Courting A 27-Year-Old Italian Is Anything But Easy
Photography by Jonathan Harper
The courtship process began in the early throes of summer, and it wasn’t until the days began to shorten that I was even allowed to see her. The natural September light of a perfectly clear day revealed a strange, but undeniably beautiful, 4 door silhouette that looked slightly sinister in its original AR913 Nero black paint. I extended my hand, exhilarated and terrified by the prospect of a first touch, but its owner swooned in front of us like a protective parent vetting out his daughter’s first date.
Make no mistake, this was a first date. Everything about the Milano was new, weird, and exciting but mostly weird in the best of ways. The outside door handles gave the illusion of being conventional pulls when, in fact, they contained cleverly disguised buttons. Opening the door revealed Recaro seats that were designed for a coupe, complete with easy access handles to tilt the backrest of the seat all the way forward, presumably to aid ingress and egress. Someone forgot to tell Alfa Romeo this was a sedan. Indeed, underneath the Milano’s humble sedan proportions lies a GTV6.
Back to those Recaros; my motion to sit down was abruptly halted by the owner who insisted that I understood how to correctly position my backside in the seat before sitting. He avoided making any contact with the seat bolsters and instead, like an acrobat, contorted his body so only his butt and back made singular contact with the seat. And for good reason, the fabric on the Recaro seats was not particularly hard wearing and many Milano Verdes today either have seats in tatters or they have been restored. This Milano still wore its original, pristinely delicate Recaro seat fabric.
I was sitting in the passenger seat staring squarely at a dashboard that jolted my mind back to the last vestiges of Atari video games, all blocks and hard lines. Directly in front of me was a vast expanse of space, as the Milano’s dashboard was almost pressed flat against the bulkhead. I looked in vain for a glove-box and instead found a parcel shelf and a “drawer”. The radio was buried at the bottom of the center console, largely obscured by the shifter (but who needs a radio when you have Pavarotti singing La boheme into the Busso V6 in front of you?), the front power window switches were on the roof next to the sunroof button, and the parking brake was a U-shaped contraption that looked like it belonged on QVC juicing oranges. Clearly ergonomics were not a top priority for Alfa Romeo, and it was if they had designed the whole car and suddenly realized they forgot to leave room for critical operating components. No matter, because the Milano was all about driving.
Except I wasn’t.
Not on the first date, anyway. The owner insisted on driving with me as a passenger, the whole time making mental notes and calculating how much it would cost me to buy the ring and marry Milano. If I had been blindfolded and not told a word about the car I was being driven in, I would have instantly identified the country of origin of that motor out front as Italian. The iron block and aluminum head 60-degree, 3 liter (in Verde trim) V6 made noises that woke the dead and left me with goose bumps down the back of my neck. It sounded exotic and merry, like half of a Ferrari V12, and at about 5,000 RPMs all conversation stopped.
The rest of that drive was a blur of different sights, smells, and sounds, all of them uniquely Milano. As I explained, this was a courtship process, and it was a necessary step to win the approval of her father and get a second date.
We were still under parental supervision on the second date, but this time I was driving and it was heaven. The motor was definitely the centerpiece of the Milano, as it was impossible to ignore the burble and pull even while dawdling around in 2nd gear. The amazing thing about the Milano though, beyond that extraordinary Busso V6, was it handled and steered like a sports car.
Remember, underneath that 4-door skin lay a GTV6 with torsion bars in the front, a De Dion rear suspension, and a rear transaxle with inboard rear disk brakes for better balance, lower center of gravity, and less unsprung weight on the rear wheels. Alfa didn’t skimp on the important stuff, and this car drove like something two or three times its original sticker price of $21,650. It positively helped itself out of tight corners, remaining totally neutral with steering feel that most of today’s “sports cars” could only dream about.
I had done it. I passed the initial screening and, two dates later, was deemed worthy of assuming ownership of his pride and joy of 25 years (this was 2014). The day had come to sign over the title and transfer funds and he was a wreck. There were many tears shed, with his wife by his side trying to comfort him through this difficult time. I tried to muster as much sympathy as I could outwardly summon, but inside I was a 3-year-old boy waiting to take his big wheel for its first spin on Christmas morning.
Two years and 1 month later we are still living happily together, and, still discovering quirks about each other which has only endeared me even more to Milano. I try not to rush her when rowing through the gears (damn Alfa synchros), unless we’re going to be late getting somewhere. Double clutching and rev matching on downshifts helps tremendously with Milano’s tendency to grind her teeth. She sits low to the ground, and extra care has to be taken so she doesn’t scrape her knees on speed bumps and driveway divots. And she runs hot in the summertime with the AC on, so frequent iced espresso breaks are needed to let us cool down. None of this has taken anything away from the fact that this is still hands down one of my favorite cars to drive in a stable of six.
I envision us growing old together, taking long weekends in the country, and eventually moving out there together to die happily. Yeah, this gal has moves that will make you weak at the knees and howl at the moon. Best you get the courtship process started now, it’s going to be several months before you can take yours home.
Mike Kovac has been a life-long car enthusiast and has turned his passion into collecting, racing and driving vintage and high performance cars. He’s lost track of how many he’s bought and sold but currently has his sights set on a Lancia Delta Integrale; you can follow this “fringe collector” on his website.