FOR ALL ITS FLAWS, ALFA ROMEO WON RACES, HEARTS
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.