Alfa Romeo’s American-market drought lasted about 15 years, give or take, and it began with a car that probably could have been a hit here had there been enough manufacturer and dealer support.
That last Alfa was the 164, a midsize sports/luxury sedan that was intended to compete with the BMW 5-Series, Acura Legend, and a slew of other imported 4-doors. As part of a brief Swedish-Italian partnership, the 164 shared its underpinnings with the Saab 9000. While that Swede was acclaimed at its 1986 launch, by the 1990s when the Alfa arrived, the 9000 was starting to show its age. Things were not looking good for the 164, even though American buyers were eager to buy up European luxury sedans in the booming 1990s. The aged design and worries about Italian reliability didn’t stop someone from taking home this black example on Valentine’s Day in 1991. This car would have been priced at about $34,000 then (or upward of $65,000 in today’s money), which made it about the same as the less powerful BMW 525i and a little more than a Saab 9000 Turbo.
It must have been love at first sight for the first owner, as well as those who followed. This black-on-black example is a 164S, which denotes the sportier model that for 1991 included a 200-horsepower version of the automaker’s “Busso” 3.0-liter V6, plus power-adjustable sports seats wrapped in Italian leather and a 2-tone body kit. A 5-speed manual sent power to the front wheels.
The 164’s clean lines remain attractive today. Its interior was avant-garde when new, especially with the confounding-but-stylish array of climate control buttons. Later 164s had a more intuitive, but less interesting, control layout. The cassette stereo with its toggle switch to position sound throughout the cabin is a clear reminder of Chrysler’s first influence as an Alfa Romeo shareholder at the time. Chrysler divested its share long before Fiat acquired the Detroit automaker in 2009.
Survivor 164s aren’t uncommon, but this one on Autotrader shows just 71,000 miles. Amazingly, it looks from the Carfax report that all of those clicks were added to its odometer under Illinois ownership. The Land of Lincoln is not generally kind to cars, so certainly this one hasn’t been used as a 4-seasons daily driver. The gold badging is so perfectly period that it is a shame there is no built-in Motorola car phone paired with a rear window-mounted antenna.
It’s clean, but far from perfect, and for less than $5,000 at a Toyota dealer (admittedly an unexpected place for a 30-year-old Alfa) outside Chicago, this 164S should offer a lot of Italian thrills for the money. Find an Alfa Romeo 164 for sale