Just looking – Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf
There's a new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio on the way. We've found a predecessor with almost as much appeal.
Alfa Romeo has been chaotic in the past. Incompetent, sometimes. Often animated, always passionate, and perpetually admirable. But the word that best describes the launch of the brand new Alfa Romeo Giulia is 'shrewd'.
Shrewd because Alfa has launched the car not with a mid-range diesel, nor a kitted-up, pseudo-sporty petrol model. Instead, it has aimed for the sport saloon market’s jugular with a full 503bhp, a bellicose bodykit, and a CEO who can’t quite resist dropping soundbites about the dull interchangeability of Alfa’s German rivals.
Something else stands out amongst these confident attributes – a small, triangular white badge on each front wing, containing a four-leaved clover motif.
Alfa Romeo has used the Cloverleaf badge, now referred to in its native Italian ‘Quadrifoglio’, on several models over the years. Some have been more successful than others. The Giulietta and Mito never quite lived up to promise, but the 145 Cloverleaf was more appealing during a dry spell in the 1990s hot hatch market.
If one model truly stands out though, it’s the 164 Cloverleaf. Launched in 1990, the Cloverleaf-badged saloon featured Alfa’s now-legendary ‘Busso’ V6 in 3-litre form, a 200bhp power output and, in the hands of evo’s predecessor Performance Car, a 7-second 0-60mph dash – three tenths quicker than the established BMW 525i.
Unfortunately, the suave styling and a sonorous V6 were about the extent of its talents. The 195-section tyres offered limited grip, and the driving position was of the Italianate old-school. And while Alfa had exorcised the hedge-seeking torque steer of early 164s, wheel control and damping were poor, delivering neither adequate traction nor a cosseting ride.
By the mid-1990s, Alfa had tamed many of these complaints. In 1994, Performance Car described its ride quality as ‘respectably supple’, its handling ‘exceptionally agile’ and praising its ‘bags of steering feel’.
It’s safe to assume then that the late-model 1997 Cloverleaf offered by Targa Florio Cars in Chichester (via Classic and Performance Car) is about as good as 164s got. The passage of time certainly hasn’t diminished its aesthetic appeal – on pepper-pot alloy wheels and finished in two-tone Alfa Red and grey, the uncontrived Pininfarina lines are exceptionally handsome.
It’s hard to argue with the rest of the specification, either. The Busso V6 is present and correct, as is a five-speed manual gearbox. The interior is swathed in black leather. It’s only had three owners from new, boasts a full main dealership history and a full year’s MOT.
If you could live with the official 25.6mpg thirst, it’s a car you could feasibly use every day. The V6, if religiously maintained, is reliable, while careful upkeep seems to have spared this car the rot that Alfas were previously known for.
At £10,000 on the dot it’s at the upper end of current 164 prices – the model hasn’t yet begun to appreciate in the manner of older Alfas. But as a usable modern classic, it’s perhaps the perfect car to slot alongside a brand-new Alfa Romeo Giulia in any Alfista’s garage. We just hope Alfa has got the modern car right, straight out of the box.