Something a bit different this week - an Alfa 166. Shed hasn't picked one of these out of his wrinkled old bag for almost three years. There is a reason, and it's not because he doesn't like them, but more on that later...
Although 166 production continued in Italy until 2007, right-hookers for the UK were knocked on the head in 2005, killed off by the factory's failure to produce a diesel-engined model when black gloop was seen as the cure for all Britain's motoring ills, rather than the cause of them as it is now.
Our September '05 shed, then, is one of the very last RHD cars built. Obviously that also makes it a facelift model, seeing as how Alfa did the makeover in 2003. These gen-two cars went on sale in the UK on April 1st 2004. It was a good makeover too, stylistically tying the car more closely into the zooty look of the 156 rather than the gen-one's 'why me' expression of a depressed catfish on the fishmonger's slab, and hoisting up the cabin trim spec and quality accordingly.
It needed that. The £28k sticker that Alfa GB slapped on the 166 at the 1998 UK launch looked ambitious when you compared its interior plastics to those of the German cars it was meant to be taking on (E Class, 5 Series). The facelift was undoubtedly much nicer than the gen-one, but 'Germanicising' the 166 with silver paint to attract exec buyers didn't do the car's otherwise interesting lines many favours. It looked properly horny in darker shades though. Irrespective of the hue, you'd never think that the 166 was actually smaller and lighter than the BMW Five.
Not small or light enough, though. With 1,420kg to tote, the 2.0 four-pot Twin Spark version was willing and, generally speaking, robust enough to take on the task, but it was no rocketship. Although the 148hp wasn't totally lame, the 133lb ft at 3,800rpm was. 133lb ft. Sheesh. To overtake anything faster than a milk float, your only option was to seek out the 6,300rpm power peak and keep 'er spinning. Your reward was a 0-62mph time that just about scraped into single figures, but if that became your default driving mode the fuel consumption would easily dip into the teens. Even in gentle use you'd be lucky to see more than 30mpg. Still, at least our shed won't go through a pint of oil every thousand miles, as Busso 3.0 V6 versions are wont to do.
The lighter Twin Spark motor doesn't put as much stress through its front suspension as the Busso and gives the 166 a more nimble feel. You'll still want to check the bouncy bits for untoward noises, but hopefully you won't hear too many on this car because many of its front end parts are new. So is the cambelt, ish.
You need to know that this is a Lusso TI-pack car, because that's a good thing. Lusso was the higher or the two 166 specs. The base Turismo had Vehicle Dynamic Control, which is Alfa's name for stability control, plus automatic climate control, six airbags, electric windows and seatbacks, heated door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, bi-xenon headlamps with headlamp washers and a leather steering wheel. To that lot, Lusso added a six-disc CD autochanger, leather upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, cruise control, an auto dip rear view mirror and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Throwing the TI sports pack on top of the Lusso spec lowered the ride height by 15mm and added those black leather Alfa-embossed sports seats, TI badging to the door sill plates and rear panel and a pretty snazzy set of 18-inch alloys. This is a well fitted out car. If you are at this moment stroking your virtual beard while peering into the unknown, here's something that might just help to launch you into the pleasure-and-pain experience of Alfa ownership. Rarity.
As you know, the website called How Many Left is designed to give users information on the number of cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles registered in the UK. Great idea and all, but HML's big flaw is that it relies on information from the Dept of Transport, where data is not always input with the degree of motoring insight that someone from (say) PH might be able to throw into the pot. When a full stop, a hyphen or nothing at all is lobbed between the 'T' and the 'Spark' in 'T Spark', The Computer generates a whole host of 'ghost protocol' 166 variants that aren't real. As such we can't be exact about the actual number of 166s left in the UK.
However, looking back at previous shed stories, we can identify a trend. When we featured a 166 in November 2012, around 1,300 166s were on British roads. A year later, when another 166 came to Shed's attention, a hundred had gone to the scrapheap. The same thing happened a year after that. Between 2014 and 2018, which is the most recent year that HML covers, the number of UK 166s dropped like a stone to fewer than 300 - and that's treating all the likely duplications on HML as real cars. The actual number will almost certainly be smaller still.
Shed reckons that this all qualifies the 166 as 'rare'. You don't need a degree to know that scarcity generally interacts with price in a positive way for owners. Bearing all that in mind, £1,249 for a low mileage, good condition, stylish and now officially rare Italian executive saloon doesn't seem like too big an ask. Especially one with a long MOT, no signs of corrosion and a goodly parcel of new bits fitted, including brakes, exhaust and belts.
You'll need to keep your nose primed for the depressing whiff of burning electrics. Scouse comic Alexei Sayle panned his early 166 for having more electrical problems than North Korea, but issues in that area are hardly exclusive to Italian cars. The only one confessed to in our vendor's ad is an intermittent SRS light, but 166 windows, indicators and cruise control can all play up. Distorting body panels were another 166 foible, and whatever paint you have on it will eventually lose its sparkle, not to mention its lacquer.
Assuming you're lucky in all those areas, what will you end up with as the next owner of this car? Well, one 166-owning PHer commenting on that Nov 2012 Shed said that driving his Twin Spark made him feel like a king. Right now that doesn't sound like a bad feeling to be having. Plus it's something nice to look at through the lounge window as you glumly self-isolate.