Fellow Australian contributor Don Andreina recently posted about a grouping of Alfa Romeos in Melbourne. Coincidentally, as I was reading his article I happened to be walking through an industrial neighbourhood up here in Brisbane and came across my own trio of Alfa Romeos!
I’m not sure about Don’s neck of the woods, but here in Brisbane one doesn’t see too many Alfa Romeos from the BSCE, or “Before Sale of the Century Era”. I refer to an Australian game show that was popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which would always have an Alfa Romeo to give away to the winner.
Alfa Romeo had taken a leave of absence from the Australian market in 1992, but relaunched in 1998 and pushed its shapely new models hard. In those intervening years, Alfa had launched the initially disappointing FWD Fiat Tipo-based 155 mid-sizer, as well as the cute 145 compact (and its plainer, five-door 146 sibling). It was a fairly dull period for Alfa Romeo, so maybe it’s for the best that we missed those cars. Sadly, those of you in North America missed their more exciting replacements, too.
Before their withdrawal in 1992, though, Alfa sold a variety of vehicles in Australia. Don’s trio featured a 75 and a 164, but here I found an Alfa 90 in lieu of a GTV. The 90 was positioned as Alfa’s flagship sedan, manufactured from 1984-87 and launched in Australia in 1985. Despite its spot atop the range, though, the 90 was based on the Alfetta platform, shared with the GT/GTV coupes. This meant the mid-1980s Alfa lineup in Australia consisted of three Alfetta-derived sedans: the compact Giulietta, mid-size 75 and large 90. They may have looked larger than each other, but they all shared the same 98.8 inch wheelbase and were less than 65 inches wide; Alfa’s flagship sedan was effectively smaller in every dimension than a Ford Tempo.
The 90 was a pretty impressive package despite the platform’s vintage. Like its fellow Alfa sedans, the transmission was housed at the rear of the car with the differential to ensure a balanced weight distribution. The suspension consisted of double wishbones and torsion bars at the front and a De Dion tube at the rear. Although a range of twin-cam inline four-cylinder engines were available in Europe, Australia received only the fuel-injected 154hp 2.5 V6, also available in the GTV6 and 75, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. As befitting its flagship status, the 90 came with velour trim and the full gamut of power accessories.
The 90 is almost forgotten today, due to its short run. Its progenitor, the Alfetta, had a much longer run (1972-84), as did the GT/GTV coupes (1974-87). The 90’s conservative styling, at least compared to the flamboyant 75, as well as its visual similarity to later Alfettas and innocuous name probably didn’t help matters, either. Marcelo Gandini at Bertone, though, did succeed at making the 90 look more substantial than the Giulietta and 75 despite sharing key measurements. 56,418 Alfa 90s were produced between 1984 and 1987, but not many reached Australia.
For much of the 1980s, Alfa was relying on three aging platforms: the 1966-vintage Spider, 1972-vintage RWD Alfetta platform, and 1971-vintage FWD Alfasud platform. The 90 would be effectively replaced by the striking 164, but while that was a more convincing luxury sedan, it was less distinctively Alfa and would be the first of many Alfas that shared platforms with Fiats. While it was more successful than the 90, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for Alfa Romeo from that point on, as evidenced by their withdrawal from several markets in the early 1990s.
I always wanted a late 70s early 80s Alfetta four door sedan..Beautiful shape but reviews said while a great handling car,it was a bit noisy inside.The Alfasud was,despite its electrical and rust problems,one of the finest motor cars I have driven.Such a level/horizontal handler with pin sharp steering and a very supple ride.Not forgetting that sharp Italian exhaust from a 1.5 litre engine.Cars like the Sud didn’t need all those electronic accoutrements which possess modern cars.The Alfasud was a great driving experience,quiet,smooth,responsive,efficient,sporty,simply a pleasure to drive.
That 90 is an interesting sight–of course not sold in the USA, and evidently a somewhat rare car overall. I’d heard of them, and probably seen a photo or two, but this is probably the first actual discussion of one I’ve seen. Thanks for another interesting article!
I do wish we’d had the 156 in the USA. Now those were beautiful!
And don’t forget the 90’s key gimmick- the dashboard briefcase, as seen in the photo above! It is a rare sight to find a 90 with this still in place, as most owners removed them to store in the house to prevent thieves from smashing the window to take it. When the car was traded in, the suitcase had long since been buried in the attic, leaving a gaping hole in the dash.
That speedo is really cool too- right up there with the Citroen GSA and Lancia Trevi for strangely cool early 80s techiness. (techiness is like truthiness- the veneer of high tech, but without actual substance to back it up.)
I like the 90, it’s bland but fairly crisp and just makes me nostalgic – I guess I’m the right age to like it.
When I lived in Perth, there was a place near the house which looked like it may have been a former dealership, and occasionally the doors were open revealing a few pristine but seemingly mundane 80s Italian cars. I never got a proper look, I got a very dirty look from a guy in there when I slowed down as I walked by and took a glance. A Swiss guy of my acquaintance said “Don’t go near there, they’re definitely the Mafia, my mother’s Italian, trust me!”
That’s a nice collection of Alfa Romeos from their Square Era, which ended with the introduction of the beautiful 156-model in 1997.
The 145 hatchback from the nineties almost looked like a small wagon, with its vertical backside. This is the hot hatch Quadrifoglio Verde, which sounds much better than Green Cloverleaf of course. Or just a simple GTI.
Without anything in the photo to give an idea of scale, I mistook it for a people-mover! Odd proportions for an Alfa.
The 146 had more contemporary Alfa Romeo looks, technically it’s fully identical to the 145 above. Size-wise it was in the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Escort etc. segment.
aaaah, the Novanta! what a wonderful car!
It might look a bit bland at first sight, but look close and you’ll see it’s a masterpiece. The detailing is fantastic, just look at the crisp lines on the rear pillar. The 90 was always intended to be a stop-gap solution until Alfa’s version of the Tipo 4 would be ready. Hence, it was merely a facelift, carrying over almost all the technical bits of the Alfetta (as well as the doors) – and for that, what a great job Bertone delivered! And this funky dash … I love it. Definitively one of my favourite saloon designs of the 80’s.
One word – Ugh!
KJ in Oz
I really like the 90, but would probably get another 75 instead. Btw: Aren’t there in fact four Alfas in these shots? There seems to be two red 75’s next to each other.
Interesting shots, and very similar to some I have of a 145 and 156 outside an Alfa specialist in the UK.
That 90 is a very rare beast now, and its age is given away the angle of the windshield as well