The 166 was Alfa Romeo’s flagship sedan for almost a decade, yet is often forgotten or overlooked by enthusiasts. I feel the early shape 166 is underappreciated and sometimes misunderstood as a design and while I appreciate the facelifted model, I believe it is the earlier car which is the stronger of the two designs. Here I try to compare some (and only some) of the reasons why this is so.
The original 166 design was very cohesive, and almost every line resolves itself neatly. The red line runs from the base of the c pillar in the form of a metal strip, continues to become the bonnet shut line and then terminates as the inner edge of the front headlamp. The headlamp itself was designed bearing in mind that with projector lenses, large headlamps are not necessary. The upper surface of the front bumper blends into the corner of the headlamp (yellow line) and the bumper shut line is cohesive with the rest of the front fascia (blue line). The Alfa scudetto from which nearly all the lines taper is prominent and intersects the front moustache section and front bumper – a subtle way of making it proudly prominent on the front of the vehicle.
In order to align with the mid-2000s Alfa corporate look, the 166 was facelifted and I believe it lost some purity and gained some awkwardness in this process. Compared with the early car where the green line on the bonnet appears to flow organically, the facelift’s tightens awkwardly at the top of the scudetto to quickly turn down the bonnet. The more upright front end makes the later cars appear more upright and luxurious to the earlier shape’s sportier wedge, but I feel it is resolved in an unsatisfying way. The sense of awkwardness is worsened by the moustache grille sections which don’t really relate to the scudetto any longer. The headlamp cluster has grown and means the bonnet shut line terminates in a much more conventional (but less cohesive) way. It also re-emerges now (highlighted in cyan), but the way it is implicated here makes it look more like an unfortunate necessity rather than the styling feature it was on the early car. The new front treatment also required another way to resolve the front bumper which has led to the creation of a new line (in purple) which again seems to mysteriously appear without any relevance to the rest of the car.
Mario Favilla from Alfa Centro Stile described the early 166 as “a car on which attention to detail reached an almost maniacal intensity” (Auto & Design Magazine, Oct-Nov 1998), and in the end product I believe this incredible focus really shows. The facelift seems like an unimaginative slapping of a corporate face on a model that never really sold that well anyway.
by Andrew Marshall