"It's an Alfa what? Romero?""No! R-O-M-E-O, Romeo!" Alfa owners in the U.S. often go through that tiresome scenario. I've dealt with it, what with owning three of them from 1990-97. It's truly a shame that most American drivers have never experienced what Alfas represent--a raw, feel-everything-by-the-seat-of-your-pants driving experience tempered by an emotional appeal that makes the Italians exhort "che bella macchina!"
Despite Alfa Romeo officially disappearing from U.S. shores more than half a decade ago, American Alfisti--a relatively small but fiercely loyal group in the know--keep the Alfa flame aglow, with particular attention directed at the "newer" V6s. Cases in point: Two of these three Milano Verdes have been tinkered with; the third one is, relatively speaking, stock.
Alfa Romeo introduced the Milano (the Alfa 75 in Europe and other parts of the world) to the U.S. in 1987 to succeed the GTV6 2.5 liter, and continued production through 1989. Three 2.5-liter V6 versions were made available in the States, beginning with the entry-level Silver edition followed by the Gold and Platinum editions. The Quadrifoglio version of the Milano, known as the Milano Verde, was given a more powerful 3.0-liter V6, rated at 183 bhp at 5800 rpm and 181 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm--29 more bhp and torque than the lesser 2.5-liter versions. Aside from the larger displacement, the 3.0-liter engine is virtually the same as the 2.5-liter engine in terms of dimensions, making it a popular swap into 2.5-liter Milanos and GTV6s.
In addition to the power enhancement, the Verde model received other factory upgrades that did not go unnoticed. For instance, the interior was equipped with a tasteful Recaro interior featuring front seats with more lateral support than almost any other street car I've ever driven. The instrument cluster was changed, featuring less congested, more racecar-like gauges, including a 160-mph speedometer. The driveline was modified with a taller 3.55 rear end (vs 4.11 for the 2.5L Milanos). On the exterior side, the more aggressive fender flares, side skirts and trunk spoiler were dead giveaways. The Verde Milanos were also available in few colors, including red, black and anthracite, all sporting the same black and gray two-tone Recaro interior.
The first Alfa shown here is a red standard 1989 Milano formerly owned by Anthony Rimicci--he has since sold it to a lucky gentleman in the Santa Cruz, Calif. area. Anthony grew up in an Alfa Romeo family--he and his family race and time-trial Alfa Romeos, and his father, Santo Rimicci, has an Alfa shop in Los Angeles.
Anthony opted to keep the factory integrity of the Milano, so the only upgrades his Alfa had were a set of Shankle springs and an Ansa dual-tip muffler. The mint interior was the only one of the three to sport the original Alfa Milano steering wheel. The purr of the stock V6 engine, a sound only an Alfa Romeo can make, echoed melodiously off the Irwindale Speedway's walls as he drove by.
The black '89 Milano Verde belongs to Jorge Mazlumian (Note the resemblance of the last name to the author's). Being as clean as it is, one could hardly tell it showed more than a quarter-million miles (262k, to be more precise) on the odometer. Jorge had put on a set of anthracite 16-in. Team Dynamics wheels wrapped with 205/45-16 Sumitomo HTRZ-2 tires, which provide more grip than the factory rubber. Shankle torsion bars and rear springs replaced the stock components, giving the Milano a lower center of gravity, Koni dampers were used to add a bit more tautness to the ride, and Shankle front and rear swaybars were installed to further minimize body roll. Interestingly, there weren't too many compromises with this suspension setup, and the car is still very streetable--long-distance commutes are not a problem for Jorge.
The engine had been rebuilt about 90k miles ago but is still pulling strong. Factory camshafts from the later 164 S-model Alfa were installed. The rev limiter was removed to allow more rpm, and a K&N replacement filter was put in the stock air box. A dual-tip Ansa exhaust replaced the single-tip factory muffler.
To substantiate the car's horsepower claims, the red Milano was sent to the McMullen Argus Tech Center for some third-gear runs on the Dynojet 248C dynamometer. The engine seemed to be doing just fine, with a healthy pull measuring 153.0 hp at the wheels at 5500 rpm, and 155.9 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. The rev limiter kicked in at 6700 rpm. What I couldn't believe was the flat torque curve! The car made 90 percent of its peak torque from below 1500 rpm (we took measurements from 1500 rpm on) all the way to 5700 rpm! By 6000 rpm--500 more than where it made its peak hp--the car was still making 150 hp, a figure it kept up from 5200 to 6000 rpm. This meant that after 5500 rpm, where it peaked out in power, the car still had plenty of grunt left. After the dyno run, Jorge's Alfa was sent to a weighing station. Tipping the scales with full fluids at 3,080 lb meant this Milano has to pull 20 lb per wheel horsepower.
Interior enhancements include well-known Italian name brands such as a MOMO Monte Carlo steering wheel and shift knob, and Sparco pedals. For his driving-school weekends and Alfa Romeo Owners of Southern California (AROSC) Time Trials, Jorge has bolted in a fire extinguisher and a five-point harness--both are mandatory for running AROSC events.
To save the life of his street tires (and be able to lap a little quicker), he uses 15-in Team Dynamics alloy wheels with Kumho Victoracer R-compound tires at these events. Porterfield R-4 brake pads are used, allowing the car to be pushed further into the braking zones (though they're not so good for city streets; they don't work well until they're warmed up!).
The third of our trio of Alfas belongs to Giovanni Rizzo, and it tends to get a little more attention on public roads than the typical Milano. Aside from the fact that it's really red, the Milano's factory Alfa 75 Evoluzione body kit imported from Europe is guaranteed to grab the eye. The front fender flares are much more pronounced, giving this Alfa a very touring-car-like look, the lighter weight front and rear bumpers take the place of the factory ones, and a front splitter adds an aggressive, finishing touch to this beauty.
Giovanni feels the car is a bit more stable at high speeds with the new aerodynamics. To harmonize the bumpers with the car's color, the entire car was sprayed factory Alfa red at Domenic's Body Shop in Santa Ana, Calif.
A nice set of 7x16-in. Team Dynamics Motorsport wheels with 205/45-16 Pirelli P7000s mate the car to the road. Other exterior upgrades include European H4 lighting, European badges and painted red calipers.
To improve the car's cornering capabilities, the red Alfa received quite an extensive suspension treatment. Koni Sport special "D" dampers were used in conjunction with Shankle springs and torsion bars, and Shankle Supersport swaybars keep body roll to an absolute minimum. Giovanni also had installed an SZ castor rod modification, which involves replacement of the rubber bushings for spherical joints. Giovanni opted to keep the brake system stock, except for the installation of OMP sport pads and stainless-steel brake lines.
The most labor-intensive upgrades happened within this Alfa's engine compartment. At Omega Motorsports in SoCal, the 3.0 motor received a fresh new set of factory Alfa 164 S cams and pistons which, along with the crank, rods and flywheel, were balanced and blueprinted for maximum performance. Other upgrades inside the engine bay include a Kirshtein-modified ECU, Hose Technologies silicone vacuum hoses, Magnecor wires, a K&N air filter and a Racing Technologies aluminum radiator to help keep temperatures down. To reduce backpressure, the stock exhaust and headers were replaced by SZ headers and a Magnaflow rear muffler.
Driving the Evo Milano around on the street was an absolutely enjoyable experience, but the car was begging to be taken to the racetrack. The suspension feel was very similar to the black car's--the ride wasn't too stiff and could be easily tolerated in a daily commute. Although initially not as torquey as the black Milano, the Evo's rev-happy V6's increased torque became apparent after 4000 rpm, shooting the tach needle freely up through redline.
The red Evo was also sent to the McMullen Argus Tech Center for dyno testing. Giovanni and I really had no idea how much power we would see. Considering the black car topped out at 153 hp, we expected to see more power. At a more peaky 6000 rpm, Giovanni's Alfa put down 174.5 hp at the wheels, with 167.5 lb-ft of torque at 4550 rpm--21.5 and 11.6 more peak horsepower and lb-ft of torque, respectively, than Jorge's car.
At the weigh station the car tipped the scales at 3,010 lb with full fluids. The lost weight was more than likely due to the lightweight front and rear bumpers, but the SAS Bazooka subwoofer in the trunk also increased the overall weight by several pounds. This, in conjunction with the increased power, meant Giovanni's car was hauling only 17.2 lb per wheel horsepower.
The Alfa Milanos were a marvel to drive, but there are a few downsides to these cars. The problematic synchros will make you grind a 1-2 shift if you're not careful with the shift lever. It's as though you have to feel the vibrations stop in your hand before you can put it into second or first gears. Any quick move and it's probably the ugliest sound you'll hear in a long time.
It's also unfortunate the stereo head unit is located in a very difficult position if you've upgraded to a CD player--at highway speeds inserting a CD required me to shift to fourth gear to make room.
The window switches were located in a funky spot--up by the sunroof--which causes first-time drivers to wonder how in the hell to roll down the windows. Lastly, these cars don't make enough power to fully utilize the tranny's tall gearing. In the red Evo, an indicated 80 mph at the top of second gear made me realize there was a definite need for shorter gearing. With the mph in second gear down to about 55 or 60 mph, I believe the Milano Verdes would pull much harder, having plenty of revs left over in the upper gears for relaxed, highway cruising.
The current state of the Italian car market here--what little there is of it in the way of exotic Ferraris and Lambos--keeps the general public from fully experiencing what the Italians are capable of producing--where the driver feels truly at one with the road. Until Alfa returns to the U.S., we are fortunate to have Alfisti (and Milanos) such as these to keep the home fires burning. Alfa come back!
The pleasure of driving on a racetrack
In June I took the black Milano Verde to a time-trial event hosted by the Alfa Owners Club of Southern California (AROSC) at Buttonwillow, Calif. Having never driven an Alfa on the racetrack, I had no idea what to expect. Plus, as it was my father's daily driver, there were constant thoughts in the back of mind, such as, "You break it, you die!" Despite all that, I had a blast.
For a four-door sedan, the Milano's handling felt superb. Nothing I've ever driven compares to the feeling of throwing an Alfa around the turns. Understeer was evident but easily taken care of with a little throttle steering around the faster sweeping turns.
What surprised me the most was how nimble it actually was around the tighter corners. The black Milano just whipped back and forth through the chicane with go-kart-like precision. Okay, I exaggerate, but the car was also at the very least very forgiving--covering up a few mess-ups on my part, keeping me on the road. (I don't think I was supposed to go over the "Magic Mountain" turn at Buttonwillow with complete countersteer, was I?) Nevertheless, the Milano continued to communicate, giving me a really good feel for what was happening under it--and it's sad this is something missing out of a lot of today's cars. I quickly grew comfortable with the Milano, realizing that many of the handling characteristics reminded me of an E36 BMW M3. (Easy, Alfisti!)
I was relieved this car was dynoed prior to this event. In my past experiences with these Milanos, I learned to not always trust what the tachometer measured. At an indicated (and very noisy) 5000 rpm, the rev limiter kicked in, but the dyno read 6700 rpm, which told me it was up to 1700 rpm off at that particular moment! As a result, I shifted at an indicated 4000 rpm on the racetrack, not wanting to risk any excessive wear on the engine. I figured this was close to an actual 5500 rpm.
I brought the car into the pits after my time-trial run and noticed the water temperature was a little higher than it had been all weekend. Like an idiot I had forgotten to turn off the air conditioner during my five timed laps.
So how did the time trial go? Well, I didn't win anything, but it was fun trying to keep up with some of the smaller, faster, more nimble race-prepared Alfa GTVs in my class. Had this car had a little bit of negative camber (even the Kumho's sidewalls had wear), shorter gearing and a free-flow exhaust system (stay tuned for a Stebro exhaust test in an upcoming issue) installed, I'm sure this Milano would have been much more competitive at this event. But hey, it's a daily driver, remember? In any case it was great fun to drive the Milano as it was, and I would gladly enter it in another event if I could. What do you say, paps? --PM
Alfa Romeo 164Q
The most powerful Alfa ever offered in the U.S.
Following the Milano's departure, Alfa offered the U.S. a newer, front-wheel-drive sedan, known as the Alfa 164, in 1990-1995. Of the 7,000 or so units brought stateside, only about 100 came tagged with the four-leaf-clover emblem, dubbed the 164 Q in 1994-95.
The standard 164 models sold from 1990-1993 were the 164 and the 164 S, both of which were equipped with a 3.0-liter engine producing 183 bhp and 200 bhp at the crank, respectively. In 1994, the U.S. was blessed with the introduction of the 164 LS, which sported a quad cam, 24-valve 210-bhp 3-liter engine--more power than the previous 164 Sport version. At the same time, a few examples of the quad-cam 164 Q were offered to the few who could get their hands on one. This Alfa sported a more highly tuned intake manifold and exhaust system, and received a 230 bhp at 6300-rpm rating, with 202 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. The Alfa was capable of speeds around 150 mph.
A pristine example of a 164 Q came from the driving hands of Silvano Suto. The bottom half of the flawless 164 was covered in anthracite plastic, which was nicely complemented with anthracite O.Z. F1 wheels. The only other upgrades this car received were a K&N drop-in filter, cross-drilled rotors, stainless-steel lines and high-performance Porterfield pads.
Like the Milanos, the 164 Q had a very smooth pull to redline, but the power was more pronounced than with the Milanos. At around 4500 rpm the engine would wake up as if to say, "Hold on to your butt!" The gearing was much shorter than the Milanos which, mated with the extra power, allows for considerably quicker acceleration. On our dyno, the 164 Q pulled 202.6 hp at 6100 rpm with 183.7 lb-ft of torque at a peaky 5000 rpm. Had the car been able to shed a few hundred pounds from its 3,510-lb weight (with full fluids), we'd probably see low 6-sec. 0-to-60-mph blasts. Maybe it's time to upgrade your Milano or GTV6 with one of these engines?
So here we have a car that shifts much smoother and has more power than the Milano 3.0s. Its exterior styling is wonderful, and the brakes work great. But, unlike the Alfa Milano, the 164 is front-wheel drive. And this could be the main reason why so many Alfa Milano owners decided not to upgrade to this newer model. --PM
Alfa Romeo Owners Club
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