Still Fresh: 11k-mile 1991 Alfa Romeo 164

Low mileage cars always fascinate me.

Sometimes they are boring cars. Sometimes they are exciting cars.

This time, it's an exciting car.

This is a 1991 Alfa Romeo 164 with only 11,736 miles showing on the odometer.

That's an average of about only 561 miles a year. In contrast, the average American drives over 15,000 miles per year, according to the U.S. DOT.

This car would therefore classify as an extreme low-mileage survivor.

And what a great car to keep preserved.

The Alfa Romeo 164 was Alfa's flagship sedan during its production from 1987 to 1998 (and only until 1995 in the U.S., when Alfa left the here market altogether). It replaced the obscure Alfa 6, which, to my knowledge, was never offered in America. In the late '80s, however, with the foreign executive sedan market hot thanks to upwardly mobile yuppie tastes, Alfa Romeo probably figured the U.S. market was ripe for an all-new sedan. It also helped they had access to a shared Euro-chassis that would also be used for the equally excellent SAAB 9000 and Lancia Thema.

The results are pretty stunning.

Thanks to Pininfarina's design, the 164 is striking inside and out, and still looks great today. The exterior is crisp, clean, angular and simple. The front end is subtle and uplifting with crystal clear rhombus-shaped headlights. The sides are notable for the trend-setting high-waistline longitudinal notch cut, along which the door handles are placed in-sync. Even more trend-setting was the single-strip taillight unit, in which all rear lights, turn signals and reverse lamps, are integrated. Although many American cars (particularly those from the late 60s and 70s) featured single unit strips, none did it as cool and artistic looking as Pininfarina made it on the 164. It was also the obvious inspiration for the taillights of Toyota's 1997 Camry when it debuted.

This 1991 model has plastic grey lower body cladding and bumpers. The two-tone look was popular in the '80s and early '90s. Some cars purposely contrasted colors, and others just featured plain un-painted bumpers. Here, I believe these bumpers are some kind of semi-gloss painted graphite color, which contrasts wonderfully with the fresh refrigerator-white body color. For the final year of U.S. market cars, the lower panels were changed to body color and chrome trim along the belt-line all the way around was added, along with different alloys. "S" models had even more cladding underneath the bumpers and whatnot, along with different wheels. However the look on this model is my favorite, and works with the proportions of the car best.

The interior is what I like to call "Eighties Mod". Pininfarina managed to capture the muscular lines of the exterior and translate them into a successful dashboard. The instrument cluster is simple and uncomplicated, but with enough gauges to satisfy gadget-geeks. The center console is an amazing column of neatly stacked rows of chicklet-sized buttons, similar to the Cadillac Allante. If you look closely, each button has a corresponding image above it, doubling the space everything needs to take up, which is why it looks so busy, yet so orderly. It's what one calls a very charming design flaw. The angled rhomboid center a/c vents are also a cool feature, particularly as they are three-dimensional, almost pyramidal, carved out-of-the-dashboard looking, as opposed to set flush the way most cars feature them.

What really makes this car however are the mechanical specifications. Underneath the hood of each Alfa Romeo 164 sold in the United States was a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder engine. From 1991 to 1993, the engine was 12 valves, from '94 to '95, 24 valves. This is a 1991, so the engine was just the 12-valve, but it still produced about 183 horsepower. The engine is known to have a sonorous exhaust note. It also has one of the nicest looking engine bays in a modern sedan, complete with "Alfa Romeo" scrawled in red cursive text below polished cylinders.

Perhaps the only downside is the front-wheel drive layout, a turn-off to enthusiasts who loath torque-steer and crave the more ideal rear-wheel drive layout for the better balance and handling it enables. To this day it's still bizarre how a supposedly sport-oriented European car maker like Alfa Romeo could offer a package this well-wrapped along with something as anti-climactic as front-wheel drive.

What partly makes up for that failing is the presence of a 5-speed manual transmission. Frankly, as much as I rave about the 164, with an automatic transmission the car really is simply all looks, no show, because the stats would be about the same in theory and execution as a typical Honda Accord. But a manual transforms this car into something slightly more ideal, an exotic four-door sporting machine. It just makes a lot more sense.

This '91 164 seems to just be the base model, not the 'L'. It has cloth interior, which a lot of people like, but I consider another downside. The leather that came in these cars, particularly the tan leather, had that delicious sand color straight from an '80s Ferrari (and I'm also sure smelled great when new). Cloth seating also wears faster and more noticeably than leather (at least cared for leather) and retains odors and stains. Other than cloth seating, nothing else seems to distinguish it from an 'L'. Exterior wise it looks the same, complete with the gorgeous alloys. It also has a sunroof.

Only so many words can describe what a nifty car the 164 was and what an incredible example this car is. Given the mileage, it's no surprise the car is immaculate inside and out, with no visible flaws, rust, or damage of any kind. Literally, the car looks new. The interior seats show a little wear due to the type of cloth used, but look good and ready for future use.

Lastly, there is value. Alfa Romeo cars of the '70s and '80s aren't worth much yet, and may not be for a while. Sedans in particular don't appreciate well in America. This is already two strikes against the 164. The high NADA value for a 1991 Alfa 164 Base is $3,975. The CPI Value Guide puts a 1991 164 Base at $3,325. The seller advertises this car with a buy-it-now price for a whopping $19,500.00, about 5 and a half times more than the current estimated retail values. The buyer and seller both have good arguments. The buyer can argue that no 1991 sedan is worth that much. The seller can come right back and say, hey this is a rare Italian-made car that is perhaps the lowest mileage example anywhere. They could be right.

Fortunately, they accept offers. Should I whip out my checkbook? I wish.

Find this beauty here on ebay.

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