Curbside Classic: Alfa Romeo 75 (Milano) – Alfa Romeo’s Swansong

75-Milano side view
This site has looked at the 75 in various Outtakes but this car really deserves its own CC. I owned one of these in the perfectly-balanced two-liter Twin Spark configuration, and it is by far the best car I have ever driven. I dream of one day owning a 3-liter V6 as a second car (but first I need a first car). So this forms the basis of my opinion of this car. Proceed with caution.

75-Milano front
Alfa Romeo has a long tradition of giving its cars historic names. The small hatchback of the eighties was called 33, referring to the unfathomably beautiful Tipo 33 Stradale supercar of the sixties; the current 8C refers to the original 8C’s and so on. The 75 is a bit meta in this regard as it refers to Alfa Romeo’s history itself; Alfa Romeo turned 75 the year the 75 was introduced in 1985 (it was replaced by the 155 in 1992).

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If you are a car nut, and I suspect you are, you know the 75 (and you know it was called the Milano stateside, but I prefer “75” because that was the name given to it in Italy where it was born). If you have driven one, you also know that the reports of its superb handling have not been exaggerated. It is hard to explain to today’s kids that once upon a time Alfa Romeo meant Italian thoroughbred, a marque mentioned naturally alongside Ferrari, Maserati and Lancia. This is the last of the “real” Alfa Romeos because in 1985 Alfa Romeo was taken over by Fiat, and from then on Alfa Romeos were no longer great cars poorly assembled, but merely above average cars poorly assembled. The 75 was Alfa Romeo’s swansong as an independent manufacturer and for that alone it is special.

7506
While even its admirers will admit the 75 is not the ultimate looker, it does shine under its skin. The 75 has an almost perfect weight distribution in all configurations – the V6’s are a bit more nose-heavy.

Alfa 75 chassis

To achieve this, Alfa Romeo used a rear-mounted transaxle with the clutch mounted all the way back as well. This means that the driveshaft rotates at the speed of the engine – needless to say, this requires careful balancing and I remember the quote for a new clutch on my 75 being high enough that I never had it replaced although it really needed it.

Alfa Romeo 75Chassis

The rear disc brakes site inboard at the differential (limited slip differential on the 2-liter Twin Spark and the 3-liter V6) rather than at the wheels in an effort to reduce unsprung weight. Both front and rear suspension were rather unusual setups – the rear was an Alfa Romeo classic, the deDion tube, and the front had a torsion bar setup. The two-liter Twin Spark had variable valve timing, a technology Alfa Romeo – not Honda – was the first to put into mass production.

75-Milano interior
The interior of these cars is an acquired taste. If you grew up in the eighties, the 75 will look just about right to you with all the sharp angles and straight lines. If you grew up earlier or later, it will bring back memories of geometry classes. I grew up in the eighties and like it, but I had to help several passengers find the inside door handle. It is not where you expect it to be and does not look like you expect it to look. It took me several weeks of ownership before I discovered there is a glove box beneath the open storage compartment. The buttons for the front windows sit near the rear view mirror in the roof. If you have electric windows in the back, those buttons sit behind the handbrake, which by the way looks like the throttle lever on a boat or an airplane.

In front of the shifter at the very bottom of the dashboard sits the radio. If you have a CD player in the head unit, the car has to be in second, fourth or reverse for you to be able to pull a CD from the it. It came with an advanced (for the time) diagnostics system with a display mounted in the middle of the dashboard above a concealed ashtray. This means that at any given time you have between one and six LED’s lighting up the top of the dashboard, after all such a system does not fix anything, it just informs you when something is wrong, and in a 75 something always is. I find these quirks charming, but if you are used to the perfect ergonomics and logical dashboard layout of a Saab or a BMW of the eighties, these cars would probably have been quite hard to get used to.

But at the end of the day it is my impression that those who deride these cars and mock their poor electronics, generally shoddy build quality and propensity to rust are those who have not driven them. All these points of criticism are all too valid, but you forget all your woes once it is running – it may not be often, but when it is, it is pure magic.

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The all-red Turbo Evoluzione at a family gathering.

 

While an initial success, these cars never flooded the streets due to the well-earned reputation of Italian cars being unreliable as well as a relatively high purchase price and even higher repair costs. 375,000 were sold, with the 2-liter Twin Spark being the top seller and the limited edition homologation 1.8 Turbo Evoluzione being the rarest of them all with just 500 made. Several versions were available; 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 versions produced with both carburetors and fuel injection. There is the 1.8 Turbo and the 1.8 Turbo Evoluzione. A 2.5 and a 3.0 V6 as well as a 2.0 and 2.4 diesel.

Power ranges from 95 horsepower in the 2-liter diesel to around a hundred more in the 3-liter V6 and particularly the turbo versions obviously offering potential for much more. They were all four-door saloons. There was once a station wagon prototype, but it never made it into production. The GTV6 served as the related two-door, as did the much more expensive SZ (and RZ convertible) which used the entire driveline from the 3-liter V6 75.

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When you look at what is under the often-rusted sheet metal of these babies, what you see is a pure sports car and therein lies the appeal of these cars for me. It is not Giulia Super in the looks department, but a Giulia Super does not drive like this.

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The 75 is one of the cheaper ways to get a thoroughbred classic car in your collection. This year the first ones turn 30 and that qualifies them for classic car status in some countries. Now I just need that first car so I can start planning for buying my second car. Until then, at least I have someone with whom I can share my passion, as this picture of my daughter illustrates.
(most images except the last one are from Wikipedia)