Alfa Romeo 164 QV & Cloverleaf & 236 « Classic cars

9 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Alfa Romeo 164 QV & Cloverleaf & 236 « Classic cars
Alfa Romeo 164

Alfa Romeo: Alfa Romeo 164 QV #8211; Cloverleaf #8211; 236

July 26th, 2010 by NZ Classic Car

Around 1976, when I was living and working in London, a close friend came to me for a spot of advice. He’d just got himself a new job, and as part of his new employment package he was invited to pick out a new company car for himself. At that time, I don’t think the term ‘executive car’ had been coined certainly, there was no such thing as a yuppie back then; that aphorism would not gain any currency until the early ’80s.

However, my friend was certainly on the look-out for an executive car at that time, I suspect, more commonly known as a sports saloon.

He’d already zeroed in on two cars, the first of which was a BMW 3 Series. In 1976 this BMW was still fresh to the market, having only been released the previous year when it had replaced the very popular 2002 and the six-cylinder 323i he was looking at had only just been unleashed onto the UK market.

However, my friend was unfamiliar with Teutonic cars, having a distinct preference for everything Italian and that included spaghetti, lambrusco, Sophia Loren and, of course, Alfa Romeos indeed, his personal transport was an Alfa 105 GTV. Which brings me to his second choice a brand spanking new Alfetta saloon. In 1976, the Alfetta which borrowed its name from Alfa Romeo’s glorious Grand Prix cars was already around four years old.

One sunny Saturday morning, I met up with my friend with a view to taking both the 323i and the Alfetta out for a test drive.

The Alfetta was always going to come second in this comparison; its 97kW, 1779cc four banger was never going to match the silken power (106kW) of BMW’s lovely straight six. Indeed, this was the case the BMW was much faster than the Alfa and, just to make things more uneven, the German machine also felt sharper and more agile than the Italian. However, the crunch-point came when we researched depreciation statistics.

Quite simply, the Alfetta couldn’t even approach the BMW in this respect. The BMW was more highly priced and this wasn’t helped by the fact that, while securing a discount on a new Alfa was straightforward, it would’ve been easier to find an honest politician in Thatcherite Britain than inveigling a BMW dealer into knocking off a few quid from the list price of a 3 Series. Anyway, the real sticker was Alfa’s rust-bucket reputation.

Mind you, this didn’t just apply to Alfa Romeo, it was a broad-based perception, especially in the UK, of most Italian cars.

In the mid 1970s this sort of belief wasn’t helped at all by the debacle of the Lancia Beta a car which had been roundly criticised for its rustability. Put quite simply, Italian cars with their cheap Russian-sourced steel just couldn’t handle harsh UK conditions, which included roads that were regularly salted during the winter months. The upshot of the rusty Beta saga was that Lancia withdrew from the UK market permanently!

This, I recall, really upset my late uncle who, at that time, maintained a large collection of Lancias ranging from Aurelias and Appias to a gorgeous Flaminia. I always reckoned that, when my uncle departed the UK to live in Spain in the early ’80s, he’d made the move so he could continue to buy Lancias. Alas, he soon discovered that modern representatives of his chosen marque were only marginally longer-lasting in the warmer Spanish climate.

In the end, he took to using a Volvo the epitome of durability as his everyday driver although, of course, he would continue to cherish his earlier Lancias right up to his final days.

A Genuine BMW Rival

What the above illustrates is that Alfa Romeo simply didn’t have a car that could favourably compete with the BMW 3 Series during the ’70s. The Italian marque was doing better in the sportier market with the Alfetta GTV and the Spider, but it was falling way behind its German rivals when it came to sporting saloons. And as we moved into the ’80s yuppiedom and executive expresses it seemed that my friend would forever be tied to a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz.

Fortunately for drivers who preferred Italian brio, Alfa Romeo had spotted the missing executive car link in its range, and as early as 1984 was already working towards a solution. Following a gruelling test and development phase which saw test ‘mules’ and pre-production cars hammered over a variety of roads and harsh environments (including a stint on desert roads in Morocco) it launched its 164 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1987, obviously choosing that show as a warning to BMW.

With fashionable, wedge-shaped styling courtesy of Pininfarina, the new 164 was a bit of a landmark car for Alfa Romeo. It was the last car developed by Alfa before it became part of Fiat by the time the 164 was in production, Fiat was already in charge. It was also the first of Alfa’s large front-wheel-drive cars and, more importantly, the first Alfa made from good quality steel.

As well, the 164’s all-new chassis which it would share with the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema and Saab 9000 promised good handling and refinement; although many lamented the loss of rear-wheel drive.

Packed with loads of hi-tech goodies from heated electrically adjustable leather-trimmed seats to sports adaptive suspension in the higher end models the 164 was aimed squarely at the newly popular executive market.

Although the 164 would be available with a variety of engines including 2.0-litre turbo, 2.0-litre Twinspark, 2.0-litre V6 turbo and even a 2.5-litre turbo-diesel it is the 3.0-litre V6 versions which attracted the most praise. Indeed, this V6 complete with its highly polished inlet tracts would soon be hailed as one of Alfa’s very best engines.

Under Fiat management, further development of the 164 would be swift and efficient. Automatic transmission was introduced in 1989, with the entry-level 2.0-litre Twinspark model following the next year. However, for enthusiasts the real news centred on the more powerful, top-of-the-line QV (quadrifoglio, or four-leaf clover) version which debuted in late 1990.

In 1993 Alfa released a second generation 164 with revised headlights, larger bumpers and a better instrument panel design. Once again, the best stuff came with the V6 models, with a quad-cam, 24-valve version making its appearance in two forms the Super and the more powerful QV. Interestingly, in the same year Alfa also launched the 164 Q4 which, as the name suggests, featured four-wheel drive.

This car’s 4WD system, developed in conjunction with Steyr-Puch, utilised a viscous coupling, a central epicyclic differential and a Torsen differential in the rear. The Q4 was fitted with a Getrag six-speed manual gearbox rather than Alfa’s own five-speeder.

As a measure of the 164’s popularity, well over a quarter of a million examples were made until the model was replaced by the 166 in 1988.

Step inside the leather-lined cockpit of a 164 and you know that you’re in for an executive experience, as evidenced by a plethora of switches, gauges and gadgets you can even keep your bum warm on a cold day with the heated seats.

While this is all well and good for the busy exec who wants a selection of toys to play with while stuck in rush hour gridlock, more enthusiastic drivers will be keener to sample the car’s more dynamic attributes which are plainly signalled from the moment you start Alfa’s beautifully creamy V6. And, once you’re on the move and open up the engine, there are even more aural delights on offer.

I’ve driven many a mile under the power of Alfa’s 3.0-litre V6, but every time I get the chance to sample one I’m drawn in by the intoxicating sounds emanating from this engine. The V6 isn’t about exhaust crackle, it’s all about induction noise revving through the gears makes the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention, and the sound is even better on the overrun as you peg backwards through the gears.

Alfa’s V6 orchestra is well matched to the 164’s handling. Sure, like most readers I’d prefer a traditional rear-driver, but the 164 has to be one of the better-handling front-wheel-drive cars I’ve driven. To be certain, like all cars of its ilk the 164 does betray some torque steer although as our test car was a later, 1994 QV, it was better in this respect than earlier examples I had previously driven.

However, torque steer isn’t too obtrusive, and it takes little away from the 164’s relatively neutral handling balance.

As an added bonus, the electronic damping system in our test car was fully functional and worked a treat although the temptation to hit the ‘Sport’ button and tighten up the ride and handling was too much, so we didn’t really do much motoring in ‘Normal’ mode.

Like most front-wheel-drive cars, the 164’s nose tends to plough outwards under very spirited driving but, helped out by very positive steering, the Alfa remains easy to control even when you’re approaching the ragged edge of the car’s handling envelope.

Stopping isn’t a problem either, all V6-powered 164s received ventilated front disc brakes and in our test car they worked well, stopping the car quickly and all-square.

It may not be a real beauty, but the Alfa Romeo 164 comes across as a handsome car and, with its deep spoiler, side-skirts and be-winged boot-lid, it certainly looks very purposeful. Find a good, well cared for 164 (four cams have to better than two) and you’ll never be able to get the silly grin off your face. Drive one and you’ll be hard pressed not to be drawn in by the allure of that lovely V6.

Buyers’ Guide

Although it’s possible to pick up a 164 for just a few thousand dollars, you can only expect a high mileage, tired example for that sort of money. For a decent 24-valver the price range will be more like $6000 to $8000, and expect to pay a premium over this for lower mileage examples which have been properly maintained.

It pays to remember that although a V6-engined 164 can be purchased for very few dollars, these are complex machines that will require specialist maintenance. As such, a full service history is a must.

Alfa Romeo 164

When it comes to checking out a potential purchase, it’s mostly good news when it comes to the 164. Unless they’re severely neglected, you can expect most cars to have solid, mostly rust-free bodies.

However, it pays to check the front sub-frame, rear cross member, and the rear wheel arches alongside the rear doors as they are all prone to rust. Also, front and rear screens sometimes leak tell-tale signs of a leak are mould or damp carpets. Cars fitted with sun-roofs can also show signs of water leaks, and wing mirror mounts and the blacked-out window trim are areas prone to corrosion.

Mechanically, the 164’s driveline is fairly robust, although it should be noted that the V6 requires regular cambelt changes at the recommended intervals (every 50,000km), and that the tensioner also needs to replaced each time. The V6’s only known weakness is related to its fuel-injection system, so regular fuel filter changes are required. The V6 can misfire under heavy acceleration, usually due to a faulty engine management computer, but if it’s properly maintained it should be possible to get very high mileage from the V6, though its longevity depends on how it’s been treated.

There are no serious issues with the 164’s five-speed gearbox and clutch wear can be heavy, especially if you regularly indulge in tyre-smoking starts.

Now we come to the more problematic areas electrics and cooling. Of these, it is the electrical system that will probably provide 164 owners with their worst headaches.

All those high-tech toys spell trouble, not helped by brittle, plastic switches and wiring although most problems should be sortable by a good auto-electrician.

The dashboard LCD display can slowly begin to get hard to read as segments from the display fail. It’s not a biggie, and most 164 owners simply live with an unreadable display.

Of more concern is the 164’s electronic damping system, which appears to be one of the first major systems to cease working. When test-driving a 164, if the ride seems a little harsh it’s probably because the system has failed and it has reverted to the default ‘Sport’ setting, even if ‘Normal’ is selected. Failure could be due to dead or dirty sensors or faulty wiring.

In either case, rectification is best handled by a specialist although, if you’re not fussy, it’s perfectly okay to drive a 164 in permanent Sport mode just expect a jiggly ride over uneven roads at low speeds.

If the electronic damping seems fine, but handling is dodgy, look for sloppy suspension bushes (a good set of Nolathane bushes would be a good investment). Wheel alignment is also crucial to good handling; as a bonus this should also help to smooth out the 164’s tendency towards torque steer.

When it comes to the 164’s cooling system, check the radiator to ensure it is in good condition and that the cooling fans are fully operational with the air con turned off, the main fan should activate at around 90 degrees. Also check for signs of water pump leaks replacement is difficult due to their location.

Early 164s had an air distribution problem due to plastic gears within the system failing which is fixable, but complete dashboard removal is required. Not something for the faint-hearted. Also, check the heater, if you can hear a ‘ticking’ noise when it is on, it’s probably only due to a failed resistor.

Alfa Romeo 164QV 24V- Specifications

Engine 60-degree V6, front transverse

Capacity 2959cc

Bore/ stroke 93#215;72.6mm

Alfa Romeo 164
Alfa Romeo 164
Alfa Romeo 164
Alfa Romeo 164
Alfa Romeo 164
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