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 – 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 transaxle 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. Brakes? If they aren’t sorted, you’ll find out quickly in rush hour. Fluid leaks? The rearview mirror is as useful for spotting leaks as it is for avoiding rear-end collisions.
The traffic relented an hour west of Chicago. Finally, the Busso V6 had an opportunity to clear its throat. Third gear to redline 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. Nonessential 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 bushings everywhere else reduce compliance. The home-brewed alignment, not lacking in front camber, clinches the Italian feel – immediate turn-in, stupid grip, and hilarious body roll.
None of that mattered as I shuttled Mostro across the Midwest. Of all of the modifications, the anti-social but sweet exhaust proved most useful, if only because it kept me awake. The suspension clanks from the tighter setup had a similar indirect benefit. Still, cruise control or a working radio would have been nice.
Fifth gear also would have been nice, but as Colorado grew closer, the shift lever began to buzz louder. I suspected that the shift lever might be rattling against the trans tunnel, but after a call to the car’s owner, we decided to keep the car out of fifth. At cruising speed, fourth gear whips the engine along at a plucky 4,000 RPM, which sounds rather nice in an Alfa Romeo V6 car (it did). It’s bearable as long as it lasts less than an hour (it didn’t). Fuel economy and hearing suffered in equal measure.
Navigating I-80 requires little to no navigation, even at night. In spite of this, I drove right past the westbound on-ramp to I-80 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 I noticed as the Alfa bogged down in 6 inches of mud. At 3AM. In the middle of Iowa.
I looked at the dachshund. We couldn’t wait for a tow. Slowly, over the course of half an hour, I rocked the car back and forth. Finally, I built up enough speed to make my way, backward, uphill, from the mud to the gravel I’d mistakenly departed. I retraced my tracks, this time spotting the on-ramp I missed earlier. Massive oversight, but fortunately recoverable.
When the sun rose somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, it illuminated the dried mud cladding the bodywork. As the Rockies came into view, I got a call from the owner. He was understanding, though eager to resolve the transaxle issue. An hour later, the mud-caked Milano was in his hands.
With the patient suspended on a lift, metallic rubble flowed from the transaxle drain port. Large gear chunks of fifth gear clung to the drain plug magnet, while finer metal bits suspended themselves in the gear oil. Not that I was there to witness any of the carnage, or chisel the mud from the undercarriage. After 20 hours of driving, I was useless.
Up for future trade with a NOS unit, the compromised transaxle was subject to many flushes and probed to the point of discomfort. So, with nothing to lose, Mostro made it to the track the next weekend. Every element of ruckus that made for such a trying trip earned its keep at the limit. Provoked, but not weakened by its hurting transaxle, Il Mostro was home again on the track.