The 2004 facelift of Alfa’s 147 was of the light-touch variety. We check for residual scarring.
It wasn’t possible to know it at the time, but the immediate pre and post-Millennium period would represent the final creative and commercial flowering of FIAT Auto (as then known), a statement which is particularly apt when it comes to matters surrounding the fabled Biscione of Milan.
Part of FIAT’s sprawling auto group since 1986 and in the wake of a somewhat chequered start in product terms, a cohesive and (from a purely design perspective at least) credible strategy had been formulated for Alfa Romeo; matters taking a decidedly more upbeat tone with the Enrico Fumia-helmed 1993 Spider and related GTV models.
First introduced in the summer of 2000 at the Turin motor show, the Alfa Romeo 147, arriving on the heels of the critically and stylistically acclaimed 156 witnessed the continuance of the carmaker’s stylistic Renaissance. Its predecessor, while well received initially, dated quickly, despite having been in receipt of the contractually-obligated retrograde centro stile mid-life facelift.
In direct contrast to the 145/6’s angular Fumia-inspired lines, the 147, credited to Walter de Silva’s centro stile team which included Wolfgang Egger and Andreas Zapatinas (the latter being responsible for the tail treatment it was reported*) was modelled more closely on the 156’s softer, more voluptuous forms.
As characterised by most of the contemporary output under the immodest Mr. de Silva’s supervision, the 147 was defined by a strong theme, muscular proportions, clean, unadorned surfaces and well-judged detailing, much of the latter intended to reflect upon the marque’s illustrious past.
Critically acclaimed (it was in receipt of that year’s European Car of the Year award, and Germany’s Golden Steering Wheel, the 147 also won a number of awards for design. Commercially, the 147 made a lot of friends (Alfa Romeo’s aftersales less so) proving a comparatively strong seller and a credible contender in the upmarket C-segment. By 2004 however, it was due a refresh.
This too was a centro stile job, involving a new more upright nose treatment, intended to align more closely with the upcoming Ital Design-inspired 159 and Brera models. Cosmetic changes were confined to the bumper/aprons front and rear, with revised head and tail lamp units and a removal of rubbing strips at the extremities.
There were other changes too; to the cabin, and of a technical nature, but for such a perfunctory suite of alterations, the result, while subtle was profound. Given the degree of subjectivity attributed to all matters of a visual nature, it is a matter of opinion as to whether it can be described as an improvement, but as facelifts (and especially Alfa Romeo facelifts) go, it can certainly be described as a success – considerably more so than the rather ham-fisted (Ital Design credited) liftjob carried out on the 156 a year earlier.
Just as well really, since it was required, owing the FIAT group’s spiralling woes, to carry out a good deal more heavy lifting than that of its immediate forebear. For six years more, the 147 held the fort, the last of the line emerging from Alfa Romeo’s Naples plant in 2010, with close to 600,000 being built over a ten year lifespan.
Isn’t it remarkable how fresh the 147 looks in that photo immediately above, illustrating not only how accomplished the original design was, but also underlining how tepid and unimaginative its bloated looking Giulietta replacement (itself now left rotting on the vine) was by comparison.
No facelift for the ages then, but one worth applauding nonetheless. Sometimes the mere kiss of the blade is enough.
* Author’s note: While most sources credit the two designers mentioned above, DTW has since learned that the designer who carried out most of the work on 147 was Fillipo Perini, later to become chief designer at Lamborghini. Thanks CB, for this additional information.