In the first half of the 1980s, the state-owned company Alfa Romeo was in crisis. This was also evident in many cars in the model range. One example is the hapless Alfa 90. The "Novanta" was only produced for a good three years.

The Alfa Romeo 90 followed in big footsteps 40 years ago. From October 1984, it replaced the Alfetta, which had been in production since March 1972. Like the Alfetta, the Alfa 90 also had a transaxle drive with a five-speed gearbox. The bodywork was created by Bertone; contrary to what some sources claim, the recently deceased Marcello Gandini had no part in the design.

Gallery: Alfa Romeo 90 (1984-1987)

Perhaps this is for the best, as the 90 is very plain. The plain grey plastic grille, the banal lines and the offset position of the number plate at the rear, which makes the rear look inharmonious. Certain details such as the higher rear are reminiscent of the Giulietta from 1977, but quite a few observers see more of a very large facelift of the Alfetta.

In response to comments from the public that the 90 is nothing more than a redesigned Alfetta, the company replies more or less convincingly that Bertone has replaced 70 per cent of the sheet metal from the old model.

In 1985, Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Marazzi presented an estate variant based on the Alfa 90. Series production did not materialise. The rear lights came from the Fiat Uno.

Alfa Romeo 90 (1984-1987)

Let's take a look back. At the end of the 1970s, Alfa Romeo launched the 154 and 156 projects (not to be confused with the 156 from 1997!), two new cars with rear-wheel drive that were to replace the Giulietta and the Alfetta respectively. However, the crisis at the Milan-based company soon forced it to abandon the project for a new platform.

In 1982, to overcome development delays, Alfa Romeo launched the 162A and 162B projects, the future 90 and 75 models, with the aim of reusing as much as possible the technology of the models on the market at the time, namely the Alfetta and Giulietta.

As the successor to the Alfetta, the 90 therefore inherited not only the entire technology from its predecessor, including the engines, but also a large part of the chassis, some exterior panels and the door surrounds. The length of 4.39 metres and the wheelbase of 2.51 metres also practically correspond to the predecessor model.

Alfa Romeo 90 (1984-1987)

The task assigned to Bertone of redesigning only the exterior and installing new lights is not the easiest: the end result is a saloon with sober and angular lines, rather anonymous, but not without a certain elegance. After all, 500 litres fit in the rear.

In the brochure, Alfa Romeo exults: "The harmonious combination of impressive performance, high safety potential, exceptional comfort and unobtrusive elegance characterises the balanced design of the new Alfa 90." Note: the more staid the car, the more pithy the slogans.

Various engines are available: Only in Italy (due to the 2.0 litre tax legislation at the time) a 1.8 and 2.0 litre, each with two twin carburettors. Output: 120 and 128 PS respectively.

Alfa Romeo 90 (1984-1987)

Markets such as Germany received the 2.0-litre injection engine with 130 PS, the 2.4-litre turbodiesel from VM Motori with 110 PS and, as the top model, the 2.5 Quadrifoglio Oro with V6 and 150 PS. Enough for a top speed of 127 mph. Only 1,577 examples of the Alfa 90 with a 2.0-litre V6 and 132 PS were produced, the most popular being the four-cylinder injection engine with the same displacement.

The Alfa 90 had a number of special features: A speed-dependent variable front spoiler is designed to improve road-holding. For the first time, Alfa Romeo offered an ABS braking system as an option. A removable case is located underneath the glove compartment. The brochure calls it a "document box", lockable of course.

Alfa Romeo 90 (1984-1987)

Another interesting feature is the "Alfa Control System" for constant monitoring of the nine most important operating functions, including excessively hot coolant. And in the top-of-the-range 2.5-litre model, upward-sloping LCD instruments and progressive power steering that adapts to the speed.

The Alfa 90 was also widely used by the Italian police and carabinieri, as Alfa Romeo was a state-owned company at the time. As with the Arna, the authorities were used to boost meagre sales.

Alfa Romeo in Uniform

Alfa Romeo 90 of the Carabinieri

After just under three years and a production run of 56,428 vehicles, production of the Alfa 90 ended in July 1987. Why the name 90, by the way? Well, according to Alfa, the new model was to remain in the programme until the 1990s. This was not to be realised: After the takeover by Fiat, the Alfa Romeo 164, developed in co-operation with Saab, Fiat and Lancia, was launched in 1987.