In October 1978, some Italians and a Swede sat down and bravely agreed to take on the world of executive saloons. These were the days long before SUVs, when boardroom success meant you drove to work in a sleek and majestic machine with a potent engine, rather than a grotesquely oversized chicken nugget with more electronic acronyms than any engineer could possibly understand.
Between bouts of arguing whether ABBA or Parmesan cheese was a greater gift to the world (the answer being the latter), the automotive executives decided to jointly develop a platform which carried the imaginative name of “Type Four” – a front-wheel-drive (sigh) platform with optional four-wheel-drive (hmmm…)
Due perhaps to distractions emanating from the great arts of music and gastronomy, they took their sweet time to actually get going. Eventually, Lancia (owned by Fiat) and Saab moved first, launching the Thema and 9000 respectively in 1984.
Fiat took a further three years to launch the Croma, which you probably didn’t have posters of on your bedroom wall. Its only claim to fame is that it was the first passenger car in the world to have a direct injection diesel engine. The Italians invented the executive diesel and the Germans perfected the art of cheating with it.
The death of diesel is nigh, so that chapter in automotive history will be closed soon. Back to the 80s (and 90s) then…
As you’ve guessed by now, Alfa Romeo also had a seat at that table in 1978. True to form, Alfa was the last to arrive at the party, but certainly knew how to make an entrance. Enrico Fumia from Pininfarina gave the Type Four platform its most aerodynamic shape when the 164 was unveiled at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show as a wedge-shaped saloon designed to get you to your next meeting on time and in style.
Enrico went on to design the Alfa GTV and Spider in the late 80s (yes, the ones with the small lights) and the beautiful Maserati 3200 GT. Unfortunately, he also gave the world the Lancia Ypsilon which is essentially the motoring cockroach of Italy, as well as the Chery QQ in 2005. Sometimes, you just have to pay the rent and put your pride in your pocket along with your pay cheque.
The development of the 164 took place when Alfa Romeo was still owned by the Italian government, with Fiat only taking control of the company in 1986. Pre-production testing had started in 1985 and was extensive to say the least, even including desert testing in Morocco and handling trials of the Twinspark and V6 at Arese.
Some abuses of public funds are easier to forgive than others.
Unsurprisingly, the Twinspark handled better, needed less time to brake and had longer life of engine (albeit not by much). Also unsurprisingly, nobody today really cares. The one you want is the Busso V6, with glorious chrome engine bay and a growl out the exhaust, preferably in 24 valve form like this beauty you see before you.
Since it was the sportiest of the lot, the 164 featured a different front suspension geometry to the other cars on the Type Four platform. More importantly for today’s collectors, it also featured galvanised steel that doesn’t turn into brown sprinkles on your garage floor every time you turn your back.
Terrifyingly, it also featured the most complex wiring harness fitted to any Alfa Romeo at that time, with three separate onboard computers. If you don’t have an elevated heartbeat and a cold sweat right now, you clearly haven’t spent much time with a multimeter and electrical tape underneath the dashboard of an old car.
This particular example is a 1993 164 Quadrifoglio Verde, or QV for short. If you are reading this, you are probably already aware that the QV moniker is used by Alfa Romeo on its sportiest models as a nod to a rich and successful racing history that Kimi Raikonnen is trying very hard to resurrect in 2019.
With 170kWs and a 0-100km/h time of 7.0s, the 164 QV was a rocketship in its day and is still very quick. The BMW 535i of the same era could only manage 155kWs from six cylinders, although it did have rear-wheel-drive.
On the topic of which wheels are doing all the work, the Q4 version of the 164 featured four-wheel-drive and some rather fancy differentials and electronics. The car is incredibly rare and believing you’ll find parts for one is on par with still believing in Father Christmas, so most of them are likely stashed away in collections, to be seen but not heard…
Pity. The Busso engine makes one hell of a noise.
Whilst the Q4 is heavier overall and probably feels a lot more planted (i.e. is more boring), the QV is lighter and more likely to kill you, which immediately makes it exciting.
Like in all the Busso Alfas from the 164 onwards, you cannot help but be aware that the majority of the weight is out front and that the front wheels are being asked to do a whole lot of things at once. You also cannot help but plant your right foot firmly to the floor as you feel a broad smile come across your face.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a treat and does nothing to curb your enthusiasm as you take the V6 through the full symphonic rev range. The bucket seats provide plenty of support and even the rear seats are buckets! No chance of losing the kids then, as you power the family through the twisties to the soccer game.
This car is indecently fast thanks to one of the world’s most well-loved engines. Giuseppe Busso gave the world a masterpiece. As final evidence of the bond he had with this engine, he sadly passed away in Arese, Milan just three days after production of his beloved V6 engine ended in 2006.
The famous Shakespearean tragedy when translated to Italian is Romeo e Giulietta, not Romeo and Juliet. Busso and his V6 signed off in similar circumstances. Alfa Romeo has as much comedy and tragedy in its history as Shakespeare had in his timeless works, so it isn’t just the names that are a coincidence between the motoring and literary greats.
As debates rage on about whether Shakespeare should be removed from the school curriculum, the engine equivalent is unfortunately long gone from car showrooms. Follow the classifieds carefully though – you might just cure your midsummer madness with 230 horses of the finest Italian pedigree.