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Foundation and early years
The history of the Alfa Romeo badge
Alfa Romeo in popular culture
Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A. is an Italian automaker founded in 1910. Alfa Romeo has been a part of the Fiat Group since 1986. The company was originally known as A.L.F.A., which is an acronym for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (translated: Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company).
Foundation and early years
The company that became Alfa Romeo was founded as Società Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID) in 1906 by the French automobile firm of Alexandre Darracq, with some Italian investors. One of them, Cavaliere Ugo Stella, an aristocrat from Milan, became chairman of the SAID in 1909.
The firm's initial location was in Naples, but even before the construction of the planned factory had started, Darracq decided late 1906 that Milan would be a more suitable location and accordingly a tract of land was acquired in the Milan suburb of Portello, where a new factory of 6,700 square metres (8,000 sq yd) was erected. Late 1909, the Italian Darracq cars were selling slowly and Stella, with the other Italian co-investors, founded a new company named A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili), initially still in partnership with Darracq. The first non-Darracq car produced by company was the 1910 24 HP, designed by Giuseppe Merosi, hired in 1909 for designing new cars more suitable to the Italian market.
Merosi would go on to design a series of new A.L.F.A. cars with more powerful engines (40-60 HP). A.L.F.A. also ventured into motor racing, drivers Franchini and Ronzoni competing in the 1911 Targa Florio with two 24 HP models. In 1914, an advanced Grand Prix car was designed and built, the GP1914 which featured a four cylinder, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and twin ignition.
However, the onset of World War I halted automobile production at ALFA for three years.In August 1915 the company came under the direction of Neapolitan entrepreneur Nicola Romeo, who converted the factory to produce military hardware for the Italian and Allied war efforts. Munitions, aircraft engines and other components, compressors and generators based on the company's existing car engines were produced in a vastly enlarged factory during the war. When the war was over, Romeo invested his war profits in acquiring locomotive and railways carriage plants in Saronno (Costruzioni Meccaniche di Saronno), Rome (Officine Meccaniche di Roma) and Naples (Officine Ferroviarie Meridionali), which were added to his A.L.F.A. ownership. Car production had not been considered at first, but resumed in 1919 since parts for the completion of 105 cars were still lying at the A.L.F.A. factory since 1915. In 1920, the name of the company was changed to Alfa Romeo with the Torpedo 20-30 HP becoming the first car to be badged as such.
Their first success came in 1920 when Giuseppe Campari won at Mugello and continued with second place in the Targa Florio driven by Enzo Ferrari. Giuseppe Merosi continued as head designer, and the company continued to produce solid road cars as well as successful race cars (including the 40-60 HP and the RL Targa Florio).
Enzo Ferrari proved to be a better team manager than driver, and when the factory team was privatised, it then became Scuderia Ferrari. When Ferrari left Alfa Romeo, he went on to build his own cars. Tazio Nuvolari often drove for Alfa, winning many races prior to World War II.
In 1928 Nicola Romeo left, with Alfa going broke after defense contracts ended, and in the end of 1932 Alfa Romeo was rescued by the government, which then had effective control. Alfa became an instrument of Mussolini's Italy, a national emblem. During this period Alfa Romeo built bespoke vehicles for the wealthy, with the bodies normally built by Touring of Milan or Pininfarina. This was the era that peaked with the legendary Alfa Romeo 2900B Type 35 racers.
The Alfa factory (converted during wartime to the production of Macchi C.202 Folgore engines) was bombed during World War II, and struggled to return to profitability after the war. The luxury vehicles were out. Smaller mass-produced vehicles began to be produced in Alfa's factories beginning with the 1954 model year, with the introduction of the Giulietta series of berline (saloons/sedans), coupes and open two-seaters. All three varieties shared what would become the classic Alfa Romeo Twin Cam engine, initially in 1300 cc form. This engine would eventually be enlarged to just under 2 liters (1962 cc) and would remain in production through 1995.
Once motorsports resumed after World War II, Alfa Romeo proved to be the car to beat in Grand Prix events. The introduction of the new formula (Formula One) for single-seat racing cars provided an ideal setting for Alfa Romeo's tipo 158 Alfetta, adapted from a pre-war voiturette, and Giuseppe Farina won the first Formula One World Championship in 1950 in the 158. Juan Manuel Fangio secured Alfa's second consecutive championship in 1951. During the 1960s, Alfa concentrated on competition using production-based cars, including the GTA (standing for Gran Turismo Allegerita), an aluminium-bodied version of the Bertone-designed coupe with a powerful twin-plug engine. Among other victories, the GTA won the inaugural Sports Car Club of America's Trans-Am championship in 1966. In the 1970s, Alfa concentrated on prototype sports car racing with the Tipo 33, with early victories in 1971. Eventually the Tipo 33TT12 gained the World Championship for Makes for Alfa Romeo in 1975 and the Tipo 33SC12 won the World Championship for Sports Cars in 1977.
By the 1970s Alfa was again in financial trouble. The Italian government company Finmeccanica bowed out in 1986 as Fiat Group bought in, creating a new group, Alfa Lancia Industriale S.p.A., to manufacture Alfas and Lancias. Models produced subsequent to the 1990s combined Alfa's traditional virtues of avant-garde styling and sporting panache with the economic benefits of product rationalisation, and include a "GTA" version of the 147 hatchback, the Giugiaro-designed Brera, and a high-performance exotic called the 8C Competizione (named after one of Alfa's most successful prewar sports and racing cars, the 8C of the 1930s).
In 2005 Maserati was bought back from Ferrari and brought under Fiat's full control. The Fiat Group plans to create a sports and luxury division from Maserati and Alfa Romeo.
There is a planned strategic relationship between these two; engines, platforms and possibly dealers will be shared in some market areas.
In the beginning of 2007, Fiat Auto S.p.A. was reorganizated and four new automobile companies were created; Fiat Automobiles S.p.A., Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A., Lancia Automobiles S.p.A. and Fiat Light Commercial Vehicles S.p.A. These companies are fully owned by Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A.
The history of the Alfa Romeo badge
In 1910 a draughtsman named Romano Cattaneo was given the job of coming up with a badge for a new Milan-based company, ALFA. The story goes that as he was waiting for a train at the Piazza Castello terminus in Milan, he gained inspiration from the great Visconti family's red cross and biscione (human child-bearing serpent) coat of arms emblazoned over the great door of Castello Sforzesco.
In 1918 after the company was purchased by Nicola Romeo, the badge was redesigned with the help of Giuseppe Merosi, including now the City of Milan's emblem and that of the Visconti family in a circular motif, bordered by a dark blue metallic ring containing the inscription "ALFA — ROMEO" and "MILANO" separated by two Savoy dynasty knots to honour the Kingdom of Italy.
After the victory of the P2 in the inaugural Automobile World Championship in 1925, Alfa added a laurel wreath around the logo.
In 1946 after the victory of the Italian Republic Savoy knots were replaced with two curvy lines.
The name "MILANO", the hyphen and the Savoy knots (lines) were eliminated when Alfa Romeo opened the factory at Pomigliano d'Arco, Naples in early 1970s.
Alfa Romeo has been always involved with motor racing. In the 1920s and 30s Alfa Romeo scored wins at many of the most famous and prestigious races and motoring events such as Targa Florio, Mille Miglia and Le Mans. Great success continued with Formula 1, Prototypes, Touring and Fast Touring. Private drivers also entered some rally competitions, with fine results. Alfa Romeo has competed both as a constructor and an engine supplier, via works entries Alfa Corse, Autodelta and private entries. Today Alfa Romeo is active in different Touring car series and the new Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is planned to take part to Le Mans GT2 class in the near future.
Alfa Romeo in popular culture
In the 1960s Alfa Romeo became famous for its small cars and models specifically designed for the Italian police — "Panthers" and Carabinieri; among them the glorious "Giulia Super" or the 2600 Sprint GT, which acquired the expressive nickname of "Inseguimento" (this car is wrongly supposed to be the one that the famous Roman police marshal and unrivalled driver Armandino Spadafora brought down on the Spanish Steps in 1960 while following some robbers — it was actually a black Ferrari 250 GT/E — this picture of Giulia , one of the dozens about this legend, is taken from a movie and not at the Spanish Steps).
Before being bought by Fiat, Alfa Romeo always had a daring commercial policy, constantly experimenting with new solutions and using them in its series production, even at the risk of losing market share. Alfa often used controversial and unorthodox styling too, which often challenged assumptions about styling.
Also James Bond (Roger Moore) used an Alfa Romeo, the GTV6 in 1983's Octopussy, where he is pursued by two Bavarian BMW police cars.
In the television crime film series Ein Fall für Zwei ("a case for two", over 250 episodes made so far), the leading actor Claus Theo Gärtner, who plays the role of the private detective Josef Matula, has always been driving Alfa Romeo, starting from Giulia Super to the latest Alfa Romeo models.
Alfa Romeo had also "role" in other German detective serie Kommissar Rex (Inspector Rex). At the beginning Tobias Moretti drove a 155 and later Gedeon Burkhard drove 166.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather, drove a magnificent, black Alfa Romeo 6C while in exile in Sicily. This was actually the car that was booby-trapped and explodes with Apollonia, his Sicilian wife, in it toward the end of the movie.
John Malkovich, as Tom Ripley, in Ripley's Game, drives a red Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon.
Edward Fox, as the Jackal, in 1973's The Day of the Jackal drives a white Giulietta Spider. He repaints the car blue in a rented garage to avoid police, then crashes the car.
Until the 1980s, Alfa Romeos, except for the Alfasud, were rear-wheel-drive.
According to the current Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne in order to reap economies of scale, all new Alfa Romeo models will be made from the same basic platform (i.e., frame). Even Maserati will share components with some Alfas.
Cloverleaf, or Quadrifoglio, badges denote high-end in comfort and engine size variants of Alfa Romeo cars, but previously denoted Alfa Romeo racing cars in the pre-Second-World-War era. The image first appeared in 1923 when Ugo Sivocci presented one prior to the start of the 14th Targa Florio as a good luck token to the team. This became the symbol of competition Alfas, denoting higher performance. Some modern Alfas wear a cloverleaf badge which is typically a green four leaf clover on a white background (Quadrifoglio Verde), but variants of blue on white have been recently observed as well.
The Alfettas of the early 1980s had models available sold as the "Silver Leaf" and "Gold Leaf" (Quadrifoglio Oro). These models were the top of the range. Badging was the Alfa Cloverleaf in either gold or silver to denote the specification level. The Gold Leaf model was also sold as the "159i" in some markets, the name in homage to the original 159.
The trim levels (option packages) offered today on the various nameplates (model lines) include the lusso ("luxury"), turismo ("touring"), and the GTA (gran tourismo alleggerita ("light-weight grand tourer"). The GTA package is offered in the 147 and 156 and includes a V-6 engine. In the past, Alfa Romeo offered a Sprint (from Italian sprintare, "to accelerate fast") trim level.
During the 1990s, Alfa Romeo moved car production to other districts in Italy. The Pomigliano d’Arco plant produced the 155, followed by the 145 and the 146, while Arese manufactured the 164 and new Spider and GTV. The 156 was launched in 1997, and became quite successful for Alfa Romeo; in 1998 it was voted “Car of the Year”. The same year a new flagship, the 166 (assembled in Rivalta, near Turin) was launched. At the beginning of the third millennium, the 147 was released, which won the prestigious title of “Car of the Year 2001”. In 2003 the Arese factory is closed.
The 155, 156, and GTV/Spider are no longer produced. The GTV/Spider was made in limited numbers, and is still a sought after model.
The Arese factory today hosts almost nothing and is nearly abandoned. What remains are some offices and the great Alfa Romeo Historical Museum, a must-see for Alfa Romeo fans.
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