Alfa Romeo, the Italian brand known to car enthusiasts but a deep secret to most Americans, celebrates its 100th birthday on June 24th. Preparations are underway for Alfa to return to the US market, a move repeatedly announced throughout the past decade. But this time, Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne seems serious. In two years, Chrysler will be building and selling Alfas and within four years, Marchionne hope this brand will be an Italian-American BMW.
What better time to bone up on Alfa Romeo history? Thanks to this jaunt through the last century, when the bar buzz turns to Alfa, you won't be a slacker.
1910 Production commenced on a new range of Italian cars on the outskirts of Milan under the acronym A.L.F.A. - Anonima Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili (Lombard automobile factory). The first model had a 4.1-liter four-cylinder engine producing 24 horsepower. Two competed in the 1911 Targa Florio.
1914 Alfa's first grand prix racer had a 4.5-liter four-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves, and two spark plugs per cylinder. The advent of World War I prevented its use in competition.
1915 Italian industrialist Nicola Romeo took over the ALFA factory and funded a major expansion to produce aircraft engines and armaments. Car production temporarily ceased.
1919 Production resumed to build 105 cars from left-over parts.
1920 The first car to wear an Alfa Romeo badge was the Torpedo 20-30. A sporting version was successful in local races. A feisty Enzo Ferrari finished second in the Targa Florio at the wheel of an Alfa Tipo 40-60.
1922 Ferrari became the Alfa sales agent in Modena.
1923 The Alfa P2 racer designed by Vittorio Jano was powered by a supercharged 2.0-liter straight-eight with dry-sump lubrication producing 135 horsepower. New balloon tires and hydraulic brakes were the most notable chassis strides.
Jano's new reliable and powerful road car engines featured aluminum construction, hemispherical combustion chambers, and dual overhead camshafts. A creative British journalist coined the term 'supercar' to lionize Alfa sports cars of this period. The classic 1750 was a dual-purpose road/race machine capable of 95 mph.
1925 Armed with dual carburetors and 154 horsepower, the all-conquering Alfa Romeo P2s earned the first Grand Prix World Championship title.
1929 Backed by Bosch, Shell, and Pirelli, Scuderia Ferrari was established to handle all Alfa Romeo racing as the Great Depression took hold.
1931 The illustrious 8C-2300 began a four-year win streak at LeMans.
1932 After Alfa's financial fortunes faded, the Fascist government stepped in. As the pride of Mussolini's Italy, Alfa built luxurious touring cars for the wealthy.
The first bona fide single-seat Grand Prix racer was the Alfa Type B or P3 monoposto that featured twin angled drive shafts to the rear wheels. They dominated European tracks until the racing formula changed and the German Silver Arrows arrived.
1935 Seriously outgunned by five Mercedes-Benzes and four Auto-Unions, Tazio Nuvolari capped the P3's career with a spectacular victory at the Nurburgring...in the rain.