Having pushed through a cultural revolution with the 156, Alfa Romeo continues to pursue its image update with its new flagship, the Alfa 166. The two saloons were designed almost in parallel and their architectural similarities are self-evident: high waistline, small windows, broad shoulders and a surface treatment, in both cases, that is sleekly pared to the bone.
“Even so the iconography of the 166 is very different”, specifies Walter de’ Silva, Head of the Alfa Romeo Style Centre. “The target is a very different one after all and a car that was excessively sporty or over-designed at the front would have been quite inappropriate. The 166 is also aimed at a slightly older average udience than the 156”.
Research into a replacement for the 164 (“A highly successful exercise in styling that we had no intention of forgetting”, says de’ Silva) started in 1990. At that time, however, they were merely concerned with a new edition of the Pininfarina saloon. Indeed they called the project RT to indicate a Total Restyling of the 164. The design proposals presented in that initial phase (now known as the 934/935 Project) were by Pininfarina and the Alfa Romeo Style Centre itself.
The latter won the day but the Fiat Auto management, and the then CEO Paolo Cantarella in particular, opted to go back to basics and create a completely new car. That was the start of the 936 Project, the true forerunner of the 166.
The inspiration for the new concept was a rendering by Wolfgang Egger, an Alfa Romeo designer (“The most Italian German I know”, says de’ Silva).
Egger’s design was a free interpretation of an Alfa coupé which Cantarella asked the team to upscale to the dimensions of the future 166. That meant a change in the engineering specifications as well and they opted to use the E platform that had also been selected for the Lancia K.
By Spring 1993 the styling model was ready and on May 6 it faced the selection committee beside two new rivals proposed by Bertone and Italdesign respectively. The Bertone design was the first to be eliminated and in a second head-to-head the model proposed by the Alfa Romeo Style Centre prevailed over the Italdesign concept and the 936 design was frozen in May 1994. Work on the design details continued for several months after that.
“This is a car on which attention to detail reached an almost maniacal intensity, with the full support of the Management”, says Mario Favilla the Alfa Style Centre’s man in charge of Advanced Design and Public Relations.
The article continues in Auto & Design no. 112