Four of a Kind: The Alfa Romeo 164 and the “Type Four” Cars

Fast, luxurious, and stylish, with a thoroughly modern platform shared with Saab, Fiat, and Lancia, the 1988-1997 Alfa Romeo 164 could have been the hit to resuscitate Alfa’s flailing business and put the company on the map in the German-dominated executive car market. Unfortunately, it was the last model Alfa developed before falling into the arms of Fiat, and it had the dubious distinction of being the last Alfa sold in the U.S. This week, we look at the 164 and its “Type Four” siblings: the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema, and Saab 9000.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164S grille

INDUSTRIAL DISEASE

The 1970s were a difficult time for all automakers, but particularly for smaller, more upscale European brands like Jaguar and Alfa Romeo. Their modest volume made for higher per-unit costs, which in turn left them very vulnerable to inflation and market fluctuations. Some small automakers could barely survive even in healthy economic times; Italy’s venerable Lancia was faced with such a mountain of debt that Fiat bought it for a pittance in 1969.

The economic conditions of the seventies, of course, were anything but healthy. Skyrocketing inflation, political unrest, and energy crises hit auto sales hard, particularly in Europe. Manufacturers responded with layoffs and wage cuts, which in turn became a casus belli for the unions, whose members were already suffering the impact of inflation. The result was a long string of contentious and occasionally violent labor disputes.

1991 AlfaRomeo 164L Alfa badge
Originally known as A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili), Alfa Romeo was founded in 1910. The “Romeo” portion of the name came from managing director Nicola Romeo, who joined the company in 1915.

Alfa’s popularity was at its height in the late sixties, but its financial health had never been particularly robust. The Milanese automaker had been forced to seek government assistance in the 1930s, and since 1948, it had operated under the auspices of Finmeccanica (a contraction of Società Finanziaria Meccanica, roughly “financial engineering company”), a government-owned industrial conglomerate. Alfa’s sales — about 109,000 units in 1970 — were decent, but it was still at a competitive disadvantage in an increasingly difficult marketplace.

Hoping to increase its volume while also stimulating the moribund economy of southern Italy, Alfa launched the “Alfasud” (“southern Alfa”) project, a new subcompact built in a newly refurbished factory in Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples. Unfortunately, training an inexperienced workforce to build an entirely new car — Alfa Romeo’s first front-wheel-drive model — proved more challenging than anticipated. The Alfasud was fun to drive, but suffered grievous quality control and corrosion problems. It sold well (893,719 units between 1972 and 1984), but never in the volumes Alfa had hoped.

1970s AlfaRomeo Alfasud front 3q
Introduced in 1972, the Alfasud was the prototypical “hot hatch,” a practical family hatchback that could be driven with considerable gusto, despite the modest power of its DOHC flat-four engine. Sadly, early models had a notorious propensity for rust, which did nothing for Alfa’s reputation. (Photo © 2006 Hans Stedhouder of Garage de l’Est; released to the public domain by the photographer)

In 1978, Ettore Massacesi became chairman of Alfa Romeo, with Corrado Innocenti (formerly of the aviation company Aeritalia) as deputy chairman and managing director. Massacesi and Innocenti grandly proclaimed that they would restore Alfa to profitability within four years, while raising market share to 8%. The company never managed to sustain such numbers for more than brief periods, however, and it remained dangerously overcapacity. The Pomigliano factory alone had been designed to build 450,000 cars a year, but Alfa’s annual volume was seldom much more than half that figure. An ill-fated joint venture with Nissan, ARNA (Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli), did little to help. The company continued to flounder and in early 1982, Massacesi and Innocenti laid off nearly a third of the workforce.

THE SAAB-LANCIA CONNECTION

While Alfa Romeo struggled, their longtime rival, Lancia — which, as we mentioned above, was now owned by Fiat, paired with Autobianchi — was beginning an affair with the Swedish automaker Saab-Scania AB. Like Alfa Romeo, Saab was a brand with a great deal of character but limited resources. The first step of the Lancia-Saab partnership was an agreement for Saab dealers in certain markets to sell the Autobianchi A112 badged as a Lancia. The two companies also pooled engineering resources in the design of the 1980 Lancia Delta, which sold in some markets as the Saab-Lancia 600.

Saab hoped to follow its new 900 with a somewhat bigger, more luxurious model that would take it into the thick of the European executive-car market. The company had done some preliminary studies for such a car, only to discover that they could not afford to develop it alone. Consultation with Lancia soon revealed that Saab’s Italian partner had similar ambitions and a common dilemma. A joint venture was the natural solution; it would allow both companies to split much of the design and engineering costs, making the new models far more economically viable.

In October 1978, Fiat and Saab signed a memo of understanding regarding the development of a new platform for a large, front-wheel-drive car, which would be built in Saab, Fiat, and Lancia versions. The platform would eventually become known as the “Tipo Quattro,” or “Type Four.”

1989 Fiat Croma front 3q
In some respects, the Fiat Croma was a family car in the classic American mode: big and cheap. Stretching 176.9 inches (4,494 mm) long on a 104.7-inch (2,660mm) wheelbase, the Croma was large for a European family car. It was also spacious and attractively priced, although with the 1.6 L (97 cu. in.) gasoline or 1,910 cc (116 cu. in.) turbodiesel engines usually fitted, it was rather underpowered; the optional 1,995 cc (121 cu. in.) DOHC engine, offered in normally aspirated or turbocharged forms, provided much better performance. The Croma’s reliability record was not impressive and it is telling that when the line ended in 1996, Fiat abandoned this market segment until 2005. (Photo @ 2006 Hans Stedhouder and Garage de l’Est; released to the public domain by the photographer)

TIPO QUATTRO

The first three of the Type Four cars were the Fiat Croma, the Lancia Thema, and the Saab 9000, all of which debuted in the 1985 model year. Giorgetto Giugiaro’s ItalDesign created the basic design for all three cars, although each company finalized the interior and exterior details in-house, subject to Giugiaro’s approval. It was not a simple process, compounded by cultural and philosophical differences. Saab design chief Björn Envall, for example, was used to putting practicality above looks, while the Italians’ first priority was aesthetics.

The dimensions of all three cars were very similar, although the Saab had a slightly longer 105.2-inch (2,670mm) wheelbase, 0.5 inches (10 mm) longer than the Italians. The Saab and Fiat were initially only available in five-door hatchback form, albeit with a traditional “three-box” profile that made them look like notchback sedans. (A true notchback version of the Saab 9000 was added later in the model run.) The Lancia Thema was offered only as a four-door sedan, in keeping with its executive-car ambitions. All had MacPherson strut front suspensions and four-wheel disc brakes, although their rear suspensions and engines were different.

1987 Saab 9000 rear 3q
The Saab 9000 was arguably the dowdiest of the Type Four cars, although by Saab standards, it was practically a beauty queen. It was less willfully quirky than the 900 and its optional turbocharged 1,985 cc (121 cu. in.) four-cylinder engine gave formidable performance, but the 9000 remained a cult item in the U.S., where buyers in this price range preferred six- and eight-cylinder engines. The 9000 was the only one of the Type Four models without an independent rear suspension; instead, the rear was a beam axle on coil springs, located by both a Panhard rod and a Watt’s linkage. (Photo © 2008 IFCAR; released to the public domain by the photographer)

Both Saab and Fiat later admitted that the shared platform hadn’t resulted in the kind of cost savings they had hoped for. Although the structure of the three cars was similar enough that doors and other components were interchangeable, the actual number of shared components was very small. Part of the reason was that the cars were not aimed at the same market segment: While the Thema was pitched as an executive car, the Croma was aimed at the large family car market, competing with the likes of the Ford Sierra, Opel Ascona, and Vauxhall Cavalier. Saab, meanwhile, was taking aim at BMW. The Swedish company was also unwilling to compromise its traditional interest in safety, which led to some structural improvements to the 9000 relative to its Italian brethren.

1992 Lancia Thema front 3q
The Lancia Thema was more upscale than the Croma, better equipped, and often fitted with more powerful engines. Early Thema V6 models had the 2,849 cc PRV engine, but this 1992 model, built after Fiat’s acquisition of Alfa Romeo, actually uses the 2,959 cc Alfa (181 cu. in.) V6. The ultimate Thema, however, was the 8.32, which used a 2,927 cc (179 cu. in.) version of the “quattrovalvole” engine from the contemporary Ferrari 308. Rated at 215 PS (212 hp, 158 kW) without a catalytic converter, the 8.32 was only marginally quicker than the considerably cheaper Thema LX Turbo ie and didn’t handle as well; while Lancia managed to quell torque steer with the V8, the 8.32 understeered more than the 2.0-liter car and the ZF Servotronic steering was rather numb. (Photo © 2008 M.J. Evers; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license)

THREE INTO FOUR

Alfa Romeo engineers had been working since the end of the seventies on a new executive car to replace the big Alfetta and Alfa 6 sedans. Initially, the plan was for an all-new, rear-drive car, but with the company sinking ever further into red ink, Alfa could not afford a new platform. The Type Four platform was not exactly what Alfa wanted, but it was close enough under the circumstances. In 1982, Massacesi and Innocenti decided to sign onto the Tipo Quattro project.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164S badge
The Alfa Romeo 164’s model name was also its internal project code. The designation soon proved to be an inopportune choice in certain Asian markets; in Hong Kong, the number 4 was widely considered unlucky because its Cantonese pronunciation is a homophone for death. After understandably sluggish initial sales, the local organization rebadged the car as the Alfa Romeo 168.

ENGULF AND DEVOUR, S.P.A.

As the Alfa Romeo 164 took shape, its maker’s financial problems grew worse. In October 1985, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica exposed an internal memorandum written by Ettore Massacesi that painted a grim picture of Alfa Romeo’s financial health. In the memo, Massacesi frankly admitted that his goals of a financial turnaround had been based on overly optimistic assumptions. Moreover, he alluded to a contentious relationship with Finmeccanica management, which had been publicly critical of Alfa’s policies.

By early 1986, Finmeccanica was looking to divest itself of Alfa Romeo. The greatest interest in the ailing automaker came from the Ford Motor Company, which signed a letter of understanding to purchase a controlling interest in Alfa Romeo over a five-year period for a total investment of about $1.75 billion. To Ford’s frustration, Finmeccanica announced that fall that Alfa would instead be sold to Fiat Group, for the same price Ford had offered. The sale, which was effective January 1, 1987, made Alfa Romeo a wholly owned subsidiary of Fiat. It was paired with Lancia in a new organization called Alfa Lancia S.p.A, chaired by Fiat Auto managing director Vittorio Ghidella.

The transition to Fiat control was not a gentle one. Automotive writer Karl Ludvigsen noted in 2008 that not only were the two firms traditional rivals, the cities of Milan and Turin (where Lancia was founded) had a longstanding animosity. (Ironically, Alfa’s current B-segment car, designed in Milan and built in Turin, is called MiTo — Milano Torino.) Fiat eventually invested more than $1 billion in Alfa, but the cultural impact was less happy. According to Ludvigsen, Fiat management was not interested in being gentle; they had not forgotten that the Alfasud had been a direct assault on Fiat’s traditional bread-and-butter market. Not long after the merger, Ghidella told the press that Alfa’s financial problems were a direct result of the company’s dabbling in the compact-car market.

ALFA ROMEO 164: A GERMAN CAR WITH PERSONALITY

At the time of the Fiat acquisition, the Alfa Romeo 164 was nearly ready for introduction. Its launch was delayed by Fiat management, which cited potentially serious build-quality problems. That charge was particularly ironic because Fiat’s own Type Four car, the Fiat Croma, had at best a mediocre repair record and Fiat quality control had been the subject of cruel humor on both sides of the Atlantic for many years.

In any case, the 164 finally made its public debut at the Frankfurt auto show in the spring of 1987. It went on sale that fall as a 1988 model, about a year and a half behind schedule. RHD drive models for the U.K. didn’t arrive until a year after that.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164S Pininfarina badge
Unlike the other Type Four cars, which were the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Alfa Romeo 164 was designed by (and very publicly credited to) the venerable coachbuilder Pininfarina. Its final form apparently owes much to Alfa Romeo chief designer Enrico Fumia, but the Pininfarina name had considerable prestige value. Pininfarina subsequently irritated Alfa management by recycling many of the 164’s design themes for the 1989 Peugeot 605 (which our American viewers may recall from the film Ronin). Despite the resemblance, the Peugeot was not a Type Four car; it rode the same platform as the Citroën XM.

The last of the Type Four cars, the 164 was also the most distinctive. Its exterior design was a good deal more rakish than its cousins and more aerodynamic as well, with a Cd of 0.30. Although spoiled somewhat by the plastic body kit applied to top-spec models, it remains one of the sharpest-looking sedans of its era. Its interior was stylish, as well, although it had a typically Italian (i.e., awkward) driving position and its dash was adorned with a daunting array of nigh-identical buttons that made the climate control a head-scratcher.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164L front 3q
The Alfa Romeo 164 doesn’t simply look sleeker than the other Type Four cars — it has a significantly lower drag coefficient: 0.30, compared to 0.34 for the Fiat Croma and 0.32 for the Thema.

The 164’s raffish appearance was backed by ample performance. The base engine was Alfa’s excellent 1,995 cc (121 cu. in.) Twin Spark four with 144 hp DIN (106 kW) or a turbocharged version with 175 hp (129 kW). Even the Twin Spark engines provided good performance, but the real star was the optional SOHC V6, widely acclaimed as one of the world’s charismatic engines. In June 1990, Car and Driver clocked a 200 hp (149 kW) Alfa Romeo 164S from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in just under 7 seconds, going on to an actual top speed of 142 mph (229 km/h). The 164’s braking and handling were of a similar order, although torque steer was a constant problem, particularly with V6 models. It was tamed somewhat later in the model run, but the V6’s torque remained capable of wrenching the front wheels off course if not handled with caution.

Still, the 164 looked like a compelling alternative to its Teutonic rivals. It was fast, nimble, well-equipped, and had tremendous character. In a 1993 comparison test, Performance Car‘s David Vivian judged it superior to both the BMW 530i and Jaguar XJ6 3.2S.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164L side
Like its Lancia and Fiat cousins, the Alfa Romeo 164 rides a 104.7-inch (2,660mm) wheelbase and stretches 179.3 inches (4,554 mm) long overall; facelifted models from 1993 on were 183.7 inches (4,660 mm) overall. Not coincidentally, those figures are very similar to the dimensions of BMW’s mid-eighties (E28) 5-Series sedan — a key rival — although the Alfa is smaller than the E34 5-Series introduced in 1988. The 164 is relatively heavy; a V6 L like this one weighs about 3,450 lb (1,565 kg) with automatic.

Alfa Romeo cars had seldom lacked charisma, but assembly quality and reliability were another matter. The 164 was mechanically robust if properly maintained, but fit and finish was not up to German standards, let alone those of the increasingly proficient Japanese. To its credit, the 164 had some of the most extensive corrosion protection Alfa Romeo had ever offered, but its complex electronics — including an LCD dash display and computerized automatic climate control — could be troublesome. Its biggest maintenance headache was the need to change the timing belt every 30,000 miles (48,000 km), an expensive headache that would become more so if neglected.

THE AMERICAN PROBLEM

The Alfa Romeo 164 did not come to the U.S. until 1990, thanks mostly to the decision to overhaul Alfa’s U.S. distribution system. In 1989, Fiat established ARDONA, Alfa Romeo Distributors of North America, as a joint venture with Chrysler, hoping that Chrysler’s familiarity with the American market would help to increase Alfa’s U.S. market penetration. Chrysler soon became frustrated with the factory’s delays in introducing the new model; in 1989, Alfa dealers had nothing to sell but the dated and unreliable Milano sedan and the ancient Spyder convertible. Chrysler withdrew from ARDONA in 1991, leaving Alfa to go it alone.

1991 AlfaRomeo 164L rear3q
The majority of Alfa Romeo 164s worldwide had Alfa’s 1,995 cc (122 cu. in.) Twin Spark four-cylinder engine, but all U.S. models had the SOHC V6. Base and L models had a more mildly tuned version with 183 horsepower (137 kW), while the S had 200 hp (149 kW). These were later replaced by an LS model with 210 hp (154 kW) and the Quadrifoglio, which used a 24V DOHC V6 with 225 hp (168 kW).

It was an uphill battle. As BMW and Mercedes sales skyrocketed and Honda got into the luxury market with its Acura brand, Alfa Romeo had languished, selling only 8,201 cars in the 1986 model year. By 1990, U.S. sales had dropped to under 3,500. At the Alfa Romeo 164’s U.S. introduction, ARDONA president Darrell Davis admitted to Car and Driver‘s John Phillips III that the company desperately needed at least one viable mainstream product.

Sadly, the 164 was not that product. Its most direct rivals in size and price were the Audi 100, the Acura Legend, and its own Saab 9000 cousin, but against those competitors, it came in a distant fourth. It was better-looking than its foes, was equally comfortable, and had vastly more personality, but it simply couldn’t match their stronger dealer networks and better marketing. Moreover, buyers looking to stretch a little further in price could now opt for the Lexus LS400 or Infiniti Q45, which offered Japanese reliability and V8 power. As a result, 164 sales in America were anemic. Only 1,549 were sold stateside in 1990, 2,155 in calendar year 1991, and 1,721 for 1992.

By then, Fiat was prepared to throw in the towel. Both Fiat and Lancia had withdrawn from the U.S. in the early 1980s and Fiat’s willingness to invest more money into that unfamiliar market — particularly on behalf of Alfa Romeo, which still suffered from redheaded-stepchild status within the corporation — was limited. Alfa Romeo held out until 1995, but 164 sales for the combined 1993-1995 period totaled only 1,484. The U.S. would not get subsequent new Alfa models like the striking GTV or 155 sedan at all.

1991 Alfa Romeo 164S front 3q
The U.S. Alfa Romeo 164S was afflicted with rather gaudy plastic body cladding, which may improve high-speed aerodynamics (although we are dubious), but does nothing for the shape. The 164S also had slightly shorter gearing to complement its more powerful engine. It was available only with manual transmission and so accounted for only a small percentage of American sales.

DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Even as its U.S. sales were sputtering, the Alfa Romeo 164’s performance received several shots in the arm. First was a new DOHC 24-valve version of the familiar 2,959 cc (181 cu. in.) V6, offering up to 228 hp DIN (168 kW) and a top speed of 152 mph (245 km/h). Second was the Q4, which addressed the standard car’s torque steer with all-wheel drive, mated to a new six-speed gearbox. (The Q4 was never offered in the U.S.) For the Italian market and other areas with restrictive taxable horsepower rules, there was also a 1,996 cc (122 cu. in.) turbocharged V6 with 202 hp DIN (148 kW). The 1993 and later models also received a modest facelift, most recognizable by a somewhat tacky strip of anodized aluminum circling the entire car just above bumper height.

None of this helped Alfa Romeo’s total sales, which sank 24% for 1993. Alfa had done reasonably well just after the Fiat acquisition, reaching about 225,000 units in 1989 and 1990, but by 1993, it was down to 109,598 units, almost where it had been back in 1970. Alfa wouldn’t cross the 200,000-unit mark again until 1997, with the introduction of the 156. In recent years, it has again been struggling, although Fiat, to its credit, has made a great effort to preserve Alfa’s unique character.

1991 AlfaRomeo 164S rear 3q
All Alfa Romeo 164S models had manual transmission. One of the 164’s problems in the U.S. market was that the six-cylinder engine didn’t mate well with the automatic transmission that most American buyers preferred. Car and Driver found that the automatic positively neutered the 164’s free-revving V6; their July 1991 test of automatic 164L took nearly 10 seconds for the 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) run and had a top speed more than 10 mph (16 km/h) slower than the manual 164S.

The 164 remained in production until June 1997, outliving both the Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema. Total production was 273,857 — decent, but far less than Alfa had hoped. Significantly, it was also well below the 503,087 units ultimately sold by the Saab 9000, a sign of how much the 164 had been hurt by Alfa Romeo’s tarnished reputation, limited sales network, and anemic marketing.

The 164’s successor, the 166, was also a disappointment. Although it had the same inspiring engines and an even sharper suspension, it suffered from dowdy styling and a generally unfinished feel. A 2003 facelift helped, but it was too little, too late; it was dropped in 2007. As of this writing, Alfa has yet to field a replacement, although CEO Luca De Meo said in June 2008 that a successor, the 169, would be launched by mid-2011. Alfa has also talked seriously about returning to the U.S. market, but with the state of the economy, when or if that will happen is anybody’s guess.

Karl Ludvigsen suggests that the failings of the 164 and 166 stem from a deep-seated Italian ambivalence about the class — or, more to the point, about the sort of plutocrats who buy and drive them. We consider that a terrible shame. The modern executive class is full of highly competent vehicles of limited aesthetic appeal (to our mind, former BMW design chief Chris Bangle has much to answer for in that regard), often with about as much personality as an office furniture catalog. In such a market, cars as vivid as the Alfa Romeo 164 — risky though they may be — are sorely missed.

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NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources on Alfa’s travails included the Alfa Romeo company history on Answers.com (www.answers.com/topic/alfa-romeo, accessed 16 April 2009); Giorgio Lonard, “‘Sforzi Insufficienti L’Alfa ‘Fuori Mercato,'” La Repubblica 12 October 1985, Sezione: ECONOMIA, p. 45, ricerca.repubblica. it/ repubblica/archivio/repubblica/1985/10/12/sforzi-insufficienti-alfa-fuori-mercato.html, accessed 19 April 2009, which seriously tested your author’s linguistic skills; Karl Ludvigsen, “Four-Leaf Clover: Lucky This Time?” NextAutos, 16 July 2008, www.nextautos. com/ winding-road-issue-1/four-leaf-clover-lucky-this-time, accessed 19 April 2009; and David Owen, Alfa Romeo: Always with Passion (Haynes Classic Makes) (Sparkford, Nr. Yeovil, Somerset: Haynes Publishing, 1999).

Information on the Type Four cars came from “Alfa Romeo 164 3.0 Lusso,” Autocar & Motor 12 October 1988, pp. 46-53; “Autocar Road Test: Lancia Thema 8.32,” Autocar 27 July 1988, pp. 44-51; Richard Bremner, “Ferraris for Four,” CAR July 1988, pp. 106-113; “Brief Test: Fiat Croma ie Turbo,” Motor 12 July 1986, pp. 22-25; “Brief Test: Lancia Thema V6,” Motor 9 August 1986, pp. 50-52; the Cars from Italy pages on the Croma, Thema, and 164 (www.carsfromitaly. net/ fiat/index.html, www.carsfromitaly. net/ lancia/index.html, www.carsfromitaly.net/alfaromeo/index.html, accessed 16 April 2009); Rich Ceppos, “Saab 9000 Turbo: A car for all reasons,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 6 (December 1985), pp. 79-83; James Cleary, “Starfighter,” Modern Motor,September 1988, reprinted in BMW 5 Series Gold Portfolio 1988-1995, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, Surrey: Brooklands Books Ltd., 1999); “Giant Test: Alfa Romeo 164 Super v BMW 530i v Volvo 850 T-5 Turbo,” CAR January 1994, pp. 98-105; “Giant Test: Fast Risers,” CAR January 1986, pp. 114-123; “Group Test: Type Four Trio,” Motor 28 June 1986, pp. 44-50; Jean Lindamood, “Björn Envall and the Saab 9000: The maverick from Trollhättan meets the toast of Turin,” Car and Driver Vol. 31, No. 6 (December 1985), pp. 85-87; Salvatore Loiacono, “Progetto Fiat Tipo: Errore nell’applicazione,” OmniAuto, 12 November 2002, www.omniauto. it/magazine/211/ progetto-fiat-tipo, 11 May 2013; John Phillips III, “Alfa Romeo 164S,” Car and Driver Vol. 35, No. 12 (June 1990), pp. 72-79; Productioncars.com, Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: Productioncars.com, 2006); Kevin Smith, “Foreigners in the Fast Lane: Seven pricey sedans undergo our acid test,”Car and Driver Vol. 37, No. 1 (July 1991, pp. 54-70; “Test Update: Fiat Croma ie Super: Good Yes, Super No,” Autocar 18 August 1987, pp. 42-45; “Tipo 4,” International Alfa Romeo 164 Register, n.d., www.alfaromeo164register. com/history/ history.php?page=2, accessed 11 May 2013; Colin Verrilli, the Alfa Romeo 164 Home Page, 1998, www.digest.net/alfa/FAQ/164/, accessed 16 April 2009; David Vivian, “All Change (Group Test: Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf, BMW 530i, Jaguar XJS 3.2S),” Performance Car August 1993, reprinted in Jaguar XJ6 Gold Portfolio 1986-1994, e.d. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, Surrey: Brooklands Books Ltd., 1995); Mark Wan, “Fiat Croma,” AutoZine, 25 May 2005, www.autozine.org/Archive/Fiat/old/Croma.html, accessed 3 May 2013; and the Type Four entry on Wikipedia® (en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Type_Four_chassis, accessed 15 April 2009). Although the Peugeot 605 was not a Type Four car, we also consulted William Jeanes, “Peugeot 605 SR3.0: A new executive-length tourer from France,” Car and Driver Vol. 36, No. 9 (March 1991), pp. 84-91.


9 Comments

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  1. Alfa Romeo was probably one of the few government owned car companies ( well, except the ones from Soviet Union)

    1. If only that were true. One of these days, I plan to write about the rise and fall of British Leyland. You can also include Maserati on the list, and — shortly — Chrysler and General Motors…

  2. A well written and researched article. Thanks

    Other government owned car companies over the years have included: Renault – nationalized after WW2 and still 15% owned by the french government.
    Volkswagen – started as a trust, controlled by the West German government, and the government of the State of Lower Saxony, Lower Saxony still owns 20% of the stock. Volkswagen own about 50% of Porsche… so I guess that makes Porsche 10% government owned.
    SEAT was founded as a state company, but now is a member of the Volkswagen group.
    Pegaso of Spain, once one of the most exotic car makers ever was owned by a state owned company.
    Proton the Malaysian automobile manufacturer that also owns Lotus is majority owned by the Malaysian government.

    I’m sure there are many other especially in China and the former Soviet block.
    Some of these companies have been very successful others not.

  3. So glad to see an article of this caliber about the 164! I owned a 1992 164-S for 8 years, between 1999 and 2007. I still miss that car, it was exactly as you describe: Fast, Comfortable, Stylish and so full of character it practically oozed awesome. Absolutely the finest thing about that car, and this is high praise as my 164 experience was overall wonderful, was the 3.0 v6. With the hot "S" cams and an ANSA tailpipe the lumpy idle and throaty WOT roar, transitioning to near Ferrari shriek at 6500 rpm was the most spectacular aural experience I have yet had in an automobile. A buddy of mine who owns and drives American Muscle cars (a ’69 GTO and a 71 Mustang with a 521 crate motor even admits it was a hell of a fine sounding ride. It also delivered power linearly, and effortlessly, returning 32mpg on the highway and turning front tires into smoke at a prodigious rate when prodded firmly with the right foot. The seats were great, the active dual-mode suspension could provide either a plush ride or the kind of nimble handling you would never expect form a heavy front drive sedan, and the materials quality was top notch simply everywhere. Alfa even made the car relatively easy to service, a major accomplishment given how tightly that wide Alfa 6 is shoehorned between the radiator and firewall. Interestingly enough, mine was also spectacularly reliable. I put a clutch in it during my ownership as the previous owner had already clocked 109K miles, and replaced the front control arm bushings three times, did a water-pump and regular timing belt changes, replaced a fuel-pressure regulator and drove it 110K miles in one year. When I sold it it had over 400K miles on it and still ran like a top. I see it on the road now and again and miss it more each day I look at the modern the replacement options.

  4. Great read!

    Sad and fascinating that development costs of the Type Four didn’t produce great savings for the manufacturers as, to me, all but the Alfa look as alike as numerous Buick, Olds and Chevies did to each other in the 80s and 90s. The rear doors and slope of the hood make all but the Alfa appear similar.

    Ironic that there seemed greater differences under the sheet metal (suspensions, Saab safety concerns) than in visual distinctions.

    Any idea why Giugiaro needed to approve final design details for each manufacturer? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to try to let each company differentiate its version as much as possible?

    1. You could certainly make a case that the Thema, Croma, and 900 smack of ’80s GM, where a third party (in this case Giugiaro) designed the basic structure and the individual players then had to figure out how to differentiate it within a fairly narrow set of parameters. The Thema and Croma even used a lot of the same engines.

      In regard to the cost savings, I think it may have been a case of trying to serve too many masters at once. Originally, the project was supposed to just be Lancia and Saab and was presumably going to be a little more upmarket. However, Fiat (which of course had owned Lancia since 1969) then decided to do the Croma, which was intended more as a mass-market sedan. (I’m not clear on how much the Thema and Croma differed in price; in the U.K. they ended up being fairly similar, but I don’t know that that was true in Italy, where a lot of Cromas had smaller engines and probably more plebeian trim.) To continue the GM analogy, I suppose it was like Buick and Oldsmobile deciding to share a new platform, only to have the corporation decide that it also needed to be a Chevrolet. Therefore, I think they ended up with each player having a lot of components that were more or less interchangeable but not the same.

      Fiat did learn a lot from the exercise, though, and followed it in the ’90s with the Tipo 2 program, which was a more flexible C-segment platform also shared by Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa. The Tipo 2 project resulted in the Fiat Tipo, Bravo, Brava, and Coupe; the Lancia Dedra and Delta; and the Alfa 145/146, 155, and Spider/GTV coupe. That platform had its own shortcomings, particularly for the sportier models, but Fiat did figure out how to differentiate the cars more visually while sharing more components.

      As regards Giugiaro, I would speculate that since he knew they were going to market the cars as “styled by Giugiaro,” he wanted to be able to approve the various changes. Björn Envall’s comments to Jean Lindamood implied that the Swedes were not particularly comfortable with that, alluding to major philosophical differences.

  5. I happen to randomly come across this article and was shocked when I noticed that the black 1991 Alfa Romeo 164L in the pictures is my car. I have to say the pictures make it look great. What a funny find and a very informative article. Thanks!

  6. Good Morning Sir,
    I found the article excellent and impressive, mounted in a depth study. I would like to congratulate you.
    I am a keen admirer of the Italian cars and specially the Lancia’s though I have had 8 of them and 2 of such a kind as the ’88 Thema Tie and the ’00 Kappa T20V . I own an ’00 Y and a ’94 δ HF right now. Twice I was at front of the acquisition of the 164 without being such lucky.
    My opinion is that, at that era Italians made some elegant and distingue cars
    but also noteable unreliable and in a desperate need of a special treatment.
    Thank you,
    Pantelis

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