Our Love to Admire

With no regard to the risk of either opprobrium or canine displeasure, we stop to appreciate a flawed rarity.

(c) DTW

While it could never be considered an outright penance, Alfa Romeo ownership could nevertheless be classified as something more akin to a calling, much like medicine, the religious orders, or perhaps, care work. Certainly here at Ireland’s Southern tip, the Biscione tends to be regarded with dark suspicion and their owners with a mixture of pity, mystification and at times, outright horror. In previous, less secular times, some might even have prayed for their immortal souls.

(c) DTW

But even by Irish Alfa Romeo standards, a Brera is something of a unicorn. Alfa’s last production coupé was never a regular sight in any RHD market, and with just over 21,600 made over a five year production run, it wasn’t exactly common street furniture upon its native European continent either. This 2009 Dublin-registered example however, looks a well cared for, much-prized enthusiast’s car, being spotlessly clean despite the lowering cloud and seaborne drizzle.

Since there was no badging to denote engine capacity and having neither time nor wit to refer to the tax disc – I was after all in possession of a highly impatient dog whose evening constitutional I was delaying – (he’s a very busy boy with lots of messages to give and receive) – I remain unclear as to what flavour of Brera we’re dealing with here, although the four exhaust outlets do rather suggest benzina rather than gasolio.

Now I should point out at this juncture that there is a single immutable rule to Brera viewership, and it is quite a simple one. Never, under any circumstances, even if asked politely, attempt to view the car in profile. The merest glance is permissible, as long as one can still reach out and touch the vehicle with an outstretched hand, but any further away and one’s bubble is liable to pop in rather deflating a fashion.

Well, it isn’t as if you hadn’t been warned. (c) DTW

We all know the Brera story don’t we? 2002 concept by Ital Design/Giugiaro. Maserati rear-drive chassis and running gear. A masterful combination of sinuous curves, muscular haunches and dramatic, classical proportions which previewed the equally handsome (and just as flawed) 159 Berlina.

Productionised in 2005, shoehorned onto the jointly developed FWD GM/Fiat premium platform, which was, it is believed, intended for a larger E-segment car, meaning that not only was the Brera overweight, it was fatally marred by its odd proportions, truncated dash/axle ratio and short wheelbase. Hence the injunction to avoid viewing in profile.

How Giorgetto must have wept when presented with the platform hard points. I suppose his fee may have been some paltry compensation. The production Brera (from an aesthetic perspective at least) really was something of a tragedy. Viewed from either front or rear three-quarters and it’s a stunner. But the 159 saloon offers a better balanced silhouette and for a sports coupé, that really is an unpardonable sin.

Nevertheless, like so many who themselves stray from the path of righteousness or tempt others to do so, the Brera has its adherents and I’m pleased to note, its defenders. Certainly the owner of this fine example has undoubtedly paid the price of his indulgence many times over. Perhaps a short prayer on their behalf might after all be in order?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Our Love to Admire”

  1. Henry Ford was quoted “When I see an Alfa Romeo passby, I tip my hat.” I have to concur. And the four exhausts do suggest a petrol engine which will emit an extremely pleasing sound. Expecting far more con arguments than those for pro, this car is still a favourite.

  2. I used to live in West Cork for a number of years and an Alfa sighting was indeed a rare occurance. I quite like the Brera but the concurrent (937) GT was, in my opinion, a much nicer looking and driving car. I’ve owned a GT for a number of years and I still love looking at it. As the small coupe market (and Alfa Romeo?) seems to be fading away I can’t find anything that I’d like to replace it with.

  3. Rationally, I can fully appreciate the design compromises Eóin identifies, and yet I simply love the Brera and wouldn’t change a thing*.

    I am also fascinated by the comparison with the (almost) contemporary GT, a car that benefits from a more classic (if less practical) profile and yet is undermined by rather mundane details, notably those frumpy headlamps:

    Eóin is correct to say that the profile is the least satisfactory aspect of the Brera as it highlights the odd dash/axle ratio. From every other aspect, it just looks amazing. The opposite is true of the GT, which looks sleek in profile and a bit dumpy otherwise.

    *OK, just the dash/axle ratio, then it would be perfect!

    1. A version that doesn’t exist. The 1.9 JTS and JTD’s were reserved for the 159. There is, however a 2.0 JTD. But indeed all Brera’s have quad exhaust pipes. Only way to have a clue about the engine inside is to listen, or to lay on your belly to check if the rear wheels are driven.

  4. If it hadn’t been for the dealer’s non-service, this car certainly would have been what ended my career as an Alfa owner.
    The Tipo 939 was everything an Alfa shouldn’t be: heavy, bland and devoid of character. The fact alone that the best or, rather, only acceptable engine for this car was the big diesel says everything about it. The biggest disappointment was the V6 which did nothing better than the fascinating Busso engine that preceded it (it wasn’t even any better at the Busso’s Achilles heel, its fuel thirst) but lacked any character that could have endeared it to passionate Alfa owners.
    The 159 was a US-focussed development with a fake Italian version as an unimportant sidekick and it showed.
    In comparison to the 156 the 159 was a disappointment. It looked less interesting even than the horrible facelifted 156 and gave the impression of weight and clumsiness (an impression matched by its behaviour on the road, no wonder with at least 400 kgs overweight) and in comparison it was eye wateringly expensive. The Brera looked like the two door 259 it was, was even more expensive and came with dubious trim options like weird duo colour leathers and as soon as you wanted any proper trim level you were forcibly treated to the naff glass roof which put on another twenty kilos where you least want them – high up for the worst possible negative effect on road behaviour.

  5. I don’t understand. The original design concept is supposed to be very expensive rwd car yet it has an economy car long front overhang / short rear overhang ?

    That is a design failure in my view.

    1. A direct comparison between showcar prototype and production version:

      Question: why did they (Alfa management) do it?

    2. I can’t but agree that the stance of the prototype is very much better than the production car, but it looks to be a strict two-seater. Alfa probably concluded that the market for a large fixed-head two-seater would be very limited, hence the compromised result. I wonder if Alfa shot itself in the foot by raising expectations so high with the prototype?

    3. Alfa didn’t commission Giugiaro to build this show car.
      It was a project Giugiaro did completely on his own and spectator’s feedback convinced Alfa to make it a series production car.
      What do managers smoke/drink to make such decisions?
      What did managers inhale to think that a front with six joghurt pots on a storage shelf was an attractive design?

    4. Dave,

      I’m no manager, and I don’t smoke either, yet I love the ‘six yoghurt pots on a shelf’. What does that make me?

  6. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed a Brera from the side like that – perhaps it’s just me, but the profile reminded me of the Chrysler Crossfire: (red one for comparison)

    Which was RWD (based on SLK), and was built by Karmann.

    1. That reminds me. There was a time where one could quite frequently encounter a Crossfire. But that was then. I haven’t seen one in ages, a state of affairs presumably related to the size of its engine and the road tax and insurance consequences thereof.

  7. Tom S, on a longer, thorough look at the Crossfire,
    yes, Karmann seem to be indeed “guilty as charged”.

    The production Brera is such a pleasant sight from almost
    all other angles, that its antimotive weight, wooden-feeling chassis
    and utter lack of car/driver interaction (fully agree with Dave’s post)
    could almost be forgiven – from a street observer point
    of view, that is.

    From an ownership/driving point of view, it’s an abysmally
    boring and visually gorgeous sculpture.

    Btw., their very heavy front end is a plow-on liability in greasy,
    suddenly-grip-deficient road surface situations.

  8. The metre-long overhang (it really is exacly 1000 mm between axle and front) remains one of the biggest sins in car design history.

    Full disclosure: I am a Brera owner.

    Having said that, it’s stunning that the driving and dynamic characteristics of the 159/Brera are always ridiculed. Indeed, a 4WD, 260 HP Italian coupé should be a hoot to drive and the Brera did not deliver. An E92 BMW 330i destroys it.

    But the 2.2 JTS and 1750 TBI are lighter on the nose. They ride better, they are grippy and the 2.2 steering is very pleasant. After the 2008 facelift, they became over 50 kg lighter and gained an electronic diff.

    No, they are not fast. But sub 9 seconds was brisk until all hot hatches started receiving turbocharged 2 litres.

    1. There was a very good youtube video showing a slalom test by German magazine ‘auto motor sport’ showing Alfa 159, BMW Three, VW Passat and some more.
      The BMW did 101 kph in the test and must have been an absolute handful with a rear end kicking out in wild oversteer, the Passat did 102 kph and looked much safer. The others did 98 0r 99 kph with the exception of the Alfa at 112 kph with complete lack of fuss.
      It’s a pity it felt so bland and uninvolving.

  9. Having driven most of the cars shown, I can honestly say the Alfa is more fun to drive than all of them, with the exception of the BWM 3-series and depending on specs, the Mondeo.

    A E90 BMW 3 is a more involving car. That doesn’t mean the 159 is bland to drive. On a flowing road, having a grippy double wishbone front end with good steering is a joy in itself.

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