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

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.

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Add a comment…
luka3rd 15 January 2022
No other car can be fun with so many years and miles under the belt!
And yet, you are disappointed by fuel filler? On the lap!?
Ridiculous... Just drive new Ferrari and you'll be fine!
930Tech 16 June 2010

Re: We buy an Alfa 145 Cloverleaf

Let's not forget the 145's electrics were Bosch.

graleman 15 June 2010

Re: We buy an Alfa 145 Cloverleaf

Why do people stillt think 165000 miles is Star Trek miles? I have had loads of Italian cars with similar miles on. The most was 250000 miles on a Fiat 128. Piston slap on start up, but once warmed, still went like sh&t of a shovel.

As for the Golf engine. VW copied the Fiat sohc back at the beginning of the 1970's. So the reason both engines able to do huge miles!

The 145 had a lovely quick rack as standard, and so with fresh suspension, could seriously handle and grip well. Interior was a bit crappy, but who cared when you could listen to that classic Alfa rasp from the exhaust.

Regular oil changes and cambelt, clearly helps in the longevity. Electrics are not just an Italian car weakness. Lots of French and British cars I have had pass through my hands, have had lots of problems. All you need to do for proof, is read some of the forums, and read the disasters, we regard as classic hot hatches, like the Golf GTI. Every GTI i drove, had wheel bearing failure. Just to mention one common failure on Golfs.