SOTW: Alfa Romeo 166 3.0

Ever found yourself being shoved reluctantly onto a stage? That's what the Alfa 166 must have felt like when it was launched in 1998.

Not only was it the successor to a very well-liked car in the 164, the 166 was also up against one of the best cars in any market, BMW's E39 5 Series. The Alfa was actually slightly smaller and lighter than the BM, but you'd never think so looking at them. The 166 always looked Big. Centro Stile designer Walter de Silva did the best he could with the body shape from the back and the side, but the effort must have tired him out because the front looks like a cross between a Citroen XM and a catfish.

Manual and V6 appeal, paint less so
Manual and V6 appeal, paint less so
On the upside, the 166 had a cracking interior and (where fitted) gorgeous leather seats. It would be tough to find better cabins anywhere in Shedland.

Comedian Alexei Sayle had a 166 in the late 90s which he described as having more electrical problems than North Korea. This could partly explain why there are currently only around 1,300 examples left in the UK. That and the fact that the 166 didn't exactly represent the epitome of Alfa performance.

With the smaller engine options it was comically slow, even (or especially) towards the end of its life in 2007, when Alfa finally accepted that good intentions alone weren't going to win the day against the Germans. I remember driving a late-model 166 Ti. Launched as a company car tax-dodger, it had 18-inch wheels, fat tyres, lowered suspension and a 150hp 2.0-litre engine that gave it all the performance you needed to overtake most OAPs on mobility scooters, though not all pizza delivery riders.

A stylish route to Shed motoring, for sure
A stylish route to Shed motoring, for sure
However, with Alfa's normally-aspirated V6 motor under that droopy bonnet, you can start playing some pretty tunes. Post-2003 V6s were boosted to 3.2 litres and 240hp, but this week's Shed is a 99 car with the 225hp 3.0-litre lump. A max torque figure of just 203lb ft delivered at 5,000rpm sounds potentially wearisome: the secret to its enjoyment is to think of it as a musical instrument rather than an engine. Seven-second 0-60 times are available, along with Clarkson-approved handling despite it being a front-driver. Give thanks to double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension.

This Shed's had plenty of new parts, but even if it is an AROC car, 147K miles plus paint/bodywork issues demand that you try to chip a goodly wedge off the asking price. Start your negotiations by muttering about the leaking heater matrix, the Alfa's biggest bugaboo. Be glad about the fact that the commonly-failing airflow meter and front suspension bits have been renewed, but ask about the cambelt change, an operation which really needs to be carried out every 60K, and which is not cheap.

Remus-equipped alternative lets V6 sing
Remus-equipped alternative lets V6 sing
If the seller won't play ball, try this a 99 V6 in silver with black leather, sat nav, fruity Remus exhaust and full 130K-mile service history. The only blot for some might be the Sportronic transmission, but this Citroen/ZF slushbox adds a long-legged charm to the 166, and it's pretty reliable as long as the oil level is correct (it's meant to be sealed for life, but the jury's out on that) and as long as the gearbox ECU is still good. In case you were wondering it's in the passenger footwell, awaiting a good dousing from that leaking heater matrix. As many 166 owners will confirm with a resigned shrug, resetting or replacing the ECU is easy enough: finding the £1,100 or so that Alfa will charge you for a new one might not be so easy. In Alfa's defence, they're not the only ones to have sited a delicate ECU in the automotive equivalent of a flood plain. Besides, there's plenty of excellent online Alfa support from fellow sufferers, sorry, enthusiasts.

Finally, here's your lucky dip option, a 2002 one in black with 110K miles that could be the best of the lot. Sadly, we'll never know for sure because the vendor has attached no pics nor any mention of MOT or tax. A good example of how not to do it - an approach with which many Alfa fans will be familiar. But they still love 'em, and at this money you can see why.

Advert reproduced below.

ALFA ROMEO 166 V6 24V SUPER 1999 (£950)
An enthusiast's well cared for 166 with 6 Speed Manual Gearbox which I will be sad to be parted with. In excellent condition with Metallic Green paintwork, Ivory Momo leather interior, SatNav, 6CD player, Cruise control, Wood wheel/Gearknob, Electric mirrors and Full sized spare. Service history, cambelt and waterpump changed, Air Flow Meter replaced, Front wishbones, Front springs, CV boots, Battery, recent exhaust system etc.
Bad points - Slight paint/lacquer fade on roof and rear door has panel distortion (not initially apparent), but no rust.
Summary - A well maintained car, enjoyable to drive, which will give many more years service. Alfa Romeo Owners Club Member. Long MOT £950 ono


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