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I chronicled my 4 year restoration of my 164S in the “And Now for Something Completely Different” thread. This was my first restoration project of any kind. I had decided that I would try some car restoration after my retirement. I figured that I would start a new thread to cover what I had learned from this project, and what ideas I had formed.

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If you are going to attempt a restoration, you better have plenty of time available. So if you have any children between the ages of 2 and 15, I think you should forget a restoration. If your spouse likes spending time with you, and doing things (other than bedroom things) with you, also probably forget it. But if your spouse likes having you around the house, rather than at the golf course or the local bar or running around with your homies, then maybe having you out in the garage where your spouse can keep tabs on you might be a good thing.


Although I had a lot of experience both maintaining street cars and working on race cars, I was surprised at how long restoration takes. Now one reason it takes a long time is that it CAN take a long time; you don’t expect to be done for years. So working on a restoration is the opposite of working on a race car. In racing, work is usually done as fast as possible, especially in professional race series where there are financial/contractural reasons to make races. So you do an engine swap in a day. On a restoration you have to take pictures of some things before disassembly, so you will know how it goes back together, because it might be more than a year before you are ready for reassembly. Why all this time? Corrosion is a big reason. Rust on the unibody. Rust on many of the steel bolt-on parts. Corrosion of alloy parts. You rarely have to deal with this in racing. Also having to deal with time degradation of the many rubber and plastic parts. Again this is not much of a problem on race cars. Sure, it would be faster just to replace all of the rusted parts, but that can get expensive and many of these OE parts are NLA. The more parts you pull off the car, the more problems you find. Most of these problems don’t prevent the car from running OK, but if you are doing a big restoration, you figure that now is the time to fix everything you can find. Time.


You also better have the physical space available. To restore 1 car, you need either 2 garage bays, or 1 garage bay and a bunch of storage space available in the attic or in a storage shed. When you start pulling parts off a car, it is amazing how much room you need to store these parts. A lot of people will have a 2 car garage that they don’t use for parking their daily drivers. Maybe you have parked in one bay an old Alfa Spider that is only driven in nice weather during half the year. So you figure that you can buy that non-running Milano Verde for cheap and restore it in the space next to that Spider. During the winter you start pulling parts off the Milano and storing them on top of and behind the Spider. Time passes; now you have 2 cars in the garage that can’t be driven. Your spouse starts to question the wisdom of all this more frequently.



During my project I had a various times parts stored in the 2 car garage, parts in the attic above the 2 car garage, parts in the single car garage, parts in the attic above the single car garage, and parts in the spare bedroom. Space. What if your buddy who lives across town has some space available? This will only exacerbate all of the problems listed above, and would only be a positive if your spouse wants to see as little of you as possible.


Then suppose you are half way thru your current resto project, and the right car for your next resto project comes on the market. The right condition of car at the right price located in the right place. (This happened to me.) What do you do? If you jump on it, what about space?


When I did the restoration of my 164, I finished restoring the interior before doing anything else on the car. On my current GTV6 restoration, I am also doing the interior first (I have the interior mostly reassembled). This may seem totally bass ackwards to many people. But I think this is the best way to go FOR CARS THAT ARE RUNNERS WHEN YOU ACQUIRE THEM. I think it is very useful to drive the project car for at least 500 miles before starting to tear the mechanicals apart. You have the chance to assess the cold starting and hot starting of the car. The cold idle and the hot idle. How are the clutch and the gearbox cold and hot? How are the suspension, steering, and brakes? What bearings are groaning? What other weird noises are coming from the car? Where are fluids leaking from? You are not going to learn all of this from a 5 mile test drive.


Driving the car over a period of time gives me a chance to find all of the little electrical problems. One of the backup light bulbs is burned out. One of the power window switches isn’t doing anything. The power mirrors don’t work. Some instrument panel light bulbs are missing or burned out. And so on. I diagnose (and fix if I don’t have to tear the car apart to fix) all of these little problems while I am learning by driving the car. Some people will say, “Why spend time replacing light bulbs when you are shortly going to tear the car’s interior all apart?” Because after you tear the car apart and put it back together, it is likely that some things won’t immediately work correctly. The question(s) in your mind will be: are some of the old parts that I did not replace bad, are new parts I put on bad, or did I eff up something(s) when I put the car back together. If I KNOW the dome light worked before I tore the interior apart, and 6 months later after reassembly, the dome light is not working, I am immediately pretty sure I have effed something up. It can cut down the number of things I have to look at to solve the problem.


As long as a steering wheel and a drivers seat are still on the car, I can keep driving and learning and diagnosing. So I really like doing the interior first. Obviously if you buy a non-running basket case, none of the above is going to apply. Some will say, “You’re crazy to even start the car if you don’t know exactly when the timing belt was last replaced. And while you are doing the timing belt, you should put on a new water pump and belt tensioner. And ……..” Now you have half the car apart, so you figure you might as well tear the whole thing apart while you are at it. You took the car for a test drive before you bought it, right? Is the belt going to break because it knows it is now at your house? You can avoid burnouts and keep the revs under 4K RPM. You can look at the belt and see if there is oil on it. If no oil, you can look at the condition of the teeth and the condition of the smooth side of the belt. You can check the belt tension. I say diagnose the car before you start tearing it apart.


So after a year or so you finally get the interior finished. You have put say 500 miles on the car. Now you know what is leaking from where. It is time to decide what mechanical parts to start pulling off the car. Your life will be easiest if you start at the extremities and work your way inward. So the suspension and brakes would come off first, then the exhaust system. Then you would get the cooling system (and some A/C bits if any) out of the way. Now you have good access to the engine and tranny.


But I didn’t do my 164 this way. I figured that if I followed this procedure, I would have the car in a non-running condition for at least 2 years. I decided to do the mechanical work in sections. I did the engine compartment first. Then I did the front suspension and brakes. Then I did the rear suspension and brakes. There is no question that it was harder to get at some components than it would have been if I had pulled everything off at once. But the advantage was that the car was never in non-running condition for longer than 6 months at a time. And with less of the car apart at one time, it is easier to hunt down problems after reassembly. Plus with fewer parts off the car at one time, you need less storage space. This can also have the advantage of keeping your spouse off your a$$: “Look baby, I got the Alfa running again. Wanna go for a ride?” While you have the car running you can do some more diagnosing and maybe find some more issues.


OK. Now to the question of was it a good idea for me to restore this 164? I am not sure. Having owned (and driven) only one Alfa for 40 years, obviously I was not addicted to buying old (or new) Alfas. Now I have a medium size 4 door sedan that looks pretty good and is in good condition. I have driven the 164 out 500 miles (and then back) a bunch of times, and out 1000 miles and then back once. So I am not afraid to use the car. I am all in for less than $3.5K (cost of car, parts, and chemicals), but the value of the labor would be way over $10K (I didn’t pay anybody to do anything). If I HAD to have a 164 (I didn’t), I think I could find a pretty good one for about $5K. So I don’t think restoring a 164 makes any sense. If you have to pay for some labor, it would be totally crazy. I don’t think anybody can make a reasonable case for restoring a 164, except for maybe a Q4. I think a Q4 might be rare enough and goofy enough to justify.


I realize that if you pay a shop to restore ANY car, you are going to be way upside down when they are finished. I have to say that I especially don’t get the people on the MotorTrend TV shows who pay $75K to have a car restored that is worth $25K when they are finished the restoration. They say yeah, it doesn’t make any financial sense, but the car has sentimental value to them, and the car will be a family heirloom for generations. Here is the reality: Unless your children are bigger gearheads than you (and they aren’t, because YOU are the one who just spent $75K restoring a $25K car), after you are in the grave, as soon as the kids need a down payment on a new house or need the money to send their kids to college, that car is getting sold pronto. At least the buyer will be really happy.


Speaking of MotorTrend TV shows, am I the only one here who really likes the restomods that they do on Iron Resurrection and *****in Rides? It seems like American muscle cars from the 60’s are really popular for restomodding. European cars seem to be far less popular for restomodding here. But I see that the guys on Salvage Hunters (the MotorTrend TV show shot in England) sometimes will do a pure restoration, and sometimes will do a restomod (they did a mild restomod on a Spider that I thought came out really nice). Of course thoughts of a restomod will send many (most?) Alfisti into serious apoplexy. I personally don’t see any problem in doing a restomod on a 164, Milano, Alfetta, Spider, or GTV. But I would be against restomodding a Montreal, Duetto, SS, or any of the coachbuilt cars (the cars that are nice as they are, rare, and worth way, way more money in original condition).


So restore a Milano Verde that the previous owners have seriously neglected, or find one in pretty good shape at 75K miles? Take the one in good shape, do whatever maintenance it needs, detail the interior, treat the few rust spots and slap on a little fiberglass if necessary, and fix the paintwork as cheaply as possible. Drive it anywhere; park it anywhere. In any weather. That makes more sense to me than having it parked in the garage, all torn apart, for 4 or 5 years.


I am committed to my current GTV6 resto project (which is about 30% done), so that will keep me out of trouble for the next couple of years. Not sure what to do next.
 

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Repeat after me (your name), I am an Alfaholic.
 

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We are simpatico!

Don't worry about "what to do next". It will find you.

Thanks for the write up, I always enjoy other folks' view of our shared addiction.
 

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We are simpatico!

Don't worry about "what to do next". It will find you.

Thanks for the write up, I always enjoy other folks' view of our shared addiction.
I think it was a very well written summary, but feel badly that you haven't found it worthwhile. I understand that it's sort of the unappreciated model to many, but I personally like the styling, and exhaust note very much. I would like a bit more power, but no one car will be everything to it's owner.
Knowing that they are not particularly reliable is why I have a couple. If you decide it's not the car for you, I may well be interested, as my daughter shares my sense of aesthetics.
 

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Mine have been pretty reliable when talking about the Alfa built parts. The main problems have been the supplier parts, such as the steering rack and a/c pump, as examples. Otherwise, they are capable of running on and on and on if the services are done somewhere about around when scheduled, or the car is not abused by a hack who perhaps doesn't know his own strength, ie, breaking parts..
 

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I think it was a very well written summary, but feel badly that you haven't found it worthwhile. I understand that it's sort of the unappreciated model to many, but I personally like the styling, and exhaust note very much. I would like a bit more power, but no one car will be everything to it's owner.
Knowing that they are not particularly reliable is why I have a couple. If you decide it's not the car for you, I may well be interested, as my daughter shares my sense of aesthetics.
Something must have been lost in translation. Simpatico "Having or characterized by shared attributes or interests; compatible."

I very much enjoyed your summary, and think it was well written. And I own 3 of the cars, a 91S, 94LS and 95LS.
 

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I sure enjoyed following your restoration process and think you did a wonderful job, Tom. I remember thinking when you first started; why did you choose a 164? They are not the easiest Alfas to work on and are a bit more technically demanding than most, except the Montreal. Admittedly I was concerned that you had 'bitten off' more than you could chew. When you stated that you had studied up and prepard to do this procss for a while, I had my doubts. Well, you impressed me with your persistence, talent and organizational abilities; not to mention you have real skills! The 164 is a visually attractive car, especially the 'S' and 'Q' -to me. About the only things that 'pokes me in the eye' are the red over white stripe and red painted wheel center caps but hey those things would be easy to correct.

I've had an acorn or something rolling around in the framework for my 164-S' hood (when I open it) for quite a while now. Thought I had the same thing in the trunk framework -until my buddy Alex told me that I had a back up light out. I realized the glass bulb must have failed by falling out of the brass fitting; what do you expect after 28 years? Not sure how to change that bulb but I'll look it up. Well done Tom.

Mark
 
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