Reader Submissions: Courting A 27-Year-Old Italian Is Anything But Easy

Courting A 27-Year-Old Italian Is Anything But Easy

By Mike Kovac
October 21, 2016
13 comments

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.

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13 Comments on "Courting A 27-Year-Old Italian Is Anything But Easy"

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Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

My first look at a Milano was at 90mph on Interstate 5 south along Camp Pendleton in about 1988. I was driving my mildly tweaked 5 series BMW. The Alfista and I had a friendly joust for a few miles. I thought it was a gorgeous car back then and I still like ’em today.

David
David

I had a Milano back in the day. It was one of the best drive, and definitely best sounding cars I have ever owned. I miss it daily.

Alessandro Carrara
Alessandro Carrara

Bullet proof engine, with Bosch FI management… not sure where the reputation of being unreliable comes from.

Witawas Srisaan
Witawas Srisaan
When they were young, some Milanos were rock solid and some were just lemons. I’ve owned several in the 90’s (4 verde, all three colors and a gold). A couple of them were plague with electrical issues (sun roof refused to close, faulty speedo, radiator cooling fan refused to come on). I’m assuming those problematic ones are long gone now. The ones remaining should be solid, well loved, and well maintained cars. If you only drive it on sunny weekends, it should be reliable for a long time. Looking at your car, I wish I still have a Milano.
Stephan P
Stephan P

I had a Milano as a daily for eighteen years, it never left me stranded.
I was told disaster was imminent but I just maintained it and now my son has it, when he gives me a ride I realize how much I miss it.

Armando Paredes
Armando Paredes

Thanks Mike. I have an ’88 Verde. This morning while pulling out of the garage a passerby said “beautiful” and I was like, really? She may not be pretty, but she sure can cook!

Kristof H
Kristof H
I also own one of these beauties, mine is not a Milano but a single Alfa 75 1.8 i.e., and of course I love it. Even with this smaller engine it has everything a simple petrolhead needs: beautiful sound from the stock 4:2:1 exhaust system, enough power from the petrol engine to drive tastefully, and the extraordinary sports car feeling, which comes from the rear wheel drive, transaxle, the 51:48 weight ratio, the seats which are deep down, it’s just perfect. It is interesting, that in the past years it went totally extinct from the roads (I guess not just… Read more »
Lms
Lms

You already know Mike, he’s a professional contrarian.

JB21
JB21
I had a few Busso V6 cars, a couple of Milano included. I love those cars, they pulls my heartstrings just the right way. I had two Busso chewed itself into bits (premature timing belt failure, of course, one was in 164), and was amazed how expensive the head studs were for those engines. But others were fine, quality control issue, I think. Gear linkage is pretty weak, and electrical is kind of a mess, and total hit and miss, one Milano went total haywire, but the other one was pretty good. It has this self-diagnosing circuit thingy and that… Read more »
Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
Yes the 75/Milano was a brilliant sedan and a reasonable competitor [ performance wise ] for BMW’s 3 Series back in the day . And at the price Alfa did pretty include everything important … with the major exception of …. Reliability .. and Quality [ both materials and manufacturing ] So beware my son for thy Wicked Mistress will turn on you like an angry wench more often than not as well as rusting away faster than you can drive her .. and she will live up to the ole adage when it comes to Italian cars . That… Read more »
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