In 1987 Alfa Romeo launched the new 164. A latecomer to the project that consisted of Saab 9000, Lancia Thema and Fiat Croma. The Alfa aimed at the same group of buyers as the Saab. The self-employed, freelancers and artists were happy to take it. Reason enough for a comparison test. And it quickly becomes clear that the Italian must have been the nightmare for every engineer at Saab.
The comparison test is somewhat unfair. The first two thirds of the film were shot in black and white, which doesn't really show off the beauty of the Alfa Romeo. Only with the 9000 CC Turbo do the pictures become colourful, one can safely assume that the editors are intentional. The Saab sales people the film was intended for could have weakened. But what should attract attention are just the hard facts.
similarities and differences
The Swedes mercilessly dissect all the weaknesses of the 164. A beautiful vehicle, of course! A modern but safe! But then the shortcomings in processing and operation come up. The seats are not perfect, the trunk is too small, the Alfa is too narrow.
In fact, you turn the Italian on its side, showing the front end, the construction of which is identical to the Lancia, Saab and Alfa chassis. Ultimately, opinions differed on the rear axle, and it was also the beginning of the end of the collaboration.
The Italians relied on a split axle, Saab on the proven rigid axle. Opinions differed greatly, joint test drives ended unanimously in Saab's favour. But Lancia's marketing department sensed an impertinence in the rigid axle, which was considered primitive. An absurdity. Not available under any circumstances to potential buyers of the noble Italian brand. Period. The end of a joint project management.
Apart from that, the Alfa shines with deficiencies in detail and oddities. Unprotected brake lines and cables laid openly on sharp edges are a no-go for the Swedish safety fanatics. Just like the rubber cover on the underbody, which reliably collects dirt and moisture. Or the Alfa's odd center console, which is so beautiful and modern but requires at least glasses or eagle eyesight to operate the 22 identically shaped buttons.
form before function. Alfa focuses on design.
stopover. Of course, there are worlds between Saab and Alfa. Differences as big as the distance between Milan and Trollhättan. A center console! In Italy it is more than just a center console. In the Alfa it was a highlight in 1987. Spectacular, very modern and a design object.
Standing in Italian tradition. A nation that manages to take the dashboard of a vehicle from Mario Bellini, one of their great architects, feels differently than the Swedes. For the Lancia Trevi Bellini designed the cockpit in the 80s. The car itself is rightly forgotten today. Bellini's work was a sculpture.
Eye-catching, something completely different. Something no one had ever dared to do before. Avant-garde cast in black plastic. Unfortunately unserviceable, rightly panned by journalists, and out of place in a car. But Bellini's spectacular experiment of the 80s emphatically demonstrates the banality of our present. In which consumers are satisfied with typing on uniform displays and also consider this to be progress.
The dashboard of the Alfa Romeo focuses on design, as does the whole car. The Alfa 164 is beautiful even when stationary. In 1987 it was perceived as modern and dynamic. In terms of ergonomics, it is a disaster. But no Alfa buyer asked for that.
function before form. Saab relies on reason.
Despite common origins, the Saab 9000 is the perfect alternative to the Alfa 164. Well thought-out down to the last detail, sober down to the smallest screw. Of course the Saab is the better car. It's easier to maintain, has the more spacious interior, modern technology and flexibility that the Alfa Romeo doesn't have.
From today's point of view, it seems strange that both vehicles catered to the same group of buyers. But that's how it was. The 164 was the last big Alfa to seriously score. In addition to the successful design, it was its engines, and primarily the great six-cylinder. Saab engineers were listening to the sound of the engines themselves expire, and with them many fans around the world.
If I were asked which vehicle I would prefer, the choice would be clear. The Alfa 164 for the days in life when the espresso smells particularly good and the antipasti taste seductive. These days when the sun smiles at me and life shines infinitely and wonderfully. I would choose the Saab to drive it to the end of the world. A companion for eternity that never lets you down.
Images: FCA/Alfa Romeo (4)