Missing the Marque: Alfa Romeo 166

The automotive world had high hopes for Alfa Romeo’s late-’90s large executive saloon, but disappointment was not far away. We remember the Alfa 166.

1998 Alfa Romeo 166. Image: carandclassic.co.uk

The unveiling of the Alfa Romeo 156 at the Frankfurt motor show in September 1997 was cause for celebration amongst the Alfisti and, more generally, for all who love the automobile as an art form and expression of style. Following two decades of increasingly divisive and unhappy rectilinear designs, Alfa Romeo had produced a car of rare beauty. Its curvaceous, sculpted form received a hugely positive welcome, and sales started briskly.

Alfa Romeo’s next task was to replace its large executive saloon, the handsome but increasingly dated 164, which was already a decade old. Early work on a replacement had commenced back in 1990, and actually predated the start of development work on the 156.

The initial plan for the 164’s replacement had been a complete reskin of the platform and mechanical package of the existing car and this plan was assigned the project code 934. Pininfarina, which had designed the 164, was asked to submit a proposal for the redesign in competition with Centro Stile Alfa Romeo, headed by Walter de Silva. The in-house proposal was preferred but, as the schedule was slipping, it became apparent that the reskin option was running out of time: the underpinnings of the 164 would be rather outdated by the time the new car came to market.

Paolo Cantarella, head of Fiat Group’s car division, who in 1996 would be promoted to group chief executive, asked the designers to instead base the replacement on the group’s new E platform, which it would share with the 1994 Lancia Kappa. A new project code, 936, was assigned and work recommenced. The new Alfa Romeo would share no external bodywork with the Kappa but would be designed in tandem with the 156 in a new style. That style was first revealed to the public in a concept car, the Nuvola, a two-door sports coupé designed by Wolfgang Egger(1) and unveiled at the Paris motor show in October 1996.

The new in-house design was completed by the spring of 1993 and pitched against external design proposals from Bertone and Italdesign in May of that year. It duly won, but work continued for a further year until the design was frozen in May 1994. Progress on the new model was halting as priority was given to its smaller sibling and it was finally launched in 1998 as the 166, a year after the 156.

Its appearance was something of a disappointment. The 166 had nothing of the pert and pretty charm of the 156. Moreover, it had a decidedly odd front end, with undersized headlamps at the outer corners of the slim grille giving it a rather morose piscine countenance, somewhat reminiscent of the 1995 fourth-generation Ford Fiesta. Scaling up the smooth unadorned style of the 156 to a significantly larger car was not entirely successful and adding a concave indentation the length of the bodysides did not help alleviate (and might have exaggerated) a slightly flaccid, oversized but under-inflated stance.

1998 Alfa Romeo 166. Image: favcars.com

When fielding questions from journalists about the new model’s rather frumpy styling, de Silva was, allegedly, somewhat defensive, explaining it as follows: “The target is a very different one after all and a car that was excessively sporty or over-designed at the front would have been quite inappropriate. The 166 is also aimed at a slightly older average audience than the 156.” Telling journalists and, indirectly, potential customers that the 166 was designed for an even “slightly older” demographic, does not sound like a winning sales pitch.

If the styling was a disappointment, the engineering was rather more impressive, with double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension, the latter redesigned by Alfa Romeo engineers over what was fitted to the Kappa to improve the ride and handling balance.

The range of engines was largely carried over from the 164 and 156. It started with a 1,970cc 153bhp (114kW) twin-spark inline-four and included V6 petrol engines in turbocharged 1,996cc(2) 202bhp (151kW) and normally aspirated 2,492cc 188bhp (140kW) and 2,959cc 223bhp (166kW) capacities and power outputs. A 2,387cc inline five-cylinder 134bhp (100kW) turbodiesel(3) was also offered. Transmission was via either a four-speed ZF automatic or five-speed manual gearbox. All models were FWD with no 4WD option. The 166 was a large car, with a 2,700mm (106¼”) wheelbase and overall length, width and height of 4,720mm (185¾”) 1,815mm(71½”) and 1,416mm (55¾”) respectively.

The interior was executed in traditional Alfa Romeo style, with a driver-focused dashboard containing a complement of closely packed instruments under a hooded cowl and attractive pleated textile or leather seat upholstery, with the pattern repeated on the door trim inserts. Although capable of carrying five, accommodation in the rear was a little confined and the rear seat was configured primarily to carry two passengers rather than three.

Sales started slowly and continued in that vein. One might have expected the 166 to enjoy some reflected glory from the successful 156, but it was not to be. The Alfisti held onto their 156s, while others stuck with the German premium saloons rather than risk their money on the 166. The lack of a diesel engined version in RHD markets effectively killed the possibility of significant company car sales, while the anticipated high levels of depreciation(4) made PCP deals for private buyers extortionately expensive.

2003 Alfa Romeo 166 Facelift. Image: auto-abc.eu

The 166 was facelifted and substantially revised in September 2003. The updated model was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show. It featured a deeper shield front grille, now embedded into the front valance rather than the leading edge of the bonnet, and much larger headlamps. Together these changes gave the 166 a much more assertive and confident looking front end. An enlarged 3,179cc (177kW) V6 petrol engine was added to the top of the range, as were six-speed manual and five-speed automatic transmissions, while the existing range of engines received revisions.

Autocar magazine tested the revised 166 in May 2004. The reviewer praised the facelift as “one of the best nosejobs we can remember” but bemoaned the lack of availability of the turbodiesel engine. The 2.0-litre Twinspark petrol engine “needs every rev to give the 166 any brio” but in mitigation “a super-quick throttle response, sweet induction growl and extra urge at the top of the rev range serve as a reminder of Alfa’s sporting heritage.” Moreover, the six-speed manual gearbox was “delightful” to use.

The Ti pack, a £2k option fitted to the £24.4k Lusso trim test car, brought a 15mm drop in ride height and 18” alloy wheels with low-profile tyres. This caused an increase in road noise, but the ride was “surprisingly unfazed.” Around town the independent suspension ”can hop and skip” betraying the chassis’ age, but the ride became “less fidgety with speed.” With just 2.2 turns from lock to lock, the steering was “direct and ultra-quick” and “negligible torque steer” belied the fact that the 166 was a relatively powerful FWD car. The claimed 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time was 9.3 seconds, a credible figure for the 2.0-litre version of the 166.

The interior was praised for its “superb, multi-adjustable seats [that] allow a comfortable driving position and the circular air vents, cramped instrument cluster and ribbed leather facings [that] provide an appropriately Italianate ambience.”

1998 Alfa Romeo 166 Interior

It had been hoped that the (highly competent) facelift would give a substantial lift to sales, but this did not materialise. The 166 was withdrawn from RHD markets in October 2005, while production of LHD cars ceased in June 2007. European sales over a decade were 90,224(5) and small numbers were sold in Australasian markets. The 166 / Kappa platform and tooling was sold to China’s Guangzhou Automobile (GAC) and formed the basis of the Trumpchi GA5 Saloon, produced between 2010 and 2018.

Although flawed, the 166 was arguably the best(6) Alfa Romeo large saloon in years. It drove well, was comfortable and pretty reliable, and rather good looking, after the facelift, at least. It was certainly a bargain second-hand, and its only significant longevity issue was an odd tendency for the floorpan (but not the bodywork) to suffer from corrosion. The 166 really deserves to be better regarded and remembered.


(1) Described by Walter de Silva as “The most Italian German I know.”

(2) The smallest V6 was for the Italian market only, to avoid punitive taxation on engines above 2.0-litres capacity.

(3) The turbodiesel engine was never made available in RHD markets, severely curtailing its potential sales to company car buyers.

(4) This expectation proved to be well founded: in August 2009, Autocar magazine named the 166 as Britain’s worst depreciating used car, calculating that it held just 14.4% of its original used value after three years.

(5) Sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com.

(6) It is a moot point as to which was the better car – 164 or 166. Some might (justifiably) argue that the former was better looking, but the latter more accomplished dynamically.

A further viewpoint on the 166 from a fellow DTW scribe here.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

54 thoughts on “Missing the Marque: Alfa Romeo 166”

  1. I like the 166. I only drove it once, a full option turbo diesel. It’s odd, but I have hardly any memories of it, other than that I liked the quick steering and, unlike Autocar, in my opinion it was completely impossible to find a good driving position. I kept on adjusting the seat all the time. The interior looks great, though, apart from the centre console.

    Apart from a few mechanical issues I’ve also heard the frames around front and rear windshield are prone to rust, it’s not just the floor pan. Can anyone here confirm that’s true or false?

    1. mine is 1999, 184,000 miles. Plenty of road rash. No rust though…not very Italian!

    2. Mine is from 2001 with 160.000 km on the clock. Rust is also no problem here and I have to say its a pretty solid car. Even in c0mparison to my Volkswagen 2001 Lupo 3L TDI (Btw. a true and trusty Piech-car! Not some of this EA189-Diesel-Fails brought to us by the fraudulent offsprings of Mr. Piech.)
      Designwise I personally directly object the thoughts of the honourable author of this article: The Faclift of 2003 is just a misinterpretation of the sleek and sporty original design. The wedged shoulder line is ruined by the high reaching scudetto of the Facelift. And even the front lights are a little bit to high to keep the line. This wedgy line, the concave flanks and the non the less exposed wheel arches are key to the elegant yet sporty overall appearance of the 166. But please don´t judge it with 16″ rims. This car needs at least 17″ ones.

    3. Good afternoon, Martin. Welcome to Driven To Write and thank you for your comment. I’m delighted to hear you have had such good service from your 166.

      We welcome alternative perspectives here at DTW, so I’m happy to be challenged on my opinion of the facelift!

  2. I owned a 166 3.0 V6 for about 150,000 kms, a dark blue one with light grey leather interior. The car had every option including sat-nav, harman/kardon stereo and integrated phone.
    The seats were the most comfortable I ever sat on in any car and my wife always told me that she’d be proud if she had a handbag made from leather with the same quality as the one on the seats (MOMO). In the rear the seat was very deep giving the impression of a lack of knee room. Series 2 cars had shorter seats and more optical space for the legs.
    The car also had an excellent heater and a very good air conditioning that once set to personal taste simply could be forgotten.
    At lower speeds the suspension felt as if its springs were made from wood but as soon as the car went faster than 80 kph it was very comfortable. Together with the wonderful engine this made the 166 an excellent long-legged high speed cruiser with the only fault that when driven really fast the 80 litres in the tank lasted only for about 250 kms. On really long trips the diesel probably would have been the faster car.
    The best part of course was the engine. It made just enough noise to be entertaining and at faster speeds it was easy to switch off the radio and just listen to the engine. My neighbour at that time had an E39 530 and every time he was in the passenger seat he asked me to rev the Alfa one more because he liked the sound so much.

  3. Good morning, Freerk and Dave, and thank you for sharing your personal experience of the 166, a good car that was always rather overshadowed by its smaller sibling. The interior in particular was a delight compared to its rather dour Getman rivals. Regarding the facelift, it certainly made the car more conventionally attractive, but did it lose some distinctiveness in the process?

    1. The interior was a wonderful place to be with all its pleated leather flowing along the underside of the dashboard and around the centre console.
      Later in the 166’s life there were some adventurous colours

      The late cars with leather covered dashboard and door cards were great if expensive.
      The only drawback were some details which didn’t fit the rest quality-wise like the lid on top of the dashboard, the box for the first aid kit in the parcel shelf and the part of the console between the seats with a Cinquecento-derived ashtray.
      I preferred the old face over the facelift.

    2. That red leather interior is just lovely, in the best Italian tradition. I love the box pleating on the seats, replicated within the door cards.

    3. I saw my first 166 in late 1997 or early 1998.
      When I looked through the door window I saw the strip of (faux) leather flowing from the door card along the underside of the dashboard below the glove box, around the centre console and again above the driver’s knees and into the door on the other side. This feature alone made me want to sit in this car even when this particular example was a prototype where every part of this leather strip came in a different colour.
      In reality the leather (supplied by MOMO first, Poltrona Frau later) is of the very highest quality. It’s soft and supple and because there’s no polyurethane coating whatsoever it’s not cold in winter and doesn’t make you sweat in summer. The price you pay is that due to the lack of protective coating it is extremely sensitive to staining, particularly the light grey my car had. Wearing denim trousers is strongly adviced against because the leather will turn green in no time.
      The late ‘Luxury’ version of the last two years of production came with leather covered dashboard and door cards at an eye watering price. This showed Italian craftsmanship at its best and it hid the awfully cheap lid of the storage try in the top of the dashboard.

  4. I prefer the original quirky face the the forgettable facelift, though its definitely not a classically beautiful car.

    There was a silver pre facelift 166 3.0 Super (manual gearbox and sports suspension) for sale locally when i was shopping for an XJR, and though i was tempted to go look at it, i really couldn’t see myself buying one instead of an XJ due to all the flaws.

    1. I don’t see the 166 and XJ as competitors as they are from different classes – the 166 is a BMW 5er competitor and XJ is pitched against an S-Class.
      The 166 really has no built-in flaws that should prevent someone from buying one as long as you keep in mind that it is a very expensive car to run and maintain.
      What really should (and does) put everybody off are the dealers.

    2. yeah, they might not have been in the same class when new, but for a used car buyer, both are large luxury saloons, and can be had for the same kind of money.
      The XJ might be a bit longer, but both are bought primarily to be drivers cars, not for their back seat accommodation.

      Except for the rather odd styling and FWD, what turned me off the most was the fact that the busso v6 just didnt make a whole lot of power for such a large car, and could be potentially expensive to maintain as a used car due to the short lifespan of the timing belt.
      Aftermarket support and used parts supply are probably also not as good as the more mainstream competition.

    3. I also prefer the original face even though I can’t help seeing it as an early 1990s design, especially when compared with the Volvo S80 and Audi A6 also launched in 1997/98. I don’t know if it’s due to the nearly four years that went between design approval and launch (and whether De Silva cheekily suggested that the 166’s customers had grown old along with the plans for replacing the 164), but the treatment of shield and lower valance on the 166 look (to me) like a previous iteration of the 156’s theme. The thick rims around shield and fog lights as well as the soft character lines did not survive the facelift. On the contrary, the 156’s “single frame” shield and bonnet shutlines cut squarely by the headlights lived on and multiplied.
      I find a bit odd the sharp lower crease on the 166’s sides, whereas the 156’s curved flanks worked so well. Would the 166 appear too tall without that crease?

  5. I have to disagree regarding the facelifted 166 looking better than original. I like them both, but prefer the original design, as the facelifted nose clashes somewhat with the rest of the car. I can strongly relate with the following thoughts: http://thethinkersgarage.com/2013/12/04/analysis-alfa-166-pre-post-restyling/

    Admittedly, I might be a bit biased as an 1998 166 V6 2.0 TB is my daily driver. All in all an excellent and very well put together car, but definitely the best seats of any car I ever had the privilege to sit in. Really enjoying it every time I drive it.

    1. That behind the link is a nice analysis on the front designs, pretty much explains why the facelift feels a little off despite having good features. As much as I love the original nose, it does look a little early-90’s as Jeroen already said, I actually see some XM in it. I feel like the designers based the design on the then-current trend for slimmer and more aerodynamic-looking front ends, but by the time it debuted the still-ongoing trend of growing grilles and other “confident” styling cues on luxury cars had begun.

  6. I remember coming across the 166 soon after it was launched at what must have been one of the last NEC Motor Shows, or, if not, the London Motorfair. It was definitely playing second fiddle to the 156 on the Alfa stand. I remember that my first impression was that it looked nice overall, but a bit gawky compared with the 156 (but then, at that time, I had a near unhealthy admiration for the 156). When I see one now (which is rare, but there is a lovely red V6 on a drive in St. Albans, not far from where I live) I think how lovely it is, and charming. I think it was an excellent facelift, but, as is often the case, one can almost see where the graft of the new panels meets with the original design and so it does not quite work – in short, I too prefer the original, oddly small headlamps and all.

    This was an era when Alfa really had its act together. FIAT came good on its promises post its acquisition of Alfa from Finmeccanica (aka the Italian state) and funded a really nice range of cars which probably reached its zenith once the 147 and GT had been launched … it kind of started to go a bit downhill from there (but then, so did FIAT as a whole).

  7. I have had two 166’s, the Sportronic 3.0V6 and the manual Super 3.0V6. I always liked the original styling more than the facelift. The revised nose looked like a moustache on the Mona Lisa in my opinion. Had the 166 had RWD the only flaw of the original design would be nullified, the long overhung nose. I think that the original 166 is one of the most beautiful saloon cars ever built. Not a design for everyone’s taste apparantly.

    The belt needed replacement every 60k. Rather expensive to run but it rewarded you with the most beautiful mechanical sound you can imagine. The Busso engine is probably the finest engine man has ever built.

    One of Jeremy Clarkson’s favorite cars.

  8. Good morning all, and welcome Vili and Dustin to DTW. It seems that the majority view favours the original, more distinctive nose treatment, and I can certainly understand why.

    Did the 156 and 166 represent a high water mark for Alfa Romeo under Fiat ownership? That does appear to be the case, even if many dealers did everything they could to undermine the company.

    It’s a crying shame that the Giulia, a thoroughly engineered and handsome car, is again being undermined by the same indifferent service (or, at least, the perception that it remains so). I cannot bring myself to care about the Stelvio, however. Even if it’s a good crossover, it’s a bad Alfa Romeo!

    1. I prefer the original nose as well. I’ve been looking at 166’s every now and then (despite the issue I have with the driving position) and never considered buying the facelift version. Also I only looked at V6’s.

    2. With the 156 and 166 (don’t forget the 147) Alfa surely was at its best for a very, very long time and it showed in the sales numbers at least of the two smaller ones. The 166 wasn’t nearly half as bad as urban myth has it but it couldn’t compete against 5er or E class in the company car market because its depreciation and running costs ruined ever leasing fee calculation. Even the 916s could have been more than a nice try hadn’t they been so incredibly badly made and uncompromisingly unsuitable for everyday use.

      And yes, the dealers did everything they could to undermine this success and when I talk to current Alfa owners they still do and that’s a shame.
      As you say the Giulia is a perfectly good car but only masochists would by a product that makes them suffer such customer ‘service’.

  9. I believe Ross Braun ran a 166 as a company car when he worked for Ferrari F1, and said nice things about it. That gave the car serious credibility in my eyes and had me watching secondhand values for a while.

    1. Ross Brawn even had the humble two litre because he thought that the lighter engine gave a better balanced driving feel.

  10. I have had a 166 since 2013. It is a 1999 3.0 six speed manual (Super). It is now a modern classic and stands out on the roads today, as do the 156 cars. Mine gets quite a lot of attention with the Nuvola concept colour bodywork. A beautiful car to look at, and with retro ’90s Becker dsp sound system, plus the creamy 24v V6, expensive to run, even more expensive to build, harks back to a time where craftmanship was prized over economy. My 166 has cover 184,000 miles and uses no oil between services…none!

    1. Hi Jon. Thanks for sharing your experience of the 166 and welcome to DTW. We would love to see some photos!

  11. There’s an amazing number of 166 owners in this forum.
    Outside of the Alfa world this is only possible at DTW and I like it.

    1. I think you might be right, Dave. The viewing numbers for today’s 166 piece are exceptionally strong.

  12. I´m glad to read a lot of 166 owners very happy with their cars and not telling terror stories about them. And yes, I prefer the original nose, too.
    Thanks for remembering this unfairly forgotten car.

  13. There has been a place in the Alfa wing of my fantasy mega-garage for the 166 ever since it’s launch.

    I have distinct memories of ordering the 166 brochure on line, probably the first thing I ever did order from the internet, and having to dodge calls from the salesman at the local Alfa dealer (JCT 600 in Guiseley, I think), who was obviously desperate for a sale. My parents kept fobbing him off on the telephone. I think I was 15 at the time!

    I favour the original nose, the follow up was too obviously a quick grafting job. For me it is a very privileged car as it neatly straddles the divide between the earlier wedge shaped Alfas like the 75 and 33- which are among my favourites- and the more organic, voluptuous shapes of the 1990’s. It does this much more convincingly than the 155, which I think was attempting the same.

    It finished an Alfa stylistic line stretching back to the Alfetta and the Junior Z, whilst along with the Lancia Kappa and the BMW E39 5 series, it was a last hurrah for the wedge shaped car.

  14. None other than Leonardo Fioravanti – whose professional race driver-like skills are legendary among designers – owns a 166 to this day. Must be one helluva car to drive.

  15. I have never driven or even sat in a 166 but I have loved the style of the pre-facelift car since it was launched. I can understand criticism of the ‘sad face’ but it has always struck me as an unusually pure dart (or wedge) shape that works very well in the metal. When the facelift version was launched I thought it was an abomination but have mellowed a little in my view since then: Judged in isolation it works well enough; but has lost the distinctive personality of the original.

    All just my opinion of course (and worth as much ;).

  16. May I politely take issue with the implication that that 164 was an unhappy, rectilinear design? My general impression is that it was viewed as one of Alfa´s much better efforts and my personal view is that the 164 is gorgeous, inside and out. While I am very fond of the 166, it´s flawed and I´d never favour it over any model of the 164.

    1. Good evening Richard. You’re inferring a little too much from my (admittedly rather careless!) comment. I didn’t mean to imply that all recent Alfa Romeo designs were rectilinear and unhappy, but the 75, 155 and 145 were certainly, er, challenging!

      In my defence, I do describe the 164 as “handsome” in the following paragraph and agree that it is a fine design. I also represented your (and Eóin’s) viewpoint in the last footnote, in the interests of balance! 🙂

    2. Hi Daniel: indeed, yes, good point. I must be in a minority in not being challenged at all by the 75 (I adored that car when it was still on sale – it very much an object of desire for me, along with the DS). I didn´t have any problem with the 155 which for me was not an impostor but a legitimate Alfa (I might be wrong now about that). I also really liked the 145 and 147 twins and I still do. I shall check how much one costs….

  17. I note the popularity of the original front compared to the facelift. I would not have expected that. The orginal design has a basic problem with its tiny too-far-out-board lamps. In the metal, the overall appearance of the car is much better than than side profile in this article. My next point is to ask how it is Alfa´s version of this platform was made to a higher apparent standard than the Kappa. I´ve been in both; I like the Kappa more but agree the Alfa version has a much better executed interior. The cloth versions don´t sag like the cloth in the Kappa and there´s no (badly done) fake wood in the Alfa. Why do I prefer the Kappa? It´s very fine to drive, its 2.0 litre engines don´t struggle and its striking plain-ness works better than the Alfa´s rather vaguely deflating surfaces.

    1. Grain of salt and all that, but as most people here will know, the 166 had an extremely long (unintended) gestation. This is generally blamed on indecisiveness over the styling and partially on a wish to prioritise the 156, but if memory serves, these were not the only reasons. I seem to remember that originally, the 166 was supposed to have the same all-strut arrangement as the k; Cantarella (?) then drove a prototype and, much like with the 916 GTV, demanded it be reworked. Hence the wishbone/multilink arrangement it ended up with. In any case, it might be that the delay was used to refine some aspects such as the interior. I would also suggest that, as a general point, there was significant progress being made in that period with interiors across most manufacturers – I agree the k’s interior is not its strong point, but the half-decade between the k and the 166 saw some major advances generally in this area across the board, which may be a factor.

      As for pre-FL versus post-FL, I am firmly in the post-FL camp – one of the few unequivocal Fiat Group facelift success stories, in my opinion. This might just be urban legend but wasn’t the original 166 nose effectively admitted to be something of an unintentional mess-up by the designers, supposedly a result of using scale models rather than a full-size mockup to sign off on the original front end?

    2. There are 166s with badly done fake wood inside.
      Initially the type of centre console was depending on the colour of the seats. Grey or beife seats got you white instruments, a wooden steering wheel and gearlever knob and awful fake wood for the centre console.

    3. Dave, this isn’t fake wood,but a veneer glued on another surface, as is common auto industry practice since the late-1980s. Back in 2001, our CAD professor showed us a video on Mercedes-Benz’s production methods (it featured late versions of the W124, so this says something about its age) and the narrator explained that, for passenger safety reasons, wood veneers were glued on flexible aluminum strips that were then added to the dashboard and door cards. The Citroën Xantia, however, did feature fake wood: plastic with woodgrain pattern printed on a film glued on it, and it looked like a pretty low-resolution print. Fender’s MIJ/CIJ “Foto flame” Strats and Teles looked much better, although there were some tell-tale signs that they didn’t feature actual flamed maple in their construction.

    4. Look at the way the cigarette lighter, the SIM card slot or the cassette player are set into the surface – how would you stretch real wood to such forms?

    5. Dave, a vacuum press can bend veneer to this shape. Many guitar companies do it to apply very thin exotic wood veneers on carved tops that are made from cheaper woods or from cheaper grades of the same species as the one of the veneer (for instance, a AAA-grade flame maple veneer over a plain maple carved top). Mercedes-Benz’ W124 had very thin zebrano or rosewood veneers applied on top of aluminum strips, as I mentioned earlier. Another option, which seems to be what all car manufacturers do today, would be to do what Fender did with its Foto Flame guitars.

      At any rate, most car manufacturers have stopped using solid wood in their cars since 1995 or thereabouts: ever since then, it’s either veneers or wood-effect films on some other material. Besides cost (obviously) there are other reasons for this: wood interior panels don’t behave nicely in a car crash, and there’s the CITES thing, too. Far too many prized, exotic wood species today are vulnerable or even outright threatened with extinction due to overharvesting.

    6. Also, Dave, as was pointed out in the article I linked to, with real wood (rather than engineered and films) you also have to contend with the issue of unpredictability: until you cut the tree, you don’t know what grain patterns you’ll get. Also, we’ve lost way too many large, old growth trees that had fantastic figuring and dense grain in their wood. And what happens when you want your car’s wood trim to be of a certain species with a certain figuring pattern, but no wood supplier can give you that? Are you going to keep your production line on hold until you get the wood? I don’t think so.

  18. My first car was a 164 TS Super. The 164 facelift was in my opinion a fantastic job. Beautiful car.

    The doors are made so heavy that they tend to flex the doorposts at the hinges. Uber-engineering italian style.

  19. As the 166 basically shared the same 3.2 V6 as the 156 and 147 in slightly detuned form (instead of say a detuned version of the 300 hp 3.5 V6 used in the 156 GTAm prototype), that together with its tamer appearance as well as the lack of a suitable 2-litre turbodiesel (plus more potent 2.4 JTD to create distance between the two diesels) taken together all played a role in hampering the 166’s success relative to its smaller siblings.

    1. The 3.2 litre engine in the 166 had exactly the same 240 PS as in the GTAs or 916.
      An engine that was slightly detuned because there wasn’t enough room for a performance oriented exhaust was the 3.0 in the 916 GTV.
      3.2 litres (which translates to 93 millimetres for the bore) was the useful limit of the Busso engine for series production. Some tuners like Savali took them to 3.6 litres which weakened the main bearing supports in the block too much and was not a useful proposition for series production.
      A diesel buyer could choose between the 10V 2.4 with ~150 PS and the 20V with ~180 PS. A smaller diesel would not have been appropriate for a car of this class. We shouldn’t forget that this was before diesels went to more than 100 PS/litre.

    2. It may have had the same output at the GTA/916, though would it not have made sense for Alfa Romeo to further distinguish the 166 as its flagship saloon with a higher power V6 relative to its smaller and sporty stablemates instead of getting lost in the shuffle due to its tamer exterior?

      Unfortunate the N.Technology developed 3548cc V6 was not a realistic possibility, would a turbocharged/biturbo version of the 3.0-3.2 V6 putting out around 260-280 hp (as opposed to a reputed 166 2.5 Biturbo V6 prototype in 1996) have been better for the 166 along the lines of the Renault Safrane Biturbo?

      It is surprising the 166 never merited receiving the 138-148 hp 1.9 Multijet diesel in its last few years in production like on the smaller 147 and 156, since even its E-Segment rivals also possessed 2-litre diesel with similar outputs.

    1. Hi Konstantinos. They’re not great, are they, just generic Chinese designs. What a sorry end for the 166’s excellent underpinnings. (I’ve taken the liberty of embedding a couple of photos into your comment.)

    2. Hey Daniel, good call throwing these photos in. While I’ve seen much frumpier cars churned out by Chinese manufacturers, the technical excellence of the 166 floorpan makes them painful.

  20. I’ve commented on certain details of the car and its Chinese reincarnation. Now, I’ll try to say a few words on the car itself. I’m sorry to say I’ve never driven one, or sat in one: its interior was really welcoming. In fact, I think it was even more elegant than the Lancia Kappa’s, and I’ll explain why.

    For starters, the engineered wood (as Dave has kindly helped us establish) on the Alfa’s dashboard is executed in a much better manner than its counterpart on the Kappa. The “wood” in the Alfa is what you’d expect of a modern car – inset panels. Its matt finish is a nod to some beloved Italian dashboards such as that of the Lancia Flavia Coupé or the Flavia Milleotto Berlina, or Alfa’s own 105/115-series coupés (such as the 1750GTV I’ve always had a very soft spot for).

    On the contrary, the Kappa’s console frame is made to look like it was made of wood, and it had a lacquer that didn’t know if it was semi-matt or semi-gloss; it sure looked plasticky. It was also unrealistic for another reason: after Ralph Nader’s seminal Unsafe at Any Speed book (which has been decried by macho mouthpieces of the automotive industry), no car manufacturer would ever make the parts of a dashboard or console that are likely to hit a passenger’s head or limbs out of wood. If they’d given a wood-effect look to the climate control panel, the head unit’s lid, and the lid’s frame, leaving the central console plastic, the result might have been easier on the eye.

    Additionally, Alfa Romeo’s stylists chose to imitate an interesting and beautiful wood, and with a really nice figuring. I think it’s bubinga, which is now under harsh export restrictions as it’s listed in CITES Appendix II, thanks to the Chinese nouveaux riche‘s insatiable and forest-devouring appetite for hongmu furniture. Bubinga was exactly the wood (real or engineered) featured in Lancia Dedra. The early Dedra dashboards had mostly straight-grained, almost looking like they were quartersawn, veneers; post-facelift cars were obviously given engineered wood – you can’t get that many pieces of burl wood, regardless of species. In fact, it looks like the same engineered (or veneered) wood was featured in post-facelift Themas (and, obviously, on the 8.32).

    The Kappa’s interior was also saddled with two extra eyesores: the passenger-side airbag’s cover, and (at least on early cars) the steering wheel with the humongous airbag housing.

    Re: exterior style, I’m not exactly sure where I stand. The concave curvature along the sides of the 166 somehow helps the car appear smaller than it really is, but perhaps it goes a bit too deep. Also, I’m not sure it resolves well up front: the headlights, grille, and shield look like they were hastily adapted from the 145/146. I think it’d have looked better if the headlights were a bit taller, I don’t know. I certainly didn’t like the facelifted frontal treatment; its 147-derived “shield” cutout on the front bumper brings back memories of mockery and derision by American car forum members who compared the 147 and the post-facelift 166 to the Edsel. Ouch. Let’s say it’s a shape that features a bunch of interesting ideas that didn’t flow naturally into each other, completely unlike the glorious pre-facelift 164.

    Now, let’s have a look at the floorpan and drivetrain. The front suspension was complex, perhaps unnecessarily so, making the car costlier to produce, test, fine-tune, and – most importantly – run and maintain. I know this would have sounded like anathema to the Alfa fundamentalists within Fiat (with Cantarella – or, more aptly, Cacarella – being the most prominent of them all), but I’ll go out on a limb and I’ll say the top brass should have vetoed the use of double wishbones up front: I’d have told them to simply fine-tune the Kappa’s chassis.

    Another problem with the floorpan is that neither the Kappa nor the 166 got 4WD versions. This limited their appeal, as it effectively ruled out the use of more powerful engines (can you imagine a 4WD V8 166 or Kappa?), leaving lots of room in the market to the Germans. Predictably, they immediately stepped in and filled it with the M5 and W210 AMG.

    Of course, the less said about the Fiat Group’s understanding of the importance of things like properly integrating and implementing mobile telephony (with actual multi-language support) and navigation, the better. The same goes for the Fiat Group’s abysmal and dehumanizing after sales “service”. In fact, even the pre-sale experience sucks; their dealers have always made me wonder if they actually wanted to sell anything, if they gave a damn about their work, and if they knew what they were talking about.

    1. Alfa still made parts that coul d have head contact from wood.
      Beginning with the GTV6’s steering wheel they used wood powder impregnated with resin and pressed into form. Hey presto, you got splinter free wooden material and you can give it any shape you want.
      It was used on the 166’s steering wheel, too.
      Having owned some Alfas with McPherson front suspension and several with double wishbone I can only say the latter is worth the increased effort. In addition to their clean Ackermann geometry (responsible for the enormous turning circle) they work significantly better than the pure strut arrangement which has a tendency to be very crashy.
      The 166s in car entertainment system first came from JVC (hence the harman/kardon designation for the DSP), later from Blaupunkt (Bosch). At least in my car the integration was perfect, I could use any lange on the phone I liked…

    2. Dave: yeah, this technique is now used for guitar fingerboards as a substitute for rosewood and ebony. As for in-car telephony integration, I’m talking about menu structure and support for languages like Greek (my 2009 Lancia Delta, infuriatingly, doesn’t have Unicode fonts, so I can’t have my contacts or SMS messages in Greek).

  21. Regarding Dave’s comments regarding the wood pack. The three basic options for interior were Classic, Sport and Elegant. None of these options came with the wood. The wood pack was an option on any interior, as was the leather on the pre-face lift cars. The interior on my 166 is Sportivo (black, black dials, charcoal headlining and carpets), and it also has the wood-pack option. I really like this option, the gear knob and wheel in particular, very pipe and slippers. I can live with the wood effect centre console as this stands out as a (retro)”computer” within the sweeping interior anyway.

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