Alfa Romeo 164 Twinspark Super

Alfa Romeo 164 Twinspark Super

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Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Sunday 6th March 2016
quotequote all
Right - time to quit lurking and start contributing to PH! Seeing the black 166 shed and a lovely Alfa 90 here this weekend is surely the prompting I needed.

Summary - I have an Alfa 164 as a running restoration that has, against all expectations, become my favourite car. The ongoing battle for dwindling parts and evaporating knowledge will be documented here.

A picture before you get bored:

IMAG0639_zpsgiqvthlm by James Vincent

IMAG0642_zpsl8wqn9nh by James Vincent


Bit of history -

Three years ago I was at the stage in my restoration of a Rover P5B that I needed a runabout, for the winter and suchlike. Something that didn't singlehandedly contribute to oil demand for the UK, with a manual gearbox, was the starting point. I decided to look at the counterpoint to an english, classic, auto, V8 laden with chrome and wood. Fiat Coupes and Alfa GTVs were plentiful, cheap and seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I drove a few, looked at buying guides and generally ingratiated myself with online forums. While looking on a certain site for sub-1k Alfas, this black 164 showed up. A short advert listed it as long ownership, full service history and generally in sound shape, with an MOT, for the price of Rover P5B driver's seat. Interest piqued, especially after my saloon history (LS400, Mercedes 190 and Rover 600), I reread anything I could find on 164s and dialed the number. No answer. Tried later, still nothing, in fact it appeared to have been switched off. 'It must have been bought' I thought, probably by the same people that buy London gig tickets in nanoseconds and resell them.

At work that day I couldn't concentrate and studied the pictures more carefully. A partial street name guess later, I set off for Ealing Broadway in my work suit, no tools other than a screwdriver and some scavenged nitrile gloves. With darkness drawing in and phone battery dying, I found the street - of course the 164 had disappeared, likely sold. A dry outline and a few oil drips were photographed for posterity. Scowling and muttering, I resolved to at least confirm my failure. I knocked on a few doors and triangulated the owner's address. Lights on. Brand new Audi A3 in the driveway. Rang the bell and introducing myself to the lady who answered - could they confirm my suspicions? Well no actually, it was just being used to pick up the shopping and would be back in a moment. Would I like some tea? Most certainly.

The owner was a confirmed Alfa fanatic, who had a 2000 GT Veloce and the 164 as a family wagon for many years, having been bought from an Alfa dealer's son. Paperwork was substantial. We went for a test drive, which threw up a number of quirks and niggles but nothing too dangerous. 'Never buy a car in the dark' they say. Bought regardless for pennies, with the promise that I would keep it running.

Easier said than done...



Edited by Spinakerr on Sunday 6th March 19:36


Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 19:44

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Sunday 6th March 2016
quotequote all
The next morning I was still happy with my purchase. 11 months MOT, new battery and even the sunroof worked. As it appeared:

IMAG0458_zpsrzutmnfx by James Vincent

IMAG0459_zpsd5s8o3ea by James Vincent

IMAG0460_zpsc3j70aom by James Vincent

Does that exhaust look wrong to you?

Me too.

IMAG0466_zpso2e6cvpj by James Vincent

IMAG0467_zpsrcozfl5t by James Vincent

Oil, sorry, Olio was in good order and regular servicing evident, but everything had got to that typical level of tiredness: slow electric windows, lazy speedo, squeaky belts, vague steering, erratic idle, emulsifying plastics and hints of paint problems under the tired Nero black exterior.

After a new exhaust I set about driving it regularly and decided not to lavish any real attention on it.

The trouble is, it got under my skin. The Rover was lovely but only on sunny days, and every journey had the fear of a seized caliper, exploding radiator or alternator committing seppuku. Motorway journeys were much easier in the 164, the electric sunroof worked, changing gear manually was enjoyable and the engine note a distinct change from the rumbling V8.

Fine, I thought, I'll join the owners club just to keep an eye on things. I'm sure parts are still possible to obtain and people are just worrying on the forums. A twinspark is a twinspark isn't it? Not at all - in fact quite a number of items were 164 specific, although at least it was the last version of the 8V chain driven iteration. A quick check of howmanyleft revealed 164s, and especially twinsparks, to be an endangered species. I turned Attenborough overnight. Year one was mainly taken up with thorough servicing, prodding and investigation.

Alternator and drive belts were in a sorry state:

IMAG0498_zpsfepbbmk8 by James Vincent

One squeak down, along with some of my knuckles. Access isn't ideal!

IMAG0521_zpsof9kzqfo by James Vincent

Engine bay clearly hadn't been cleaned in a while.

Spark plugs, filters, fluids and sensors cleaned, I began driving and enjoying it even more.

IMAG0468_zpszg9lbe8k by James Vincent

Problem solving, retrofitting parts from other Type 4 platform vehicles (Saab 9000, Lancia Thema) and working out which random sensors and electrical components have the same values as the originals is definitely part of the fun. Haynes manual? Hilarious. Paper workshop manual? All those ones for sale are for the 3ltr V6, or the pre-facelift version.

Auto Italia at Brooklands has become a regular fixture, and the handful of 164 owner gather covertly to discus parts cars, uncovered caches of gaskets and generally ensure as many are still on the road as possible.

IMAG0465_zpsmy43dl6y by James Vincent

This 164 has a saving grace - it never, ever stopped. Items slowed, gave up, fell off and steamed or hissed or split or smelled, but it never stopped. I was smitten.


Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 19:42

Buff Mchugelarge

3,312 posts

127 months

Sunday 6th March 2016
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clap

Great post, I do like a good love story laugh
They're a good looking car I reckon, you can certainly see a bit of Saab 9000 in there, but enough Alfa too. I'm surprised how rare they are, one of those cars nobody notices until they've all but gone?

MarkwG

3,929 posts

166 months

Sunday 6th March 2016
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I miss mine still, one of the first in metallic blue such a lovely car, well.done for saving her.

Emeye

9,709 posts

200 months

Sunday 6th March 2016
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Great thread and car. I have had a couple of good experiences with cheap Alfas.

At one point I was in a similar position as you - a £401 Alfa 155 1.8TS and a Land Rover Freelander 1.8 - while the Freelancer was a regularly broken, the 155 was great.

crostonian

2,427 posts

149 months

Monday 7th March 2016
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Great cars and a good write up. Same with all the Alfas I've owned, and it's a lot, they've always got me to my destination and got me home. Lots of niggles and frustration but outweighed by lots of fun. Problem with the newer ones is you still have the same aggro but less of the enjoyment. Hope you manage to keep the old girl on the road without too much heartache. Oh and lose the rear spoiler wink

SVX

2,161 posts

188 months

Monday 7th March 2016
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I completely miss my old phase II 3.0 24v Super, it was awesome (until it overheated and dumped all the coolant through the heater matrix frying the electronics) - but with a supersprint cat back on it, it sounded glorious.

Nice work saving that one OP.

beautifulbusso

701 posts

142 months

Monday 7th March 2016
quotequote all
Great thread and a good read smile

Looks like you've got the bug pretty bad, is this your 1st Alfa?

The previous owner of my 90 bought himself a 164 Q4, hence why he sold the 90 for peanuts. Anyway, he took me out in it and I absolutely loved it, maybe I'll end up in a 164 one day...

I'll be at Brooklands this year so I'll keep an eye out for your 164.

Oh and on another note, there is an abounded 164 not that far from me which is a twinspark as well. It's in a sorry state but might come in handy for parts, and the best bit is that it's free!!!

waynedear

1,671 posts

144 months

Tuesday 8th March 2016
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Great car, I have the same engine in my 155, not the most powerful but I do love it.

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Sunday 13th March 2016
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Thanks for all your kind words and feedback - good to know there are so many former/current owners of the 80s/90s Alfas. I'll endeavour to chronicle as much here for your amusement/bemusement/entertainment as possible.


beautifulbusso said:
Looks like you've got the bug pretty bad, is this your 1st Alfa?

The previous owner of my 90 bought himself a 164 Q4, hence why he sold the 90 for peanuts. Anyway, he took me out in it and I absolutely loved it, maybe I'll end up in a 164 one day...

I'll be at Brooklands this year so I'll keep an eye out for your 164.

Oh and on another note, there is an abounded 164 not that far from me which is a twinspark as well. It's in a sorry state but might come in handy for parts, and the best bit is that it's free!!!
Please send me coordinates - I have the engine running and a socket set in hand! And yes I'll be at Brooklands, fawning over the even-rarer Lancia Gamma, despite moving house that afternoon. My first Alfa, likely not the last.

General notice - if anyone has a handle on a 164 being broken or parts in their store, please let me know via PM.

crostonian said:
Oh and lose the rear spoiler wink
I know, I know - it has been on my list to amputate since purchase, but it really needs to be done when I get a respray, which will be the very last item on the list. For now, it is an excellent tea mug rest.


One item that failed a few months in was the definition of aggravation itself - the driver's internal door release. Whenever I needed to exit the vehicle I would would need to clamber out of the passenger side, or wind down the window to pull the handle from the outside. Dignified it was not.

After stripping the door, the cause was as expected:

(picture of snapped internal cable)

New cable pack was picked up from the depths of a forgotten parts bin somewhere and fortunately fitted.

The cause of the somewhat imbalanced music playback was also uncovered:

(picture of shredded speaker cone)

Of course, as soon as this was fitted the offside passenger internal release cable snapped. Still looking for one of those!

For every rational piece of maintenance, I will usually fix or replace about five purely cosmetic annoyances.

This couldn't persist in my driving eyeline:

IMAG0600_zpsbk7qfe7g by James Vincent

Fortunately, £4 later:

IMAG0601_zpslcrufaan by James Vincent

Pure therapy.

MOT tester in year one pointed our a sticky seatbelt holder, and not long after it disintegrated:

IMAG0626_zpshxqw4vlx by James Vincent

By then I was cross-referencing Alfa parts lists in Excel and source the right one:

IMAG0627_zpsy4s8w9bq by James Vincent

Now here's a tough ask - does anyone know how to restore red plastic to its former glory? Nail polish? T-cut? The blood of a Florentine bull perhaps?












Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 19:50

crostonian

2,427 posts

149 months

Sunday 13th March 2016
quotequote all
When I had my last 3.0 Cloverleaf I bought a few bits from this guy, he only tends to break 164 V6s but he may have some trim parts and other bits and pieces.

http://www.gtvince.com/id4.html

Mr Tidy

17,113 posts

104 months

Monday 14th March 2016
quotequote all
Lovely car OP! thumbup

Wish I was brave enough for an Alfa but my wallet got raped by a couple of Fiat twin-cams in the 80s, and an Alfa can surely only be more painful?!

BTW I like the spoiler (but not the exhaust).

Anyway I hope you keep enjoying it as there aren't too many of these left, and they deserve to be saved.

Well done! thumbup

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Sunday 20th March 2016
quotequote all
crostonian said:
When I had my last 3.0 Cloverleaf I bought a few bits from this guy, he only tends to break 164 V6s but he may have some trim parts and other bits and pieces.

http://www.gtvince.com/id4.html
Thanks - I tried to contact him a few times as he had black Super bumpers, but couldn't get a response. I will give it another go.

Running through the photo history of ownership has been a little stroll in the memory banks. The oil filter on the car was new-ish but had salt/rust bonded to the car. Without an oil filter chain wrench, a stout screwdriver and WD40 won it over:

IMAG1251_zpsamd8bzw9 by James Vincent

The alloys that the came on were shot, and luckily a set of 4-bolt (twinspark) came up on that auction side. The were pretty grubby, and have peeled a bit on the edges but I will only refurbish them once I move to house with a driveway.

IMAG0629_zps0nzisr7y by James Vincent

Micheldever Tyres proved most helpful sorting out tracking figures and adjusting for wear. Bolt sizes on the databases were wrong, so I ended up having to have 16 'studs' and 16 screw socket ends for a few weeks as the bolts came in.

Changing a faded badge, like renewing a tired numberplate, usually means you are committed to a car. About 6 months in it was clear this car was receiving more funds than it should:

IMAG0670_zpseicipdvg by James Vincent





Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 19:53

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Sunday 20th March 2016
quotequote all
With the 8V twinspark, the chain can stretch slightly and is audible on start-up as a slight rattle. Rather than any kind of rebuild, a single nut can be slackened for the tensioner, then the car pushed in gear to take up the slack before the nut is tightened.

Further evidence of some overbilling to the previous owner - apparently the plugs were 'changed recently':

IMG_8189_zps8watlvah by James Vincent

Note also the cable tie on the top hose - shoddy work. Since all replaced.

We now come to the most Alfa-ish issue the car has - a very slighty erratic idle when warm. Not enough to warrant concern, but enough to annoy an owner.

This issue is still present today, but I'll cover what has been done so far, all suggestion welcome!

Idle control valve de-gunked:

IMAG0473_zpsuk3fgzqm by James Vincent

IMAG0109_zpsenjbwtdq by James Vincent

Reseated and hoses/clips all tightened. No luck

Unfortunately no progress, but I did paint the top plug cover the traditional Alfa red:

IMAG1926_zpsztjgqjus by James Vincent

IMAG1953_zpsxnpy1n78 by James Vincent

HT leads tested, two had splits and infinite resistance, so duly changed:

IMAG0523_zpsocygb5uv by James Vincent

IMAG2180_zps7bk191bf by James Vincent

No luck.

Oil catch can emptied and hoses further de-gunked, along with a healthy dose of MAF cleaning and butterfly valve de-coking:

IMAG1965_zpssxixm8rk by James Vincent

IMAG1263_zpszvpkr5cz by James Vincent

IMAG1264_zpsshbz9uxx by James Vincent

IMAG1265_zpsjl7ehid6 by James Vincent

Tracing a slight fuel smell led to the discovery of a small leak, quickly fixed:

IMAG0578_zps1c9sgwr6 by James Vincent

Still no luck. I'm beginning to think the only items left are:

1. Lambda sensor
2. Inlet manifold hoses
3. Throttle position sensor, although that was checked a while ago.
4. Fuel filter, which looks original and needs to be changed in any case.







Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 20:00

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Sunday 20th March 2016
quotequote all
Some driver-interface relevant photos:

Steering wheel looks good but had acquired a glossy sheen which I couldn't restore and despised. Fortunately, a beautiful wooden 916 wheel, which is the same for the late 164s, came up on ebay.de (of all places), and was snapped up for a handful of EUR. Luckily this was before the exchange rate recently nosedived.

Battery disconnected and airbag gingerly removed, I found myself in a bewildering array of springs, wires and bolts. No amount of hard hitting or gentle diplomatic discussion could budge the wheel. It was utterly stuck fast. By this stage I had tracked down a local Alfa specialist, and once there he duly spent 2 hours applying an arsenal of increasingly dangerous implements to it. Finally, it budged. The thinner wood is a joy to use - always nice to improve the ergonomics of your main input mechanism!

IMAG2441_zps8xhg4ly6 by James Vincent

All I need now is the matching wooden gear knob. Even rarer, unfortunately.

The pedals came without rubbers, which was quite dangerous with wet shoes and an MOT failure for those testers that get particular:

IMAG2350_zpsmflgpdz3 by James Vincent

The replacement rubbers sold on the majority of European auctions sites are incorrect, or perhaps would have fitted a QV-boxed car, but not this one. Alfas tend to have distinctive pedal rubber patterns, so I checked some press photos and various image searches. It was evident a version of the old 75 pedal box was used, but couldn't find 75 rubbers anywhere. Some weeks later, a random search of Alfa parts threw up SZ/RZ rubbers, which of course used the same pedal box. Perfect fit, and much safer:

IMAG2444_zpsdmtaifvx by James Vincent

While the novelty of Clarion ('for Alfa Romeo', no less) tape player lasted a while, longer trips and the harsh light of the 21st century meant I desired something with extra connectivity. The primary requirements were:

1. Same colour green light as the rest of the dash.
2. Minimal buttons and flashing nonsense.

Luckily an easy, logical fit - put the car in reverse gear. Still with me? Good. Unscrew centre console from the rear seats, move console back, remove various fragile plastic trim:

IMAG2443_zpslc4gk7bw by James Vincent

Goad radio out:

IMAG2452_zpsvt5gmfom by James Vincent

Luckily in 1997 all multiplex plugs had been standardised, so a 2 minute connection was then followed by an hour of correctly secreting DAB wires and suchlike:

IMAG2453_zpss8epfnhc by James Vincent

Voila - matching green, and still retained the protective lid:

IMAG2456_zpsfc6x7p2t by James Vincent

Just don't mentions the missing digits on the heater/clock. One for the summer months...





Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 20:05

ecopia

28 posts

93 months

Sunday 20th March 2016
quotequote all
Bravo to you sir duly bookmarked I just love cars of the euro barge era, it's like your an Italian state prosecuter driving round the tuscon hills to various mafia cases

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Saturday 26th March 2016
quotequote all
ecopia said:
Bravo to you sir duly bookmarked I just love cars of the euro barge era, it's like your an Italian state prosecuter driving round the tuscon hills to various mafia cases
Thanks! The trouble is those blasted Mafia types likely had a Maserati 3200 in the 90s. The long term goal is definitely a Euro-amble once some key components are sorted out (see below...)

kapiteinlangzaam said:
Dont know about the earlier metal top engines, but on the plastic top twinsparks a blocked / broken PCV system can be a common (but relatively unknown) cause of a hunting idle.

On the plastic engine cars at least there is a small spring that operates the PCV valve that either snaps or simply disappears(!?!) over time. Its a 20min job to replace.... worth investigating perhaps?
Unfortunately the setup is different on the 8V, and there are many, many causes for this slight annoyance. I may unplug things this Easter weekend that I can take indoors to clean (TPS, MAF potentiometer) and see how that goes.

PS. Really enjoyed your GTV thread kapitein - it is likely my similar-era black Alfa is going to go through a similar saga!



The gearbox is the primary concern now - while it never pops out of gear or has a 'real' problem, it is showing its age, and my gentleness with the clutch is just about getting me from A to B. I am researching the addition of a 166 6-speed box, as the 164 item is pretty much unobtainable, plus 70mph is a bit noisy. 166 gearbox slots in with a single custom bracket - does anyone have any experience or know of a sympathetic Alfa specialist willing to take on a challenge to be documented for future generations?

Spinakerr

Original Poster:

778 posts

122 months

Saturday 26th March 2016
quotequote all
Another recent annoyance I had to remedy - the oil filler cap 'prongs' were becoming loose in the plastic cap. I laid awake at night terrified they would drop into the engine and get lodged in the timing chain.

I soon embarked on a journey of examining oil caps that could be used, and luckily that of a Fiat X1/9 slotted was a perfect match, after swapping the rubber seal. It even has 'Olio' etched onto it. Strange to have something shiny on this engine, but I'm sure it will tarnish with use to blend into the block.

IMAG2247_zpsicfoylpl by James Vincent

The engine bay is starting to look vaguely acceptable.

Edited by Spinakerr on Saturday 15th July 20:07

Jimmy Recard

17,520 posts

156 months

Thursday 31st March 2016
quotequote all
Great write up. Just why are parts so hard to get for a 164 rather than any other Alfa Romeo of the period? Or are they all impossible?

rxe

6,193 posts

80 months

Friday 1st April 2016
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My experience is more V6 based (er, got 5 of them), but nearly all the idle problems have been related to air leaks in the induction system. Go round it with a stethoscope.

The main intake bellows is obvious, but really hard to spot. My current 156-GTA-Shed project had a huge split, which only became obvious when I had the thing entirely out of the car and was able to bend it in all directions.