranded and with the ancillaries always working as designed.
Recall the SCM mantra as we embark on another expedition of acquisition: “What could possibly go wrong?”
If you want to sell me yours, or share your opinion about the 12-valve vs. the 24-valve cars, or just tell me why this might not be the smartest decision I have made in my collecting acquisitions, post in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing your opinions.
I had a GREAT 1995 164LS that was a 5 speed in dark metallic green that was my daily driver for 5 years and 90,000 miles. Everything worked on that car, and I had Rich Ott at Alfeta Motors to rely on for good quality maintenance. I did a clutch, brakes and fluid changes, and tires, of course.
However the dreaded day came when she would not, after exhaustingly trying different things, pass California’s rather draconian emission test, and I was told the parts to get it to pass were “unobtainable”
So the car went to a good cause, as I sold it to the lead race mechanic for a LEMONS car that was campaigned by the Marin Lexus dealer who transplanted that beautiful beast 3.0 liter 24 valve motor into a Milano that looked like a true fright pig. I never found out if the car won or even finished.
As a side note, I had a really clean, low mileage red Milano Verde that I started driving as my daily driver. ( Hey, I needed a car and there it was!)
That was a big mistake. The Milano was do pristine, near perfect inside and out, but driving it every day 35 miles in commute traffic – it started developing “quirks.”
When an airline pilot heard about the car and saw it, he immediately offered me top dollar at the time, and I sold it. He used this car as a tow car for his motorhome!
So I would say go all in on a nice clean automatic 164LS, and enjoy a smooth, powerful and solid riding car that will get stares and conversation everywhere you go.
No! Enough Alphas already in the SCM collection, and this is not even a nice looking car, regardless of performance! Just my 2c.
In the 164 vintage, Alfa was an engine supplier to Indycar. At the 1991 Indy 500 there were 164s (“Ls” mostly) porting around Patrick Racing team members. They were all black and very cool. I had a 1991 164s 5-speed not to long afterwards that I wish I still had. The Busso motor is a gem and the Italian interior is to die for. With the racing connection, any Alfa is a good choice. A 164 would be a perfect complement to port around the SCM team!
Other than your wish to rescue an orphan (a noble gesture, for sure), I am not sure what the appeal is. The car does not appear very attractive in design.
Have a love/hate relationship with Alfa-Romeo. Never actually owned one but had a demo when working at a Chicagoland Dealer back in the ‘70’s as a Parts Director. Not sure if it was a case of forgone service by owners or what. Each car coming in for service would be given a head gasket job. Didn’t think their later engines were badly designed. It just seemed patrons lack of knowledge and proper maintenance caught up. Cars drove very nicely, particularly the Spiders. Craig Morningstar must have been the nicest factory rep I ever met. He looked at life and Alfa-Romeo in a lightly distorted way. At the end of the day if asked to perform something, he got it done for you. It was sad to see the Marque leave the US when it did. The lack of faith coupled with serious financial straits probably led to its’ downfall. Happy to see them back though wonder if it is too little too late. Wish Keith the very best with his quest.
I think that you should. I am finding myself drawn to the less obvious, in both my collection and at shows. I had the pleasure of taking my friend’s son through the Pomona Swap meet corral this weekend, as his Dad was selling VW parts. He got so excited when he saw an old Buick or the 2 Goliath’s that we came across. He was amazed since these out of the ordinary cars were a new experience for him. By the way the 2 VW powered Goliath’s were a new one for me and had me questioning a 10th car myself. So, if you find one, make it yours!
I think the 164S in particular will be “discovered” for the rarity it is (and becoming) and will not only be appreciated but will finally start to appreciate in value. My 1991 slumbers in my hangar while the ’65 SS undergoes the metal work portion of it’s restoration and then the ’74 Spider is next on the list for a freshening up. The 164 will need a clutch and some brake line work (Northeast rust!) but will eventually hit the road again. I bought it two years old in ’93 and it was my daily driver for several years. I’m keeping it! I think you will like yours when you find it. Cheers!
And Happy Holidays!
I had a red 1991 164S as a daily driver here in Ct. for nearly 20 years. Had a set of Blizzaks mounted on an extra set of rims to get through the winters here. I’m a working musician so I would have to drive 60 miles or so home from a gig at 2:00am going through 6-8 inches of snow that fell while I was playing.It actually went well with the snows on.
Loved the design,engine, handling, space for my gear. Heater was weak, ditto the a/c. It was very reliable and had only trivial stuff go wrong. When the stepper motor finally went I had to ply Keith Goring of Alfa’s Unlimited with 3 glasses of wine at a Alfa Party before he would agree to do it !! I bailed out when parts got too difficult to find. Stupid stuff like drivers side interior door handles made of unobtainium that broke every 5 years etc. By that time I had a 4C for my Alfa fix. It’s all about maintenance, knowing an experienced mechanic, and a parts source.Do it !
My son has a 1995 164Q with the Busso V6. Like most Italian cars, it mostly sits in his garage in Columbus OH, these days awaiting a timing belt transplant which is due. He’s got the know-how and I think he’s got the parts, but he’s also got a 2002 Carrera 2/4 that’s been demanding his time of late.
Anyhow, “Viva Italiano” or whatever. Buy the thing, enjoy it, and watch it appreciate in value. I’ve got a couple of Italian cars in my garage too (a ’67 Intermeccanica Italia Coupe and an ’81 Lancia Zagato, both needing a bit of attention to get them 100% roadworthy), and I sleep well at night just knowing they are there and well cared for. And that I’ll never run out of projects.