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The Carchive: The Alfa Romeo 90

Chris Haining December 22, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 26 Comments

A funny thing about accumulating things, is that you don’t always remember exactly why they came into your possession. I mean, you’ll probably remember when you got them and where they came from, but you might not recall exactly why you wanted them in the first place.

This Alfa Romeo 90 brochure is an exception. It’s a brochure I wanted for absolutely years, for the sole reason that this oft-forgotten car’s dashboard has a built in briefcase.

All images are clickable for enlargement to be forthcoming

“The modern car is the focal point of an expanding universe of knowledge, constantly projected ever further towards new horizons”.

Today, the Maserati Quattroporte is one of the most graceful four-door saloons you can buy. In fact, it’s hard to remember that , Italy seemed to be singularly incapable of building a proper luxury sedan during much of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties. The Alfa 90 arrived in 1984, at roughly the same time as the smaller, even more angular Alfa 75. It replaced the Alfa 6, which was somewhat long in the tooth, having morphed from the Alfetta of 1972.

So. Progress? Well, kind of. As before, the 90 had a 2.5-litre V6 engine producing 156bhp, driving the rear wheels through a transaxle. The styling was more in line with the 80s, too, although its straight edges were slightly at odds with the trend towards streamlining that was starting to break through across the industry. However – none of this really mattered, because the Alfa 90 was the only car you could buy that had a dashboard with a built in briefcase.

“At low speeds, the spoiler is retracted into the body line of the vehicle: at high speeds, it is lowered, giving an aggressive line to the car”.

There were other notable features too, notably a primitive form of active aero as mentioned in the sentence above. The product of wind-tunnel testing, it didn’t do much to improve the car’s unremarkable 0.37 aerodynamic coefficient, but apparently added to its high speed roadholding. It was also said to aid engine cooling.

In fact, the 90 was unconventional in almost countless different ways and, although the angular, three-box shape seemed outmoded, the detailing was rather novel. It looked rather like a concept car from 1976, with its oddly high-set rear license plates and those very deeply gouged waist-high character lines. And there was more madness inside, not least the fact that the dashboard had a built-in briefcase.

“The exclusive opto-electronic vacuum fluorescent liquid crystal instruments provide maximum precision in the display of electronic data, at the same time offering illuminated displays of an original, instantly readable, modern design”.

Ha! The ‘eighties obsession with alternative methods of displaying dashboard information was in full swing, before fading out in the early ‘nineties when most manufacturers finally realized that analogue gauges did it so, so much better. It really is hard to imagine that those weird diagonal LCD lines could possibly present information more effectively than a pair of swinging needles. Fun, though. As was the full-length roof console, with its ceiling-mounted power window switches, swivel reading lamps and three-level dome light. Oh, and the dashboard had a built-in briefcase.

“Space has been provided in the dashboard to take a specially designed briefcase, an optional extra which can be obtained from your Alfa Romeo dealer”. Wait a minute – an option? That’s fantastic. All this luxury sedan innovation and you had to pay extra for what was effectively a glovebox? Amusing as the Alfa 90 was, and love it as I do, the Alfa 164 that came next was a far, far better idea.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Alfa Romeo, or FCA , presumably. Hmm. This or a Giulia Quadrafoglio?)

Merry Christmas, all.