The International Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf Register

Owners Diary

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The ups and downs of 164 Cloverleaf Ownership................

I originally wanted to buy a V6 75 (Milano). I owned a two litre twin spark version (which gave me a lot of grief, I'll admit, but also a lot of pleasure), however, as I cast about for one it became apparent that getting a good one would prove difficult. I had already owned a V6 164, which had been fine. I only sold it due to being unemployed, and not wanting to run a big car at that time. I hadn't run an Alfa for about five years and had promised myself one for the Millennium!

October/November 1999

Quite by chance I came across the Beast (as it became known) on the Alfa Link website ( , and was astonished to find it for sale about five miles from where I live. (At the time of writing (February 2001) there were six 164 QV's for sale here.)

I contacted the vendor who explained he was selling it on behalf of the son of a close friend who had moved to the USA. The son, a surgeon, had contemplated taking the car with him, but the red tape and cost involved in getting it across the pond made him change his mind.

Arrangements were made to view the car, which was a late model 24v version (1995), original in every way, and finished in red. On first inspection, the car had a number of minor problems and blemishes. The Speedline 'pepper pot split rim (fake)' wheels were in quite a state, and there were some significant scratches on the LH front wing and boot (trunk). The wing mirror mounts were suffering from something I had seen before on my previous car, a peculiar bubbling of the paint. As far as I know, these sections are alloy, and it looks like there are problems with the preparation prior to final finishing. A rear tyre was very soft.

A look under the bonnet (hood) revealed a pretty dirty engine, with most of the alloy parts looking a bit sad. However, oil and water looked fine, brake fluid OK and the rest generally tidy. The car started without any trouble, and nothing seemed amiss. We took it out for a drive round the country lanes thereabouts, and it seemed pretty good - lots of torque, good brakes (always a 164 weak point) and direct, if rather low geared, steering. I fiddled with the electronic suspension and couldn't detect any difference. I was impressed with way Alfa had tackled the torque steer problems, which felt much better even with an extra 40hp. Mileage was just over 75,000. There was a full service history (essential) with many bills and the like going right back to the first owner. The current owner was only the second person to have the car.

WE got back from the drive and I walked away to consider a number of things, and make some telephone calls.

First was to check out the cost of some new door mirrors. These really let the car down in my opinion. Straw poll came out at about 250 each. Hmm, quite expensive. Wheel refurbishment would be about 60 per wheel. I knew that the cosmetics for the body would have to be done some time in the future. For me, coming to a decision was very difficult. I work for myself and have my own company; however, the car would be a private purchase so I would have to fund all repairs myself. I would need the car for everyday transport, taking me all over the country, so it would have to be reliable. Alfa and reliable have not usually been words in my vocabulary. I decided to write down my concerns, and mail the Alfa Digest for some feedback.

The process of writing down my fears was quite useful; it put them in perspective and made me really consider what I was worried about. Make no mistake, I was worried. These are complicated cars, with a very bad reputation for electrical problems (not such a problem in sunny California, but a different story in the mainly cold and wet UK). I was mortified as to what might happen if the fancy electronic damping failed, and how much it would cost to fix, plus the complexity of the 24v set up and PMFI. The state of the engine bay also worried me. However, the owner had been working in Scotland (Edinburgh) and his home was in Wiltshire, about four hundred miles away, so the car had seen plenty of motorway (freeway) miles which would account for this sort of condition. I have no problem with high mileage cars like this, especially with large capacity engines. They are not stressed, and probably perform better in these conditions, rather than stop start, short journey, town driving.

I knew before I mailed the digest that I would buy the car. The process of writing down my issues had already helped me to make up my mind. However, I carried on and got some feedback from a couple of people, one in the UK (thanks Howard!), who were positive in what they had to say.

I went back to the vendor and suggested that I would need to spend some money on the car to rectify the wheels, mirrors and paintwork, and made an offer I thought was fair to all concerned. The vendor said he would need to contact the owner in the US and would get back to me. That afternoon, I received a long distance call from the US, the owner telephoning me to assure me the car was genuine. I was a bit surprised by this, but took it in good faith. The deal was struck and the car came into my possession a week later. If I remember correctly, I paid about 6000.

Two weeks later, we took the car on a 600-mile round trip to the English Lake District for a family christening. This gave me an opportunity to examine the cars overall performance, which was very pleasing. Plenty of room, more than enough power, reasonable economy (28-34mpg) though the ride is very harsh over some of the English roads. I entertained my young nephews to some high-speed trials, which were quite impressive.

The first thing to fix was the rear tyre, which needed replacing. I then turned my attention to the wheels, which really were very scabby. After a couple of enquiries, I came across a firm offering mobile wheel refurbishment. An appointment was made, and the guy turned up as arranged with a very large Merc. panel van, complete with bead-blasting cabinet, full comp.air services, bead breaker and infrared paint drying/curing. Very impressive. The guy was very focused, told me all he expected to do, and listened to what I wanted and generally gave me a good feeling.

Now, if you have the Speedline wheels, listen carefully. Firstly, the 'split rim' effect is made out of plastic rivets. Secondly, the wheels are coated with a very, very hard clear plastic coating. It is not a lacer. Once it is damaged, usually at the edge after kerbing a wheel, ingress of water and other materials will lead to lifting of the coating and corrosion of the surface underneath. Before long the whole wheel looks a real mess, with areas of coating intact, and others corroded. Thirdly, the rim section of the wheel appears to have been machined to give a bright finish. This cannot be easily re-created.

The first part of the refurb. is to break the tyre bead, fully mask all rubber areas and remove the valve assembly if possible (not always an option) then bead blast the surface to clean away all corrosion, scratches etc. This is where a major problem became apparent. The hardness of the clear coating, and the softness of the plastic rivets caused the guy endless problems. Too harsh, and the rivets began to suffer, too soft and the coating wouldn't budge. Normally, this guy could complete two wheels in total (including painting) a day. At the end of the first day, he hadn't even cleaned the first one! At the end of day two, full of apology, he said he would take them away to do off site. The compressor was beginning to become a neighbourhood nuisance. He came back a few days later, all finished. This guys workmanship was extremely good, and the result was excellent. Not perfect, but then the initial condition, and the problems outlined above meant he was on to a difficult job from the start. He didn't even charge me any extra for the additional time taken. His contact details are on the service page of the site.

A set of chrome wheel nut covers completed the job and some fancy alloy valve caps finished it off. (The later lasted for about a week before they were stolen while in the parking lot). I have to say the look of the car was transformed.

The most stupid thing happened next. The bonnet release cable broke. Every other Alfa I have owned has had an emergency release cable of some sort - but not this one. So, underneath I crawled to see if I could reach the locks. The one on the left-hand side was quite easy, but I couldn't get near the right hand one, the oil cooler/alternator was in the way. I just couldn't figure out how to get to it. In addition, working on the driveway with no pit was almost impossible.

I called the nearest independent Alfa shop I trust, Benalfa at Westbury in Wiltshire, and talked it over with Alan Bennet, the boss. He was happy to have a go, and didn't think it would be too much trouble. I motored over, left the car and got the train back home. It took Alan a week sort it out and get a new cable. He had to make up a special gadget to get over the engine from the left-hand side and pop the latch. I now take an extra interest in the condition of the bonnet release cable, and keep it well lubricated with some copper grease!

Next thing to tackle was the immobiliser/alarm. This worked fine, but the key fob was heavily into self-destruct mode. The button was missing and I had to set the circuit using a piece of bent wire! So I set about getting a replacement. The local car electric's emporium could not offer a replacement, saying it the sort with a constantly changing code, and it would need to be sent away to a specialist firm. I sent it away, only to have it returned with a note saying they couldn't do anything, as the makers (Phillips) no longer made it or supported it. The option? Replace the entire system. No thanks. I resolved to re-house the circuit in the fob (the circuit worked fine, it was just the button that had broken) with a new button on some fly leads. This proved troublesome, but did work for a while. In the end I just disarmed the system and used the key to unlock the car.

We went on vacation to Florida in April 2000. The car was left at the airport for a couple of weeks, disarmed. When we returned, and collected the car, the system had mysteriously armed itself! Driving off down the road with the alarm sounding and lights flashing was quite strange. No one seemed to care if we were stealing the car. My daughter was acutely embarrassed. I parked and attempted to disarm the alarm using vague instructions from the manual. I turned off the alarm in the boot using the key, but it didn't seem to make any difference. In the end, I got it to disarm and we got home OK. I dont recommend this sort of activity after an eight-hour night flight from Orlando.

When we got home, I tinkered about with it, but it never really settled down. I have since pulled the fuse for that circuit and left it at that. Something for the future I think.

Spring 2000

During January 2000, I was 'between jobs', so the car didn't get a lot of use, and apart from the trip to the Lake District, I hadn't really used the car that much. However, a couple of week's work turned up in February, so I was able to spend some time in the car and experience it a little.

My trips took me up to Staffordshire in the Midlands, not very far, about 150 miles or so, with a mixture of motorway, main road and country lanes. I spent just under two weeks away, coming home for the middle weekend, so had plenty of time to enjoy the driving (if that's the right expression for driving in the UK these days).

There is no doubt that the heart of this car is the engine - a magnificent piece of work. I have driven a Milano(75) with the V6 and thought that was heaven, but the 24v unit is sublime. What is so wonderful is the mixture of attributes it displays. You can drive around town, pottering about, and the amount of torque available makes it a very easy car to drive. The clutch can be a little heavy, but it's never a real problem. Below four thousand rpm the car appears quite normal, and you would suspect a two litre engine under the hood. Push the peddle a bit further and the power just rushes in, almost turbine like, and just keeps coming for another three thousand rpm. It's just awesome! I've driven some respectable large saloon cars (BMW, SAAB Turbo etc) and nothing comes close. I think the engine noise heightens the experience. In third gear, as you push past four thousand, it's just glorious. My car has a Forza DTM rear box from Autodelta in London. I don't know if this makes any difference, I've not driven another 24v, but it does sound very healthy! I think a full system from Autodelta, with headers, would be a definite improvement.

I have to say that my favourite driver's Alfa is the Milano. It inspires such confidence. You can read about a trip I made to the Alfa Museum at Arese and the Mille Miglia retrospective in 1989 at this site:

Andiamo Arese, and the antics of my friend Monti and I in his V6 75, as we diced with Porsche 911's on the French autoroute, down to Italy. Initially, I found the 164 did not inspire such confidence. Although it was taught and solid, it also felt very heavy, and I just couldn't see myself throwing it around in the same way as my last twinspark 75, and I didn't really expect to be able to, either. I had expressed these fears to Howard Mitchell, who had provided some feedback to my initial queries. His response was that the faster you went, the better it felt, and it WOULD cope! He was quite correct. Once you have got over the size/weight thing, and have some decent tyres (more about this later), then you can indeed drive it very hard. This brings me to the electronic dampers.

I was, and I guess still am, very sceptical about these units. The standard ride is very firm anyway, to the point of being tiresome on some surfaces. Switching to 'sport' mode shows very little difference, the only noticeable effect being a sort of nervous jiggling. You can tell the difference, but it's not that noticeable. I haven't really had the opportunity to conduct runs over the same piece of road with the different settings to get some comparable impressions. Watch this space though.

One thing is for sure, although the torque steer is far,far better than it was on the early models, it's still there and can be very scary at times. This is not a car to get off the line quickly, you just cannot get all 230 horses on the black stuff at once. In fact, any severe acceleration in first gear is pretty pointless, as all that will happen is you loose directional stability. Tyres play a big part in this, and from personal experience I would suggest you buy the best you can possibly afford. You place your life on those four little patches of contact between the rubber and the road, just think of the expense as life insurance!

However, tyre selection is quite a complex area. I would invite anyone to contact me with recommendations to publish on the site. I bought 'inexpensive' but very grippy Yokos, but they only lasted 5000 miles, that's right, 5000. The Continentals I replaced them with are OK, but next time I'll get some 'proper' rubber, Pirelli's or Michelin. Like I say, it's insurance.

Anyone who owns a 164 will at some time experience the infamous fuel vapour smell in the cabin. There can be a number of reasons for this, I'll give you a couple that I experienced, the rest are on the regular 164 site.

The first likely culprit is the area on top of the fuel tank, in between the rear seat backrest and the trunk. I noticed that I only got the smell when the tank was full. Having check out the 164 technical site, it looked like the seal between the sender unit and the tank may have been suspect. So I decided to check it out. Access here is a little tricky. It's a bit of a fiddle getting the seat out. Remove the squab first (remove the bolts from under the front), then you can remove the backrest. Part of this involves getting in the ski hatch (I assume that US spec models have this feature) and unscrewing the four screws which go through to the panel in the trunk. This panel has a couple of expanded polystyrene spacers, shaped so that the panel is at the correct angle and to protect the fuel evaporation canister from any impact (kinda scary really).

Once the seat and panel are removed, you can carefully expose the top of the tank. To my surprise, the seal was OK, but what I did notice was a split in a plastic elbow connector to one of the fuel lines up to the vapour canister. This gadget collects and condenses evaporated fuel and returns it to the fuel line(again, more about his later). This split was not very big, but I could see it would allow fuel to escape when the tank was loaded. I didn't fancy putting everything back together while I got a new elbow, so I'm afraid I just taped it up with some heavy duty, exterior grade, clear tape, with the intention of replacing it at some point. Of course, I never got around to it, and a year later, I don't get any smell. As I am a subscriber to the 'if it ain't broke, don't meddle with it' school of car mechanics, I have left it alone.

The other possible cause of fuel smell is a little more serious, and worth checking out even if you can't smell gas on a regular basis. There are a number of small-bore rubber tubes/pipes, which route the fuel to the injectors between the cylinder heads. There are a couple at the clutch side of the engine, and some at the rear under the induction area. Over time these pipes become brittle and start to crack. I'd noticed this when searching for the origin of the smell initially. If left, they will eventually fail, and spray fuel under pressure all over your nicely cooking motor. Not recommended.

I had mine replaced in the workshop, as messing with fuel lines is not something to be undertaken unless you know what you are doing. Remember, always take extreme care when working with anything to do with the fuel system on your car, particularly where any form of fuel injection is in use. If in doubt, leave it to the experts. If you're in any doubt as to how painful burns can be, ask Niki Lauda.

There are a number of other reasons why you may smell fuel in the car, another simple one is the junction of the fuel filler and the tank. More details may be found at the 164 Home Page using this link:

So my Cloverleaf, christened 'The Beast' by now, was smelling sweetly, and we were looking forward to the Spring and Summer.

The UK Alfa Romeo Owners Club hosts a Spring Alfa Day most years, in the grounds of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu ( ) This is a very pleasant day out for all the family, particularly if the weather is fine. Beaulieu was the place where King John founded a Cistercian monastery in 1204. Although much of the Abbey was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII, some buildings have survived: the cloisters contain a recreated monastic herb garden, the refectory became the parish church and the Domus has an exhibition about the Abbey. In the grounds of Beaulieu estate stands Palace House, formerly the great Gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey which has now been the home of the Montague family since 1538.

Alongside all this "The National Motor Museum" founded in 1952 by Lord Montague, takes you on a journey through a hundred years of motoring. The museum is well geared to staging car club events, and has a large outdoor arena for static and mobile displays.

Anyway, we gave The Beast a wash and brush up, prepared a pic-nic and set off for the day. On arrival at the Museum, we were told that the usual parking area was waterlogged, so would have to park in the regular Museum car park. However, it turned out that there was no 164 Cloverleaf in the display arena, and we were invited to display the car there. Of course, I protested that my pride and joy simply wasn't fit to be seen with all the classic/historic ALFA's (well, just a little bit) but were made to feel welcome so in we went. Quite a number of people came up and admired the car, mostly impressed with a) its 'presence', b) its colour c) the wheels and d) the funky black leather interior. At lunchtime I was astonished to receive a visit from Phil Ward of Auto Italia magazine,( ) and Ed McDonough, the head honcho from the UK ALFA ROMEO Owners Club.( ) Explaining that the magazine was doing a 'definitive' article on the 164, they wanted to take some 'photos of the car for inclusion in the piece. I was pretty taken back by this. You know how it is, you can only see the flaws in something, while other people don't notice? Well, thats how I felt. Anyway, Phil was confident that he could 'edit out ' any cosmetic issues in the final 'photos, and later that day he spent some time taking a number of shots. Not wishing to miss the opportunity of working with a professional, I used the same vantage-points and took my own pictures, one of which is used for the site banner and identity. The article was later published in the September 2000 edition. Unfortunately, Phil forgot to credit the car or me. If you're reading this Phil, you own me one!! Good article by Ed McDonough though.

One of the most irritating faults I have encountered is a rattle with the sun roof. Most of the time it's OK, but as the speed increases, say on the motorway (freeway) it becomes very annoying. Looking at the CarDisc (well worth getting even if you don't do your own repairs), it seems that the rails, which locate the mechanism at each side of the panel, have pads in strategic places to cushion the inevitable contact between the metal and plastic. These pads are of felt or similar material, and over the course of time, they loose their effectiveness. The manual suggests replacement when overhauling the sun roof mechanism. So far, I've not been tempted to have a go myself, as the risk of screwing up or damaging essential parts seems pretty high to me. I'll wait a while and get my friendly local mechanic to have a look.

Which brings me to David Thomas Garages. As I'm working away from home at the moment, I needed to find a local garage to service 'The Beast'. A thumb through AutoItalia magazine showed that David was only about six or seven miles away from where I'm working. 'The Beast' was coming up for a major service, so I rang to see if he would do it for me. The reason for this is that some independents are not happy to tackle the 24v engine, as it requires special tooling and such like. David was OK so it was booked in. At 85,000 miles, this was the first major service since I bought the car, so I was expecting the worse! It wasn't too bad, but still quite a few hundred pounds.

The major work was new front discs & pads, replacing the rear suspension trailing arms (almost considered a consumable I believe) the fuel lines I mentioned earlier and the usual service stuff. I have quite a lot of service history for the car and suspected that it was using the wrong spark plugs. (Have you tried to extract the rear ones?) I purchased a set of Lodge factory plugs at about half price at National Alfa Day in June. Thank heavens I didn't pay full price. They still cost me about 75 ($125?) for the set.

David is a really good bloke, and very good at his job. He is ex. Alfa Dealer trained, runs his own racing team and is a true Alfa enthusiast. I would trust, and recommend him (see the service section of the register for details).

One thing David did notice was that the hand-break was getting stiff, usually symptomatic of imminent cable failure. A new cable was later fitted. Other minor glitches were the steering column adjustment going slack and needing tightening, and a blowing exhaust somewhere at the front. This turned out to be just a loose joint and was soon fixed.

Not so long ago I would have attempted to fix many of these faults and problems myself. The last major job I did was dropping the gearbox from the 75 I owned, and replacing it after having it re-furbished by Cloverleaf Transmissions in London (Charlie I think it was, great job, nice, helpful people). My age and an on going back problem have put paid to me doing much these days, so I leave it to those who can. Also, as the car has to be my daily transport for anywhere in the UK, I prefer to let the professionals handle the problems - they know the tricks I don't, have the experience, correct tools and access to parts as short notice. I think that to run a Cloverleaf (or any modern Alfa) on a limited budget must be very difficult.

I bought two new Yokohama A520 tyres for the front wheels in June 2000. These were very good in the dry, and had excellent grip. Pretty good in the wet as well. Five months and approximately 5000 miles later, they were worn out. I was staggered. I've never had a set of tyres wear out so quickly. I'm not a hooligan when it comes to driving, and I was just amazed. I took the car to a local tyre fitters (Lincolns Tyre Services, Stevenage, 01438 354473) near to where I am working, I suspected that the steering geometry was at fault, although there is a funny side to this story. As an aside, they confirmed that these particular tyres are very soft, and hence the wear.

My wife has only driven this car about twice. It's fair to say that she tolerates my affliction with Alfas, rather like other guys play golf or watch soccer. Just prior to this episode, she drove the car and was horrified at the way it steered, and pronounced straight away that there was something wrong. Naturally, I disagreed, driving the car many miles a week and not being aware of any problem. What would she know?

So, I went to the tyre fitters and asked them to check the tracking, as I was concerned with the rate of wear. The wear was consistent over the tread pattern, not on one side or anything like that. One thing which did occur to me was that each working day I used a multi-story car park next to the offices where I am working at the moment. The floor in here is covered with a sort of clear thermo-plastic coating. It looks like some sort of anti skid or slip protection. One thing is this, everyone's tyres make a hell of a noise on this stuff, and when tyres make a noise, they are suffering hard wear. Therefore, I was thinking that this was contributing to the problem. On top of that is the inherent 164 problem of poor geometry on full lock, and I used full lock every day in this car park.

Anyway, the tyre shop suggested a full four-wheel alignment. When I picked the car up, I was truly amazed. It felt totally different, and it was obvious that my wife had been right all along (oh no..). The car was transformed, it felt much more taught, did not tramline anymore, and was much more pleasant to drive. Quite a difference. I would urge everyone to have this process carried out. Over a period of time, you get used to the feel of a car, and don't notice progressive change. My wife could tell because she only drove the car infrequently. I was oblivious to it. Naturally, when she found out she was correct, I was suitably chastised!

Two other unresolved funnies. First, a tendency to cut out when idling and hot, with what appears to be a complete electrical shut off. It starts straight away afterwards, with no clue as to what the problem is. Hasn't happened during the winter, so must be heat related. I suspect a thermal cut out problem in the ECU. So difficult to reproduce or trace.

The other strange one is break light failure. Very often first thing in the morning, the break lights won't work. After about five miles, and with the cabin warmed up, they are OK. I've had the switch cleaned and I sprayed it with contact cleaner, which seemed to fix it for a while. I'll get it replaced at some point. Potentially very serious though

A few weeks ago I started to get the 'injection' light flash on the dash. There was no noticeable problem with the engine, so once home I gave David a ring and he suggested it was OK to drive, but get it in the shop to check.

David had recently invested many thousands of pounds in a Bosch diagnostic unit for the Motronic engine management systems. He was not happy that it wouldn't talk to my car! Unable to diagnose with it, he used the back up technique of quickly tapping the throttle five times when the ignition is just switched on. I had clean forgotten about this, and kicked myself for not doing it. This process makes the 'injection' light flash a sequence on times, representing numbers which in turn represent a code indicating the fault which caused the light to come on in the first place. David registered 1224, which indicates an O2 sensor problem. If you want to check any codes, use this link to the relevant 164 Tech Page. ( cars built 91-93) (cars built 94-95)

David had to order a sensor, so I took the car away. When I got home I tried the test myself, and got 1244, slightly different, and indicating 'Evaporative solenoid valve faulty '. I rang David and he said he would check again. His machine still wouldn't read my ECU, and he was pretty cross! On the evidence of the self-diagnostic test, David said he would order a new solenoid valve. The day I had arranged for the fitting, the error code had changed to indicate a fault with the ECU - not very promising. I explained to David when I arrived, and he said not to worry(!) it was probably a temporary fault, and anyway he could get ECU's repaired now. I left him to it. A few hours later he rang to say it was fixed, the fault codes cleared, his diagnostic machine working correctly and everything in the world was rosy.

I picked up the car and drove the 130 miles home, expecting the light to come back on, but it didn't, and it's still off a week later. (I'm a natural pessimist I'm afraid).

The fault had been causing hesitation and some rough running, but it's now back to the Swiss watch it was before, very smooth and silky, don't you just love that engine?

Currently, for it seems there is always something to sort out, the central locking isn't. When I lock the drivers door using the key, the other locks are reluctant to operate. Oh well, here we go again..

10th October 2003. It's been a while since I updated this diary, so I thought I bring things up to date.

Since the last entry in the diary, things have been pretty quiet. I'd been using the Beast to travel from Salisbury up to York, over to Wigan, down to Chalfont St. Peter and back home. There was the odd niggle here and there, but mainly OK.

The break light switch was still being temperamental - more of this later.

In May 2002, I bit the bullet and bought a new car, a Landrover Discovery, mainly for work, but also because we had bought a horse and I was expecting to go down the horse box route at some point. Plus, I thought I would be pretty safe from the effects of bad weather, gales, snow, floods and the like, when miles away from home, In July 2002, my contract finished and I was out of work! Bummer!

Anyway, I ran the Landy most of the summer, taking it to France for a couple of weeks holiday in Southern Brittany, and I also took it to Holland, near Arnhem, on business for a week. (I know there are a lot of Dutch folk on the register - nicer people you could not wish to meet, very friendly and hospitable).

Anyway, during this time, I used the Beast mainly at weekends, and it was fine. However, I noticed that the right turn indicators were beginning to fail intermittently. There seemed to be no reason, they would work sometimes, or they would fail. By now I was about to start working again, in Essex, which meant a trip up the M3/M25. Not a good idea with dodgy indicators, so I had to use the Landy.

By now, the MOT had expired, and so had the tax. It was also due for a service, and the aircon had stopped working. Around this time, the driver's door refused to open. It was stuck solid, and I suspected I had broken the internal release mechanism while trying to open it. I was getting a bit frustrated by now! The car was unusable. At the end of April, I think it was, I loaded it onto a trailer, hitched up the Landy and took it up to David Thomas at Codicoate, Stevenage, for him to sort it out.
I left it with David on the basis that he would work on the car at his own convenience, rather than try and do everything at once. About six week later I went up on the train and picked it up. By the time he came to fix it, both front doors refused to open! When David and his merry men finally got the doors open and took the linings out, he could see that on both sides a small piece of plastic (don't know from where) had come adrift and jammed the release mechanism.

It passed the MOT without any trouble - much to my surprise! The aircon was a leaking pipe, thank heavens, so that wasn't too expensive to repair. The rear cross member will last through the winter, so all was well.

However, on the way home, the indicators were still playing up

I was concerned that the problem was with the column switch assembly, as I had had a similar problem with a 'Sud many years ago. I had visions of removing the steering wheel, and all sorts of problems with the air bag and stuff.

Chatting on the Yahoo Cloverleaf Group gave me the answer - the flasher relay/control unit, which is situated under the dash with the other relays and fuses. When I waggled it, they would work. If I pulled it out slightly, it was OK. I ordered a new one from the local Alfa dealer, and it did the trick.

By now, (May) I had finished in Essex, and was bound for Cockermouth in the Lake District - a round trip of about 650 miles. After a few weeks in the Landy, I decided to use the 'Leaf (Landy has a capped mileage).

In early summer, everything was fine, the Beast was running like a Swiss watch (although a bit louder!), and eating the miles up.

However, it was beginning to get a bit hot. There were numerous road works and delays on the M6, and sitting in traffic was getting a bit worrying. The system seemed to be working OK, but one Sunday night when I arrived at my fathers house, the radiator fan refused to stop, running when the ignition was switched off!. In the end I had to physically disconnect the fan. The water was cold.

This had me really foxed, as the fan is not designed to run when the ignition is not on.

I suspected the relays to begin with. There are two, one for each circuit, high and low speeds. I took them out and had a look at the contacts inside. All appeared well. Howard Mitchell suggested I test the fan and check the bearings, as he thought it might be tightening up, and not working efficiently.

While trying to get the fan out (the shroud was well and truly corroded to the bottom of the rad) it became obvious that the rad was in a terrible condition.

The bottom line was the radiator was shot, and also the fan was temperamental. I didn't realise the rad was so bad until I started to remove it to have a look at the fan motor. The picture speaks for itself! The real problem is that the A/C matrix obscures the front of the rad, and the fan shroud hides the rear - result, you can't really see the state of the radiator.

I got a new rad from Alfa Aid, "The caring Alfa Romeo Specialists". The head honcho is Adrian Jardine, a very nice bloke who knows his Alfa's. The cost was 150 +VAT. Alfa Aid offers new & used parts, fitting, servicing and repairs. They can be found at 186, Bath Road, Maidenhead, Berks, SL6 4LB. Unfortunately, they don't have an internet presence at the moment, but you can ring them on +44 (0) 845 345 3375 or fax them on +44 (0) 1628 788884.

After a lot of thought, I decided to replace the fan with a new, non-Alfa unit. I shopped around on the net and found an outfit called Merlin Motorsport, who are based at the Castle Combe racing circuit, near Chippenham. Merlin were very helpful, with a good catalogue of parts, mostly aimed at the racing fraternity, but very useful source of odds and ends. They stock Davies Craig and Tripac electric fans, and lots of add-on bits including complete replacement cooling systems, some all electric (dump the water pump, and replace with an electric, in-hose system). I chose a 13" Tripac fan, and decided to retain the original Alfa two-speed wiring system, using the resistor.
The fan is very easy to fit using nylon ties, similar in concept to tie-wraps. They thread through the rad and hold the fan quite securely. Brad Anesi has used them, and reckons they are quite durable. I was left with a small problem of where to mount the two-speed resistor. In the end I got a small repair bracket from B&Q and mounted it as you can see in the picture. I smeared the contacts with silicone filler to guard against any shorts, and corrosion. Naturally, before I put everything back together, I checked the circuit operation, using a meter and the fault finding procedure on the Car Disk manual. I also cleaned up any corrosion, and repainted with Black Hammerite Satin as necessary, and replaced the bottom hose, as I had to cut off the original when removing. One thing left to do is fabricate a new bottom bracket for the oil cooler. The original bracket has captive bolts which locate through a lug on the bottom side of the rad. The bolt sheared due to corrosion, and I haven't been able to drill it out. It's also a bugger to get to, so I will come up with another solution (way that does not rely on the radiator for support).

So, that's the saga of the rad & fan. The Beast now runs at about 75C (169F) on the open road, and just over 90C (198F) in traffic or standstill. The fan cuts in when the A/C is switch on low temp, and if you bypass the switching, the high-speed fan works OK. All in all, a good exercise, fairly easy to do, and I now have much more confidence in the system. If anyone needs further advice or help, feel free to get in touch, or use the Yahoo Group. There are lots of people out there with help and advice.

Anyway, I've used the Beast all through the hottest summer on record in the UK, and very nice it was too.

All too soon the weather has changed, and the break lights are playing up again......not working when cold. I hope this is just the switch - it's very worring when you have to stop suddenly with traffic behind! Perhaps it's back to the Landy for a while.........

Autumn / Winter 2003.

With the advent of the dark, cold, damp mornings, I decided that I really had to tackle the breaklight problem (not working while the car was cold inside). It seemed that if I ran the heater to the footwells for about 30 minutes, it cured the problem, so my guess was that the switch at the foot of the steering column was getting moisture in it, and not functioning properly until it dried out with the heat.

So, I ordered one from the local dealer (as usual, no stock), which took about a week to arrive. Very easy to fit, and cured the problem straight away. Just like that.

Winter / Spring 2004

The months just seem to fly past. The last time I updated this page was last summer - it's now the following late spring.

I finished my contract up in the Lake District at the end of October, so the Beast had a bit of a rest. I got a call just before Christmas about a work opportunity in Holland, near Amsterdam, and started on the 5th January.This meant flying from Southampton to Schiphol on Monday morning and returning to Southampton on Friday, late afternoon, an ideal opportunity to use the Beast.

Since January, it has been no trouble, starting without a hitch in the cold weather, and apart from an annoying vibration from the exhaust, running nicely. However, last week, 'er indoors' noticed a patch of something amber, oily and smelly on the house drive. I was in Amsterdam, so spent the week wondering what was busy leaking from the Beast while it was parked at the airport. I returned to the car, to find a small pool of this stuff on the floor, but oil level, break and power steering all seemed OK. I managed to get home without any difficulty, and had a look underneath. Without being sure, it looked like a drive-shaft seal, or something in that area.

I made arrangements to take the car up to David Thomas again, for some TLC. I was a bit worried about driving over 100 miles, with a potential gearbox/differential leak, but we made it OK without any nasty noises or gear selection problems. As I write, the car is with David for investigation, plus a good service (new cam belt and tensioner), and a few odds and ends (hand-break cable adjustment etc).

Summer 2010

It’s been four years since I added anything to this diary, so it’s going to be tricky remembering what has happened, and I don’t have my notes or folder of bills with me as I write, so my memory will have to suffice.

What I do remember is that the car let me down on New Year eve, 2006. I was going home after a short trip in the evening, and it stopped dead and refused to start. I got it towed to a local garage, where, if I remember correctly, it was fund to be a bad relay in the fuel delivery system. .

At some point in the new year, it stopped again. It would turn over, catch, but not run. So there was a spark, and some juice, but something else was not right. I fiddled about with it, but work pressures and various other things took my time, and it just sat on the drive for about a year. .

In early 2008 I hired a trailer and took it to Garrison Motors in Tidworth, who advertise as an Alfa service garage. I explained that the car needed an MOT, but that it also wouldn’t start. The manager there was very understanding, and we came to an agreement that they would work on it when they were short of work (I had no need for it). .

Not long after this time, my wife was diagnosed with cancer (now recovering), and as you can imagine, this meant that I had other more important things on my mind. So the car was left with Garrison for about a further year, finally being handed back in February 2009 with an MOT, but not in the state in which I had left it. I won’t go into the details, but I would not go back to this garage. The mystery problem, by the way, was the crank sensor, a common issue I understand. .

During 2008/2009 I had been out of work, either through design, to look after my wife, or due to ‘market forces’ I think it’s called, or perhaps the credit crunch, or whatever you want to describe the mess that the last Government got us into. Anyway, I didn’t secure further employment until November last year, so finances were scarce to lavish on ‘the Alfa’. However, in the Spring of this year I decided to make an effort and get the Beast back on the road, and at least make a few events associated with the Alfa Romeo Centenary celebrations, these being the Goodwood Festival of Speed, The Silverstone Classic and the Alfa Romeo Owners Club UK annual Alfa Day, held at Shelsley Walsh in August. Shelsley has a special place in my heart, as it’s the first motor racing venue I ever attended (I used to marshall there as a teenager), so I’m pretty desperate to go. .

First thing to addres was an MOT. I have a local garage two street away, so drove it round there to get some idea of what was needed. It was running very rough, and I doubted that it would pass the emissions test, but a five minute ‘Italian tune up’ (heavy right foot applied to the throttle) seemed to clear it up. It actually passed the emissions test with a very good reading, but the rest of the story wasn’t too good. Corrosion at the rear, fluid leaking everywhere from the power steering (this is what the mystery leak was), poor brakes and various other bits made for depressing reading. .

I thought that this was going to be the end of the road. My main concern was the amount of welding necessary. The MOT garage couldn’t (or wouldn’t) speculate about the costs, as the side skirt was in the way of seeing how bad it was. After a long chat with ‘her indoors’ about what to do, we came to the conclusion that until we had a proper quote, it was pointless speculating. So, who to get to look at it that I trusted? .

The question of trust between a car owner and their mechanic is similar, in my mind, to that between a doctor and a patient. If it’s bad news, you want it straight. If there’s hope, you like to think the doc will pull out all the stops. You don’t want a quack doctor, or a quack mechanic. The only people I have trusted in the past are David Thomas at Stevenage, and Alan Bennet at Benalfa in Westbury. Then it occurred to me to talk to the guy who looks after my Land Rover, Paul Cooper at 4x4 Services in Alderbury, near Salisbury where I live. Paul is an ace with the Landy, but I had no idea if he would be interested in tackling the Beast. .

I gave him a call, and he said it was best for him to take a look and see. Just prior to this, I managed to source a brand new steering rack from someone on the Register, Chris Pitchford. This was a real piece of luck, as I thought it was better to replace the whole thing rather than muck about getting the original re-furbed. .

I left the car with Paul, and waited for the call. When he came back to me, he said the welding wasn’t too bad, certainly not the major issue. Changing the rack was the thing. Paul was not at all keen. So, I said I would try and see if there was any advice I could get regarding the best way to tackle this. I found some words of wisdom on the net from an American guy, who’s trick was to lower the rear of the engine sub-frame to allow more access to the nuts holding the rack in place. I passed this on to Paul, and waited. .

About a week or so later, Paul rang to say it was finished. It DID take a lot of cussing to get it changed, but he’s a really good guy and he managed it. At the same time, he put new drilled and grooved discs on the front, which sorted out the braking problems. It was still running roughly, but passed the emissions test yet again. I was pretty sure this was just lack of use, perhaps a sticky valve or just fowled plugs. Anyway, I got it home with a new MOT, and a big grin on my face. My daughter took me to pick it up, and as she followed me home she said clouds of shit came out of the exhaust. Not very ladylike I grant you, but accurate! .

So, the next job was to get fettled for Alfa Weekend. You may remember that not long after I had the car, the wheels were refurbished, and very nice they looked too at the time. However, nine or ten years later, they looked a really sorry mess once more. For me, the wheels of the Cloverleaf really give the car it’s character (plus the skirts), so I pushed the boat out and found someone to sort them out. The company I chose was The Wheel Specialist, who have a branch in Fareham, not too far away. After checking out their website and making enquiries, they seemed to know what they were doing. I needn’t have worried. They made an excellent job, stripping the old finish off, baking to remove any moisture, prepping the surface and making good, before applying a powder coat finish that is nice and deep. At the moment, the plastic fake bolts have been removed. I think these added to the problems of corrosion, holding salts and dirt under the edges. I’ll replace with some nickel plated hex head bolts when I have a spare weekend. A big thank you to all the staff at The Wheel Specialists, who were helpful and friendly – thanks guys. Cost for four wheels was slightly over four hundred pounds. I know it’s a lot, and you could get after-market wheels for less, but then they wouldn’t be original, would they?? .

I changed the engine oil last weekend. While I was doing this I noticed how badly corroded the area was under the radiator. The radiator sites on a ‘side rail’ as the parts manual describes it, I guess because it’s on the side of the engine. It actually bolts to the main sub-frame, which is in pretty good shape for its age. Now, I was looking at this, and wondering how I might get a new one. Having found the part number, I put in a request with Mangoletsi at Knutsford to see if they could get one. Frankly, I didn’t hold out much hope, but the next day I got a phone call to say they had sourced one from Alfa GB, and it would be delivered at the end of the week. What a results. They even gave me 12% discount. Amazing. Cost was eighty odd pounds plus VAT. As I write this, I’m waiting for the part to arrive. I’m toying with having it galvanized before fitting – I’ll let you know what happens. .

After changing the oil last weekend, I decided to give it a run to try and clear up the rough running and blow out the cobwebs. An hour on the A303 up to Andover and back seemed to do the trick, it was ticking over nicely, and the oil pressure is just under 4 bar. The water temperature gauge is not working though, which is annoying as I’m very mindful of this engines trait to run at high temperature (that’s in general, not just my engine). Apart from that it was like old times. There is some noise from the exhaust somewhere, but it’s OK at the moment, and it still pulls like the proverbial train. Wonderful stuff. So, it’s off to Alfa Day on Sunday 22nd August. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Latest Diary Entry

August 2010

Well, we made it. We got to the annual Alfa gathering of the AROC, without a hitch (well, almost).

I left Salisbury at about 7:30am on Suday 22nd, and headed up through Tidworth, Marlborough and Swindon to the A417 and on to the M5. At J7 we peeled off to Worcester and then on to Shelsley, arriving at about 10am. Only two things concerned me. I have the dreaded fuel smell in the car again, and the clutch pedal is a bit sticky at the top of the return. I'm pretty sure the fuel smell is coming from the top of the tank, either the gasket, or more likely, the pipe and angled connector to the evaporator/collector. This was a problem many moons ago, and it was cured with tape and silicone. I remember removing this when searching for the cause of the non running about three years ago. I'll have to replace my 'repair'. I think the clutch is just a weak spring. The clutch itself seems to operate OK. After a day at the meeting, I continued to Stourbridge and Kidderminster, then back up the M5 to Walsall to spend the night with my father and brother. I returned to Salisbury on the Monday, again without any drama. Final distance was around 300 miles, accomplished on about eight gallons of unleaded, which I make out as just over 37mpg - not bad for a three litre car crusing at seventy for most of the journey. If ever a car had 'legs' it's the 164 24v! Nice of the 156 V6 owner to nod acknowledgment to me just after Birdlip, soing South on Monday lunchtime.

I'm still worried that the cooling isn't tip-top, so will have to spend some time checking that through especially as the gauge is not working. The gearbox oil will also probably need changing next.

After that, it will be the new front radiator support, replace the fog lights and make an air scoop for the oil cooler. I now have to save my pennies for the re-spray and associated work next Spring.


Just in case anyone who reads this is horrified by an apparent string of problems, and I would be the first to accept that Alfas do seem to be prone to faults other cars never get, let me point out a few positive things.

First, when I drive the car, I feel good. I feel different, apart from the crowd and in tune with an experience that owners of Alfa Romeo's over the years have come to love - that special quality which only an Alfa imparts. BMW is supposed to be the 'ultimate driving machine' and they can believe that if they wish. However, the word machine to me lacks the very thing the Alfas provide, a soul, a passion, and a contact with the history, which made the marque great. Bloody hell, even the badge is a thing of beauty and mystery!

Next, I think it's still an attractive car, whatever the current vogue. One of the best feelings is going to the car after leaving it in a car park, and finding people admiring it. This has happened a few times. Not knowledgeable, Alfa people. Just folk on the street who accept it for what it is, and find it pleasing.

So, it's not all negative, you just have to be realistic about owning a classic, 150mph piece of art on wheels

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