Alfa Romeo: The Italian Craftsmanship at Its Finest!

Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo

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With a history of more than a century behind it, Alfa Romeo has passed between peaks of success and moments close to collapse. Alfa Romeo saw the light of day in Milan on 24 June 1910. Today, Alfa Romeo is still synonymous with glamour, elegance, technological innovations, and victories in races that have made it a true legend of world motoring.

A legend today, as then, Alfa Romeo has a grip on the road, from the new models, like the Stelvio, to the beginnings of the legendary ALFA 24 Hp.

Everything has already been written, said, seen and heard about this brilliant car manufacturer. However, we will try to summarise this long history into a quick overview of its main stages. In other words, a condensation of the legend.

Alfa Romeo: The Beginning

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The story begins precisely on 24 June 1910, when a group of Lombard entrepreneurs decided to absorb the factory of the French company Darracq overwhelmed by the economic crisis, to give life to the new Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, whose acronym is precisely ALFA.

Alfa would retain this name for several more years before adding the surname Romeo. The first plant that became Alfa Romeo’s historic factory was located in Portello, then still a suburb of Milan. It was here that designer Giuseppe Merosi developed the first historical model, the H.P. 24, equipped with a 4.0 42-horsepower engine that reached a speed of 100 km/h.

The speed was more than worthy of note and, in fact, immediately showed how sportiness was imprinted in Alfa Romeo’s genetic code.

First World War, the Crisis, the Arrival of Romeo

The Italian market wasn’t enough to accommodate Alfa’s new cars, so the initial plan was to move to the foreign market. However, the foreign expansion plan was nipped in the bud by the outbreak of the First World War.

Many competitors on the market converted their factories for war production. Still, the Portello factory was not of the size to secure commissions from the army, so within a few years, the factory went into crisis.

In order to avoid total bankruptcy, the company was sold in 1915 to the Banca Italiana di Sconto and the management was entrusted to Nicola Romeo, an engineer and owner of a company with a large commission of bullets for the army.

The two companies merged and produced ammunition, aircraft engines and mining equipment (necessary for the trenches). Significant profits were then accumulated. In 1918 Romeo took over the company from the bank, and that’s when Alfa Romeo was born.

The 1920s: Vittorio Jano and the First Racing Triumphs

In the 1920s, Alfa Romeo built its fame through racing successes debuting in motor racing with the Alfa Romeo RL, driven by Ugo Sivocci in 1923; he won the Targa Florio race with it. For superstitious reasons, before the race, the driver had painted a green four-leaf clover on a white background on the car. From then on, the symbol known as the Quadrifoglio badge has accompanied the company in every motor race.

That year Alfa’s new technical director became Vittorio Jano, who came from Fiat. His first model was the P2, in 1924, with a 2.0 140 hp engine. Thanks to it, Alfa Romeo won the first motor racing world championship in history, the World Manufacturers’ Championship, in 1925 with the legendary racer Gastone Brilli Peri.

In the years that followed came repeated successes, thanks to the innovative 6C 1500, which brought new wins for drivers such as Antonio Ascari, Giuseppe Campari and Brilli-Peri himself.

Despite the great successes achieved during the racing years, Alfa Romeo soon ended up in a bad debt situation, which led to the departure of Nicola Romeo in 1928 and the takeover of the shares by credit institutions.

The 1930s, the State, Tazio Nuvolari and Enzo Ferrari

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In 1933, the great depression years made themselves felt, and not even the creditor banks could withstand the blow, so the state took over the shares. The state went on to manage the company directly, but the financial situation remained heavy, to the point of almost closing down. However, Benito Mussolini decided to save Alfa Romeo by incorporating it into Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (Institute for Industrial Reconstruction), AKA IRI and entrusting its management to Ugo Gobbato.

Gobbato carried out a profound rationalisation of production that reduced costs and made the company competitive in the market. Engineer Jano designed two models that made Alfa cars famous worldwide alongside the Alfa Romeo 6C6C 1500: the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, cars of outstanding performance, luxury, technological refinement, and remarkable aesthetic beauty.

The racing strategy also changed. Alfa no longer officially participated in racing but handed over the entire structure and cars to the Scuderia Ferrari, founded in 1929 by Enzo Ferrari to buy Alfa Romeo cars to use in races.

The 1930s saw the rise of Tazio Nuvolari to a level that can safely be described as legendary. The man was a winning machine; he won everything and everywhere!

His greatness took on an even greater value when in 1935, behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo P3, he won races that everyone thought impossible against the overpowering German Mercedes and Auto Union. In 1937 Alfa Romeo officially returned to racing and hired Ferrari as sports director until 1939.

The 1950s, Formula 1 and the Giulietta

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The slow and challenging reconstruction of Italy after the destruction of the Second World War saw Alfa Romeo’s transition from sports car production to mass-produced cars, introducing the assembly line and abandoning handcrafted production.

In 1950 the Alfa Romeo 1900 was released, a low-priced saloon car that was easy to drive but still performed brilliantly. Its success lifted Alfa’s financial fortunes, and in 1952 the company introduced an assembly line at Portello.

At that time, the chief designer became Giuseppe Busso, who had returned to Alfa after spending some time with Ferrari. Busso designed the mechanics of all the leading cars for the next thirty years, particularly the legendary V6 engine, which was produced until 2005.

Those years marked Alfa’s return to racing success in grand style. In 1950 the Formula One World Championship was born, and the first two Formula 1 championships with the Tipo 158, better known as the Alfetta because of its compact size, a car designed before the war and then hidden away. The champions behind the wheels were Nino Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio.

The Italian economy was growing rapidly, and the market was in need of a medium-sized but brilliant model to capture those not content with the famous Fiat 1100. Thus, the Giulietta saloon was born in 1955. With its 1.3 79 hp engine, it was the perfect car for the middle class!

The 1960s, Arese and the Giulia

In 1960 Giuseppe Luraghi became the president of the company. The shift to mass production that had taken place in the previous decade quickly made the ageing Portello plant insufficient. So, Alfa Romeo’s top management decided to build a new factory on the huge Arese site. It was later joined by the Balocco track and, from 1968, the southern factory in Pomigliano d’Arco.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia represented the 1960s decade; it debuted in 1962, provisionally assembled at Portello because the Arese factory was not yet ready. Its bodywork had a unique shape; endowed with excellent aerodynamic efficiency thanks to intensive wind-tunnel development, it deserved the nickname ‘designed by the wind’.

Powered by 1.6 and 1.3 engines, it was a huge commercial success. In 1963, Luraghi created Autodelta, headed by Carlo Chiti; initially an independent structure, it became the company’s new racing department.

Finally, the Alfa Romeo Spider, nicknamed the Duetto, brought the company to the highest point of its fame, thanks to the success of this model in the U.S.A., also prompted by its appearance in the film The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.

The 1970s: The Financial Balances Shifting

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The 1970s were very turbulent for Alfa Romeo. Social disruptions due to the action of the trade unions and the Red Brigades led to delays in production.

Despite this, Alfa Romeo bounced back, and in 1971, after many delays, the Pomigliano d’Arco plant was fully operational; from its lines came the Alfa Romeo Alfasud. It was the first Alfa Romeo with front-wheel drive and the first to mount a boxer engine, contributing to the excellent road-holding typical of an Alfa. The design was the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro.

In 1972 from the Arese plant came the Alfetta, the heir to the Giulia. A car with fantastic road handling thanks to its transaxle layout (front engine and rear-mounted gearbox and clutch) and excellent sports-derived suspension.

Despite good sales, the Alfetta was a financial bloodbath because it cost three times as much to produce as it did to make money. Moreover, political interference became increasingly heavy, and in 1974 Luraghi left.

The 1980s: Fiat Arrives

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Having lost Luraghi, things went downhill fairly quickly. In 1983, the Alfasud was replaced by the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33, which inherited its mechanicals but had a more modern line. The car had good commercial success, but the company’s financial situation was seriously compromised.

In addition, 1983 saw the release of what some regard as the worst model in Alfa Romeo’s history, the Alfa Romeo Arna, resulting from an unfortunate joint venture with Nissan.

In racing, things were going well, and the Alfa Romeo GTV6 reaped continued success. But in Formula 1, the official return with a car of its own achieved nothing. In any case, Alfa Romeo’s days as a state-owned company were marked and selling it was inevitable. There was initial interest from Ford, but the political world pushed compactly for Fiat’s proposal. So, in 1986, Alfa passed to the Turin-based group.

Fiat carried out heavy restructuring in the first years after the takeover to reduce losses and debts. The Arese plant was progressively downsized until its closure in 2005.

The Fiat group’s industrial collaboration led to extensive mechanics sharing between the Turin brand and Alfa. This led to pretty anonymous models and gradually alienated the traditional clientele. In particular, the Alfa Romeo 155.

Alfa’s fortunes were lifted in 1997 with the launch of the Alfa Romeo 156, mainly due to its unique design by Walter de Silva. The semi-automatic Selespeed gearbox of strict sporting derivation and the world’s first common rail diesel made its debut on this model.

Alfa Romeo Today: The Relaunch with Giulietta, 4c and Giulia

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The Alfa Romeo 156 and the smaller Alfa Romeo 147 were great sales success, the former producing 680,000 units and the latter 650,000. But after the Alfa Romeo 156, came the Alfa Romeo 159 in 2004, which fell short, despite Giugiaro’s eye-catching exterior design.

Excessive weight and wide competition from the Germans made it stop at around 250,000 units produced. The real generational change came with the third Giulietta model, launched in 2010, which brought a boom in sales even overseas. On the sporty side, there was a new revival with the 4c in 2003 and the Giulia Quadrifoglio in 2015. The models that have come out in recent years have increasingly satisfied the niche market they fit into in terms of mechanics and durability.

The Suvs and Alfa Romeo of Tomorrow, Stelvio, Tonale and G.T.A.

Stepping into a new era, Alfa Romeo made its entry into the world of S.U.V.s with the Stelvio, introduced to the market in 2017. This model started from the same rear-wheel (or all-wheel) drive platform as the Giulia, called the Giorgio.

The Stelvio had a superb sporty, Italian design that was true to the brand’s character but also modern and dynamic. Stelvio drives like an (Alfa) saloon, as well as having the space and comfort of an S.U.V.

Stelvio had good initial success, then suffered from competition from more varied ranges and the general problems experienced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after the death of Sergio Marchionne.

In the meantime, Alfa Romeo has managed to present the prototype of the mid-size model (segment C) that aimed to pick up the baton of the Giulietta, which has reached the end of its career and dragged the brand’s sales. Another S.U.V., of course, since current public tastes worldwide were leaning towards this type of body.

Then in 2019, the Alfa Romeo Tonale wowed the Geneva motor show, another excellent example of refined design. The car’s production began in 2022 and was set to be released in 2023.

Regardless of the challenge, Alfa Romeo always came back even stronger. This is why until this day, the car manufacturer stays a household name in the world of luxury cars! So, no matter what happens in the future, we know, for sure, that we will see some Alfa Romeo masterworks that will reminisce the glory of the old days and leave us in awe!

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