The night before the 1923 Targa Florida, a marathon road race through the mountains of Sicily, one of the Alfa Romeo mechanics was unable to sleep. He returned to the garage where (Ugo Sivocci's 3.0-liter RL SS Grand Prix car sat, race ready covered by light canvas cloth.
The restless mechanic opened his paint locker and brushed a white triangle on the hood of the car. Inside it, for luck he painted a green cloverleaf. By dawn, the paint was dry.
Despite some close calls the next day, Ugo and the cloverleaf car went on to dominate and win the race. From that day in 1923 forward, the auspicious green four leaf clover--considered a good luck charm for Alfa Romeo--has graced the panels of some of the Italian firm's finest road cars.
In the 1980s, Alfa Romeo developed a sports sedan that would unite its skills as an engine and chassis builder with avant garde styling. By doing this, they hoped to appeal both to the upscale European market as well as to those middle-aged American baby boomers who were becoming safely ensconced as middle and upper managers.
The result of that development program is the Milano sedan, known as the "75" in Europe. Introduced in 1986 in three trim levels--Silver, Gold and Platinum--the 2.541iter Milano was well reviewed for its handling but much criticized for its unconventional appearance.
Because of the odd styling, sales were slow at first. Gradually though, as a giving circle of adventurous buyers found the car both interesting and comfortable, sales climbed to achieve their current acceptable level in America. In Europe, the Milano has done very well, indicating even better times ahead for Alfa's huge parent, Fiat.
Now Alfa has added a new model to the Milano line, one that has not only more power and a more aggressive personality, but that also resurrects the good-luck symbol of 1923. Called the Verde, and proudly stamped with a green four-leaf clover, it sports a new 3.O-liter engine that really brings the Milano to life and creates a potent challenger in the sport sedan market at a very attractive price.
In fact, the numbers show that our Verde test car has performance potential on a par with that of the Porsche 944: O to 6O mph in 7.8 seconds, a top end of 136 and surprising economy: 21.9 city and 35 highway. We know, though, that numbers are only one part of the performance story.
Let us put it to you very simply: We kept the Milano 3.O Verde for nearly twice the test period agreed on. Why? Because the car is a blast to drive. It's rare for a genuine 4-passenger car to have the verve and spirit of a sporting machine, but the Verde manages the trick with vivacious rear-drive handling, smooth V-6 acceleration and an ergo nominally sound interior.
The new 3.O-liter alloy V-6, also fitted to the 164, has excellent throttle response and pulls con brio through all five gears. Enlarged from the previous 2.5, the new V-6 turns the Verde into a first-rate sports sedan with its 183-hp potential. The factory-installed Recaro bucket seats for driver and passenger augment the Verde's sporting intent. These German competition-style buckets offer superb lateral support so the driver can concentrate on making the car work, yet, their orthopedic contours make them very comfortable over long distances.
Alfa's racing heritage shows where it counts most--under the hood. Twist the key in this Milano and you're greeted with a healthy, resonant exhaust note. Tap the slender gas pedal and the motor snarls up to its 65OO-rpm redline like an angry puma.
To get away smoothly, the Verde demands a light and precise touch from the driver, but it will reward that light touch with nimble and exact handling. There is a bit of understeer through hard corners, and some dramatic body roll at the front end, but even so, the Milano will track through a well-steered corner with stability and ease. Its balance is nearly ideal, due to the front engine/rear transaxle division made familiar by the Porsche 944 setup. This helps keep the Verde from being front-heavy and protects the driver from unhappy surprises. It turns in very nicely, and once the body roll becomes an expected part of the car's behavior, the handling is delightfully predictable.
A combination of twin "A" arms in front and a beefy DeDion rear axle located by two control arms gives the Milano Verde a ride that, though not harsh, has a taut, sporty feel. Suspension, front and rear, is supple and smooth, although it seems to react rather slowly during quick transitions, particularly on rough surfaces. This is more the result of long suspension travel than any lack of strength in the platform. That travel, though, contributes to an extremely adaptable system, which remains undaunted by potholes and railroad crossings other race-bred elements include the aluminum 5-speed transaxle and inboard rear brake discs to match the Milano's standard front discs. In this position the big rear discs receive a better flow of cooling air and are much easier to service.
Steering is a specialty in this flying four-door The car has a quick steering ratio and razor-sharp rack-and-pinion. The turning circle is large for a car of this wheelbase, but the car's long stride also gives it excellent stability all the way to the top end of its 135-mph potential. The thick, leather-covered wheel uses a tilt/telescope adjustment, which was comfortable for this driver, but even so the angle of the wheel is different from most others and is at first somewhat strange.
It took us a few days to relax with an unusual placement of gas, brake and clutch pedals, but once we did, and learned to heel-and-toe successfully, the Alfa took on an even more aggressive character. The brakes, with ATE anti-skid built in, were very well matched to the size and power of the Verde--a treat for the drivers (like us) who like fast driving but don't like using other cars, bridges and brick walls to slow down.
Generally, all controls in our test car responded beautifully to driver inputs only the shifter was a little balky, and this was as much our fault as the car's. When we learned to go gently, the gearbox thanked us by providing seamless shifts, even under considerable power.
Visually, the Milano is, well, a little bizarre. It has a strong wedge shape, accented by the slanting hood line and the up-kick from the back door to the rear bumper. The trunk is very tall and has a high lift over point, but offers storage for this size of vehicle. In the Verde model, a tasty and understated rear spoiler replaces the black bumper strip of the other Milanos. It's a tremendous improvement and almost makes the unconventional rear end treatment work. In any case, the Verde, with its deep front air dam and fender flares, is a more attractive and complete presentation than the previous Milano models.
Inside, the Verde is all business, with a higher level of comfort than might be expected from its sporty character. Its dashboard is special to this model and uses excellent, traditional round needle gauges with white pointers and orange numbers on a black background. Day or night, the dials are striking and very easy to read. Instrumentation also includes gauges for oil pressure, water temp, gas and voltage. A warning system with beeper and orange flashing light sits at the top of the center console, which alerts the driver to any major problems while monitoring oil level and brake pad wear.
Switches for the front power windows are located above the windshield in a top console, along with the sunroof control and a child safety lock out to disable the rear power windows. The least satisfying aspect of the interior is the location of the radio, which is placed down low behind the shifter. To borrow a phrase, its location is akin to strapping your wristwatch to your ankle before going out in the morning. Nor does it deliver high-quality sound. It's simply too thin to overcome the engine's healthy song.
An excellent car in its own right, the Verde looks even better when its cost is factored in. At port of entry, the Verde runs $19,OOO, with only two available options: the electric sunroof for $795 and metallic paint for $35O. Neither make the car go faster, but we'd order them anyway. Like other new Alfas, the Milano Verde is covered by a three-year,36,OOO-mile limited warranty, with six- year, 6O,OOO-mile rust protection.
As part of Alfa Romeo's plan to greatly increase its sales in America, the Milano Verde is a Milano Verde bella way to begin.
Milano Twin Turbo
The Milano Yerde is Alfa's performance entry in the sedan category and the enthusiast has a chance to improve an already stunning performance car. In fact, Alfa Romeo is a particularly enlightened company in that regard--they've made sure that the bits and pieces to make a good car even better are already here. We only wish that VW Motorsport took the same serious attitude toward street performance
For the "Club Sport" driver who wants his handing to be more than legendary. Alfa offers a completely revised suspension system that includes stifer-rate anti-roll bars higher-rate springs and more performance-oriented shock waiving it's available From Bobcor. 9O West Paiisade Avenue, Inglewood. NJ O7631, (201) 568 988O.
And for those drivers who find the healthy Milano Verde 3.0 liter Y.6 1acking, Callaway Engineering offers a stunning twin-turbo conversion that delivers enough performance to leave just about anything behind. Aifa Romeo contacted Cailaway to develop the intercooled conversion for the sexy GTV6. and that car was sold by Alfa Romeo through selected dealers across the US. (Availability of the Callaway Twin turbo Aifa represents one of the few times that a higher performance version of a car has been available here than is offered in Europe!)
No backyard conversion, the Callaway Twin Turbo Alfas were extensively engineered. Then subjected to the rigors of Alfa's own engine durability testing before being okayed for release. Air from the twin IHI turbos has a short 18-in. path from the compressor outlet through the intercooler to the face of the inlet valve; with this setup "turbo iag" becomes a figment of someone else's imagination.
All the good stuff is built into the Callaway Twin-Turbo system: Fabricated stainless-steel headers feed the turbos and dual injectors add the extra fuel under boost supplementing the factory Injection The forged Alfa pistons are modified to lower the compression ratio to accommodate the turbo boost.
As adapted for the Miiano and Milano Verde the Callawy yield even higher output than than on the GTV6 due to an improved air fitering system. The stock Verde offers 154 horsepower at 5500 rpm, the Callaway Twin-Turbo puts 242 at 5500 under foot, with 258 ft-lb of torque at 2500 rpm. And the Verde with a Callaway Twin-Turbo offers the one thing that is nicer than a car with gobs of horsepower: a car with gobs of horsepower that has the chassis to handle it. For information, contact: Callaway Engineering, 3 High Street. Old Lyme CT 06371 (203) 434-9002.