Wednesday, 7 May 2014

This is the best Alfa ever made AR’s announced its plans for the next decade. Should it include another ProCar?

There are many exciting things to look forward to in the next decade at Alfa Romeo. But, crushingly, one thing it's neglected is a really stupid project like the 164 ProCar.

Built back in 1988, it has a chassis made from aluminium and Nomex, and a three-part body made from carbon fibre, Kevlar and Nomex. And underneath? An F1-spec V10...

It produces more than 600bhp, which by today's hypercar standards sounds a little flaccid. But because it only weighs 750 kg, it'll get from 0-62mph in a shade over two seconds, and hit 217mph. That's a fairly prodigious improvement over the road-going 164's figures of around five econds and 75 mph respectively.

At this point, you'd be forgiven for asking why? Why did Alfa build this bottom-puckering Frankenracer? Like many things, it's all Bernie Ecclestone's fault...

See, in the early Eighties, there was something called the ProCar series. Ostensibly, it was a support act for the F1, and involved famous drivers racing fully prepped BMW M1s before the main event. As the decade reached its midpoint, the M1 was getting a bit long in the tooth, so Bernie decided that there should be a silhouette racing series called Formula S to replace it. He prescribed the following - a massive battle between cars that looked like stuff your dad might have, but with F1 engines.

Conveniently, Alfa had made a few F1 engines at this point, and its owner, Fiat, had just bought chassis expert Brabham. When Bernie announced his plan, Alfa jumped on it, and announced that it was the first manufacturer to "exploit the potential of the new regulations and produce a proper, running feasibility study to establish the formula's performance benchmark."

Thing is, nobody else bothered. Alfa was a bit worried. So, in a bid to rally enthusiasm, Ricardo Patrese was called in to do two demo laps in the 164 ProCar during the 1988 Grand Prix weekend at Monza. Thing is, the Michelin slicks it wore were quite old, so bosses told him to take it easy, apart from a sprint down the main straight. The result? It looked rubbish. And a bit slow. The crowds weren't into it, the other manufacturers decided to syphon off their surplus cash elsewhere, and Bernie canned Formula S.

Without a race series, and therefore point, the 164 ProCar was mothballed, only occasionally making journeys out for special events. We hope getting burned by Bernie hasn't put Alfa off for life. Mid-engined V6 Giulietta with KERS, anyone?

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