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Future Classic Friday: Alfa Romeo 166

Published 20 October 2017

There's something very difficult to explain about an Alfa Romeo. Usually, why you bought it in the first place (especially to your nearest and dearest). After all, despite the passionate pleas of those who adore the marque, there really is no rational reason for owning one.

I mean, who wants a large executive saloon with shocking depreciation, flaky reliability and - despite claims to the contrary - some rather disturbing rust issues?

The 166 is a case in point. It was, in many ways, a wonderful car. Stunning to look at, great to drive and reasonably straightforward to own (when new at least). But it was always an enthusiasts' car, and that means that only 3000 or so were ever sold in the UK, between 1998 and 2004. 

Of those, though, the most startling statistic is that only 400 or so survive. It's a rare beast, indeed.

Alfa Romeo 166 (2)

There are reasons, of course. First and foremost, the 166 was as reliable as Alfa Romeos always have been - that is, not very. Of course, the brand's hardcore fans will tell you that's not true, but the proof of the pudding is and there are many 166s that have fallen by the wayside thanks to mechanical failure.

A problem underlined by the fact that parts were either unavailable, or stupidly expensive. Throw in a body that is extremely resistant to rust but a floor that isn't, and many a 166 owner has been dealt an unpleasant surprise when they've taken their car to the MoT centre. They may look great shiny-side up, but 166s do have an unfortunate propensity to corrode where the sun doesn't shine.

And that's a crying shame, because they're utterly beautiful cars. Jeremy Clarkson once described the 166 as the 'best car in the world', and although we don't agree with him on many things, he did have a point.

Here was a well-equipped executive saloon that looked drop-dead gorgeous, was terrific to drive even in entry-level 2.0-litre Twin Spark form and could take the fight to BMW and Audi, if you squinted a bit and weren't paying the bills yourself.

Alfa Romeo 166 (3)

It is an utterly beguiling car. In form and in function, it performs brilliantly. When it works. And there's the rub. For the first few years, the 166 was inarguably brilliant. Thereafter, it became an expensive liability. A car that you really had to love to keep it going. 

And that's where it remains. Fans of the 166 will always be fans, and what that means is that the very best examples are truly lovely. If you want one (and there are many reasons for doing so), then seek out one of the best, and spend thousands rather than hundreds.

If you shop at the cheaper end of the market, you'll get a fabulous car that will make you smile for a while, until it unceremoniously craps itself. And it will. Of that, make no mistake. If a disposable bit of fun is what you're after, fill your boots, for the £500 166 still exists, if only just. 

If you want a future classic, a safe investment and a car that will always have enthusiast appeal, however, it makes sense to spend the money now. Find a nicely-specced V6, look after it properly, give it lashings of underseal and hold on tight, because in future years your car will be considered a bona fide classic.


Steve Harper    on 29 October 2017

I've owned a Ferrari 308GTS and a Dino 246 GT and I can honestly say my early 166 3.0 Super is up there.I mean it. It makes me smile every time I drive it.

U. FABIAN    on 29 January 2018

It was a pleasure to read your lines ... and I allways loved my 15 years old 166 - V6 - Busso Bomber ... and now I love much more. U gave me the confidence that it`s worth keeping my italian beauty year after year in perfect condition, even if it`s sometimes hard to explain to your wife. ??????

Peter Banks    on 18 January 2019

I bought my Alfa 166 20 years ago, when it was 1 year old. I have spent thousands on cambelt replacement but I have done 200km/mileage. It's stored in my garage each night and when my wife drove it from Auckland To Wellington in NZ 2 years ago she got out the car and said to me "You not getting this car back" I have recently bought her a new Mazda 3 SP25 and she wants the Alfa.
I drive a Mercedes Benz E350 and still find the Alfa a favourite to drive.
Hopefully one day it will be collectable, the Alfa that is but it gifted to the Southward Car Museum at Paraparaumu when I get to old to enjoy it. I don't want it destroyed by some idiot driver.

   on 6 January 2023

I would dispute the reliability claimed for the 166. This reputation stems form the depreciation it suffered, once it had become cheap it was not maintained (why spend £500+ on a cam belt change when he car only cost £500..) unsurprisingly they became unreliable. The good survivors are unsurprisingly those with a low number of owners, and more often than not those that had one owner, or have only recently been sold by the first owner. \the ones that bought them new, and maintained them. It is no more unreliable than anything German, they just ended up with little or no maintenance earlier in life

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