I had promised you, and here I am for Christmas.
When you want to tell a complex story, as the genesis of the Alfa 164, it is always better to start from the beginning (the very beginning).
The beginnings - First hypothesis of front-wheel drive
The story of the first Alfa Romeo saloon with front wheel drive, has its roots in the second half of the Seventies.
In fact, at that time the idea was very different.
Alfa Romeo engineers were working under the direction of the engineer Filippo Surace.
The engineer Domenico Chirico, in his book "L'Alfa e le sue auto", recalls a small document, which became a dossier in 1981, entitled "Choices of setting cars 154 and 156".
These two cars were to be the heirs of Giulietta and Alfetta, respectively.
The main consideration was that the two cars would have to replace the project 116 (Alfetta and Giulietta) sharing among them several components in order to lower costs.
The new projects included a review of the four-cylinder engine, which was considered obsolete, and even manufacturing equipment should be shared as much as possible between the two segments.
Consequently, the decision to design together the two families of models, with the prediction to use this platform also for the sports derivations of the two cars.
Regarding the engines were expected to be:
-revise the design of the four-cylinder engine, having already under testing new heads that gave good results and would arrive until several years later, called Twin Spark
-use the brand new V-6 cylinder “Busso”
-rely on the 4 and 5 cylinder VM regarding Diesel, because VM (as well as Alfa Romeo) was under the control of Finmeccanica (IRI, which means Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale – Institute for Industrial Reconstruction – which means the Italian Government...).
The studies established the need to have a six-speed gearbox, for optimal reduction in consumption in highway driving, and give to the cars shorter ratios from 1 to 5, to preserve the Alfa Romeo soul.
Were expected car wider than Giulietta and Alfetta, to give a more comfort to the third rear passenger.
Even the length was increasing, to allow a greater longitudinal habitability.
This project, in short, spoke of lengths of 4.25 meters for the 154 and 4.5 meters for the 156.
(Warning: this “156” code has nothing to do with the saloon born in 1997
Regarding the Cx coefficient is thought to be on the 0.36 ... but the launch of the new Audi 100 declaring a 0.30 did think about getting to work more on this matter.
So we were in 1980, and things seemed to be moving in the right direction; as an example, the chassis sector had come to order the construction of parts for the six-speed gearbox, with a view to a beginning of testing.
Unfortunately today we have nothing to see about the 154, while the 156 was built, at the beninning as a maquette for the wind tunnel, and then in some real cars, spotted by Italian magazine Quattroruote some months later.
When Quattroruote spotted these cars, history had already changed. The body was similar to project 156, but under the body....
... things were bound to change. In 1981, in the Lancia palace in Torino, there was a meeting between Surace and engineers Camuffo and Scolari from Fiat Group (respectively Lancia Division and Head of Engineering).
What had happened?
A big “NO” from the Italian Government
In Alfa they were sure that the 154 and 156 would die before birth, when the minister Marcora (during a radio interview) had declared that “the government would never have supported anyone for building cars of this kind, for a market already saturated and too small.”
In short, there was no money to build new sedans without outside help. As a result, Alfa Romeo could not realize new rear wheel drive cars.
The project 156 died.
That day in Turin, Mr. Surace received the general characteristics of a vehicle, by the acronym T4 (Tipo Quattro – Type Four), intended to be the basis for most cars. A Fiat (Croma), a Lancia (Thema) and the car later known as Saab 9000.
(in fact, the real deal began between Lancia and Saab, Fiat Croma was a subsequent derivation. It was based on studies of bodywork developed during the design of the Lancia Thema)
A few days after that meeting, Alfa Romeo received the Fiat file in which it was specified that the car, front-wheel drive, was 4.53 meters long with a wheelbase of 2.66. It was already tested by Lancia (the marketing was scheduled for the spring of 1984), and you can see the mules in pictures below.
(the Lancia T4 was also known as “project Y9”)
Let's go back to the Fiat file, in which were provided four-cylinder petrol engines 1600 (which came only on Croma, although some Thema with 1600 engine were built at prototype level ), 2000 and 2500 Diesel.
In the drawings (in small scale) they could see the layout of the engine, front and rear suspension, of the steering wheel and pedal position, and other details.
Alfa engineers should check installability of their engines on the T4 body, but for confidentiality reasons , Lancia asked that these checks were carried out in Torino at its Research Centre.
From the first experiments, the Alfa Romeo engineers noticed immediately that the engines could not be installed in a longitudinal position, and the installation in a transverse position would entail high costs.
There was a big difference of shape between the T4 and the 156 (already set stylistically and, in addition, the engineering and the study of the six-speed gearbox was already at an advanced stage).
The roof of the T4 was 45 mm higher, and the hood of the 156 was significantly lower and differently inclined.
Not appear possible to adopt the 156 bonnet profile because the T4 front suspension (McPherson) was too high; also, the height of the Alfa six-cylinder (installed in a transverse position, as we have said) was too high, trying to match the engine position with the bonnet profile.
(We must thank this. For that reason they decided to make the "restyling" of the engine, which gave us the wonderful beauty of the intake chrome. The original longitudinal V-6 was not so cool to see.)
About the front suspension was chosen to adopt the Alfasud layout, that had already allowed to obtain a very low profile hood for the Alfasud Sprint. In this way the hood would have been only 7 mm higher than the original 156.
The problem was that this would entail a certain dissimilarity of parts in the front of the platform made in Torino.
There were discussions between the headquarters of the two companies, but in the end the problem was resolved.
Mr. Chirico, I keep mentioning how wonderful source, remember that was an increased cost per car of 7500 italian Lire, for this change.
We have to add that the modification of the layout of the intake manifolds, there was some loss of power, due to the new curvature of the ducts.
This and other reasons led to the need for considerable investment in money, and born of a joint working group between the factories.
In 1982 came an agreement about parts production; in Arese were made:
-metal sheets for platforms
-supporting frames for engines
-part of the suspension
-the hubs of the wheels
-structures of the seats and other details.
Meanwhile, the press began to report the news of the agreement.
In the article that I report below, many details were wrong; we have to consider that it was rumors.
However, I report as a historical document.
Later, Fiat began to lavish private drawings that were jealously guarded until now, and to Arese came the first two chassis for the realization of the first mechanized mannequins for the car that had taken the name “Project 164”.
Now they need the new body, and Pininfarina was called as a stylist for an outside proposal; he worked in parallel with the Centro Stile Alfa.
At the end of 1983 they were ready the two projects, Centro Stile Alfa (Chief Designer Mr. Ermanno Cressoni) and Pininfarina.
In comparison that was organized between the two proposals, the winner was Pininfarina. The proposal by the Centro Stile Alfa Romeo was basically a rehash of the "156".
At this point, we must deepen the story.
We will do it with the following text.
But first I want to point out a fact.
In the mid-'80s, in Italy there was a little confusion about the body that would have the future Alfa Romeo saloon.
This happened because the first prototypes went on the road, were built with the body of the "156" changed to allow the construction on Lancia T4 platform.
At that time, (I mean when it was decided to change the frame) Alfa Romeo had already started studying for the production of sheet metal and related equipment (tooling) for the project 156.
Time and effort wasted. But they could make a profit from this, and that was to build prototypes in a short time, to start with testing.
For this reason, 164 started testing with the shape of a car that would never be born.
Tomorrow we'll be back to talk about style.
Merry Christmas, guys.
Merry Christmas, 164.