Alfa Romeo, beautiful 110 years old Italian
The griffin celebrates
THE WHIMSICAL JOURNALIST JEREMY CLARKSON HAS REPEATEDLY DECLARED THAT “YOU CAN’T BE A TRUE CAR ENTHUSIAST – HE SAYS PETROLHEAD – UNLESS YOU’VE OWNED AN ALFA.” IT’S HARD TO PROVE HIM WRONG GIVEN HOW MUCH THE MILAN FIRM HAS SHAPED CAR HISTORY. HERE IS A LOOK BACK AT THE CREATION OF THIS LEGENDARY BRAND.
As surprising as it may seem, Alfa Romeo owes its existence to a Frenchman. In order to circumvent the very high import taxes then applied by the Italian state, Alexandre Dar- racq, manufacturer of the eponymous cars, built an ultra-modern factory in Portello near Milan in 1906 to assemble his cars for the transalpine market. This tax optimisation ahead of time turned into a fiasco, so much so that the company went bankrupt three years later. Cavaliere Ugo Stella, former director of Darracq in Italy, saw an opportunity to recover this fine plant at a good price while saving its 200 employees. On 24 June 1910, Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, A.L.F.A. was formed, and Stella was appointed director. Based on an idea by the young designer Romano Cattaneo, he chose the two symbols of Milan as an emblem: the red cross of the municipal banner and the biscione, the legendary half-serpent half-dragon on the coat of arms of the Vis- conti, a powerful family that ruled over the Lombard city from 1277 to 1447. Immediately afterwards, he unveiled the first two models, the 24 HP, followed by the 12 HP, both designed by the engineer Giuseppe Merosi. The reason the cars were finished so quickly was because Merosi had started working on the project even before the company had been officially founded. While the 24HP would do very well – already – in competition in 1911, the 12HP was much less successful commercially.
You can't be a true petrolhead unless you've owned an Alfa
AND A.L.F.A. BECAME ALFA ROMEO
Despite the customers’ positive reception, the financial results did not follow suit. The situation deteriorated further with the outbreak of the First World War, so that in 1915 one of the investors, the Banca Di Sconto, took over the brand and chose to entrust the manage- ment to engineer Nicola Romeo. He used his network to secure large orders in the military field. The activ- ity of the Portello factory was dedicated exclusively to the production of war material such as artillery shells, aircraft engines and flamethrowers. The workforce increased from 300 to 2,500 employees, with the resulting profits being used to clear debts before the war ended. In 1918, Nicola Romeo chose to add his name to A.L.F.A., and the company officially adopted the name Alfa Romeo. It was in 1920 that the first Alfa Romeo model came out: the 20–30 HP Torpedo. Romeo had entrusted Meroni with developing it on the basis of a stock of cars waiting to be assembled since 1914. Mr Nicola had high ambitions for his brand, which he wanted to position in the high-end sports category, and set the price of this Torpedo at 35,000 lire, a prohibitive price for the time.
The G1, an entirely new car, saw the light of day in 1921, still under Giuseppe Merosi’s auspices. It proved a fail- ure and was quickly replaced by the G2 version. The third was the best version, known as the RL; it had an in-line six-cylinder engine and was available in several versions. This racy and sporty model had a great com- mercial career with more than 2,000 models sold. The 6C 1500 succeeded it in 1925, moving up to the 1750 in 1929, a displacement that would remain legendary for any self-respecting “Alfista” ... With the 2,300 in 1935, Alfa became the first European manufacturer to adopt a system of independent suspension.
VICTORIES AND SETBACKS
In 1924, Alfa Romeo launched the P2 with a new fac- tory-made eight-cylinder engine equipped with a super- charger, a solution implemented by Vittorio Jano. It was Enzo Ferrari himself who managed to convince Jano, Fiat’s technical director, to join Alfa Romeo. One year later, he would eventually force Merosi, the engineer from the start, to resign. He was the instigator behind the legendary 8C, whose name came from its non- standard engine: a supercharged in-line eight-cylinder, actually consisting of two blocks of four cylinders joined end to end. This of course resulted in a very long engine hood. It could achieve breakneck speed with incredible efficiency in competition! Appointed sporting director for Alfa Romeo, Enzo Ferrari led the Alfas bearing the famous Quadrifoglio to victory in all areas, the Grand Prix, Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio.
The legend may well have been remarkable, but motor racing was very expensive, and exorbitant off-road models only served a small wealthy clientele. Moreover, he did not hesitate to have the bodies of the Italian cars built in Switzerland, like the 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2,300 BMM by coachbuilder Hermann Graber, who won the “Best of Show” last year at the Swiss Concours d’Elégance. At the time, the brand was exporting its own cars to Switzer- land since it had created an Alfa Romeo Svizzera subsidi- ary in Lugano in 1937, which later moved to Agno. But it was the Zurich car driver Kessler who first imported Alfa into Switzerland in the mid-1920s.
WORLD WAR II
Even before the start of the Second World War, Alfa was again on the brink of bankruptcy. So much so that in 1933, the Italian State decided to save the brand through the Institute of Industrial Reconstruction, which took its ownership. The sound of marching boots started to resound throughout Europe, and in order to satisfy Mus- solini’s military ambitions, car production was relegated to the side-lines in favour of the manufacture of trucks and aircraft engines. Bombed three times during the war, the Portello factory was rebuilt at the end of the hostilities, but its priority shifted to the production of trucks, buses and electric stoves. The country needed to be rebuilt.
THE GOLDEN AGE
It was not until the 1900 sedan was launched in 1950, a car that was finally produced in series and no longer in single units, that sales figures started to rise again. The man behind this real revolution was Orazio Satta Puliga. With Merosi and Jano, he was the third providential engineer to have worked for the brand. He was also the most realistic: by insisting on four-cylinder engines, self- supporting hulls and assembly line production work, he finally succeeded in granting Alfa the status of a majormanufacturer. Four years later, he presented the Giuli- etta at the Turin Auto Show. This allowed Alfa Romeo to become the second largest Italian manufacturer, exceed- ing 100,000 models sold. The future was looking bright for Alfa, which won the first two seasons of the F1 World Championship in 1950 and 1951. Then came the Giulia. This replacement for the Giulietta was produced in many versions, including the Spider Duetto, the Sprint GT and the 1750 GT Veloce, to name but a few. The Italian Police contributed to the commercial success of Alfa by supply- ing its force with these cars. Counting all versions, more than half a million Giulias were produced.
Around the time of the launch of the Giulia, the brand new Arese factory was built and inaugurated in 1963. This was the same year that Auto Delta was formed, a company dedicated to becoming Alfa’s strong arm in competition. This was the company that developed the monstrous Tipo 33 series with a mid-mounted V8 engine. The road-going version of this model, the Stradale, is still referred to by connoisseurs as the most beautiful car of all time no less. The same V8 led to the creation of another model, the Bertone-designed Mon- treal, presented at the World Expo in Canada. Unfortu- nately, it never met the success it deserved.
THE DARK YEARS
The arrival of the 1970s marked a change in Alfa Romeo’s philosophy. A factory was built in Naples, which produced the Alfasud, a model denounced by “Alfisti” because of its front wheel drive. It still proved successful with more than a million models being pro- duced. Another success: the Alfetta, a four-door sedan also available in a coupé version, the famous GTV, later equipped with a 2.5 litre V6 with a mesmerising sound. A V8 version limited to 20 units was also produced, just for the German market. Despite this, Alfa seemed to be in trouble, launching models that were lacking in char- acter due to declining quality and reliability. The brand even joined up with Nissan to produce the Arna.
The launch of the 75 in 1985 changed nothing: the company found itself again on the verge of bankruptcy, and this time it was the Americans who stumbled upon the Ital- ian sleeping beauty. History repeats itself, and just as he had done for Fer- rari, Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat, saved Alfa from the claws of Ford in 1986. The Turin giant underwent mas- sive restructuring, underpinned by a desire to standard- ise the ranges. The 164 was the first creation from the new era. It shares its platform with the Lancia Thema, Fiat Croma and Saab 9,000. Despite this (and its front- wheel drive), it has remained a popular car, thanks to its Pininfarina look and its sports versions, the QV and the Q4. Still in the catalogue, the 75 was used in 1990 as a base for the SZ coupé and the RZ spider. Named “il Mon- stro” because of its unusual shape designed by Zagato, the two cars are still a joy for collectors today. The 75 was succeeded by the 155, and we fondly remember the Q4 version with its Lancia Delta HF engine and the fero- cious racing versions in Martini colours that competed in the German touring car championship DTM. Alfa was still looking for a successor to the 33, as evi- denced by the 145 and 146. It had not regained its “Cuore Sportivo” by then, but had at least recovered its reliabil- ity. The next model was the 156 followed by the 147, a small compact car that Alfa decided to upgrade to a GTA version: 3.2 litre displacement and 250 hp, with front wheel drive! A guaranteed rodeo ride. The GTV, Spider and GT completed the range, offering a measure of com- fort to Alfa fans.
The Revival first came about through aesthetics, thanks to the outstandingly original 159 and Brera (and its Spider convertible version). To improve its image, Alfa produced the 8C Competizione by resorting to group dynamics: its chassis came from Maserati and its V8 engine from Ferrari, which was also used in the F430 and the Maserati 4,200. Five hundred units were built and it went on to inspire the little Mito. This city car – removed last year from the catalogue – was a huge success since it accounted for up to three quarters of the brand’s total sales! The 4C, another UFO, is a two-seater mid-engined coupé with an ultra-lightweight carbon fibre monocoque, designed by the brilliant Lorenzo Ramaciotti. It has always delighted Alfa clubs through- out the world.
ALFA IS BACK
Alfa Romeo now belongs to the FCA group, resulting from the merger of the Fiat group and the American manufacturer Chrysler. Its portfolio includes brands such as Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, Chrysler, Dodge, Abarth and of course Alfa Romeo. Its director Sergio Marchionne, who has since passed away, decided to prove the brand’s worth. The aim was to sell 400,000 units per annum. In just 22 months, a new platform to serve as a basis for the recovery models was designed. The first creation, the Giulia, was presented at the end of 2015 in Arese, where the brand’s museum is now located. This four- door sedan formed the basis for the Quadrifoglio version that honours its badge: it is equipped with a new 2.0 litre V6 twin-turbo engine developed in close collaboration with Ferrari, with power transmitted to the rear wheels only! The chassis is equally matched to the powertrain making the car a rocket: it can do a lap of the Nürburgring circuit, considered the supreme judge in such matters, in a time of 7:32, a record for the standard four-door sedan back in 2016. And since we are talking about the Nürburgring, let’s stay there: based on the same platform as the Giulia, the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s latest four-wheel drive SUV, also managed the same feat in 7:51.7, allowing it to claim the same record in its category!
110 Years OLD !
To celebrate its 110th anniversary, Alfa is launching the GTA, based on the Giulia Quadrifoglio. The Milanese sorcerers carried out a little slimming cure: 100 kilos flown away! Under the hood is always the extraordinary V6 for 2.9 liters biturbo ,. Already not really sluggish in the Quadrifoglio, he was rewarded with 30 additional thoroughbreds, increasing to 540 horses. The power-to-weight ratio falls from 3.17 kg / horse in the Quadrifoglio to 2.8 kg / horse in the GTA. And as if that were not enough, the GTAm version arrives, which will only be produced in a limited edition of 100 pieces. Simply put, a barely tolerated race car on the road. 0 to 100 km / h is announced in 3.6 seconds. The supersonic sedan!
The emergence of this new recovery range with a clearly assertive style and character is far from over... Alfa Romeo is back on track!
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