FOR ALL ITS FLAWS, ALFA ROMEO WON RACES, HEARTS

New Straits Times - - Cars Bikes & Trucks - SHAM­SUL YUNOS cbt@nst.com.my

TO­DAY, we are go­ing to talk about the Alfa Romeo 155. Math­e­mat­i­cally, this model dou­bled the 75 and added an ex­tra five for good mea­sure. For the mod­ern in­dus­try, the 75 was by most mea­sures an ap­pallingly bad prod­uct, which is a tad bet­ter than be­ing in­com­pre­hen­si­bly bor­ing, like the Fiat Croma that was in­tro­duced in the same year.

Apart from the hor­ren­dous qual­ity of ev­ery­thing on the 75, it had the sav­ing grace of be­ing in­ter­est­ingly styled and ben­e­fited from the transaxle that made the Alfetta fa­mous. So what­ever the mul­ti­ple fail­ings of the 75, Al­fistis for­gave them whole­sale.

While they for­gave the 75, very few Al­fistis had the nerve to hold on to the car or re­store them be­cause the parts were hard to come by as they sim­ply turned to dust af­ter a while.

By the time the 75 was put to pas­ture, Alfa Romeo was no longer ca­pa­ble of look­ing af­ter its own books and had to hand over con­trol to Fiat and this re­sulted in the Ital­ian con­glom­er­ate in­sist­ing on some Torino-style dis­ci­pline.

The cor­po­rate head of­fice de­manded that all fam­ily sedans of a cer­tain size be built on the same three plat­forms, which is es­sen­tially a stretched Fiat Tipo floor­plan and hard points.

The 155 that re­placed the 75 had none of the sexy transaxle and in­board brakes that could win over the hearts of purists but it did of­fer Fiat econ­omy and qual­ity, what­ever that may mean to you.

Diehard fans bus­ied them­selves with lament­ing about how the 75 was flawed but great be­cause it was the last proper Alfa Romeo, de­signed with the heart and not ac­cord­ing to a ledger en­try.

The 155 didn’t get off to a good start, sales were weak, thanks to im­pres­sions that it shared its un­der­pin­nings with the in­cred­i­bly grey Fiat Tem­pra. This was de­spite the fact that the two cars looked noth­ing alike.

While Fiat got their Cen­trilo Stile de­sign of­fice to work on the Tem­pra, Alfa Romeo got IDEA In­sti­tute to come up with a de­sign.

Thank­fully, they man­aged to cap­ture the spirit of the 75 with the high bootlid and wedge pro­file and thanks to over­time in the wind tun­nel, they shaved the co­ef­fi­cient of drag down to 0.29, an amaz­ing num­ber for what looks like a crum­pled barn.

The good looks sim­ply could not at­tract buy­ers to show­rooms, and so Alfa Romeo raced on Sun­days with the hope of flog­ging off some metal on Mon­days.

The 155 en­tered nearly all the na­tional tour­ing car cham­pi­onships in Europe and took home so much sil­ver­ware that it ac­tu­ally helped to im­prove the breed and got cus­tomers in­ter­ested.

In three years, from 1992 to 1994, the 155 won the Ital­ian, Ger­man, Span­ish and Bri­tish tour­ing car cham­pi­onship.

In the 1993 and 1994 sea­son of the Ger­man Deutsche Touren­wa­gen Meis­ter­schaft (DTM), Alfa pi­lot Ni­cola Larini ran away with the cham­pi­onship win­ning 11 out of the 12 races.

Alfa Romeo won the ti­tle in 1993 but in 1994, de­spite win­ning 11 races, the sec­ond car proved less suc­cess­ful and at the end of the sea­son they were sec­ond to Mercedes Benz, which was con­sis­tently be­hind Larini.

The 155 is an ob­ject les­son of how a good mo­tor­sports pro­gramme can make a poor seller into a rea­son­able mar­ket per­former with mid­field sales rank­ing.

I’m not sure if the mil­lions spent were re­cov­ered by ad­di­tional sales be­cause the fi­nal pro­duc­tion tally for this car was slightly less than 180,000 units in seven years.

The years in rac­ing helped the com­pany to de­velop a few in­ter­est­ing spe­cial sporty vari­ants, which in­cluded wide­body ver­sions and even an all-wheel drive vari­ant called the Q4.

The Q4 was de­rived from the DTM race cars which had a fire breathing tur­bocharged V6 and four-wheel drive.

To make the Q4, Alfa Romeo sent a raid­ing party to the Lan­cia fac­tory and brought back sev­eral thou­sand cart­loads of the Lan­cia Delta In­te­grale all-wheel drive sys­tem and found a way to bolt them onto the un­der­sides of their 155. It wasn’t pretty but it was an ef­fec­tive rac­ing ma­chine.

Alfa Romeo 155s are quite plen­ti­ful now, thanks to bod­ies that re­sisted tin­worms and a strong fol­low­ing by Al­fistis who re­mem­ber im­ages of the car ca­reen­ing around rac­ing cir­cuits in their hey­days.

The car that started out as an oily rag for Alfa Romeo has be­come some­what of an icon and thanks to the un­be­liev­able mo­tor­sports record, it would con­tinue to fetch good prices in the fu­ture as cars en­thu­si­asts con­verted them for clas­sic car rac­ing or as race repli­cas.

Other than the spec­tac­u­lar rac­ing pedi­gree, why are we talk­ing about the Alfa Romeo 155 to­day? Well, be­cause this year, the car is 25- years old and I think it is one of those cars that would be­come a great clas­sic, thanks to the in­ter­est­ing styling and sig­nif­i­cant mo­tor­sports cre­den­tials.

Front view of the Alfa Romeo 155.

Alfa Romeo 155 driven

by Ni­cola Larini.

The in­te­rior of the Alfa Romeo 155.

Side view of the Alfa Romeo 155.

Alfa Romeo 155 Q4 wide­body.

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