The 164 has three siblings in the form of the Fiat Croma, Saab 9000 and Lancia Thema. In truth, the development was not as shared as it might be, and the Alfa boasts the most redefined body – courtesy of Pininfarina. It was the first successful big Alfa, and with good reason. The front-wheel drive chassis was sublime, it was filled with toys that actually worked and you could feel that typical Alfa Romeo passion every time you climbed aboard.
Depreciation was tragic. The secondhand market was not convinced about the car’s abilities and that image remains. Ignore the naysayers though – this is one of the most underrated cars of all time. Engine choices are a perky twin-spark four-cylinder or the glorious V6 in different tunes – the 230bhp Cloverleaf 24v being the most potent and desirable.
Alfa Romeo 164 V6 Cloverleaf 24v
Power (bhp@rpm) 230bhp@6300rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 207lb ft@5000rpm
Top speed 152mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
A large proportion of the 164 was galvanised, so typical Italian-esque rust was virtually banished. The key rot area is the rear wheelarches – easily visible when you open the rear door. Corrosion here can spread to the sills and restoration costs can quickly add up. Underneath, check the front subframe – it can be very costly to repair. The rear crossmember can suffer too, though replacement is not tricky. The front fog lights are vulnerable to cracking, and mirror mounts lose their paint due to electrolytic reaction.
All engines are tough and reliable if looked after, so service history is essential if the price is high. The Twin Spark has a timing chain which can rattle, but replacement is simple. The timing belt replacement on the V6 is not so easy due to limited access and special tools needed. It needs changing every 30,000 miles. Ask when it was last done and budget on a specialist charging at least £400. The fuel injection systems are generally reliable, but make sure the engine is cold before starting it up – the vendor may be trying to mask a cold start issue if the engine feels warm. The radiator can fall apart, and check that the cooling fan cuts in. When air-con is fitted, the slow speed fan can fail. Cook one of these engines and the head gaskets are fairly certain to blow.
The manual gearbox is generally reliable, but the clutch can feel heavy. They were like that from new. The automatic transmission is by German manufacturer, ZF and generally fault-free. Watch for slipping in gear or thumping changes. Note that the auto model has a very poor turning.
Worn bushes and springs will create a dreadful ride and sloppy handling. Watch for a front end that seems too low and any knocking on the move. Brakes are merely adequate, and little-used examples can suffer from binding calipers. Feel the wheels after a test drive to see if one feels hotter than the others. Any juddering through the pedal suggests warped discs.
The Cloverleaf has adaptive damping. When it fails, it defaults to Sport mode, giving an overly firm ride but still displaying ‘Normal’ on the display. It’s tricky and expensive to put right.
Make sure everything works, including the electric release for the boot. The heater controls feature electrically driven cogs, which can fail. Door window motors can slow down with age and where fitted, electric seat motors can seize through lack of use. A gentle tap will probably get them working again.
These cars are well overdue a stronger following, so offer superb value. Avoid rough old dogs, though there are few of these remaining. The Twin Spark offers relatively low running costs and a lot of fun, but it’s the spine-tingling V6 that rightly gets most attention. Even in 12v form, it’s an absolute joy with strong performance and a delicious soundtrack. It’s such a good engine and sadly, many a 164 has died as an engine donor. Buy a good 164 and you’ll have found a great way to start every petrol-head’s dream – Alfa Romeo ownership.