This is a story about a family of petrol heads who share a love for European cars. But it’s really a story about an Alfa Romeo 75.
A mutual friend introduced me to the Naito brothers, and they told me that their elder sibling had a Mercedes-Benz 2.5-16 Evo I tucked away. The Cosworth-tuned 190E is one of my all-time favourite cars, so of course I was keen to take a peek and perhaps arrange a shoot.
Arriving at the garage, a deep ink-blue Porsche 964 was parked outside. The colour was mesmerising and I felt as though I had fallen into a deep ocean of calm. It turned out they didn’t actually have a key for the Evo I garage space, but Ryu-san and Shigeki-san explained that their brother Akihiro-san’s car was basically stock and in good condition. That was enough to warrant a shoot, but I was still pondering what my angle would be for a story…
That’s when I noticed something very red parked in an adjacent space.
When I saw the Alfa Romeo 75, I knew what I wanted to do. Ryu-san fired up the Twin Spark engine and brought the 75 out of the shadows into the afternoon sun. It was everything an Italian car should be: bold, brawny and fantastically lyrical.
So it was decided; we would shoot the three boys with their three toys, each as different as their owners.
I was interested in why all three family members drove European cars, but in hindsight the reason was pretty obvious. Three wonderful words: Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft. The brothers may have also been subconsciously steered in that direction by grandpa Naito-san, who drove an Audi 80 back in the day. Cruising around in that as kids in Japan must have been very special and magical.
For whatever reason, the magic of DTM touring cars inevitably sparked a love for European cars and the rest is history.
While these particular models never competed directly with each other, the DTM vibes were strong, especially between the Alfa and the Mercedes. Both are designed in a typical three-box shape of the late-1980s, and both look fantastic if you ask me.
Let’s take a closer look at the cars, starting with Shigeki Naito’s Porsche 964 Carrera 2.
The 964, or any other Porsche for that matter, never competed in DTM because its engine wasn’t in the right place. Regulations were extremely strict for production cars homologated for DTM racing, and front engine/rear-wheel drive with two restrictors on the intake were some of the requirements.
Ryu Naito drives the Alfa Romeo 75.
This chassis was extremely well balanced; with a rear transaxle it has a near 50-50 weight split. Despite that, it couldn’t match the M3 for power. In 1987, it was the Alfa Romeo 75 turbo that took 11th place, and the Italian automaker wouldn’t see the podium until the 155 came along in 1993. When that happened, Alfa took a whopping 38 DTM wins, a record that still stands to this day.
When it rains it pours, right?
It may not be the fastest, it may not even be the prettiest, but that is all forgotten because by George the Alfa 75 sure is the quirkiest. If you need proof, on the dash is a panel dedicated to warning lights. I guess if your car is going to break down, the least you can do is make it easy for customers to see what’s gone wrong.
The second work of art has to be the fantastic 2.0L Twin Spark inline-four engine. Sure, it’s missing a turbo, and yes, it will throw more error codes at you than a ninja with a nervous twitch, but the aluminium rocker cover and intake cover plus all those extra spark plug cables just look brilliant.
Akihiro Naito is the proud owner of the final car in this trio – a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evo I.
The 2.5-16 190E that Mercedes-Benz had been running in the DTM was struggling to keep up with the purpose-built M3 that BMW campaigned, and it wasn’t until 1990 that Mercedes finally introduced a car that had a chance. Enter the Evolution I.
With the Evo I in the mix, DTM season results seem to show a fairly even distribution of podium places between BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Not surprising considering the specs of the Evo I and M3 were near identical, while the Audi had 100bhp more but carried a 200kg weight disadvantage.
Despite the improvements that Mercedes-Benz made with the Evo I, they still couldn’t catch the M3 over an entire season. That was until the Evo II entered the fray. In 1992, Mercedes finally took the DTM championship from BMW and Audi.
Akihiro-san’s Evo I is one of only 502 cars built for homologation, making it pretty rare. Even though it’s fairly stock, it still sounds fantastic and really looks the part.
It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to drive the fastest, most powerful or most beautiful car to enjoy the motoring life. These are three regular guys who each drive something that is special to them.
Do you drive the worst car which is also the coolest? I’m interested to know what you are driving and why it’s special to you.