I’ll never know how close my late father came to buying an Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf, but I’d like to think he was on the brink of taking the plunge.
It was late 1990, possibly early 1991, when we arrived at the Alfa Romeo dealer on Poole Road, Branksome. It felt exotic. The showroom was filled with unregistered examples of the Spider, 33 and 75, while a selection of used Alfas were parked out front.
I only had eyes for one car: an Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf. It was a nearly-new dealer demonstrator and it was ours for 24 hours. Maybe longer, if my father fell for its charms.
To my teenage eyes, it looked the business. With the benefit of hindsight, the plastic bodykit did nothing for the sensuous Pininfarina body, but back then it looked utterly beguiling. Fresh-from-the-factory Alfa Red paintwork, dark grey to the point of black plastic miniskirt, green Cloverleaf badge on the boot…
I didn’t give my Cindy Crawford poster a second glance after seeing the Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf.
We arrived in my father’s four-door Saab 900i. It was like being dropped off at the school disco by your great aunt, but finishing the night slow-dancing with that out-of-your-league redhead you fancied. Slow-dancing to Lady in Red, obviously.
Dad had arranged to collect the 164 after work, so the first job was to negotiate the traffic between Poole and Bournemouth. I seem to recall we had little trouble exiting the dealer – we were waved out into the traffic like royalty. Although the Alfa Romeo 164 had been on sale a couple of years, the Cloverleaf was a new addition to the range.
Many of the car’s early foibles were put right, but the details were of little importance to me. I was here for the styling and that glorious 3.0-litre ‘Busso’. After the lethargic Saab 900i, the legendary Alfa V6 was like being injected with Berocca and downing a gallon of Jolt Cola.
It’s the little things that stick in my mind, like greeting the plethora of buttons on the centre console with a mixture of hilarity and confusion. Why have three buttons to control the heating and ventilation when you can have a dozen. God bless the Italians.
Once we’d cleared the notoriously busy ‘Frizzell’ roundabout and the Westbourne bypass, we hit the Wessex Way. The rest of the journey is a blur of undiluted joy and wonder. Few words were spoken, but I knew Dad was in awe of the V6 soundtrack, not to mention the effortless pace. I had visions of heading to Germany to test the 147mph top speed.
I felt a million dollars sat in the passenger seat. My Dad was driving an Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf and I wanted the world to know it. He was my hero, but the Alfa Romeo elevated him to superhero status. I wanted the moment to last forever.
That night, the 164 Cloverleaf sat outside our house beneath the orange glow of the streetlight. Had my bedroom been at the front of the house I swear I’d have slept with the curtains open. I gave Cindy a dismissive glance before going to sleep, my head filled with visions of Dad driving home in a 164 Cloverleaf of his own.
It wasn’t to be. I went to school not knowing if Dad had the courage to buy an Alfa Romeo. The issue of finance never really entered my mind, but the knowledge that the Alfa Romeo 164 Cloverleaf cost the equivalent of £60,000 in today’s money suggests it was little more than a dream. The Alfa was as out of reach to my father as Ms Crawford was to me.
Dad returned the Alfa to the showroom that evening, made his excuses and thanked the salesman for the experience. The moment had passed. An opportunity missed. Maybe a bullet dodged.
We returned home in the safe and dependable Saab 900, my father’s hero status intact. At least we could decipher the heating and ventilation controls in the Saab…
Pics for illustrative purposes only.