Convincing the world’s most famous car critic that you’ve created something special doesn’t come easy, so when BBC Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson described the Alfa Romeo 166 as “quite simply the best car in the world”, the Italian maker must have been on Cloud Nine, even if they did have to gloss over the bit where JC went on to predict depreciation of £325 a week.
The latter part is why the 166 never sold in great numbers in the UK. Just under 2,900 of the big saloons were sold here between 1998 and 2007 and of those less than a tenth remain taxed. According to DVLA data, at the end of 2020 there were just 275 166s in regular use, while these days depreciation is no longer a thing. Indeed, with 166s in short supply and enthusiasts clamouring to get their hands on the best survivors, 166s values are going very much the other way these days.
It’s hardly surprising, either. Viewed as an enthusiasts’ car, the Alfa Romeo ‘Type 936’ has a lot going for it. Fine handling, drop-dead gorgeous styling and a spacious, extremely comfortable cabin, as well as the status of being the last ever large Alfa Romeo saloon – for now, at least. The engines are all marvellous, too, whether you go for the V6 ‘Busso’ engine or the revvy Twin Spark four-cylinder, which is what we have here.
This example is a 2005 2.0 Twin Spark in luxury ‘Lusso’ trim, which means full leather, climate control and a whole host of other options. But of more interest is that it is one of just a handful of cars in the UK fitted with the ‘Ti’ pack, which added aggressive 18-inch alloys, a 15mm ride-height drop, retuned springs and dampers and sports seats, along with discreet Ti badging.
It is being sold by a long-term serial Alfa Romeo owner who adores the brand and has owned its cars for the past 28 years. Like all of his previous Alfas, he describes the sale as ‘a real wrench’ as he has owned and adored this 166 since 2015. But with another car already waiting in the wings, it has to go – a very reluctant sale of a well-loved car.
Originally registered as AV55 OYO, the Alfa was supplied new by Desira Alfa Romeo in Bury St Edmunds, which is one of the brand’s most successful dealerships and is well-known to Alfa enthusiasts.
It has had five owners in total, the last one since 2015 and the one prior to him since 2007, so it has been looked after by Alfa enthusiasts for most of its life and has covered a documented low mileage of just 73,443.
It has spent nearly all of its life in East Anglia, and is currently living in Cambridge.
When a car comes with an A4 ring binder featuring a picture of it on the front and all of the bills and receipts slipped into poly pockets, you know it’s a vehicle that has been properly loved and well looked after.
That’s certainly the case with the 166, which comes with an A4 folder full of bills as well as the original Alfa service wallet containing the handbook, audio manual, service and warranty booklet.
The service history is stamped by Desira Bury for the PDI in October 2005, as well as at 12,078, 20,795, 24,620, 28,591 and 32,718 miles. It is then stamped by well-known independent Alfa specialists at 33,838, 39,745, 44,925 and 57,354 miles in 2015, which is when the current owner bought it.
After that, the service history is picked up in the A4 file with a series of bills and receipts from well-known Alfa specialist Jamie Porter in Royston, Herts, who has maintained the car for the current keeper.
It has a current MOT, valid until January 2022.
Choose an angle, any angle. Doesn’t it look great? Yes, the 166 has an amazing ability to look absolutely stunning from whichever aspect you view it, which makes it the perfect choice of modern classic for those who value aesthetics as much as they do a name steeped in history and prestige.
The dropped ride height and 18-inch alloys that come with the Ti pack make this 166 look even more gorgeous, if that’s at all possible, while the Rialto Silver paintwork sets off the car’s lines beautifully.
It’s in good overall condition with only a couple of minor blemishes. There’s a small dent in one door that you only really notice if it catches the light and a small blister of surface rust at the very bottom of the nearside front wing.
Otherwise, the paint is excellent and all of the trim is present and correct. The underside has never been welded and appears to be in very sound order.
The cabin of the 166 is hugely inviting, the black leather sports seats as stylish and delicate as the Alfa’s sinewy exterior styling.
It’s in great order, too, with only the tiniest bit of wear on the driver’s side seat bolster. The seat facings, dash and carpets are in good order, while the ‘Integrated Control Centre’ (also known as the radio, sat nav and climate controls, is still working as it should. That’s actually quite a rare thing!
There are a couple of minor things to sort. The lid for the first aid kit box on the rear scuttle panel is missing and the central cubby box on the dashboard is jammed shut – they all do that, sir! We don’t think we’ve ever seen a 166 where it works…
All of the electrics behave themselves, which is good news for an Alfa, while subtle ‘Ti’ detailing behind the gear lever and on the door kick plates reminds you this is a special model.
The Ti’s 2.0-litre engine develops 155bhp and is coupled to a six-speed manual transmission, both of which are among the best in the business.
We were able to conduct a short test drive and can confirm that the engine sounds terrific and that the six-speed shift is fabulous, while the clutch, brakes and all of the controls work as they should.
The steering is wonderful – as it is with any front-drive Alfa – making this a truly rewarding and engaging car to drive.
It maintains a steady temperature with no undue noises.
Alfa Romeo 166s are rare cars now, good ones even rarer. Yet if you can find one, what you get is one of the most characterful executive cars ever made, as well as arguably the most stylish.
This is a great car. It engages you the minute you cast eyes on it, and by the time you get behind the wheel and experience it, it grips you even harder. There’s a reason why Alfa Romeo enthusiasts are among the most loyal and dedicated of car fans. The 166 will help you understand that straight away, and this is a particularly rare and charming example.
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