Is it time for the Alfa 155 to emerge from the shadows? Remember its Touring Car Championship heyday, then decide...
The 155 was the first Alfa built under Fiat ownership, and the first big Alfa with front-wheel drive, being based on the Tipo platform. IDEA did the wedge-shaped styling. Introduced in 1992, the 155 came initially with Alfa-designed engines; in the UK, we had 1.8 and 2.0 four-cylinder engines, plus a 2.5-litre V6.
From 1995, the Series II cars had wider front tracks, developed from and for racing, and front wing blisters to cover them. They also had two new four-cylinder engines, both with 16-valve Alfa heads and variable inlet cam timing on Fiat blocks.
Rather special were the Cloverleaf model (Lancia Integrale four-wheel drive system plus 190bhp turbocharged 16-valve 2.0-litre) and the 1994 homologation-special Silverstone edition, with adjustable rear spoiler and extendable front air splitter plus the 1.8-litre engine.
ALFA ROMEO 155 2.0 16-valve
Power (bhp@rpm) 150bhp@6200rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 138lb ft@4000rpm
Top speed 130mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Sadly, the 155 conforms to the Italian stereotype in that it rusts. It’s not as bad as earlier monocoque Alfas, but you should start by checking round the wheelarch lips, especially at the rear. Open the boot and look around – a damp smell means you should investigate carefully. Although these cars were all undersealed from new, the application seems to have been a bit half-hearted. You’d be wise to get a 155 up on a hoist and have a good poke around with a screwdriver underneath.
Check the paint, too. A lot of 155s suffer from paint that fades, blisters or loses its lacquer. The cost of a respray will likely exceed the value of the car.
All the four-cylinders are Twin Spark types, and some noise from camshaft and tappets is common but not serious. Only purists will prefer the two-valve types to the later four-valvers, which are more driveable. The penalty is that the later engines have belt-driven camshafts, and the belts need to be changed every 36,000 miles or three years. You have to change the belt for the balancer shaft at the same time. With high mileages comes the need to change the pulleys, tensioners and variator (which alters the timing of the inlet camshaft). Crank position sensors can fail, leaving non-starters. You need to know the service history of these engines.
The V6 is a smaller-capacity derivative of the classic engine that powered the 164 saloons and GTV coupés, and makes glorious noises. Loud noises from the downpipes are unwelcome, though, as they are expensive to replace. Check carefully for overheating, as water pump impellers can crack, and early engines had strange sealing arrangements which give way. Again, these are belt-driven engines and changing the belts is a notoriously difficult job that’s best left to specialists.
The gearchange should be slick and the clutch light. Beware of clutch troubles because the engine and gearbox have to come out together for major work. The steering on post-1995 cars (but not the V6) was changed for a faster rack, and this later one is a joy to use. Brakes are discs all round (ventilated at the front), and should need only very light pedal pressure. Enthusiastically-driven cars may well need new discs, so take a good look.
If the steering doesn’t feel right, or the car seems to wander, there will be problems in the front suspension. Bushes and ball-joints are best seen as consumables and aren’t particularly costly. Be prepared to change the front wishbones in their entirety, and listen for a knocking on corners which may indicate worn anti-roll bar bushes.
The interior has a sporty ambience, with velour upholstery and it features wood on the Super models. Check that all the switches do what they should, because electrical problems (especially with relays) are common. If the car has a sunroof, check that it works properly.
The Alfa 155 is one of those distinctive cars from the early 1990s that haven’t yet acquired classic status. They have gained a kind of cult status, though, and that’s a double-edged sword. Some are being properly looked after, while others are being run into the ground just because they are cheap and ‘different’. So you should bear all that in mind before jumping head-first into ownership. Buy one because you like the car, because you’d always wanted one when you were younger, or because you want distinctive everyday transport. Don’t expect to make money on it in the short term, but do enjoy it for what it is.