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Alfa Romeo 164 Pro-Car - What Might Have Been

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It might look like your (not so) common or garden Alfa Romeo 164, but this one is a little bit special underneath.

The late-'80s were a turbulent time in top-line motor racing. Formula 1 had become the turbo car's playground, and after fighting a losing battle to contain them, the FIA decided to ban them for the 1989 season. The teams and engine manufacturers found themselves re-inventing themselves, while insecurity within the FOCA led Bernie Ecclestone to float the idea of an F1-powered Pro-Car series to run in 1988-'89.

It was a great idea - designed to showase F1 technology in race series starring cars that look all-but identical to their production counterparts. The proposed technical regulations were interesting - as long as the car weighed more than 750kg, had a 3.5-litre engine and didn't have more than 12 cylinders, it was fair game, the classic 'silhouette' formula.

Alfa Romeo grasped the idea keenly, realising that not only was a great marketing tool for the new 164 saloon, but also a showcase for the new V10 F1 engine it had been developing since 1986. It was part of the Alfa's anticipated return to F1, with a new 3.5 litre V10, anticipated for use in the Ligier team. It was an interesting power unit, too – coinciding with the new engine Renault was putting together in France at the same time. By the time it was completed in late 1986, the V10 was pushing out 610bhp, a big step up from rival V8s.

Sadly, the Ligier tie-up floundered in the run up to the 1987 season (some politically incorrect comments by Rene Arnoux being blamed at the time), leaving the company with an engine, and no car to run it in. And that's when the company's management (by now
Fiat), decided that in Pro-Car looked a great prosepect (instead of competing against Ferrari).

Alfa Romeo then approached Brabham with an odd request - to build an F1-style chassis that was capable of having a carbonfiber saloon car body attaching to it. The partnership would certainly prove fertile one, and by September 1988, two complete cars and 15 engines had been built - and they were very well designed, looking like near-standard Alfa 164s.

During testing, the Alfa 164 Pro-Car recorded some amazing figures at the company's test track at Balocco. Maximum speed was 211 mph, and the standing quarter was a mere 9.7 seconds. That was enough to convince the management to give the car a public airing during practice at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Riccardo Patrese drove the car to 207mph along the start/finish straight, and wooed the crowds in the process. Especially as this was a higher top speed than the pacesetting McLaren-Honda MP4/4 and Ferrari F187 F1 cars – saloon cars are obviously slipperier than their open-wheeled counterparts.

Sadly, Bernie Ecclestone's dream of an F1-parallelling Pro-Car series would be unfulfilled, as none of the major manufacturers joined Alfa Romeo - and unlike BMW with the M1 in 1979 and 1980, the Italian company didn't have the money to go it alone. The car then became little more than a research project lending some of its thinking to its later efforts in DTM.

Today, it's a fascinating might-have-been, and a tantalising taster of a future in touring car racing that - while it would have been hideously expensive - would have been spectacular and memorable.

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