By the time of the late ’80s, Formula 1 had become a raging sea of Turbo-powered monsters that were engineered to produce exaspirating performance figures. It was a tumultuous period for both the FIA and the teams involved, eventually resulting in the outright banning of the mega-horsepowered formula for the 1989 season. Yet, Bernie Ecclestone had an intriguing idea up his sleeve to re-ignite race fans – an F1-powered Procar series for the ’88-’89 season.
A fantastic (though mightily expensive) idea was born – one that allowed the manufacturers to showcase their latest F1 technology within a bespoke race series where the cars were near-identical to their regular production versions. A ‘silhouette’ racing formula that would have seen top drivers competing in relatively stock-looking production cars heavily modified under the skin. The proposed power and weight limitations were exciting as well, dictating a 750 kg minimum and a 3.5L engine that could have up to 12 cylinders.
Alfa Romeo, now under Fiat management, was keen to provide their proposed version of a Procar for they had been planning an eventual return to the F1 stage for several years already. Since 1986, development of a 3.5L V10 F1 engine was evolving for the Ligier team but after relations fell through, Alfa was left with a 610 bhp V10 engine with nothing to slot it in.
One of only 15 V10 engines Alfa Romeo ever produced
When the Procar idea was laid out, Alfa collaborated with Brabham towards the challenge of producing an F1-style chassis that could accomodate a carbon-fibre saloon-car outer shell. The timing was also impecable for the Alfa marketing legions as it coincided the Procar debut with the launch of their brand new 164 Saloon, gorgeously designed by Pininfarina.
By the Fall of 1988, Alfa’s newly successful partnership with Brabham for the project would produce two fully-built Procars (of shocking similarity to the production counterpart) and 15 V10 engines – Alfa looked primed and ready for a triumphant return. Testing of the 164 Procar produced impressive results as well - Top speed was 211 mph (faster than F1 cars) and the standing quarter-mile was achieved in 9.7 seconds.
In light of these figures, Alfa decided to enlist Riccardo Patrese to show-off their new Procar creation (video below) to the public during practice sessions at Monza prior to the Italian Grand Prix. Riccardo hit 207 mph on the long finish-line straight in the slippery-bodied 164 Saloon and easily whet the crowd’s appetite for more Procar action in the future.
Yet, as is the case with most great ideas, this seemingly brilliant one from Mr. Ecclestone would be put to rest by a lack of available funds (and subsequent interest) from all the other major manufacturers. And Alfa Romeo simply could not afford a lone, one-make series a-la BMW in the late ’70s with their M1 Procar. Sadly, the F1-rivalling Procar idea was canned and the 164 Saloon Procar was eventually utilised as a research-vehicle towards their later DTM efforts.
The proposed Procar race series of the late ’80s remains one of those undeniable could-have-been/should-have-been paths for Motorsport to have undertaken. It would have been absolutely spectacular in many ways yet, most importantly, forever memorable.