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.