"Every time I see an Alfa Romeo, I tip my hat", Henry Ford
said. He passed away in 1947, a couple of years before the Milan-company
went for mass-production. Even though Alfa Romeo has a strong profile
today, it was in the days of Henry Ford that they were in a class of their
own when it came to auto sport and sports cars.
In 1910 a group of Italian businessmen bought a large car plant in
Portello outside Milan. The plant had been the Italian branch of the
French car Darracq, which models didn’t apply to the Italians at all.
A.L.F.A. was short for
Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (Car
Factory of Lombarda). The first A.L.F.A. was the 24 HP designed by self-self-taught
engineer Giuseppe Merosi.
This was a large, conventional touring car with a 4L, 4 cylinder
cast iron engine, producing 42 HP (the 24 HP designation referred to the power
rating for tax purposes). Merosi’s Alfa
designs were unadventurous but solid with a high level of quality and
A.L.F.A.’s sales grew in the years following 1910,
but the outbreak of W.W. I put a stop to automobile production. In 1916 the
company came under the direction of the Neopolitan industrialist Nicola Romeo.
Romeo’s other companies were deeply involved in supplying the
Italian and Allied war effort, and the A.L.F.A. plant began producing military
hardware. Romeo earned a fortune during the war, and was able to purchase A.L.F.A. outright in 1918.
After the war, production resumed under the the new name Alfa Romeo.
Merosi continued as head designer, producing a series
of solid production models and several successful racing cars. However, he
ultimately proved unable to produce the innovative passenger car designs that
were needed for Alfa Romeo to remain competitive. In 1923, Merosi was replaced by Vittorio
was hired away from FIAT.
A young Alfa racing driver named Enzo Ferrari
was responsible for bringing Jano to the company. Jano’s first design for Alfa
Romeo was the P2 Grand Prix car. The P2 had a lightweight chassis, and 2L
straight-eight engine. The P2 won Alfa Romeo its first world
championship in 1925.
Under Jano, Alfa Romeo experienced a golden age. He
developed a series of small- to medium-displacement 4, 6, and 8 cylinder inline
engines based on the P2 motor that established the classic architecture of Alfa
motors. Jano’s designs not only achieved a high level of
performance, but set exceedingly high standards of reliability.
Jano’s first production car for Alfa Romeo was the 6C
1500, which appeared in 1927. The motor was essentially a detuned P2 unit with
two fewer cylinders. Most 1500s were sold
with conventional, utilitarian bodywork, but sporting versions were also
produced and saw some success in racing. However, the 1500’s larger-engined
successor, the 6C 1750, which
appeared in 1929, was the ultimate 6 cylinder Alfa of the period.
The 1750 was
highly successful on the track, with wins in the 1929 and 1930 Mille Miglia and
the 1930 Targa Florio, and numerous other events besides. With spare but
graceful two-seater bodies by Zagato and Touring, the 1750s were also
beautiful; they epitomized the union of function and form in the vintage
European sports car.
Outstanding as the 1750 was, it was technically
surpassed by Jano’s next variation on the P2 theme, the 8C 2300 of 1931-34. This
car’s 2300cc eight-cylinder, dual overhead cam motor was created by adding two
cylinders to the 1750. The 2300 was an expensive exotic of which only a few
hundred examples were made. It was beautiful like the 1750 and perhaps even
more successful in racing, but it was introduced at a time when few could afford
such luxuries and a government supported company could not justify producing
them. In response to new economic realities, Jano reverted to a 2300cc
6-cylinder engine to produce a car that was smaller and cheaper than the 8
cylinder Alfas, although still neither small nor cheap in absolute terms.
Jano produced two other major designs for Alfa Romeo.
The P3 Gran Prix car, also known as the Tipo B. The P3 updated the classic
Alfa architecture and was quite successful from its introduction in 1933 until it
became uncompetitive after 1935. The final product, the 8C 2900, appeared first
as a sports racer in 1936, and later as a production car.
The production version was the 2900 B,
described at the time as «the fastest car in the world.» It was also one
of the rarest and most expensive, making today’s Ferraris look a bit cheap and
commonplace by comparison. A prime example of a 8C 2900B Lungo convertible was
sold at Christie’s in 1999 for more than 4 million US dollars!
Enzo Ferrari had risen from driver to manager of the
Alfa Romeo works racing team by the end of the 1920s. In 1929, he left the
company and started went into business selling Alfa Romeo cars and preparing
them for racing. Ferrari’s new enterprise, Scuderia Ferrari,
also assumed responsibility for managing the factory racing team and developing
racing cars in close collaboration with the factory.
Despite the technical and racing success during
Jano’s tenure, Romeo’s industrial empire had financial difficulties and suffered
serious damage in the crisis of 1929. Romeo had been removed as director in
1928, and the company was taken over by the government shortly after the
crash. In 1934, it was absorbed with other industrial companies by an agency of
the Fascist government, the Instituto di Riconstruzzione Industriale (IRI), which
was to control it for over 50 years.
Alfa also became the government-subsidized
standard-bearer for Italian racing efforts during the 1930s, but produced very
few cars for sale. Racing was emphasized over passenger car production after
Mussolini discovered its potential for building national pride and international
prestige. For a time Alfa was virtually unbeatable in sports car racing, winning
Le Mans every year from 1931 to 1934, the Targa Florio in 1931-1935, and the
Mille Miglia in 1931-1934, 1936, and 1937. In the early 1930s, Jano’s P3
achieved an impressive string of successes on the GP circuit, as well.
By the middle of the decade, however, Alfa could not compete
with the formidable teams from Mercedes and Auto Union, financed by Germany’s
even more ambitious government. Tazio Nuvolari’s stunning victory over in the
1935 German Grand Prix was Alfa’s last major success for a decade. Jano, unable
to satisfy Mussolini’s desire for victory, was forced out in 1938 and went to
work for Lancia. Ferrari’s relationship with the company ended in the same year.
The second world war again brought a virtual halt to
car production at Alfa. While the Portello plant made shells and other war
materials, partially-assembled production vehicles were put in storage and a few
racing and experimental cars were hidden in caves north of Milan. In the end,
the war was a disaster for Italy, and for Alfa. The factory was severely damaged
by Allied bombing in 1944, and occupying German troops commandeered part of what
remained. Nevertheless, Trevisan’s design team worked through the destruction to
develop a different kind of Alfa Romeo for the changed Europe that lay ahead.
Car production was initially slow to restart at Portello.
While the future of the auto industry in a devastated Italy was still unsure,
Alfa Romeo produced a variety of products, including stoves and aluminum window
frames, to keep its workforce and facilities productively engaged. Like those of
other manufacturers, Alfa’s first post-war cars were cosmetically updated models
from the late 1930s.
The first cars produced after the
war were 6C 2500s that appeared in 1946. Interestingly, the years immediately
after the war marked Alfa Romeo’s last but very successful forays into Grand
Alfa won world championships in 1950 and 1951 with the tipo 158
«Alfetta,» a recycled prewar racing car, and its modernized successor, the 159.
In 1950 a completely new passenger car, the Alfa Romeo 1900, was
introduced. This was the first modern
Alfa Romeo. It was smaller than past Alfas (although not small by post-war
European standards), and retained many elements of the classic Alfa architecture
while incorporating modern innovations in design and production technique. In
1954, a new model that departed even farther from the company’s elite past was
introduced, the Giulietta.
With encouragement from the IRI, this was to be a smaller
and more affordable Alfa for middle class buyers. It featured a 1300cc version
of the now-familiar all aluminum, dual overhead cam, inline 4 engine. To stimulate interest in the car, the
first Giulietta, a Bertone built sprint coupe, was given away in a public
lottery. Models with sedan and spider bodywork followed.
introduction of the Giulietta brings us to the beginning of the
modern era in Alfa Romeo’s history. To
cover the increasing demand from around 6.000 cars in 1955 till
almost 60.000 in 1960, two new factories were built. The first was a large complex opened in Arese, north of Milan, in
1960. This plant replaced the company’s antiquated works at the Portello with a
modern design and production facility. The Giulia Sprint GT was the first Alfa
Romeo to be built entirely in the Arese plant.
The second new factory was the result of an ambitious,
government-inspired venture to produce a smaller, cheaper Alfa Romeo for the home market. Rudolf Hruska, who had worked with
Ferdinand Porsche on the Volkswagen, and later with Alfa Romeo on the Giulietta,
as well as with Ford and Fiat, was given responsibility for the design of the
new car and the new factory that was to produce it.
Hruska’s small team
developed an innovative, boxer-engined, space-efficient front-wheel drive car
that went into production beginning in 1972 at Pomigliano d’Arco, near Napoli.
The car was named the Alfasud, or Alfa-south, after the
After several strikes amongst industrial workers throughout Italy in the 70’s,
together with general problems at the new Alfasud plant, the company were not able to expand like they had in the
60’s. There were also problems with rust and general build quality in
the 70’s and 80’s. In
1986 Fiat bought the whole thing and has been the owner since.
Competition and involvement in motorsport has always
been a part of the Alfa Romeo tradition so it was no surprise when in the early
1970’s Alfa, together with it’s racing division Auto Delta, once again started
to stamp its authority on world motor racing. In 1972 the Tipo 33 sports car project resulted in Alfa
taking second place in the World Manufactures Championship.
In 1975 Alfa Romeo’s 33 TT 12
completely dominated world
sports car racing, winning the World Sports Car Championship. Of Alfa’s seven
wins that year, four were 1-2 sweeps. Alfa also won the 1975 World Manufactures
Championship. The win proved intensely satisfying, for exactly fifty years
before Alfa Romeo had won the the very first such title. The 1975 victories were not the end of the 33
story, for two years later the 33 SC 12 again won the 1977 World Sports
The Alfetta sedan was joined by a Giugiaro-styled coupe, the
Alfetta GT. Both have the «Alfetta package» of torsion bar front suspension, de
Dion axle at the rear, front engine with the clutch, gearbox and differential in
a rear transaxle unit, with disk brakes all round. Engine size was increased to
2 litres in 1983.
In 1979 Alfa introduced a modified Alfetta saloon chassis
and bodyshell fitted with an all new alloy 2.5 litre V6, this car, the Alfa 6
was the first six cylinder Alfa for more than a decade. The Alfa 6 was not particularly well received but its fuel
injected stable mate the GTV 6,
released in 1981 was to go on to become one of the great sports cars and an Alfa
The Alfasud was replaced by another front-wheel drive
model the Alfa 33, also made in the Pomigliano d’Arco plant outside Naples. The 33 could not, however, keep the whole production
capacity occupied so Alfa embarked on a joint venture with the Japanese
manufacturer Nissan. Alfa produced the mechanicals, which were then fitted to a
body designed and developed in Japan. The car that was produced was known as the
Arna in Italy and the Nissan Cherry Europe in other countries. The result was
only a limited success.
Alfa then released the Alfa 90, a somewhat blandly styled
sedan fitted with hi-tech internal features such as a digital display dashboard,
green neon interior lighting and a removable miniature plastic briefcase
incorporated into the under dash design. While a sound concept and powered by
the fabulous 2.5 litre V6, the futuristic features of the 90 did not make it one
of Alfa’s most successful models.
Alfa continued production of the 33, with engine
capacity increasing to 1.7 litres. A new mid-size sedan was introduced, the Alfa
75, which was fitted with engines ranging from a twin-spark four cylinder to a
3.0 litre version of the V6.
In the late 90’s Alfa has establish itself as a real competitor for
the BMW market with the 156 and 166 models. The Spider and GTV are
vehicles. Today they are, together
with Ferrari, Maserati and Lancia, a part of the Fiat company. (Many
of the technical solutions you’ll find in a Ferrari, are also often
used in an Alfa Romeo). In March 2001, General Motors and Fiat Auto
formed a joint venture. Because of this, the next-generation 156,
Sportwagon and Spider will be based on GM’s Epsilon platform rather
than one of Fiat/Alfa’s own platforms. Alfa’s re-entering the US market
will probably start with showing off the next-generation Spider at the Detroit Auto Show in January
The new 147 was voted car of the year 2000,
and it seems
Alfa’s future is certain prove to be as successful, and as fascinating as its
Source: The basis of this article was
found on the Net, but I I don’t know who wrote it. If anyone out there recognizes
it, give me a hint. I would like to
give credit where credit’s due 🙂
Take a look at the Alfa
Romeo Historic Picture Gallery.
For the hardcore Alfisti, read the complete Alfa history by Dana
Loomis & Arthur Kempat, or Pat
Braden’s Alfa Romeo history.