Chris Bangle is not only one of the best-known car designers of his time but also the most divisive. Think of the Fiat Coupé, BMW Z8 and Rolls-Royce Phantom: names you can’t mention to petrolheads at the pub for fear of sparking a brawl.
But you would be hard-pressed to find fault with one of his earliest mainstream efforts, the adorably squat and purposeful Alfa Romeo 145. Originally destined to be the new Lancia Delta (until Fiat Group design director Ermanno Cressoni nonchalantly declared the breadvan-shape mould in the wind tunnel to look more Milanese), it was developed over four years as Turin renewed its assault on the burgeoning family hatchback market.
Its rarity in the UK today compared with that era’s Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa demonstrates how effective that was, but who cares? It’s far better-looking than any contemporary, and collectors know it.
The sweet spot of the range was the Quadrifoglio (that’s Cloverleaf for you xenoglossophobes), which borrowed the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre 16-valve Twin Spark from the larger 155. That engine, with its four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, sent 148bhp (153bhp in later, ‘Phase 2’ models) to the front wheels through a five-speed gearbox.
It got the car from 0-60mph in just over eight seconds (impressive at the time) and onto a 129mph top speed – figures that worry today’s 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5.
The chassis also won praise from reviewers, with the Fiat Tipo-derived suspension of the standard 145 upgraded to provide quick turn-in response and minimal torque steer – characteristics largely unheard of in front-wheel-drive hot hatches of that era. The dashboard may have been dated and the seating position strangely high, but this was a bona fide driver’s car for the masses, and survivors are today all the more desirable for their exclusivity value.
Roughly 270 examples of the 145 Cloverleaf are said to remain in the UK, combining those taxed and those SORN (compare that with 4000 Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTIs), so they’re hard to find, but prices remain within reach for the casual enthusiast.
Autocar actually bought a 145 Cloverleaf back in 2010 for £1100, judging it a rarer and more exciting alternative to other ’90s hot hatches.
The styling had stood the test of time well, as is still the case, while the engine was strong (albeit perhaps not original to the car). Unfortunately, though, its appeal was dampened by a “baggy” manual gearbox and an “embarrassing” amount of body roll.
Nonetheless, our testers remained impressed by its performance with 165,000 miles clocked – right up until a particularly hard turn revealed the fuel filler wasn’t sealing properly…
Prices haven’t changed too much in the decade since that incident; you can still grab a usable 145 Cloverleaf for little more than £1500, despite the model’s increasing rarity.