Currently reading: We buy an Alfa 145 Cloverleaf
Colin Goodwin spent £1100 on a bargain hot hatch - an Alfa 145 Cloverleaf. Here's how he got on
3 mins read
13 June 2010

Last week, when given the brief to go out and buy a hot hatch for £1500, writes Colin Goodwin, I very nearly bought a Mk2 Golf GTI. The younger Goodwin would have bought something a little more left-field and riskier a punt than a Volkswagen.

What Colin bought

But I didn’t buy a Golf; I bought a 1996 Alfa Romeo 145 Cloverleaf with 165,000 miles on the clock, and you can’t get much riskier than that. I found the Alfa on Auto Trader. The mileage should have ruled out the car, but look at it another way: this car must be a survivor, because in any form book it should have gone to the knacker’s yard years ago.

See pictures of Goodwin's Alfa 145 Cloverleaf

What’s it like?

Lester at Quality Cars in Hemel Hempstead happily knocked off the £99 and trousered £1100 for the car. When new, the 145 Cloverleaf’s 2.0-litre Twin Spark gave out 150bhp. I don’t think mine has lost any of them; it feels strong and sounds great. Perhaps it isn’t the original engine. The rest of the car doesn’t feel too bad, either. The dampers are a bit arthritic and the ride isn’t brilliant, but no worse than a Mito’s. Within the first few yards you realise how far build quality has come in the past decade, too.

My Alfa is fun to drive. It can’t weigh much and has fabulous throttle response. Hot hatches are about spirit, not power. You don’t need the 250bhp plus that is the norm today; this 145 proves that. With new bushes and probably dampers it would be even more fun to drive, and it would have a few more miles left in it if you immediately changed the cambelt and the cam variator.

The Autocar road test

Col’s purchase still revs cleanly, writes Jamie Corstorphine, with more rasp and zing than many of today’s hot hatches. But will it withstand a full-on standing start? Actually, it took several in its stride without too much protestation.

One of which was good enough for a 0-60mph run of 8.5sec – just 0.5sec off the time a brand new Cloverleaf achieved in 1996. Better still, 165,000 miles have added just 1.1sec to the 0-100mph time.

The engine may or may not be original, but I reckon the gearbox must be. At the time we said the Cloverleaf’s ’box was “terrific”, praising it for “a crisp action and short throws”. Fourteen years later, “dreadful” and “baggy” are more appropriate. If anything, it’s the gearbox’s sluggishness and imprecision that are to blame for the loss of performance.

Even though the suspension has clearly seen better days, there’s still enough Alfa magic showing through to see why we said the Cloverleaf “proved the lean period at Alfa is almost over”. In fact, at the time we went as far as to say that the Cloverleaf “handles as engagingly as any front-drive car in existence”. Which might have been a bit strong. But even with a rather embarrassing amount of body roll, the Cloverleaf is still fun to drive. Why? Because you feel part of the action.


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And then it all went wrong. No, not the engine or the sloppy gearbox. Even the brakes lasted okay, needing a not unrespectable 53.3 metres to stop the car from 70mph (five metres more than in 1996). It was the fuel filler, which decided to spew fuel everywhere the moment we went for a lap time on our dry circuit.

So, great engine, peachy chassis, let down by everything else. Classic Alfa, then. Still, despite Col’s predictions, I enjoyed it. I’m just glad I didn’t have to drive it home.

Colin’s verdict

A 165,000-mile Alfa is a miracle in itself, and our one deserves an honourable end simply for getting this far. I’d like it to be bought by a young enthusiast and taken to the Nürburgring, where it would play out the final moments of its life in hot pursuit of cars with far more horsepower but little more character.

You can read the full story, plus see more pictures, in this week’s Autocar magazine, which is on sale now.

See all the latest Alfa Romeo reviews, news and video

Join the debate


13 June 2010

OK Autocar - a challenge Change the cam belt, cam variator, replace the bushes and dampers and then keep it on the fleet and see just how long it will last. I am no Alfa fan, but 165,000 is pretty good going.

13 June 2010

I often feel that the top leading brands have lost one of the most important elements in what makes a car, in their pursuit of design and engineering perfection. Modern cars top their predecessors on virtually every aspect, yet when it comes to the drive it seems as if all the soul and character has been carved out and left to die on their clinically distilled production-line floors. For the majority who just what a vehicle to get them from A - B in varying forms of luxury which they are prepared to pay for it's good to have a well appointed vehicle. For the driving enthusiast sadly it's a complete disaster.

I'm not an Alfa fan but without them the motoring world would become a lot duller.

Here's hoping that such things never happen.

13 June 2010

"....Even though the suspension has clearly seen better days, there’s still enough Alfa magic showing through to see why we said the Cloverleaf “proved the lean period at Alfa is almost over”. In fact, at the time we went as far as to say that the Cloverleaf “handles as engagingly as any front-drive car in existence”. Which might have been a bit strong...."

I wonder how often over the years Autocar has overpraised the makes of cars it likes and vice versa.

My own suspicion? Far more often than the magazine is prepared to admit.

13 June 2010

Col! You could have had my low mileage rustfree '92 Golf Driver 1.8 for a grand instead of that botched Italian job! TM!

13 June 2010

If Colin would like to sign the car over to me I'll sort out the suspension and use it on my commute for a bit of rain-come-shine "real-world" testing and let you know the results. But it won't be a disposable curio I can set aside, jumping into a 10 plate Golf or something if it goes wrong; I'll be depending on it.

Just an idea.

13 June 2010

I'm going to stick my neck out here...

I don't really want to offend anyone but,

This is a proper waste of what could have been an excellent article. You have an chance to show, particularly in these tough times when a lot of people would be bloody pleased to have £1500 TO SPEND ON A CAR, that it is possible to run a reliable classic hatch as an everyday proposition. This would be fascinating if it were a car most people knew and might actually consider buying but you choose an Alfa 145... A car very few give a monkeys about. If you had selected a GTI or a 900 Turbo or a early 3 or 190 in good condition you might have been ably placed to illustrate the practical, sensible nature of such a choice. People can't get credit anymore. Autocar had a good chance to show that there is a viable, long term alternative out there that still enables you to enjoy driving for the sake of it, Not only that, the lap times and braking distances of a well known car would be properly interesting, those of a 145 cannot be described thus.

Honestly, people are struggling out here... Not really the time to blow £1500 on an old Alfa. A Golf GTI as you say for sure, a 900 turbo certainly, 190 et al yes. An Alfa 145? Um...

13 June 2010

Good choice Colin, I would also done that!!!

13 June 2010

It would be interesting to hear how it gets on in day to day use (if that happens). How is the bodywork? Last time I looked at Alfas (many years ago now, I'm afraid) they had a tendency to rot away, as did a number of cars in that era.

13 June 2010

Botched Italian job? 165k and still going strong aside from some expected wear. I doubt the Golf would fare any better, especially with VW's awful reputation for dodgy electrics.

13 June 2010

I have a '91 164 Cloverleaf V6 and it has zero rust. Not sure about the lower end models, but Alfa quite long ago defeated the tin worm.


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