A Photo For Saturday: 1995 Alfa Romeo 155 2.0 16V Super

A disappointment when new and thoroughly unloved now, Driven to Write examines an Alfa well past its best.

 

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The 1992 Alfa Romeo 155 marked the end of rear wheel drive for its maker. The car improved upon the much-loved and little-sold Alfa Romeo 75 by carving out more interior space and having a bigger boot but in other respects was an inferior car. The dynamics of the car left a lot to be desired. The 75 had its gear box in the rear and had near perfect 50:50 weight distribution. For all its faults, the 75 in all its guises handled well.

The 155 managed to be worse than the Tipo it was based on. The suspension allowed a lot of body roll and oddly, Alfa Romeo said this was deliberate, harking back to the way its 1960s cars behaved. As if anyone remembered or cared. The 155 sold poorly and needed remedial help.

For 1995 Alfa Romeo widened the track (meaning a new set of front wings) and improved the steering rack to reduce the ratio (by which I mean it was a quicker rack). The interior stayed the same which didn’t help. I always felt this car’s cabin was coarse. Anyone in a Mondeo or Vectra or Laguna – anything really- was getting a better place to sit than the few Alfa diehards who opted for this car.

Brightwork: I can’t stop talking about it. The IDEA Institute designed the 155 along with the Lancia Kappa and a few other Fiats of the same time. They all miss a crucial amount of brightwork. The 155 ought to have been a handsome and somewhat rich-looking car. Instead it looks like the son-of-Tipo that it actually is. Only the charming “Super” badge offers any romance at all. In these photos it looks unfinished.

While overall it’s rather a pleasing-looking car, it’s also hard to like unless it’s in good condition and fitted with a twin-spark engine. Some brightwork around the side-glass might have helped to endear this car to customers. The Alfa 75 didn’t have much either so it would have helped distinguish the new from the old car.

This example is on its last legs. Rust is everywhere. I expect it is going to be run until the vehicle test certificate expires and then it will be driven off to a scrap yard with few tears shed. Comparable mid-90s Mondeos, Vectras and Lagunas all look fresher than this car. I know because there are loads of them about. It says a lot about Alfa at this time that their second best car lasted so poorly.

Further reading on Alfa Romeo’s styling history here:

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “A Photo For Saturday: 1995 Alfa Romeo 155 2.0 16V Super”

    1. The styling theme for the 155 appears to have been rooted in that of Ermanno Cressoni’s 75 and stillborn Tipo 156 twins, which could be said to have been his revenge for Fiat’s decision to choose the Pininfarina/Fumia scheme for the 164 over his own concepts. Certainly, there appears to be no attempt to continue with Farina’s visual theme. Cressoni was well placed to decide – being head of Fiat’s Centro Stile by then, but the styling for 155 not only appears to be inspired by Alfa’s 1980’s aesthetic, it bears an uncanny resemblance to Reliant’s 1984 Scimitar SS1 in its handling of shutlines and body swages.

      I remember the keen sense of disappointment I felt upon seeing a 155 for the first time, especially on the heels of the elegant 164 body style. It always appeared too tall and narrow – the result of its Fiat Tipo-derived platform. The immediate success of the Tipo 932 Alfa 156 that replaced it demonstrating that attractive styling sells cars.

      A question I’ve often posed is whether IDEA were only good at rather severe rationalist design or whether Cressoni’s styling briefs were too restrictive? Given that his own preference was for rather brutalist architecture, perhaps it was the latter. Either way, I’ve never been much of a fan of the IDEA Institute’s work and I view the 155 as a low water mark.

    2. I concur. Even during Ercole Spada’s tenure, IDEA somehow failed to come up with anything inspiring. Back then, my younger self was wondering about the merits of IDEA’s work that compelled Fiat to hire their services time and again: were they geniuses of packaging? Were they particularly deft hands with ‘efficient’ production techniques?
      Despite Bertone only being good for the odd sparkling moment every few years and Giugiaro being happy to remain in autopilot mode during significant stretches of the 1990s, IDEA seemed to define creative economy. So was it intended as a case of self-deprecating sarcasm when Italdesign presented the Fiat Idea to the board?

  1. The 155 (and the 146 even more) never touched my heart. It has no sporty touch or – at least – some quirky details outside or inside. It is just another version of the Tempra – a version that could be easiier built as a paper folded model car…

    Sbarro (not known for creating many good looking cars) made an Estate-version for the 155 – and he succeeded in giving the 155 a more elegant shape. Not a very difficult task….

  2. I had the V6 model, and in many respects it was a terrible car. But it was also quite satisfying to drive, with that glorious engine being the centrepiece. After a couple of years I bought a 156 TwinSpark and ran the two together for a year or so. The eldest one was always broken, despite religious servicing and money-no-object repairs. So the 156 did most of the miles. But what it improved on over the old car, it kind of lost in feeling. I’d walk out onto the drive each morning with both keys in my hand, and if I wanted to have some fun, it was always the 155. If I wanted to visit the garage every couple of months for yet another four-figure invoice, it was also the 155. In the end, I had to let it go. It had all the build quality of a pavlova. It stank of petrol. It sucked thousands out of my bank account. I still miss that stupid car.

    1. What a terrible dichotomy: fun versus bankbusting costs. The surprise is that the 156 was so much less fun to drive. I would not have expected that.
      The Sbarro car is another surprise. Sbarro have made a fleet of monsters over the years and then turn out this alright looking car which is just a car and not also a hovercraft or mobile re-upholstering machine. How did that burst of sanity ever occur? And why wasn´t there an estate 155 anyway? It would not have cost much to produce.

  3. to all of you, every single one of you ,if you dont have the smallest idea what you re talking about just dont do it,i am not a plumber so i dont talk about plumbing ,there where numerous version upgrade to the 155 and in sport pack mode it still is one of the sportier looking cars even in 2017.i have 2 155s and could not be more satisfied and proud of them.to the so called autor to pick that picture is like better put a picture of a wardrobe still a 155 is it?and to compare 155 who took btcc as a sunday drive until all useless competitors started crying to a mondeo or vectra?like said dont talk about rockets if youre a farmer.

    1. Hi Chris: thanks for your insight based on user experience and ownership. The series 2 cars dramatically improved the 155 and I have a lot of time for that version, both for its appearance and its capability. I can imagine you are very happy with the car. I know the feeling of owning an under-regarded car. I own an XM which by all objective accounts is a bit disappointing. The ride isn´t as good as it should be and the performance is adequate. It´s not as nice to drive as a CX either. It is roomier and more flexible and probably vastly more reliable. Despite its on-paper failings, I really like my car and would be hard pressed to think of another one that would do the same things (there isn´t really which is why I still own it). So, the car suits me just as the 155 suits you. We are both whistling down the wind if we can change the received wisdom on the cars we have. I think that a lot of people who think they wouldn´t like a 155 or XM would be pleasantly surprised by them though. Alas, both cars create a barrier for potential customers by their reported failings and actual (moderate) deficiencies.
      The article was based around the tatty example I saw in the street – if it had been a nicer example I´d have used that.

  4. I never can make up my mind how I feel about the 155. It is unequivocally true that the launch versions were just awful – impossibly gawky and tall-looking on a stupidly narrow track, even if I thought the nose was well-done. But in general, ‘unfinished’ is an apposite descriptor for the earlier cars.

    On the other hand, a later widebody like this in the right colour… I can definitely see the appeal. It’s strange there is such a difference, to be honest, since the changes aren’t really that dramatic. Perhaps some of it is in the stance. I need to go back and have a look at the launch-spec cars – from memory they had Range Rover-spec ride heights which did nothing for poise nor aesthetics.

    Richard is right that the interior is absolutely dismal in these throughout their run, though – unacceptably so, really, both for its market aspirations and against lower-class competitors. Stepping from a 155 into a 156 feels like stepping forward about three model generations in terms of interior ambience.

    All of which is to say I agree that the 155 wasn’t an I.DE.A high point. But then, I always liked the Dedra, and people seem to pour scorn on that even more than they do the 155. So treat with caution, etc.

    1. There’s a great article for Classic Sportscar: Dedra versus 155. A priori, one model of 155 (either the 2.0 Twin Spark or the V6) would trounce the Lancia for outright speed and handling. The Dedra would be the better all-rounder and has a warmer ambience. If he hadn’t already spent the year’s road testing budget Simon Kearne would be commissioning that right now.

    2. The 155’s main task was to help Fiat end the 75’s production. The 75 was the last European car with the engine fitted from above on the production line, resulting in slow and expensive production, so it had to die as soon as possible.
      I remember a timeframe like six weeks for the whole design work on the 155, relying heavily on CAD use (as I.DE.A already had done with the Tipo) and using as many commonalities with the Tipo as possible to shorten development time.
      The 155 therefore very closely followed the Tipo’s further development like getting the same body strengthening after the Tipo’s catastrophic crash test results, resulting in 50 to 60 kilos more weight but not much more crash safety.
      Fiat at that time was on a technological high, browsing through the available possibilities of the (then) huge Fiat industrial conglomerate. As an example they found a dialysis tube material at Fiat Medico that could be used as the base for a much thinner airbag fabric, resulting in much smaller airbags giving more attractive steering wheels with smaller hubs.
      Fiat was one of two manufacturers (the other one was Ford) that had available a kind of computer controlled 3D forming process for resin materials that could be used to create body press tools for prototype production in a much shorter time and at much lower costs than with conventional methods of working.
      Fiat decided to use the 155 as a test bed for these new possibilities and the resulting development processes. This resulted in numerous smaller or greater changes during the 155’s production life.
      The last big change was the adoption of the later GTV/Spider 916 front axle-cum-steering with the flared wings and ditching the venerable old Alfa engine in favour of the new ‘modulare’ family Twin Spark units. All this didn’t make economic sense if it was not seen as a test environment for new processes and methods on a larger scale.

    3. A good mate of mine heavily into Alfas crashed a 155 some years back. Having grown up around Suds/Italian cars in general, he never was overly fussed about structural integrity. All the same – and even though it was a very low-speed shunt – the fact the 155 crumpled like an accordion gave him pause…

  5. The crumple zone of the Tipo Mk1 and all its derivatives were the front doors. In its NCAP test the Tipo simply collapsed, leaving no room for survival whatsoever for its occupants. After much stiffening it was a bit better, but not too much.
    A friend of mine in the Sevenies had an Alfasud 1.5 ti with the optional works tuning kit. He had a red light accident at not much speed in which the ‘Sud was hit at the left side front wheel in a side impact. The car’s front was simply ripped off and the driver’s feet were at fresh air afterwards because there was no bulkhead anymore. The car was only a couple of months old at that time, so that wasn’t because of the ‘Sud’s famous biodegradable bodywork…

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