Mechanical Overhaul Done: 1991 Alfa Romeo 164S

I’ve only mentioned very casually that I recently picked up my first Alfa Romeo project, a 1988 Milano Verde. It should be sweet when it once again runs, as the 3.0 “Busso” V6 is known for its sonorous engine note. The same can be said for the later cars, like this 164S, which is listed as a driver-quality specimen with some expensive maintenance work done but still in need of cosmetic refreshing. The 164S is listed for sale in Palm Springs with what the seller refers to as a major engine and transmission overhaul recently completed. The paint and interior are tired, so bring your detailing brushes. Find the Alfa here on craigslist with an asking price of $3,900.

Thanks to Barn Finds reader Rex M. for the find. This is one of those cars that is always on my short list to buy should one pop up for sale, and if I had seen this two months ago, I may have jumped at the chance to buy a mechanically refreshed but cosmetically challenged Alfa. But since my sweet spot remains late 1980s vehicles, I’m happy with the decision I made, especially since the Verde Milanos came with a few different goodies the 164 didn’t, like fender flares and a complete Recaro interior. While you can’t tell from here, the paint is tired and dirty, a detail you can really only spot in the photo below. The 164 in “S” guise came with the sill and lower spoiler extensions you see here, along with other performance enhancements like a sport suspension. However, take a look at the rear taillight trim piece over the license plate – why isn’t that sitting flush with the body?

Here’s the picture that clued me in to what the seller is describing in terms of rough cosmetics: the leather seats are very worn, and while the upholstery doesn’t have gigantic holes in it, the age-related damage is very evident. The other clue is the shot of the hood, which you can see more of in the full-size photo: the paint is filthy, which I realize is superficial, but it could also be a case of the finish being so tired that the seller isn’t bothering to wash it. The interior carpets and dash appear to be in good shape, so it seems strange that a car that has received a mechanical “overhaul” has been so sorely neglected otherwise. The actual mileage isn’t reported, so it’s hard to say whether the flaws we see are just a result of use, or if the current or previous owner just wasn’t worried about keeping the paint ship-shape and treating the leather every now and again.

Ah, those trademark Alfa intake runners – what a gorgeous engine. This is where the 164 truly bests the Milano, as the Milano’s engine bay isn’t exactly attractive. From what little I have learned about Alfas to this point, it’s safe to say buying one that’s mechanically sound is money well spent, especially since Alfa mechanics are in short supply and they charge a fair price when you do find one. I would want to see receipts documenting the mechanical work the seller promises has been done, as that’s necessary to assess whether the affordable asking price is cheap enough to justify taking on a driver that at least needs a paint correction and new leather before it’s in top-flight shape once again.


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  1. alphasud Member

    Jeff you will have fun with the Milano. I owned one as well when I was working at the dealer. Also owned a 164ls with the 24V engine. I miss both of them. I would definitely need to see receipts for the mechanical work if I were to buy the 164. These are fun cars but do your homework and make sure parts are available before purchase. If I found another Milano Verde I would jump on it. Better of the 2 cars IMHO.
    Jeff, reach out if you need any help getting the Milano going.

    Like 1
  2. Kevin

    I had a ’94 164Q until a couple of years ago. It hadn’t run in several years when I bought it … and I only pulled the trigger because I was pals with a genius Alfa mechanic. He did the timing belt service ($$$$$$$$$), cleaned the fuel system, and replaced a variety of rubber bits and pieces. Mine was in much better shape on the inside than this one. Flawless leather. So many things can go wrong with these cars, including the suspension, the A/C system and display. The trunk is prone to getting wrecked on the cars with spoilers because it’s too heavy – the shocks can’t support it. Mine had outward dents behind the rear window where the hinges attach to the metal in the trunk. BUT IT WAS A SUPER FUN CAR TO DRIVE AND SOUNDED AMAZING. Mine had 120,000 miles on it. :-) They use premium gas only. Absolutely don’t drive it w/o the timing belt service – parts and service are both pricey. Finally, mine was red like this one and the red paint was a disaster. Red looks the best but holds up the worst. I sold mine for $3400 (bought for about $3000) after putting thousands into it. Would have cost many thousands more to keep it going plus a paint job.

    Like 2
  3. Howie Mueler

    Not bad for the price, 6 cyl. and a manual. Odometer says 10000?

  4. SubGothius

    IMO it makes perfect sense to address mechanicals before cosmetics. Otherwise, you might sink plenty into cosmetics before encountering or suffering some major mechanical fault that can’t feasibly/affordably be rectified, then all that cosmetic investment was for naught.

    Put another way, which would you rather have mid-project: a gorgeous car that doesn’t run well or at all, or a car that runs like a top but looks like Columbo’s Peugeot? At least the latter you can enjoy driving until you get around to / save up for cosmetic work. And there’s something to be said for driving a car that’s like a well-worn favorite cap or pair of shoes, that fits like a glove and you don’t have to worry much about getting scuffed up in city traffic or parking.

    • Kevin

      Sure. I spent maybe 6k on mechanical – half of which was timing belt service – and basically $0 on aesthetics. But it was hard to keep up with. They’re expensive to maintain. But really fun to drive.

      • Quidditas

        $3K on a timing belt service? Here in South Africa the belt service done by an Alfa mechanic is about $ 1 100 fully inclusive.

  5. 9K2164S

    Be sure to check the steering rack. They are NLA and nobody rebuilds them. Ask me how I know.

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