Historic Car Brands
Alfa Romeo is one of the great names in the automobile industry, typified by racing and sporting machinery since the early days.
Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (ALFA) was formed in 1910, taking over the premises vacated by Darracq in Milan. The initial ALFA vehicles were powered by 2.4-litre and 4.1-litre side-valve, four-cylinder engines, designed by Giuseppe Merosi. A limited production 6.1-litre overhead-valve engine was also released.
The racing efforts stated in 1911, with two 24hp models entering the Targa Florio.
In 1915, a wealthy industrialist, Nicola Romeo purchased the business and converted production into military hardware for WW I. After the War the first jointly-branded car was launched: the Alfa Romeo Torpedo.
In 1920 Alfa Romeo scored a race victory at Mugello, with Giuseppe Campari at the wheel and a second place in the Targa Florio, with Enzo Ferrari driving.
In 1921, the Banca Italiana di Sconto, which backed Nicola Romeo & Co, went bankrupt and the government needed to support the industrial companies involved, of which Alfa Romeo was one.
Merosi fell under something of a cloud in 1923, after his P1 took the life of works driver, Ugo Sivocci, in practice for the Monza event. Enzo Ferrari managed to entice Vittorio Jano to leave Fiat and join Alfa Romeo as chief designer. His first effort was the highly successful P2 GP car that won the first GP world championship in 1925.
In 1925, railway product manufacturing was separated from the Romeo company and in 1928 Nicola Romeo left.
The track successes of the P2 translated into the high performance, road going 6C and 8C models of the 1930s.
The 6C 1750 started as a derivative of Jano’s Fiat 1500 model, with 44hp, but various iterations with single and double overhead cams were available, with and without supercharging, up to 85hp.
The 6C models were noted for sparkling performance, thanks to their light weight, but all-leaf suspension and very direct steering – less than two turns lock to lock – plus rod-operated drum brakes, demanded driver attention.
Just under 200 8C 2300s were produced alongside the 6C between 1931 and 1934 and won at Le Mans in all those years. The 8C also dominated the Mille Miglia from 1932 to 1934.
The 8C’s straight-eight engine was cast as two four-cylinder aluminium blocks, with the twin-camshaft gear train and supercharger drive gears mounted between them. Standard claimed output was 130hp, but race engines boasted nearly 180hp.
The Great Depression dictated some belt tightening at Alfa Romeo, so the 6C 2300 was introduced in 1934, with an in-line, twin-cam six and no supercharger, for outputs of 68hp and 76hp.
The 6C 2300B was introduced in 1935 with all-around independent suspension and a top-shelf 95hp Pescara model. It was replaced by the 6C 2500 in 1939 and that model continued after WW II, until 1953.
The in-line, supercharged, 180hp eight-cylinder engine transitioned from GP racer to road car in 1936, with the introduction of the 8C 2900. Racing success was immediate: the first three places in the 1936 Mille Miglia and first place in the Spa 24-hour race.
8C Mille Miglia – Brian Snelson
The 8C 2900B was released in late 1937. Its chassis was stiffer version of the 6C 2300’s frame and all-independent suspension was by front trailing links and rear swing axles, with a transverse leaf-spring pack. It took the first three places in the Mille Miglia and was leading at Le Mans by ah ute margin until a tyre blew out.
As if that wasn’t enough, Alfa Romeo followed up in 1939 with the Tipo 412, 4.5-litre V12 model. However, WW II put paid to that effort.
After the War Alfa Romeo was quick out of the blocks to satisfy the then-new Formula One regulations that specified 1.5-litre supercharged or 4.5-litre naturally aspirated engines. Alfa’s ‘voiturette’ pre-War engine displaced 1.5 litres and produced 190hp, so it became the powerplant for the Alfetta 158 GP car, but with further development that took output to 300hp and the car won every GP race in 1950.
For 1951 the 159 was introduced with a De Dion rear axle and 420hp.
The two Alfetta models scored 47 wins from 54 GPs entered, making them two of the most successful GP cars of all time. Alfa quit GP racing at the end of 1951.
Post-War vehicle production didn’t match the racing efforts, because of bomb damage and lack of financial backing. The pre-war top-end models weren’t retained and, for a while, Alfa Romeo experimented with the Tipo 103: a small, front-wheel drive car whose design preceded the British ‘mini’ by a decade. However, the company needed sales and that came from the Giulietta models that were first released in 1954.
The Giulietta followed the 1950-launched 1900 models, but with a smaller, 1300cc version of the trademark twin-cam, four-cylinder engine. The four-door saloon had only 60hp, but the two-door Sprint had 91hp.
Alfa Romeo attracted a great deal of interest with the release of the Disco Volante (Flying Saucer) show vehicle in 1952. Very few were made and the racing versions used a new 3.6-litre, six-cylinder engine. Fangio was leading the Mille Miglia in one of them, when it suffered a partial steering failure and was overtaken by the winning Ferrari.
The success of the Giulietta models continued through the 1950s and, in 1962, all models were renamed ‘Giulia’ and received a larger, 1570cc engine and five-speed gearbox. Only top-shelf Italian luxury cars had five-speed boxes in those days. The saloon versions were widely considered ugly, but the Bertone-bodied coupes were among Alfa Romeo’s best-ever looking cars.
(Allan Whiting had a Berlina 1600 and remembers the joy of starting it on a cold morning and hearing the twin DCOE Webers coughing in protest!)
GTA – Chelsea Legends
Successive Giulia models included Sprint, Sprint Veloce, GT Junior, GTV and GTA. Engine size progressed through 1779cc to 1962cc and outputs rose progressively to 120hp. Giulia variants were very successful around the world in sports car races.
1975 Alfa RomeoTypo33TT- Brian Snelson
Parallel with the 1960s Giulia models was prototype sports car racing success courtesy of the Tipo 33, mid-engined machine that campaigned until the mid-1970s. It was powered by a two-litre V8 that put out an eventual 270hp at 8800rpm.
Montreal – Terenure, Ireland
Montreal was a V8 supercar, launched in 1967, with a 2.6-litre, 200hp engine. This high performance machine was produced in low numbers – less than 4000 vehicles in nine years – and is a rare collectors’ item.
Alfa Romeo’s finances were never in good shape in the post-War period and the situation had become critical by the 1970s. By 1986, Fiat took over both Alfa Romeo and Lancia that was also struggling.
Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione – P Struijk
There have been some interesting new models from Alfa Romeo during the Fiat ownership years, with highlights being the high-performance SZ and retro-named 8C Competitzione.