So, around late February, early March, I decided to sell my 1996 BMW E39 528i and buy something a bit older and rawer because I missed the E30 that I sold to my mechanic. I had test-driven a BMW E34 at that point and I liked how the car drove, but the car itself wasn't in good shape, so I decided to pass. Come to think of it, even if I had bought that particular E34, I would've still been better off than now.
You see, after I passed on the E34, I found another one. A beautiful manual 520i that even had the same plate-number as my E39 and came with the original owner's manual, just like my E39. It should've been the one to get, but sadly, two things happened: a friend of mine suggested that I give Alfa Romeo a try, and I rewatched Season 1 Episode 10 of The Grand Tour.
Just after I brought her back to Selangor. The Alfetta on the left belongs to a certain Chris Wee.
So down I went to Putrajaya, the home of the Malaysian Federal Government, with a friend and a trance-like feeling overcame me when I saw the car for the first time. I haggled the price down as much as I could and bought the car after a short test-drive. No PPI, no nothing; just look over, drive, and pay. A few days later, I come back and pick up the car to drive it back to meet a few friends who were excited to see my new purchase. And right off the bat, something was wrong.
As it turns out, the shocks were nearly done and the car was basically running without any dampening in the suspension. And if that wasn't enough, the highway from Putrajaya to where I was going, though well maintained(it did lead to the home of the Federal Government, after all), was build over marshland, which meant the undulations were horrific. So imagine driving through those undulations with a car that you've just bought and just figured out the shocks are done... And you friend decides to cruise at 120km/h because he's in a rental Captur that doesn't give a damn because it's a modern car.
Yeah, fun times.
MK2 Proton Saga on the left; My 164 on the right
Fortunately we made it and the gang was all very excited about having another Bella in the group stable. I even proudly claimed that I would never sell the car. Yeah right...
Anyways, so now I have a green wedge with blown shocks that kind of looked like a Second Generation Proton Saga... And it's been three months since she rolled into my garage. So, how has she been? Well, after the conditional soft reopening of the country, I got the shocks rebuild by the fantastic people over at Reiber Auto and the car drives better than ever. Unfortunately, that's about the only good thing I can report.
Halfway in surgery
Ever since the day I got the car, she hasn't been well-behaved, as an Alfa should.
To be frank, I thought I was ready. I was a BMW guy and knew that it took patience to maintain an old fun car; I mean, I owned a pair of six-cylinder laughter machines that are capable of eating head-gaskets for breakfast without warning. But let me tell you this, Alfa ownership makes BMW ownership seem like Japanese-car ownership.
BMWs tell you when things are about to fail. They start cranking weird or are suddenly down on power, or make funny noises. And in the case of newer BMWs, the warning lights come on. But Alfa Romeos? Nah, they'll just stay quiet until they quit working, and then you'll have a hole in your wallet when you least expect it. I mentioned earlier that I had just spent money to rebuild the shocks, right? Well, right after the shocks were rebuilt, the cooling fan decided to stop working. And unlike either of my former BMWs, on which a warning light would fire up at the first sign of trouble, the 164 kept quiet and kept on chugging, the engine whirring normally and the temperature gauge only going past center when I briefly entered downtown Kuala Lumpur.
In fact, I would've never known about the issue had I not driven out on a particularly hot day and saw the temperature climbing rapidly. Lucky me, I guess...
And that wasn't the car's only issue. Over my ownership, from the day of delivery to after the soft reopening of the country, numerous faults have cropped up. The wipers had a swordfight and then proceeded to pack up, the brights failed on the day I was supposed to head out before sunrise for something important, the gauge-cluster lights have flickered between brightness settings multiple times without my input, the horn decides when and where it wants to work... I could go on, but I don't want to bore you with the long laundry-list that is the Green Wedge's issues.
Cruising through downtown KL
So, what are plans with the 164 and should you get an Alfa Romeo, especially an old one?
Well, I'm looking for a buyer as we speak and I hope she's gone soon so I can go back to playing with German perfection that sometimes eats head gaskets and drinks motor oil.
Should you, as a car enthusiast, buy an Alfa Romeo? For most, the answer is "no", obviously. But if you are someone deeply passionate about the brand and are willing to live with the myriad of flaws, quirks, and short tempers that Italian cars have to offer, I'd say go for it. There is much left to be desired with this 164, but I can safely say that the one thing it does do is put a broad smile on your face each time you turn the key and fire up that wonderful Italian-made engine.