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.
1936 The Alfa 8C2900, the top sports car of the 1930s, combined surplus racing engines delivering 180 horsepower with fully independent suspension in stunning two-seat coachwork.
1938 Rather than butt heads with the Germans, Alfa Romeo and Enzo Ferrari created a 1.5-liter single seater to compete in voiturette races. The Colombo-designed eight-cylinder Alfetta was quick out of the box, winning several races before World War II erupted.
1940-45 The Alfa factory was converted to produce Daimler-Benz aircraft engines under license for use in Italian fighters. Bombed mercilessly by the Allies, the flattened plant was slow to return to peacetime production.
1950 Post-war formula changes fell in Alfa’s favor and the Alfettas–rechristened Type 158s and now supercharged – won all eleven races they contested and the first Grand Prix World Championship.
1951 Threatened by real Ferraris fielded by Enzo Ferrari, Alfa gave its pre-war Alfetta one last go. Updated to a Type 159 delivering 420 horsepower, the old warrior won the first three races of 1951 before losing the next three. To cap off the era, Juan Fangio beat the bloody red cars with an Alfa 159 at the Spanish Grand Prix to earn his first World Championship.
1954 The 1.3-liter twin-cam Giulietta was Alfa’s first major post-war accomplishment and a design that gained universal respect. The addition of Bertone coachwork, a five-speed transmission, and more piston displacement helped this seminal design endure. Sedan, coupe, and roadster bodies were offered.
When Max Hoffman began importing Alfas to the US, Road & Track waxed romantic, calling the Giulietta “a modern Juliet…a wench to win the heart of any motor-minded Romeo before he even gets out of second gear.” In addition to Giuliettas, 1900 sedans and coupes were imported. All had long production runs.
1962 A new Giulia line was introduced with slightly larger engines along with 2600 six-cylinder models.
1966 An Alfa GTA won the SCCA’s first Trans Am Championship. The Duetto roadster arrived with a rounded nose and tail.
1967 Countless young lives were permanently twisted by an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider’s epic supporting role in The Graduate. True to Italian form, a dysfunctional gas gauge also played a part of the pageant. Alfa sold a special Graduate edition Spider in the 1980s.
1972 Alfa’s new V-8-powered Montreal coupe was never certified for sale in the US.
1975 Alfa’s new small Alfetta was powered by a 2.0-liter engine and offered in coupe and sedan form. The name changed to Sprint Veloce in 1978 then GTV in 1981.
1986 Fiat bought Alfa Romeo from an Italian government operating agency and merged production with Lancia.
1987 The new Milano four-door sedan was powered by a 2.5-liter SOHC V-6.
1990 A new front-drive 164 sedan arrive to replace the Milano.
1995 During Alfa’s final year on the US market, only a handful of 164 sedans were sold.
2007 With the reorganization of Fiat, Alfa Romeo became one of four independent enterprises under the corporate umbrella.
2012 Alfa Giulia mid-sized sedan and wagon models will arrive at Chrysler dealers during the last half of the year. Production of a compact SUV based on Giulietta architecture will commence in the US.
2013 The miniature Alfa MiTo will arrive in five-door form.
2014 After a face-lifted Giulietta (bowing soon in Europe) reaches the US and production of a reskinned version of the Jeep Liberty begins, a full line of Alfa Romeo models will strive to earn 85,000 sales out of a global production of half-a-million cars.