LHD markets received the executive Alfa Romeo 166 in 1998. Perhaps buoyed by the moderate success of the pretty 156 in the UK, Alfa Romeo took a gamble and launched the RHD version of the 166 a year later.
The original Italian launch date was actually pencilled in for 1997 but Alfa Romeo was not satisfied by the rear suspension set-up. It’s worth bearing in mind that the recently announced E39 BMWs offered near faultless marks across the board, so Alfa assumed that the delay would be worth the effort. Was it? In most respect yes.
The 166 equalled the 5 Series for in-cabin refinement, space and ride. Unusually for an Alfa, it was the performance of the smaller engines and four-speed autos that let the car down, but once mated up with the sportronic gearbox and the 220bhp 24V 3.0-litre, it became something very special indeed.
However, the chances of fleet managers jettisoning their German barges for a brand with traditionally expensive servicing and high leasing rates were low. This meant that the few that were sold here were mostly to private customers.
It really should have been the car that finally lifted the doubts about the brand’s fragility but a conservative fleet market didn’t give it a chance. Even when the final incarnation of the 166 with the superb 32V engine arrived in 2003, it had become largely forgotten and its subsequent tumbling depreciation meant buyers stayed well away.
For UK markets, the lack of a diesel alternative didn’t help matters either. In recent years, specialists have done their bit to keep as many as possible on the roads and those are the ones you should be looking for.
This example has had just one previous owner and has full-service history with just over 40K on the clock. It went for £4,300 on the @carandclassic auction website only last month, which isn’t far off a leggy but well-kept 5-Series of the era. However, the 166 has something the beemer doesn’t have – exclusivity.