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 [email protected].
I look forward to hearing your opinions.