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ItalianCar | April 27, 2017

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Alfa Romeo – Essentials

Key Facts

Date founded 1910(Alfa); 1916(Alfa Romeo)
Derivation of name Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (+name of Nicola Romeo)
Name meaning Lombardy car making company
Where founded Milan
Name of founder(s) Alexandre Darracq; Nicola Romeo (took over 1916)
First car name 24HP(Alfa);G1(Alfa Romeo)
First car date 1910(24HP);1920(G1)
First car top speed/power 62mph;45bhp(24HP)

Brief History of Marque

Alfa Romeo began life in 1906 making French cars as a subsidiary of automobiles Darracq, later transferring operations the following year to Portello, an industrial suburb of Milan. It became a separate entity in 1910 – Anonima Lombarda Fabrica Automobili (Lombardy Car Manufacturing Company) – ALFA.

The fragility of the French vehicles it was manufacturing, their lack of power and an absence of clients led to the ruin of the business. The firm was re-launched by Ugo Stella who employed Giuseppe Merosi as chief engineer. He oversaw production of cars that were very different from the little Darracq vehicles. They were large robust and powerful (24 horsepower) cars with efficient brakes, much better suited to the sub-standard Italian roads of the time than the Darracqs.

The engines designed by Merosi (a 4.1 litre 24 horsepower engine and a 2.4 litre 15 horsepower engine) were to set the standard for Alfa as a company – double overhead camshaft, a V configuration and hemispherical combustion chambers.

The Alfa badge had already been designed – a red cross symbolising the town of Milan on the left and the medieval coat of arms of the Visconti family (a serpent devouring a child) on the right. The four-leaf clover (the quadrifolio) – which appeared on all Alfa racing cars – was already being stamped on the chassis and engine identification plates.

From its launch Alfa involved itself in car racing – a commitment that has lasted more than 90 years!In 1916 the firm was taken over by Nicola Romeo (becoming Alfa Romeo) and during World War I manufactured tractors and military equipment. In 1919 Alfa Romeo returned to making cars and this grew substantially during the twenties.

Alfa produced mainly the RL model and the smaller RM, both with straightforward 4 cylinder engines. During the 20s and 30s Alfa was determined to become one of the world’s best car manufacturers and put much effort into racing. It had particular success with the new Alfa 1750 in 1929 which won the Mille Miglia and Belgian Grand Prix and Brooklands 12 hour in that year.

The depression in the 30s affected Alfa badly – it was saved from bankruptcy in 1933 by a government body called the IRI – making it effectively a nationalised industry.

Alfa continued to race under the name Scuderia Ferrari – headed by Enzo Ferrari himself until 1938.Activity effectively ceased during World War II. When the war was over Alfa worked together with the major coachbuilders to produce luxury vehicles, often produced from pre-war chassis and materials.

At the end of the 40s Italian industry improved considerably and Alfa once again became heavily involved in racing. Alfa 158s and 159s, developed either by Alfa themselves or by private individuals, reigned supreme on the racetrack. In 1950 Nino Farina became world champion at the wheel of an Alfa Tipo 158, although shortly afterwards the Ferrari V12s began to dominate the scene.In 1954 Alfa Romeo launched the Giulietta.

In order to raise money for the production of the car the government held a lottery for shareholders and the prize was a brand new Giulietta. Unfortunately they had not produced one car on the day of the lottery and a huge scandal ensued. This led to Nuccio Bertone being asked to take charge of production and the car finally launched at the 1954 Turin Motor Show.

It had not been intended to mass-produce the Giulietta, in fact Bertone was only able to produce 4 a day, but demand was so high that that the car went into general production.During the 60s Alfa produced the 105 series and the Giulia in sedan GT and “Spyder” styles, all of which had success on the racetrack and in the 70s it was the Alfa 2000GTV that dominated the European championships.

In 1986 Alfa became part of Fiat. Although the future did not look that bright for Alfa it was helped considerably by the success of the Pininfarina designed 164 which was popular among a wide variety of drivers.

The 164 was followed by the 155 in 1992 based on the Fiat Tipo chassis and then the 156, winner of the European Car of the Year Award. In 2003 it launched the 147GTA ‘hyper-hatch’ and released uprated versions of almost all its line up (replacing the 156 with the 159) as well as introducing 2 completely new cars in 2003 – a production version of the high-performance Brera concept car and the Alfa GT.

Like many car manufacturers, Alfa was affected by the Global Financial Crisis and saw substantially decreasing sales during that time. As part of the newly created Fiat Chrysler group it has trimmed its lineup to just three models – the MiTo, the Giulietta and the forthcoming sports car, the 4C.

After a 13 year gap, Alfa Romeo began selling vehicles in the USA again in 2008 with the 8C Competizione. The company is planning a new model Alfa Spider convertible, in cooperation with Mazda, to be built on the Mazda Miata platform.