Blog : I’ve gone all Latin and got my mojo back…

Keith Adams

Alfa Romeo 156 2.5 V6-24 joins the AROnline fleet
Alfa Romeo 156 2.5 V6-24 joins the AROnline fleet

Regular readers will know that, as well as being a BL-head, I also have a liking for my Alfa Romeos, Audis and Citroens. I have a ‘Sud sitting in my garage which I simply can’t bring myself to sell despite not having used the thing for years and I’m also the very satisfied former owner of a 156 Twin Spark. The company’s fascinated me for as long as I can remember and, as I grew up during the 1970s, I found myself being strangely attracted to Alfettas, Giuliettas and the gloriously styled Alfasud Sprint and GTV. Yes, I read the road tests that gleefully talked about indifferent build quality and an odd driving position, but did that put me off at all?  No, of course not.

However, like all affairs, mine’s an on-off deal with Alfa Romeo – so, as we went into the mid-1980s, it went a bit wierd. The 75 and 90 were, er, okay – but they simply didn’t engage me in the way the older cars did. They were creaky, oddly styled and frankly a bit strange. I still I loved them, though… As I say, an on-off-on affair. Even today, I find myself looking at 1970s GTVs through strangely misted eyes and deliberating over buying one.

Then the practical side of me takes over and I stick with my V8-powered Rover SD1.

However, when my good friend and AROnline tech-head, Brian Gunn, bought a 156 2.5 V6-24 last year, I just knew I’d end up owning it. Why? Well, because he raved about it – and reminded me of just how much I missed my old 156; a Latin you could own without (too many) regrets. Then, a few weeks back, he said those fateful words I hoped (and dreaded) him saying: ‘I’m buying  a new car… are you interested in the 156?’ Needless to say, I said yes, we concluded a deal… and then I waited. And waited. And waited.

That’s because part of the deal was that I’d have to wait for the delivery of Brian’s new Fiat 500 TwinAir before I got my hands on the Alfa. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem. My smokers and general runarounds haven’t really engaged me since I lost my Saab 9000 Aero, but I actually found a the spark of excitement beginning to return. Brian kept telling me this and that about his 156 and I’d find myself willing the days and weeks to pass more quickly. Indeed, as the day got closer, I also started telling people about my new car… without a trace of irony or embarrassment.

Then last weekend, the day finally arrived and it was time to pick up my new Alfa from Brian’s place in London. The excitement remained and continued to build as we handed over the cash, did the paperwork and chewed over the car situation. Wow… really unusual for me in recent years. Then came the drive home… and, do you know what? The reality that followed the anticipation wasn’t a disappointment. In fact, I was more than happy; I was delighted. That Busso V6 is a magnificent thing – it sounds absolutely incredible – and, although it’s only the baby of the family at 2492cc, it has all the torque, power and tractability I’d need in daily driving. In short, by the time I got back to my place in Middle England, I knew I’d made a very good choice.

Yes, of course, people have been telling me it will break down, it will conk out and that the stylish saloon will bankrupt me. We’ll see. I suspect, after Brian’s year-long adventure with it, the thing is properly sorted. I’m also lucky that I don’t need to drive it every day – slaking its thirst won’t come cheaply – but it will remain a treat for me. All the best things in life should be rationed out.

Mind you, something else weird has happened to me. This is the first car I’ve owned since that Saab 9000 Aero that I’ve actually found myself caring for. I’ve polished it – full paint correction, the lot – and fitted a nice stereo. I’ve even fed the leather interior and now I find myself anticipating driving it. This is going to be my office for some time – and what an office it is.

Thank you Brian for letting me buy your Alfa. Thank you Alfa Romeo for giving me back my car mojo. This is a momentous time for me. It’s good to be back.

Momo leather interior is a very nice place to be...
Momo leather interior is a very nice place to be...
Unmarked and very shiny flanks. You'd be hard pushed to tell this is ten years old
Unmarked and very shiny flanks. You'd be hard pushed to tell this is ten years old
Keith Adams


  1. She looks lovely and I can’t wait to do an exchange of motors!

    I’m pleased you have found your mojo too! I know the feeling so very well!

  2. The 156 was the start of a real renaissance at Alfa – their ‘XF’ moment – and it’s an attractive saloon which still looks contemporary.

    I had a 1996 GTV with a 2.0-litre Twin Spark engine – it had one of the nicest engine notes I’ve ever heard from a 4-pot, handled like a go-kart and felt like a mini-Ferrari.

    Unfortunately, it had a tendency to blow fuseboxes and chew through suspension bushes (I would get one side sorted then the other would start knocking – I blame the speed humps everywhere).

    The thing about an Alfa too, is that the design ages so well and people are convinced that they are expensive (almost Maserati-like) – you can therefore pick up a decent Alfa for banger money and the neighbours will be convinced that you have won the lottery!


  3. Fantastic! No Sport pack spoilers, no dodgy ‘wood’ – just Teledials, so it’s like a Veloce, but without the hard ride. The best combo! It’s in a good colour, too.

    Incidentally, the baby of the Busso V6 family was, in fact, a 1997cc tax-breaker for the Italian market and was turbocharged in some forms, but never mind me.

  4. I reckon it’s that colour that does it for me – it looks classy, with an interior to match!

  5. I’m still running my 156 Twin Spark which dates back to 2000 – it’s been very reliable apart from the fact that the airbag sensor has failed twice!

  6. I have a facelift 156 Sportwagon 1.9 JTDm Veloce and it’s fantastic – easily the best car I’ve owned and (with the exception of a bonkers Fiat Coupe Turbo, and a lovely Volvo V90 I drove some years ago), the best car I’ve driven (although a 166 T-Spark came close)

    I believe that the 156 iss one of the few reasonably inexpensive secondhand cars that can make you feel as though you are driving something truly special – and it always draws admiring glances. The engine, chassis and steering are first class – even the diesel model growls when pressed on (although I sometimes regret not investing in the 2.4 JTDm model…).

    The interior could grace a car costing £20k more and, so far, apart from a suspension bush, a couple of lightbulbs and an auxillary belt tensioner, it’s not let me down in 12 months and 10k miles. There are some great Alfa Romeo specialist garages, too – I’ve had great service from NJS in Pershore and Simply Alfa in Stourbridge as well as from Veloces in Barnet when I owned a 145. I’ll definitely be replacing my 156 with another Alfa – probably a GT Coupe…

  7. Great to see someone singing the praises of the 156… I have a 156 2.0 TS Sportwagon, which is ten years old this year (I’ve owned it for seven of them) and it is by far the best car I have ever owned – it’s great to drive, stunning to look at (in pearlescent blue) and practical. Oh, and it is reliable – how many people say that about an Alfa?

    I’ve hardly spent any money on it in all the time I have had it, which is better going than the Saab 900 and Golf GTi which preceded it. It’s starting to get a bit creaky, but the Alfa man in Barnes (a great find, check him out if you live near there) is going to look it over and sort it out for me.

    I keep thinking I should change it due to its age, the kids moan about the lack of legroom in the back, it grounds on every speed hump, but I couldn’t bear to get rid of it. We’re off on a driving holiday in France in it this summer!

  8. I keep promising myself a 156 but I’ve been put off by the stories that they drain your wallet faster than a high-maintenance, trophy wife.

    Mind you, Alfa did get the car absolutely right in the styling department, inside and out. The 159 is a nice car but not a patch on the 156.

  9. I’ve just driven Calais – Luxembourg – Amsterdam – Hamburg – Copenhagen – Stockholm and back in a lovely little Alfa Giulietta from Alamo car rental. I was very impressed – it went like stink and handled beautifully.

    The only downside of the trip was the German Autobahn system where I’d expected to be able to crack on a bit – 300km of roadworks from Breman to Lubeck. I took a different route through Germany on the way back – same story. A Porsche-driving mate says it’s been like that for 10 years – so much for German efficiency.

    The Swedish highways were a dream – a sustained 160 (km/h) was effortless – and I got lucky and didn’t run into any cops. What is the speed limit in Sweden?

  10. An absolute stunner… The Alfa 156 still looks as gorgeous today as it did when launched in 1998 – it’s Walter de’ Silva’s masterpiece. I’d love to get one, one day.

  11. @Luke McCormack
    The 156 was de’ Silva’s magnum opus in my opinion.

    After that, things went downhill with his move to VW and designing the too-similar Leon/Toledo/Altea monoboxes.

  12. @Rovert
    Bang on – a mate of mine (who also once owned a Delta Integrale and a Fulvia) also has a Sportwagon and loves the thing. Seriously, there’s nothing to fear with Italian cars – just find a good specialist garage and get the oil changed regularly with the correct grade.

    I guarantee that, everytime you accelerate away from some berk in a kevved-up Corsa, you’ll crack a smile. Actually, in my case, it’s everytime I accelerate! A secondhand Alfa 156 – it’s the bargain of the century!

  13. I’ve got an 11 year old 156 2.0 TS which I’ve owned from new – it’s now done 136,000 miles and has never broken down. Mine’s only had two minor electrical faults which I fixed myself in about 30 minutes each, is still on its original exhaust and has just had its first new battery.

    The 156 is a joy to drive and the engine is a masterpiece which begs to be thrashed – it has twin balancer shafts so is six cylinder smooth but four cylinder economical. The driving position is spot on – I’ve driven 850 miles in one day and felt fine. Cars don’t get any better than this…

  14. Aaaaaaaah! – so you have an insatiable weakness the same as us! We do have a ‘modernish’ car (well, you have to when your real love is 34 Wolseley Nine) – and it does have the beautiful Alfa V6 firmly planted in its equally beautiful Pininfarina shaped bonnet – yes, its a 2002 GTV Spider. My colleague and I drive about 25,000 miles a year – he in his diesel Golf and me in the Alfa. He gets 60 something to the gallon and I get 26. And this is where I take issue with the idea that a Golf is the only car a man ever needs (as per James May).
    The problem surrounds the word ‘needs’. You remember ‘Ernie’ the fastest milkman in the west? – well he talked of a women having ‘many needs’. Well I ‘need’ to drive something beautifully shaped and hear the sound of one of the most wonderful ‘modern’ engines in the world. I need to sit low surrounded by leather and tasteful traditional Italian dials. I need to have a car at least styled (if not actually designed) by one man or his very close team – and as we all know if the car carries the Farina ‘F’ within the badge – then Pinin (or his team) actually did style it – unlike the Fiat Coupe that has only the interior styled by him (or the team). All of this makes me a confirmed Alfisti and scores of your readers are now shaking their heads and shouting for nurse Cratchet. To be honest I would no more argue with a man about his choice of car than I would his choice of religion or women. Having said that, there are some buck ugly BMW’s about!

    All the best


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