Yet again, I found my judgement clouded by the allure of an Alfa V6. The proposal: move a buddy’s Milano from Detroit to Denver, or twenty hours, if driven in a straight shot.
The outlook was optimistic for this particular car. Milano Verdes, with their comfortable Recaro seats and long-legged 3.55 final drive, rival country music as companions across flyover states. And, this was a particularly healthy example, coming from a collection of five V6 transaxles Alfas. What’s the phrase? “Wouldn’t hesitate to drive across the country”?
Leaving Detroit at 5PM via I-94 is a failure in planning, unless the plan is to shake down the mechanical systems of a nearly 30 year old Italian sedan. Coolant temp? Right on the mark, if the gauge is to be trusted. Clutch and brake hydraulics? I’ve never been stranded on account of either, but clutch issues fall short of being charming, and rush hour traffic failed to elicit any. Leaks? The rearview mirror is as useful for detecting leaks as it is for avoiding rear end collisions.
The traffic relented west of Chicago. Finally, the Busso had an opportunity to clear its throat. Third gear justifies the car’s nickname - Mostro - Italian for monster.
Whereas my Milano is mostly stock, this particular example is a hot rod, as far as Milanos go. The first thing you notice is the flat paint; the metallic grey base has no clear coat over it. Reliefs in the rear bumper manage cooling flow over the inboard rear brakes, or so the owner suspects. Likewise, 50 or so holes below the front bumper permit airflow to the PVC pipe air intake. Who knows if any of this affects performance, and who cares? It makes for a modern air of rebellion without resorting to stance. Refreshing.
Unlatch the hood pins, raise the hood, and your eyes are immediately drawn to the loud, red valve covers. In the place of the original 183hp Milano Verde engine sits a 200hp V6 from the Alfa Romeo 164S. Superfluous bits are unwelcome in this engine bay - you won’t find a battery, A/C components, a washer fluid bottle, an air box, or ABS components underhood.
The purposeful theme trickles down to the suspension. This Mostro borrows its DeDion center pivot spherical joint from the original Mostro, the Alfa SZ. Heim joint watts links and poly bushing everywhere else reduce compliance. Most notable is the home-brewed alignment, not lacking in front camber, that allows for surprisingly sharp turn-in response.
None of which mattered as I tried to shuttle Mostro across the midwest. Of all of the modifications, the anti-social but ever so sweet custom exhaust might have provided the most utility in the endeavor, given the impossibility of falling asleep in its presence. I guess the suspension clanks from the tighter setup had a similar effect. Still, cruise control would have been nice.
Fifth gear also would have been nice, but as Colorado grew closer, the shift lever began to buzz louder. I thought that the shift lever might be vibrating against the trans tunnel, but after a call to the car’s owner, we decided to keep the car out of fifth. Coincidentally, fourth gear whips the car along at a plucky 4,000 RPM, which sounds rather nice in an Alfa Romeo V6 car (it did), as long as it last less than an hour (it didn’t). Fuel economy and hearing suffered in equal measures.
Navigating I-80 requires little to no navigation, even at night. In spite of this, I found myself unable to find the westbound onramp after a fuel stop in Iowa. Google Maps routed me to a gravel road running parallel to the interstate; with the prospect of catching the next on ramp 5 miles west, I rattled along the gravel.
Rarely do I find myself not overdriving on loose surfaces, but with 40F temps and a Dachshund in the passenger seat, I was focused on making it back to the interstate. At some point the gravel road turned to dirt, a transition that made itself evident as I found myself stuck in 6 inches of mud. At 3AM. In the middle of Iowa.
I looked at the dachshund, and realizing that formal extrication would require more of a time commitment than we were willing to invest, announced my intention to drive our vehicle out of the mire. Slowly, over the course of half an hour, I rocked the car back and forth until I could get enough speed to make my way, backward, uphill, from the mud to the gravel I’d just departed. I retraced my tracks, realizing along the way that there had, in fact, been an onramp. Massive oversight, but fortunately recoverable.
When the sun rose somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, I saw the mud cladding the bodywork. By the time I could see the Rockies, I got a call from the owner. He was understanding, though eager to resolve the transaxle issue. An hour later, the car was in his hands. Also in his hands were 50lbs of Nebraska mud, much to his dismay.
Pulling the gearbox drain plug did little to ameliorate the situation. Large gear chunks of fifth gear clung to the drain plug magnet, while fine metal bits suspended in the gear oil. Not that I was there to witness any of the carnage, or peel the mud from the undercarriage. After 20 hours of driving, I was useful only for complaints, underdeveloped thoughts, and small naps.
Planning on eventually replacing the transaxle with a NOS unit, the compromised transaxle was subject to many flushes and probed for metal an uncomfortable number of times. So, with nothing to lose, Mostro made it to the track the next weekend. Fifth gear wasn’t necessary, but the every other element of ruckus earned its keep.
BlythBros.com is slowly recovering from the garage fire that took our 89 Milano, 84 GTI, 164Q, and Audi 200 TQ Avant. We’ve got new Alfetta Sprint Veloce and 190E 2.3-16 projects to keep us busy this winter, so stay tune. Like us on Facebook to follow along.