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by Jay Traugott
It was beautifully designed, well-engineered and was more reliable than previous Alfa Romeos, yet the 164 failed to catch on with American buyers.
For too long now we've been promised by parent-company Fiat that Alfa Romeo will soon be relaunched in the US market. Originally supposed to happen in 2011, that date is now looking to be sometime in 2014. Better late than never, we figure. But we know it'll happen for sure because Mazda will be providing the next-gen Miata's platform for a new Alfa Spyder that's set to be a global model. The mid-engined 4C, however, is still being planned as Alfa's debut model for the North American market.
But another segment we're dying to see Alfa Romeo jump into for the US is that of the sport sedan. As much as we like German-built models like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, the thought of having a powerful and emotional Italian sport sedan available is something we simply can't ignore. US buyers already missed out on the now-discontinued 159, but its replacement, whenever it's ready, is also due to arrive sometime later in the decade. More than 20 years ago, Alfa Romeo launched the 168 sedan in Europe, claiming it as part of a new generation of Alfas.
What's interesting about it, however, is that it was the last model to be designed and engineered while Alfa Romeo was still an independent automaker. (Fiat took control of the automaker not long after the 164 debuted in 1987.) More importantly, it was the last Alfa sedan to be sold in the US. In Europe, however, the 164 sold quite well, with buyers seeking a cheaper alternative to those more expensive German sedans. Like many European models, Alfa offered a variety of engine options, including a 2.0-liter inline four, a couple of V6s and even a diesel. In the US, the sole engine option was a 3.0-liter V6.
Buyers could opt for either manual or automatic transmissions. Front-wheel drive was standard and all-wheel drive was optional. With an exterior design penned by famed Italian studio Pininfarina, everything about the 164 seemed solid, and yet it couldn't find a big enough audience in the US. The 164 went through a development phase that was unprecedented in the automaker's history up until that point. It was tested in the Moroccan desert, test tracks and everything in between to ensure it would be the highest quality Alfa ever sold. But Alfa's reputation for building inferior cars was already well established by this point, as US buyers were aware.
Unless they were brand enthusiasts, mainstream buyers were afraid to touch anything Italian. Fiat's reputation back then wasn't any better. Those who did buy a 164 unquestionably made a solid decision. For example, the 164 was also the first Alfa to have a galvanized steel frame and body panels which all but eliminated issues of rust, something the brand had long been known for. And even though it was front-wheel-drive, purists still felt the car lived up to Alfa's sporty driving reputation. All in all, the 164 offered a better value compared to its German competitors and was better built and engineered than previous Alfas.
All told, a little over 273,000 units were built by the time it was discontinued in 1998. It's a shame that America didn't see its potential. But this 1991 Alfa Romeo 164 that's now up for sale on eBay offers collectors a chance at owning a great Italian sedan. It's powered by the 3.0-liter V6 mated to a five-speed manual and is in overall excellent condition, considering its age. There's only 11,000 original miles on the clock. As of this writing, the buy-it-now price is $14,950 but lower offers are being accepted. Even after Alfa Romeo sets up shop again in the States, models like the 164 will forever remain true classics. (Photos courtesy of europa-online)