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Owner Review

1990 Alfa Romeo 75 3.0 review

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Rating the 1990 Alfa Romeo 75 V6, informally dubbed the “Potenziata”, against specific attributes and establishing an overall/average score is ultimately pointless. The Potenziata is a classic case of its sum being greater than its parts. It's a flawed gem, so I could never rate it 10/10 on any one attribute (and I’ve arguably still been overly generous in my scoring) and yet my overall score would be 11 (which I believe is reasonable). Try working that maths out. All I can say is that the V6 75 is the perfect little grand tourer.

PERFORMANCE

When I bought my 75 it was 15 years old and had done well over 200,000km. The engine was tired, and even when new could not match today's turbocharged 4-pot hot hatches. But when you consider that supercars of the mid-80s would now struggle against modern day hot hatches, that is not a fair comparison. The 3.0-litre V6 produced 141kW, which was sufficient for its time and, given existing speed limits, it arguably still is. The engine’s true selling point was not its power or torque, but its throaty exhaust note that no modern day trickery can match. I’ve since accumulated another further 100,000km, and now even lumbering SUVs sometimes seem to take off quicker at the lights. But I struggle to care every time I hear that Alfa engine growl. The engine's soundtrack is what makes this car such an enjoyable GT, whether winding through twisty back roads or doing the daily commute.

ECONOMY

I can get from Melbourne to Mildura on a single tank of petrol, but admittedly that's with the fuel warning light well and truly on - my preference would be to fill up in Sea Lake or Ouyen. It also gets me from Geelong to the outer suburbs of Melbourne twice in peak hour traffic before needing to refuel. It costs around $80+ to fill a tank with 98RON fuel (it needs at least 95 RON). The Australian version of the 75 apparently got a larger fuel tank, which reduced boot space, but I believe this was a sensible trade off. It’s fair to say that on a long trip, not needing to refuel every second petrol station is preferable for a GT.

CABIN SPACE & COMFORT

Cabin space is decent (probably due to the absence of airbags), including in the back, even if it's not expansive. The cloth trimmed seats do not provide the lumber support that many modern day performance leaning cars are likely to offer but they are comfortable. Those with an interest in design might appreciate the herringbone pattern on the seat, which are as good or maybe better than the tartan seats that can be found in the VW Golf GTI). The interior in general is simple but a beautiful place to be. Everything is well laid out with the odd character enhancing quirk such as a drawer-like glove box and the odd positioning of the electric window switches.

If you read the reviews from when the 75 was released, there was a bit of discussion about its weird ergonomics - a criticism that seems common for Italian and French cars in general. Personally, I feel like the car was tailor-made for me but then my legs are supposedly short relative to my torso, so the seating position may not work for you if you are conventionally proportioned. My biggest criticism would be that the stereo is located at the very bottom of the centre console cluster, so changing radio stations on the move can be awkward until you learn to do it by feel.

TECHNOLOGY & CONNECTIVITY

Given it was manufactured in 1990, connectivity is not worth discussing, and I can’t remember what technology was considered advanced or standard at the time. The stereo has underwhelming speakers and includes only a cassette deck (I stupidly replaced the original for something more modern to link my phone up but it ruined the overall look), however the engine sound makes the stereo almost unnecessary.

The air conditioning has never really worked, so it can get a “bit” uncomfortable on hot days (to make it worse, after 29 years the fan has died).

As I mentioned earlier, it does have electric windows with the controls located in quirky spots. The front side window controls are located on the ceiling so you can feel you’re in the cockpit of a plane. The centre console, which is slightly directed towards the driver, includes multiple warning lights at the top, further enhancing the cockpit feel. The rear window controls are at the rear of the centre console, allowing access to all occupants of the car.

The only other item worth mentioning is that there is a cigarette lighter accessible to the back passengers that, in a contemporary context, would allow the kids (or adults for that matter) in the back to charge their smart electronic devices whilst using them. I’m not condoning excessive usage but it can come in handy on those long touring sessions.

RIDE & HANDLING

The ride is a key strength of the 75 and was consistently praised by car journalists back when it was released. I would argue that the ride is as good as it gets. It all comes undone, however, when you hit a pothole, at which point the 75 can tend to be a bit crashy. It’s not unbearable but you’ll certainly know when you’ve hit a bump. Handling is decent but is undermined, in my opinion, by excessive body-roll for a performance-orientated car. Being a small car with a relatively big engine, it is front heavy, which can cause understeer if pushed and gives the car a less agile feel despite being rear wheel drive. This factor might make the Twin Spark 2.0-litre alternative a preferable choice on a track, but the V6 makes sense for a grand tourer.

Interestingly, the rear disc brakes are located towards the centre of the car, rather than up against the wheel as is common for road cars. This was to help with weight distribution when cornering but apparently the concern is that such a set up can allow brakes to overheat quickly. I’ve never tested this and have certainly never experienced it under normal driving conditions. What I can say is that whilst the brakes work fine during the daily commute and on back roads, the pedal response feels very spongy, making them feel less effective than they actually are.

Car journalists often complained about the clutch having a high take up point. I did notice this when I first test drove a 75 but after 5 minutes of driving it never bothered me.

This car was my daily drive for around 15 years, and my job requires me to do a lot of driving, involving all kinds of traffic conditions and I never once felt the car caused me issues. It’s a comfortable and engaging car to drive over both short and long stretches, but I must acknowledge that the body roll and spongy brakes make the car feel less capable than it really is.

MAINTENANCE

By the time the 75 was released, Alfa had a terrible reputation in terms of quality. The GTV6 was a lovely car to behold but apparently a nightmare to live with. With the 75, Alfa Romeo was looking to redeem itself and I would argue, given the reliability of my 75, this was largely achieved (only to be subsequently diminished by subsequent models under FIAT).

If everything is working then the maintenance costs are pretty low. Under $300. To be safe, I tend to get a service 4 times a year but that’s excessive. The disclaimer to the relatively low cost though is “if everything is working”. If something is not working then things get more difficult. The Alfa 75 was the last of the “true” Alfas, before FIAT insisted on using standard platforms and parts to reduce costs. 30 years later, parts are hard to find, making them expensive and time consuming to source.

Even worse, there may not be a part available at all. My mechanic has spent a few weeks now trying to source a gasket to stop engine oil leaks and is yet to get back to me. The car’s wiring also causes grief as few, including specialists, can work it out without investing large amounts of time, which can naturally get costly. Getting a headlight fixed took two weeks and cost me over $500 (the issue was just a loose wire). My centre console warning lights have been flashing for 6 to 7 years and no one even wants to attempt to look at fixing it. I’ve been told not to bother but I am so tired of people pointing out to me that my warning lights are on.

The other issue is with the more cosmetic bits. It has a rubbery/plastic-like spoiler thing that was attached to give it a sporty look. I’ve seen similar trim on other cars from the '80s and hated it, but on the 75 it looks fantastic. The only problem is that the one on my 75 has bubbled and warped and I have no idea how to get it replaced. I’m assuming that if it can be replaced, it will cost me.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Alfa Romeo enthusiasts will often look at the 75 as a footnote rather than a classic. Jeremy Clarkson, who claims to love Alfa Romeo's, was all giddy with appreciation whilst driving a GTV6 around Scotland on Amazon’s Grand Tour show, and yet he happily trashed an Alfa 75 when he was presenting on the BBC’s Top Gear. I get it, the GTV6 is a beautiful looking car, as are the 1750 GT Veloce, 2000 GT Veloce (my choice if I had the funds), the Guilia Sprint GTA and the Giulia Super. Plus countless others, of course. Compared to these cars, the 75 looks like the designers ran out of modelling clay and used a block of wood, a hammer and a chisel.

So the 75 is not to everyone’s tastes (they are wrong) but the car has character and there is something special about owning an underrated, underappreciated car. It’s like being a fan of a band before they achieved mainstream success, except the 75 has never gotten the recognition it deserves. I don’t believe I’ve successfully described just how lovely it is to drive a 75 but if you get the chance, take it and you’ll see what I mean.

MORE: Everything Alfa Romeo