The Carchive: The Alfa Romeo 90

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.

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26 responses to “The Carchive: The Alfa Romeo 90”

  1. I_Borgward Avatar

    It’s my understanding that you could equip an Alfa Romeo 90 with an optional briefcase that fit into the dashboard. Can you verify this?

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      The briefcase dash is a bit as if today’s automakers would include tablets into their dashes…oh, wait.

    2. nanoop Avatar

      My first thought indeed, but I am still not sure yet.

    3. salguod Avatar

      You’d think a feature like that would at least get a mention in the post.

    4. philippeimac Avatar

      I confirm the briefcase dash was specifically designed for the Alfa 90 and supplied on the highest versions, not on the cheapest ones.

  2. kogashiwa Avatar

    That reminds me I still need to buy a Subaru XT.

  3. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I nearly bought one of these about ten years ago, but it was missing The Briefcase, without which, there didn’t seem much point in purchase despite it’s other (to me) considerable cubist charms.
    And. It wasn’t really Alfa’s big car. It had exactly the same 2,510 mm (98.8 in) wheelbase as the ‘smaller?’ Alfa 75,AND the ‘tiny’ Tipo 116 Guiletta, not coincidentally the same wheelbase as the earlier Alfetta. Alfa Romeo were too cash-strapped to even alter the wheelbase. And that high-tech speed-adjustable spoiler? That was spring loaded and dropped down with the increase in wind resistance at speed. The spring tension drops over time leading to permanent deployment of a certain droopiness. In contrast, the competing Lancia Thema, funded with the vast resources of the Fiat group came with, in it’s top versions an actual Ferrari V8 (sort of) and a proper electromechanical rear spoiler. It makes a nice contrast to the Alfa. Of course, after the takeover, Alfa got it’s own version of the Thema, the 164, and the 90 was no more. The 164 did without fancy moving spoilers.
    Or briefcases.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      The design is pretty cool in my eyes, and I’m surprised how Citroën-ish the interior looks.
      Are the rear disks inboard, or did they skimp on service unfriendliness?

      1. jim Avatar

        All transaxle Alfas came with inboard rear disks.

        1. nanoop Avatar

          I had this in the back of my head, but wasn’t sure. Thanks!

      2. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Bertone did some work for Citroen around then and later.
        As for the brakes, if they couldn’t afford to change the wheelbase or the floorpan, how could they change the rear brakes? (The same as the Alfetta, Guiletta, and 75.) The discs are inboard as in Jaguar and Rover P6.

        1. nanoop Avatar

          Now I am no longer surprised.

  4. tonyola Avatar

    That electronic instrument panel is 100% against what Alfa Romeo should be all about – the only saving grace is that it’s fairly comprehensive. Here’s a closer look at the gauge cluster.

  5. salguod Avatar

    What sort of brochure has no full pictures of the car?
    Also, where exactly are the radio controls?

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      To be completely honest, there are a good deal more pages than I covered. Still, it’s a car that looks better piecemeal than all in one serving. And the radio? There was none. Not as standard, anyway.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Had to look one up. Wasn’t missing much. Looks like a badly designed Jetta.
        Mid 80s seems pretty late for a car with no standard radio. Especially on a car with something as trivial as a floating spoiler as standard.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      A very very Merry Christmas to the Hoonivers and all the Hooniverseriat from me down here in the sweltering summer of NZ. Our local ‘Christmas tree’ the Pohutakawa are in full bloom.

  6. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Another car I never knew about. Thanks for sharing! The exterior design looks great. The dash looks incredibly awkward, and the briefcase like an old, downmarket American Tourister hard shell plastic attaché. Buts a cool idea and makes me think of the custom fitted luggage available with some high end cars.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      One of the nice features of the McLaren F1 was the fitted luggage for the side pods. carbon fibre and special lightweight leather. At that price plastic is not good enough.

    2. mdharrell Avatar

      Ford offered a set for the ’57-59 Skyliner sized specifically for the luggage tub. It wasn’t a popular option and the surviving originals are exceedingly rare. These are reproductions:

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        The Blue Oval did the same again with the Granada Chasseur limited edition of 1980. Again, the custom leather hold-alls are all-but extinct now.

        1. I_Borgward Avatar

          So, one of the hold-alls has a cutout in the back for the wheel well? Too, too cool.

          1. outback_ute Avatar

            These days they would just box in the sides with plastic!

  7. philippeimac Avatar

    The 90 was a “crisis” car: developing a totally new car to replace the Alfetta, it has been decided to reuse à far as possible the Alfetta and mainly the 90 is nothing but a relooking of the Alfetta: new bodywork and interiors and that’s almost it.
    Because of that the car looks goofy and despite the talent of Bertone, the boxy shape was outdated compare to the competitors.
    The briefcase was clearly indicates that the targeted customers were executives and business men.
    It was produced for only 3 years: 1984 to 1987 only as the take over by Fiat killed it.