The History â€“ pictures by Per Einarsson
FOREWORD I found this text on the internet in 1998 The laid-back attitude towards the Alfa Romeo Marque, combined with his obvious admiration of anything Italian, was an instant resonance of minds. I like the no-nonsense approach I drive a beautiful original Giulia GTV. I drive it to the limit, there is no stereo installed and it doesn’t need alloy wheels or fancy stickers and spoilers It´s an Alfa Romeo – no more no less, and that is the simple strength of the Milanese ‘Sporting Heart’ Automobiles In this mood I decided to take this internet scoop and add my own pictorial comments
February, 2000 Per Einarsson
The use of copyrighted names, including Alfa and Alfa Romeo, is for information only and is not intended to suggest endorsement by or for a product or service.
The Beginnings We are taught not to stereotype individuals, peoples or nations, yet I have a very hard time not stereotyping the Italians. I lived in Naples (Northern Italians will quickly point out that I really don't know Italians) and left quite a large part of my heart there. The reason I mention this is that the history of Alfa Romeo could only - I am convinced - have happened in Italy. If I may play Jacques Barzun for an introductory paragraph, I'd like to defend the premise.
note a tragic side to the Italian, reflected in countless feckless escapades: given the choice, he is quite likely to choose wrong. All these elements, exuberance, creativity and tragic idiocy, I find also in Alfa history. Alfa is an Italian phenomenon.
The 1997 Alfa Romeo 156; a huge succes, bringing the marque back as a producer of sporty saloons
1930s Alfa Romeo poster Consider the irrepressible effervescence of the Italian: the force which makes him break out in song while dining in a trattoria. I know of no parallel in the American psyche, but I do find the same wonderful exuberance in an Alfa. There is also a delicious genius for art, whether graphic, musical or automotive: I have observed that, whenever he erupts creatively, an Italian is quite likely to work a masterpiece. I also
So far as the automobile is concerned, Italy was a late starter. The idea of a self-propelled vehicle dates back to Cugnot's carriage of 1769, while Otto's four-stroke concept dates from 1876. The first internal combustion engine issued from Karl Benz in 1885. The 1889 Benz engine still used hot-tube ignition and an automatic inlet valve. An adequate clutch or transmission was still several years away. In 1891, a Peugeot made the first long-distance journey by an internal-combustion vehicle from Beaulieu-Valentigney to Brest and return. By 1899, several false starts, such as the surface carburetor, had given way to what is essentially the modern engine, with a float-controlled fixed-jet carburetor and mechanically-operated exhaust valve worked by a half-speed camshaft driven by the crankshaft. Peugeot introduced electric ignition in 1899 and in the same year, Renault introduced a shaft drive to a rear-axle differential, eliminating the problems with belt or chain rear drives.
Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini formed a partnership to import Renault and Mors cars. The first Isotta-Fraschinis were thinly-disguised Renaults. F.I.A.T. (Fabbrica Itailana Automobili Torino) was formed in a 1903 takeover of Ceirano, which had been founded in 1901 to make cars under Renault license using a deDion engine. (Ceirano assets included a race driver named Vincenzo Lancia.) In a similar 1910 move, a group of Milanese businessmen took over a factory set up to produce Darracq 4cylinder taxicabs. This group was called Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, or A.L.F.A.
Renault, founded 1898, were active in racing from the first tentative beginnings of international closed circuit racing in France. Germans and French, but not an Italian in the bunch. Why did Italy enter automotive production so late in the game? One reason is that the country was occupied with political matters. Italy was trying furiously to establish itself as a colonial power when the century changed. There was plenty of internal strife: the first Emmanuel's successor was assassinated in 1900 (Italophiles will tell you that Italy is still not unified). There was also international strife: Italy suffered a stinging defeat during its 1896 attempt to defeat Ethiopia. In 1911 Italy declared war on Turkey, gaining Tripoli with the win. Italy's turmoil was great enough to cause a large outflow of emigrants. It is fair to see Italy as being basically disorganized during the whole era: one of the reasons Italians were grateful to Mussolini was that he finally brought some semblance of order to the country. Indeed, at the turn of the century, Italy was so unable to develop its own industry that it became a happy hunting ground for foreign firms. Italy entered the modern industrial era both by copying designs and buying out foreign firms, and that is precisely how the Italian automobile industry got its start. Much of the Italian auto industry owes its start to deDion Bouton, which was founded in 1883 and produced a famous 2000 rpm engine in 1895. In 1899, Edoardo Bianchi founded a company to produce cars powered by the DeDion single-cylinder engine. Bianchi's engineer was Giuseppe Merosi. In the same year,
Alfa Romeo still uses the emblem that was originally introduced 90 years ago! A.L.F.A. hired Merosi from Bianchi, which was very much at the front of automotive technology, and Merosi brought that attitude to A.L.F.A. Even the first A.L.F.A., produced in 1910, featured mechanically-operated intake valves, magneto ignition and an updraft carburetor. Merosi's first cars for A.L.F.A. were powered by monobloc engines (the iron head is cast integrally with the block) with an aluminum crankcase and three main bearings. The crank was not counterbalanced but the poured metal bearings were forcelubricated and an oil line ran up the rod to provide lubricant to the wrist pins. Priming cups helped get the cold engine started. A dry, multiple-disc clutch transmitted power to a 4-speed sliding-gear transmission. Alfa produced essentially three displacements of four-cylinder engines before the Great War.
1910 A.L.F.A. 24hp
Educated as a Surveyor, Giuseppe Merosi teamed up with Vittorio Bassi in 1898 to build motorcycles. After a couple of years at Marchand and Bianchi, he practically founded the Alfa Romeo Motorcar as we know it. He died in 1953 aged 84. The 24-hp model, of 4084 cc, was produced between 1910 and 1920, and exceedingly long production period considering the rate at which technology was advancing. This was a relatively high-speed engine, giving between 42 and 49 hp at rev ranges from 2200 to 2400 rpm over its life. The compression ratio was 4.15:1, a reflection of the poor state of fuel technology. A smaller engine, produced over the same time span, was called variously the 12, 15 and 15-20 hp. It displaced 2413 cc and gave 22-28 hp at speeds up to 2400 rpm. A sport model, the 40-60, was produced from 1913 to 1922. It displaced just over 6 liters and offered speeds approaching 100 mph in racing trim.
1910 A.L.F.A. 24hp. Preparation for racing was done by removing back seats and rear panelling. Lightning equipment is quiet untypical, as few motorists in those days ventured out during the hours of darkness so ligths were an optinal extra.
overhead camshaft eased valve maintenance (it did not appreciably raise engine speed, which was a leisurely 1650 rpm). Fiat practice was a curious combination of old and new, since most of their cars still used chain rear drive. The advantage of chain drive is the same as the deDion rear suspension of modern Alfettas: unsprung weight is low and there is no torque reaction by the differential under acceleration. In comparison to the Fiat and Itala sporting cars, the Alfas carried relatively small engines: the S61 fiat displaced 10 liters and the 1908 Itala 12 liters.
1911 A.L.F.A. 15/20hp. Three types; The 15/20, the 20/30, developed from the prototype 24hp, and the larger twin-cam pushrod valved 40/60hp made up a total production rate of seven cars a week, with a staff of 300 employees. On all these Alfas, behind the transmission, there was a large flexible cardan joint which connected to the driveshaft. The shaft was enclosed in a tube which was rigidly bolted at its rear to the solid rear axle. At the front, the tube connected to a yoke which embraced the cardan joint. This yoke was actually the point at which forward motion from the wheels was transmitted to the chassis. The torque tube surrounding the driveshaft located the rear axle so the rear springs could be shackled at both ends. Internal expanding rear brakes were used and grease cups provided lubrication to critical joints. The suspension technology of these early cars was very much derived from the horse cart. The shock absorbers were alternating discs of steel and hardwood clamped together to limit bounce, and ride smoothness depended on the chassis flexing. The engine was bolted firmly to the chassis to stiffen it. It was not until the introduction of independent front suspensions that this scheme changed. It's interesting to compare A.L.F.A.'s technology with its contemporaries. By 1910, F.I.A.T. (under owners Agnelli and Biscaretti) was already diversified with interests in ball bearings, shipbuilding and marine engines. Its vehicles were conservatively engineered for the time, but the S61 Fiat of 1911 used four valves per cylinder with a single overhead camshaft. The multiple valves improved engine breathing and the
A French Interlude In the beginning installment of this history, I observed that much of the Italian automobile industry owed its origins to France, and that even A.L.F.A. was a follow-on to a French enterprise. Its not surprising that the same French dominance ocurred in automobile racing: the history of auto racing can be seen as a continuing attempt by the French to control politically what they could not control technologically. The first serial event was the 1900 Gordon Bennett cup, a prize donated by the owner of the New York Herald newspaper and held in conjunction with the Auto Club of France (ACF). It was from the Gordon Bennett series that grand prix racing evolved. The first grands prix were two-day events run on what became known as the Sarthe circuit of LeMans.
racing did nothing to enhance sales. Further, the French were souring on grand prix racing, being unable to field a winning team: Renault took the first grand prize in 1906, but Fiat won in 1907 and Mercedes won in 1908. As a result, the manufacturers agreed to withdraw from racing even as plans for the 1909 grand prix were underway. That is, A.L.F.A. entered production at a time when the sporting world was re-focusing its attention on regular production vehicles. It couldn't have been a more propitious time for a company committed to the production of sporting passenger cars with small, high-efficiency engines. In the absence of the monstrous grand prix cars, Coupe de l'Auto races for smaller-displacement production cars became popular. Once again the French were able to distinguish themselves, as the Lion-Peugeot proved very competitive. Its primary competition was the Hispano Suiza designed by Marc Birkigt and the Sunbeam designed by Lawrence Pomeroy. The success of the Coupe de l'Auto races finally brought the ACF back into grand prix racing: for 1912, it decided to run an event in conjunction with the smaller Coupe races. The only restriction on the grand prix cars was that they could not have a body wider than 1.7 meters.
The 1908 French Grand Prix at Sarthe. Théry leads in the Brasier closely followed by a Wolseley and ”the god” Nazzaro in a F.I.A.T. A field of 46 starters saw 23 retirements, before Lautenschläger won in the Mercedes. While Mors, Panhard, Peugeot and Renault were important French marques during this era, Fiat and Itala had become competitive for Italy and Mercedes maintained Germany's presence. The displacements of racing cars rapidly escalated to heroic proportions and displacements over 10 liters were common. These monsters clearly had little to do with production cars, and there was some suspicion among manufacturers that
The 1914 Mercedes-Benz race engine had four rocker-activated valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft. The cylinders stood in separate jackets and the engine had double ignition, more for durability than for performance.
years after the appearance of the Peugeot. Merosi did little more than copy Birkigt's design, as interpreted by Henry. Indeed, when, in 1923, he was once again asked to create a grand prix engine, he did little more than update his 1914 design. Given Alfa's future success in the grands prix, a closer examination of this 1914 car and its Peugeot predecessor is appropriate. By 1912, designers were beginning to master the problems associated with getting more power out of an engine. The era of surface carburetors, hot-tube ignition, automatic inlet valves and monstrous displacements had all but passed. Designers had found the upper limits of an engine's size: beyond a certain stroke, piston speed became destructively high; beyond a certain bore, there was no hope of burning all the fuel in the charge before the exhaust valve opened.
La Belle Epoche. Peugeot was one of the earliest names to commision poster art. For the 1912 event, Peugeot decided to field a new grand prix car of 7.6 liters designed by Ernest Henry, who had collaborated with Marc Birkigt in the development of an Hispano Suiza for King Alfonso XIII. The 4-cylinder Hispano engine featured twin overhead camshafts, hemispheric combustion chambers and four valves per cylinder, but no sooner was it designed than Henry and Zucarelli, the chief tester for Hispano Suiza, sold the design to Peugeot. Birkigt sued and won for the theft, but Peugeot still had the design. Why am I telling you all this? Because A.L.F.A. decided to enter grand prix racing in 1914, four years after its founding and two
Merosi in the driverâ€™s seat of the DOHC 16V Tipo GP of 1914. The cylinder heads where laid out with two inlet valves on the right and two exhaust valves on the left. The spark plug occupying a central position in the flat head; all four valves where mounted vertically, with the cams operating directly from above. From a displacement of 4,5 litres 88 bhp were produced at 2950 rpm. The most obvious direction for improvements was to increase the speed of the engine. The reason for this is that the formula for horsepower includes a value for time: the faster an engine works, the more horsepower it can develop, at least, theoretically. It was not long before the engineers ran into the limitations of theory. Improvements in both metallurgy and
petrochemicals allowed the higher engine speeds because metals were stronger, fuels could be burned in a more controlled manner and lubricants protected metals better. At higher engine speeds, however, gas dynamics became the limiting factor: you couldn't get the charge in and out of the engine fast enough. The original gas path through an engine was a virtual afterthought. A half-speed camshaft driven by a gear off the crankshaft suggested the T-head design, in which the intake and exhaust valves were operated directly by individual camshafts and seated themselves on the upper surface of the block. The resulting gas path was sinuous, and every turn offered resistance to gas flow. At slow speeds, the resistance was negligible, but at higher speeds, the forces had to be accommodated.
There were two immediate benefits of this approach: the resulting combustion chamber was almost an hemisphere and the spark plug could be placed in the center of the bore, both features contributing to even combustion. Birkigt also understood that two smaller valve heads offered lower reciprocating mass and a larger area around their circumference than a single large valve.
The Alfa Romeo â€?Nordâ€? engine from 1954. Here shown in the 1971 2000cc version fitted in the Giulia GTV. The hemisferic combustion chambers and the 90 degree valve layout is clearly visible.
A cut-out view of a modern SOHC head with angelled valves in a cross-flow layout. Clearly, the most efficient gas path through an engine is a straight line. It was this realization, no doubt, which prompted Birkigt to want to place the valves at an angle above the combustion chamber so that the gas flow might follow a nearly straight line.
Now, Fiat had already produced a racing engine in 1909 which had a single overhead camshaft which operated parallel valves through roller tappets. But the inertia of the tappets required heavier valve springs and the layout did not permit an hemispheric chamber. It was clear to Birkigt, at least, that the highest speed engines would have two camshafts which operated the valves at an included angle of some 90 degrees. That is a concise summary of the advantages of what has become the traditional high-performance engine cross-section: twin overhead camshafts operating valves in an hemispheric combustion chamber. And, it has been that exact configuration which, between 1925 and the introduction of the V6 engine in 1981, has characterized Alfa.
In both the Peugeot and A.L.F.A. design, the entire valve assembly, seat, springs and all, was screwed into the monobloc cylinders. In both cases also, the cams ran in cam boxes above the exposed valve stems and springs to assure adequate valve cooling.
The Portello factory outside Milan. Unlike the Peugeot, the GP Alfa had two spark plugs per cylinder for more positive fuel burning. The engine in the GP Peugeot was isolated from chassis stresses by being carried in a subframe: in contrast, Merosi bolted his engine directly to the frame. The Peugeot used a double-jointed driveshaft which absorbed none of the rotational forces of the rear axle: in contrast, I believe the Merosi car used a torque tube. In the Alfa, then, the propelling motion of the driveline was delivered to the chassis centrally, at the cardan joint just behind the transmission, and not at the forward spring shackles as on the Peugeot. Though revolutionary in theory, the Peugeot actually performed only slightly better than its contemporaries. The real advantages of Birkigt's design would have to await the higher engine speeds allowed by even better metals and fuels. However, the advantage was great enough to win both the 1912 Grand Prix and the 1913 Indianapolis 500, the first European car to win that race. Only one example of the Alfa Grand Prix car was built. It did not race before the Great War, but appeared occasionally at post-war races, its last appearance being at the 1921 Grand Prix for Gentlemen where it was driven by Campari.
Twenties' Technology I'd like to re-emphasize that the things about the Peugeot which we find so dramatic today -- the twin cams, desmodromic valve actuation, four valves per cylinder, hemispheric combustion chambers and twin plugs -- were underutilized in 1914. While the design gave a clear advantage in volumetric efficiency, the real benefit of the configuration awaited much higher engine speeds. And engine speeds stayed low because of the poor metallurgy and fuels of the era. For the effort, twin cams and all didn't give much more power.
The highly succesful RLTF (Targa Florio). Named after it outright win of the Sicilian race in 1923. The chassis weight was kept to a minimum, not least by the use of only three crossmembers, the engine serving to stiffen the frame by its rigid mountings. The scuttle height was also reduced, while the radiator was cowled as seen here and lightweight panelling was fitted.
One of the first sporting A.L.F.A.s made. The car has a 1910 registration and it is a 24hp. The driver is Agostino. That fact may explain why Merosi failed to use a twin-cam design in any of his passenger cars. Fusi claims that Jano's greatest single attribute was his ability to translate racing car designs to passenger car use. The compliment to Jano is certainly invidious to Merosi. In Merosi's defense, I think we can say that Jano translated better than Merosi because the technology had improved enough to make the translation worthwhile. If you have an engine which goes no faster than 4000 rpm, then the inertia of pushrods hardly matters. As proof of this point, we need to remember that Merosi's RL series pushrod engines were considered very high performance and the RLTF was an outstandingly successful race car.
Merosi's Grand Prix car and its exploration of the twin-cam layout, then, has to be seen as a diversion, rather than the first example of a long line of twin-cam engine designs. So long as Merosi was Alfa's chief designer, Alfa engines had pushrods. Clearly, Merosi's era bumped up against material limitations time and time again, mostly in the area of metallurgy. One of the reasons the engines couldn't go faster was that the metals weren't strong enough to stand the forces imposed on them: pistons melted or shattered, rods bent and crankshafts broke. I've been struck by how closely the development of durable metals enabled the development of the automobile. Important dates of the metals industry slightly predate the important dates of automotive history: generally, cars came along at about the same time that metals were getting durable. The addition of chromium to iron to increase wear resistance dates to the early 1870s, and manganese tungsten steel, hard enough to be used as a cutting tool, was an 1871 discovery by Robert Mushet. Stainless steel was discovered by H. Brearley in 1913 and the first wear-resistant aluminum alloy was patented in 1909 as Duralumin. Before there were aluminum pistons, the skirts of cast iron pistons were drilled to achieve lightness.
A 1930â€™s British Petroleum poster advertizing this companyâ€™s leaded fuel. The Portello engine test shop saw every single Alfa Romeo engine pass through its doors, as engines were bench run for about an hour before installation into a chassis. If an engine was not approved, it was scrapped! This early rigorous quality control soon established an enviable reputation for Alfa. Quite separate from metallurgy is the development of automotive petrochemicals, notably oil and gasoline, but probably also including tires. The development of improved lubricants and fuels, of course, was pushed by the needs of the auto industry and evolved around improved methods of refining and the addition of chemicals to improve durability and lubricity in the case of oil and to control rate of burning for gasoline. In the early engines, compression ratios had to be kept very low (below 5:1), otherwise, the fuel would ignite spontaneously under compression and knock bad enough to destroy the engine. The goal of fuel-formulating is to get an even-burning flame front which proceeds across the top of the piston just rapidly enough to be completely burned as the exhaust valve begins to open. Thus, improved fuels were slower, not faster burning, and the biggest advance in that technology was the addition of tetraethyl lead, but that's a subject more appropriate to a later chapter.
I think this is the place I need to identify what is probably the biggest single source of technological advance: war. It seems man is nowhere more clever nor motivated, nor efficient than in trying to kill his fellow. The automobile industry has benefited tremendously from the technology of war: in mass production techniques, improved metallurgy and new technologies such as solid-state electronics, miniaturization and the application of computer controls. The direct link between war and technological advancement is frequently obvious: Brearley developed stainless steel when he was trying to find a metal which would be non-corrosive as a rifle barrel. Computers were first employed to develop ballistic trajectory charts which were used to aim cannon and large guns. Other links are less obvious: in the early part of this century, military aeronautics enriched the automobile's technology and many famous automotive names got their start as aero engineers. The transfer of aeronautical technology is easy because the goals of both cars and planes are the same: light, powerful and aerodynamic. Thus, the efforts expended on airframes and aero engines also helped make automobiles faster and more reliable.
designs produced strokes as long as the 250 mm (about 10 inches!) of the 28.4 liter, 300 hp Grand Prix Fiat of 1910.
Securing a uniform gas flow through the engine became more important as engine speeds rose. In very broad strokes, these are the areas of technology which surrounded the development of the automobile. Within automotive technology itself, other concerns persisted and were solved only to create new areas of effort. Looking ahead for just a moment, it is almost intuitive that the timing of the intake and exhaust valves should correspond exactly to the up and down motion of the piston. That is true, we learned, only in normally-aspirated engines turning at relatively slow speeds. As engine speeds increased and gas dynamics became more significant in the intake and exhaust passages, it was desirable to open the intake valve earlier and close the exhaust valve later than top dead center. This technique, called overlap, may have been employed in the 1912 Peugeot, but that is not known for certain. There is probably a doctoral dissertation here for anyone so inclined. Because some compromise between bore and stroke was always part of an engine's design, the early designers were fascinated with finding the "perfect" ratio which would give the greatest power in all applications. There was great popular interest in every new car's bore and stroke. A wide variety of
Flow research didn’t stop after the discovery of the direct influence of gas dynamics upon engine performance. This picture shows a laboratory testbed of a BMW four-valve head. In the 1990’s adjustable inlet ducting became a buzz-word just like ”valve overlap” had been 70 years earlier. That was about the time designers concluded that you could go too far with either bore or stroke. The net result was a consensus that the practical limit of a single cylinder was 0.5 liter, with a bore and stroke which approaches "square," i.e., the same dimension of bore as stroke. Notably, the 0.5-liter limit is a rule still observed in our current 4-cylinder Alfa engine. As noted above, a large bore created fuel-burning problems. With a large bore, it was hard to get all the fuel burned before the power cycle was completed and the exhaust valve opened. So, an engine with an over-large bore coughed out unburned fuel. On the other hand, if you had a small bore you needed a long stroke to get the desired displacement. But the longer the stroke, the faster the piston travels for a given engine rpm, and
the higher the pressures and wear on piston, rings and cylinder walls. A long stroke produced a short-lived engine.
The boxer engine designed by Wifredo Ricart in 1940 for the 512 was a 12-cylinder model with a 54x54mm bore and stroke. This was, in fact, the first ever â€™squareâ€™ engine (ie. with identical bore and stroke) and the stroke itself was the shortest in the history of Grand Prix racing. These problems, of complete fuel burning, manageable piston speeds and higher-speed engines, were all solved by the improvements in metallurgy and petrochemicals I've outlined so briefly above.
Other Marques Alfa's product line immediately after the war was simply a continuation of the pre-war models.
The Alfa Romeo 40/60hp. Introduced in 1914, continued after the Great War and was finally replaced by the six-cylinder RL from 1922.
Campari seen in the 1921 Targa Florio driving his 1914 Alfa Romeo 40/60hp at an early stage of the race. He and his mechanic Ramponi finished third overall, well ahead of the other two works Alfas driven by Sivocci and Ferrari. It included the 4 liter 20-30 hp model, a continuation of the original 24 hp car, the 15-20 hp, a continuation of the original 12 hp car and the 40-60, a 6-0 liter car first introduced in 1913. In 1921, the 20-30 was updated as the 20-30 ES Sport, with 4.25 liters and 67 hp. I want to try to give some sense of what it meant to own one of these early cars. In the first place, they were an absolutely luxury if not outright toy. Before beginning to start the car, it needed to be checked over and its critical lubrication points attended to. Numerous chassis parts and even some engine parts required regular manual
lubrication. These cars demanded a lot from the driver. Frequently, to start the car, some priming fuel had to be poured into each cylinder: to accomodate this, priming cups (funnels with a rotating valve) were fitted to the top of each cylinder. Spark advance was completely manual, and care had to be taken that the spark was properly retarded before operating the starter. Once the engine was started and warmed up, the driver next confronted the demands of the clutch and gearbox. Gears were shifted by sliding them into mesh, so the speeds of the gears had to be matched by the driver. To do this, double-clutching was mandatory. The clutch had little capacity for slipping, and was more like an on/off toggle switch which was weak enough that it usually went unused during a race, the gears being shifted without clutching. The gearbox had to be sturdy for all this, so there was a good deal of inertia in the gears. Troubleshome shifts and a slow-torespond engine meant the driver had to develop real
Typical Bugatti engine of machined â€?box shapeâ€?. This is a 1931 Type 50 Le Mans engine with a diplacement 4,9 litres and maximum output of 260bhp at 4500rpm. Roots type compressor feeding eight cylinders. Plate type shock absorbers were used by everyone until telescopic dampers arrived in the later part of the thirties. skills to manipulate his car. Inadequate brakes, heavy steering and poor susupension made driving one of these early cars an heroic undertaking. What was missing in Alfa's immediate postwar lineup was some dramatic innovation borne of wartime experiences or, at least, a twin-cam sportster based on the 1914 GP car. No such thing. It is fair to say that Alfa was undistinguished when Niccola Romeo bought into the company and renamed it Alfa Romeo in 1920. Much of this backwardness, no doubt, was due to Merosi's disinterest in adapting racing practice to passenger cars: the 1914 Grand Prix Alfa made no mark on the passenger car lineup. Quite the opposite was true of the automotive darling of the 1920's, the products of Ettore Bugatti. He was an expatriate Italian working in France. If there were ever a rival to Alfa's emerging sporting image, it was Bugatti. The Bugatti car bore more consistently the mark of a single man, including many of his eccentricities. If I can capsualize the difference between Bugatti and Alfa, it is that Bugatti was a master machinist while Alfa was unmatched at casting.
The more organic surface of the eightcylinder roots-fed Alfa Romeo 2,3 litre giving 180bhp at 5400rpm in the 8C2300 Monza of 1931.
A Bugatti engine is formed of flat, superbly-finished surfaces while an Alfa engine has an organic, flowing character. A comparison between Bugatti's cars and Alfa's help illuminate the post-war era. Ettore Bugatti served as a designer to deDietrich, Hermes and Deutz before opening his own factory at Molshiem, France in 1910. The company survived to re-enter production after the second world war, but the post-WWII Bugattis are insignificant. As a gross generalization, Bugatti's most popular products were SOHC and DOHC grand prix cars and passenger cars based on those racers. The great Bugatti SOHC race car was the Type 35 and its derivatives. The Type 35 was introduced in 1924 to compete in the new 2-liter formula against the Alfa P2.
Vittorio Jano’s P2. Successor of Merosi’s P1 (or GPR), here arriving by road at Montlhery for the 1925 French Grand Prix. Peri Brilli at the wheel. Alfas ”gold rush” started in october 1924 when Acari won in a P2 at Monza, 16 minutes ahead of the next car, at 180 km/h –a pace unbeaten for five years. The P2, of course, had some influence on the subsequent 6C1750 and 8C Alfas, but the link between a passenger Alfa and the grand prix car was not nearly so direct as the link between Bugatti's racing and passenger cars. Much more than Alfas, road-going Bugattis were the "thinly-disguised grand prix car" of legend. The SOHC Bugattis typically had non-removable heads with two intake valves and one exhaust valve per cylinder while the twin-
cam cars had the more usual detachable head with two valves per cylinder. Several versions of the Type 35 were produced, most notably the supercharged Type 35B and the Type 37, which featured poured metal rod bearings instead of the Type 35's roller bearings.
Roller bearings as fitted to conrods of high-performance cars of the thirties. The DOHC Type 51 Bugatti bodywork looked almost identical to the Type 35/37 series. The Type 51 was Bugatti's answer to the Alfa 8C2300 Monza, matching it in displacement, but developing 187 hp at 5200 rpm. Chassis practice was roughly equivalent between Alfa and Bugatti, though Bugatti eccentricities included the preference for reversed quarter elliptic springs at the rear, cable-operated 4-wheel brakes and a front semi-elliptic spring which passed through the front axle. Both Bugatti and Carlo Abarth made their marque by overwhelming the competition with sheer numbers. The Type 35 and its descendants were relatively inexpensive and very competitive so long as they went against other private entries. Indeed, there was even an "el cheapo" Type 35 with a
passenger-car engine for those who just wanted the voluptuous Bugatti grand prix body without the performance of the fullblooded car.
The G1 was a roomy car with a wheelbase of 3.40 meters and an engine which displaced 6.3 liters (bore and stroke of 98 x 140 mm). Some 50 examples of the G1 were built in 1921-22, and 100 examples of a G2 were constructed in 1923, but the car failed because it was too costly for the Italian economy.
The Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Monza.
Alfa Romeo G1, Merosi’s last atempt to create a public succes. His philosophy on motor sport was that the company should race cars to promote sales, whereas he felt that Enzo Ferrari held the view that Alfa Romeo sold cars to cover the cost of racing. Ferrari’s view won, as Jano created one marvolous ”bella Macchina” after the other.
Bugatti Type 57SC. A true pre WW2 classic. This Spyder model was originally bodied by Corsica Coachworks in London. Bugattis flooded European racetracks for almost two decades, winning more races than any other marque. But in those instances when Bugatti went head-to-head with Alfa, Bugatti usually lost. Returning now to Alfa in 1921, both the 20-30 and 15-20 models went out of production and Alfa introduced the G1, an attempt to move into the luxury passenger car field with the likes of Packard, Pierce Arrow and Deusenberg.
The last of the Edwardian Alfas, a single example of the G1 survives in Australia. It is the one significant model not represented in Alfa's museum at Arese. The several post-war years of carry-over models did not mean that Alfa nor Merosi were idle. In 1920, a 3-liter formula was established and Merosi set about designing a car to that formula. Again, nothing from the 1914 grand prix car could be discerned in the new pushrod straight six. The new car was introduced in 1922, the same year that the 3-liter formula was superseded by a new 2-liter formula. Even in its earliest years, Alfa had trouble getting its models off to a fast start!
Mature Merosi The cars we have talked about so far have been pre-war designs: even the technology of the G1 is more tied to the Edwardian cars than proper post-World War I designs. As a generalization, the post-war cars were much more tidy and easy to manage than their predecessors. The skill of making a motor car was becoming an art, nowhere more evident than in the work of Ettore Bugatti, whom we discussed in the last chapter. One could regard an engine of the 1920s with the same critical gaze as a painting or sculpture, and automobiles were certainly much more integrated in their designs than the bits-and-pieces assemblages which marked the earliest efforts. The goal of the artists of the 1920s was an integrated engine with virtually smooth sides and few external accessories. By this standard, the RL engine was pretty, indeed.
even though the 1912 Peugeot had established the potential of a small, high-speed engine with overhead camshafts. Post-war metallurgy had improved to allow stronger metals and higher engine speeds, while fuels were beginning to allow higher compression ratios which pushed combustion pressures higher. The typical measure of progress has always been engine speed: by that measure, the RL turned 3200 rpm compared to the 2200 to 2400 rpm of the first A.L.F.A.s. In comparison, the 1914 GP engine turned about 3000 rpm. But there are other measures of progress.
Merosi managed to keep the RL series reliable by not venturing into high-tech experiments. Vittorio Jano, on the other hand, brought state-of-the-art knowlegde to the Milanese company when taking over research and development in 1923. Nevertheless the RL did stay in production (if that is the word) until 1927.
This 1924 RLSS delivers 83 bhp at 3600 rpm from its 75x110 mm bore-and-stroke six-cylinder engine. It has a compression rate of 6,5to1, a Bosch magneto ingition system and uses dry sump lubrication with an external 16 litre oil tank. As suggested in the last installment, the RL series was inspired by a new 3-liter formula for racing cars which took effect in 1920 and ran until 1922. Merosi was dogged in his allegiance to a single design, and the RL series cars were simply updates of themes established in the â€˜teens: Merosi kept with pushrods,
One is to measure the pressure developed in the cylinder, Brake Mean Effective Pressure (BMEP). Another measure, the median speed of the piston, gives a good measure of the engine's durability, because higher piston speeds impose excessive side loads and also exacerbate wear of the piston and rings. Using those two measures, the original 12 HP A.L.F.A. had a BMEP of only 3.74 kg/cm2 and a median piston speed of 8.39 meters/second. In comparison, the 1914 GP had a BMEP of 5.9 kg/cm2 and a mean piston speed of 14.05 meters/second. The original RL, introduced in 1922, produced a BMEP of 5.42 kg/cm2 and had a mean piston speed of 11.73 meters/second; the internal cylinder pressures of the passenger car almost equaled the grand prix design of eight years ago. In fact, the most highly tuned of the RL series, the RLTF, had a BMEP of 7.14 kg/cm2, well beyond what was achievable in 1914, while its mean piston speed of 13.94 meters/second reflects a much
shorter stroke (110 mm versus 143 mm for the Grand Prix car) at a significantly higher speed (3800 rpm).
cylinder block was a single iron casting, and the cylinder head was another iron casting. The forged crankshaft was deeply recessed into the crankcase skirt for good lateral support to the four main bearings, and the wet sump held seven liters of lubricant. Pistons for the RL produced a compression ratio of 5.2:1. The crankshaft and rod bearings for all these engines were poured, as opposed to the precision inserts we have today. A poured bearing is thick and individually cast, then hand-formed by scraping to fit the crankshaft journal. Prussian blue is used to mark the high points of the bearing and these points are then carefully scraped away by the technician until at least a 40% contact surface is achieved. After the engine is assembled, it is run at light speeds (broken in) to allow the bearings to wear into a proper fit with the crankshaft journal.
The Twin Spark 2-litre 16-valve engine introduced by Alfa Romeo in 1995 develops a BMEP of 11,9 kg/cm2 and work with a maximum median piston speed of 19,4 meters/min In more prosaic terms, the RL was a super-reliable car you could hop in and go. It was equipped with an electric starter and manual choke so no special physical prowess was needed to drive it. The spark advance was still manually adjusted, but a high-output magneto helped assure that the plugs fired each time. And, once started, it was both durable and fast, with a top speed just over a mile a minute. Steering was quite light and the mechanically operated brakes worked on all four wheels. The RL's pushrods were operated from a camshaft which sat high in the crankcase. At the RL's engine speeds, there was no concern for valve float. By this time, the gas dynamics of the engine had been understood well enough to utilize valve overlap, where the intake and exhaust valves are open at the same time at the beginning of the intake stroke. The RL was no alloy wonder: its
Bosch magneto unit used by Alfa Romeo in the twenties Though a poured bearing has limited load-carrying properties, it is very tolerant of dirt in the lubricant. These old engines ingested a lot of dirt, since there were neither oil nor air filters and roads were typically unpaved: a coarse screen covered the carburetor intake if one wanted to keep rocks out of the engine. Small pieces of metal simply bury themselves in the bearing material without harm to the crankshaft journal. Non-detergent oil allowed heavier metal particles to settle out into the sludge in the sump when the engine was turned off.
Another advantage of the poured bearing is that it is renewable. Usually, for the original pouring process, a few shims were added between the bearing cap so that, if the bearing became loose, removal of one shim and careful rescraping would give a new running surface. The oil pressure required to support a plain-metal bearing was remarkably low: my 6C1750 carried a normal pressure of seven pounds. The actual pressures at the rod bearings were higher because of centrifugation. The only alternative to the poured metal bearing was a roller bearing, which required virtually no oil pressure and offered lower frictional losses than the poured bearing. But a roller-bearing engine required an inconvenient warm-up period before it could carry a load. Driving off with a cold roller-bearing engine was a good way to break a crankshaft. Ball and roller bearings were ideal in a race-car and were used on most of the early sporting Bugattis, most notably the Type 35.
the wheel is needed only for turns, and trying to fight the car as it wanders down the road only produces a series of drunken swerves. The modern driver would find the multiple-disc clutch brutal, and the non-synchronized gearbox taxing, but these were both standard features of the era. For those accustomed to thinking of the Giulietta or Milano as a standard-size Alfa, The RL was a large car, much more akin to the 164 in size and luxurious intent. The Alfa museum at Arese contains an RLSS which was owned by a Maharajah, giving some idea of the elegance these models could achieve. The RL Normale was the first in the RL series, and one of only a few Alfas to own the title Normale (there is no such thing as a Giulietta Normale, thanks). During this era, Alfa released cars in series, and the RL saw five such, with the first and second being released during 1922-23, the third and fourth in 1924 and the fifth series in 1925.
An RLSS with wonderful Castangna Tourer bodywork. Under the skin this RLSS was just as powerful as any racing RLSS.
An RM 4-cylinder tourer.
The RL's suspension was essentially ox-cart, with semi-elliptic springs front and back for the solid axles. The ride quality of such a car can be improved considerably by keeping the chassis long and flexible. That is, the chassis is the main suspension member. With such a chassis, stiff springs are essential to provide control over rough roads. The proper driving technique is to grasp the wheel only lightly on the straight, letting it work in your hands. The front wheels' caster will take care of returning the car to straight-ahead after a bump. A firm grip on
Only nominal changes differentiated the series, typically, and the differences are largely lost to us today, though I think Peter Hull could probably recite the differences from memory. For the sixth and seventh series RL (1925-1927), the Normale appellation was changed to Turismo, and engine capacity was enlarged from 2916 cc to 2994 cc, while horsepower rose to 61 at 3200 rpm, giving a top speed of 115 km/h. The same larger displacement also was available as RL Sport, with 71 hp and RL Super Sport with 83 hp. The most popular of the RL series, of
course, was the RL Super Sport, or RLSS, and it is this model which has been cherished -- and survived -- in greatest numbers. For 1923, Merosi prepared a group of 88-hp, 2994 cc RL cars for the Targa Florio, and two which carried 3154 cc engines producing 95 hp. The Alfas took 1st, 2nd and 4th overall. Spurred by the success, for 1924 Merosi redesigned the engine and crankcase to give seven-main-bearing support to 3620 cc. Output was increased to 125 hp (BMEP was 8.18 kg/cm2). These RLTF Targa Florio cars are the most desirable of the RL series, and several of them are still raced in vintage events. The RLTF is Merosi's greatest race car. Between 1923 and 1925, a four-cylinder version of the RL was produced, called the RM.
Adding to the relative succes of Merosiâ€™s road car policy the RM, with its smaller displacement fourpot engine, was equally beautiful in many of the dresses acquired by the leading Carrozzerias of Milan and Turin.
The A.L.F.A. badge was changed in 1918 three years after Ingegnere Nicola Romeo acquired the Milanese car factory into his empire. Ten years later when Jano and Ferrari, -along with some excellent drivers, technicians and mechanics, took Alfa Romeo to the first World Championship, a garland of laurels was added to the badge. It developed 40 hp from 1944 cc (total production was only 131). A higher-compression (6.0:1) version, the RM Sport, gave 44 hp while a 1996 cc long-wheelbase version called the RM Unificato developed 48 hp. In 1915, a Milanese financier, Niccola Romeo, made a large investment in the company and attached his name to it: thus, the name Alfa Romeo was born. Romeo was not a car enthusiast, and his impact on the company was much more financial than technical. Romeo's stewardship of Alfa continued until its control was turned over to the government during the depression.
Nicola Romeo and his Racing team Manager Enzo Ferrari.
Racing Politics In telling the story of Alfa, it's occasionally possible to talk about race and passenger cars in the same breath. Other times, the two paths diverge so significantly that one has to follow simultaneous but distinctly separate threads. Until 1923, Alfa's story is a monofilament of sporty passenger cars which were easily adapted for racing simply by removing most of the bodywork. Remember that the early cars were little more than chassis given over to specialist carrozeria for embodiment, anyway. The 1914 Alfa Grand Prix car was singularly unsuccessful and so doesn't unravel the singular thread of Alfa's history. But, beginning in 1923, significant developments in race car design require separate attention.
race-car weight, engine capacity, fuel consumption, frontal area and even number of persons aboard were all tried in an effort to moderate speeds. Each regulation served to produce only more clever ways of increasing speeds.
The Green Cloverleaf, Quadrifoglio Verde (QV), emblem used by Alfa Romeo since 1923 on its works entry cars. The direction of racing history has been shaped as much by the politics of its governing bodies as technology. The governing bodies have always been French, and generally committed to achieving French supremacy in racing. That they have failed to do so is a commentary on French engineering. The very first automobile events, the Gordon Bennett Cup, were administered by the Auto Club of France (ACF), and specified only that all the components of the car be indigenous. Since France was the largest world-wide producer of cars, the formula almost guaranteed French supremacy. The ACF went on to control race-car specifications until the early 1920s, when it was replaced by another French organization, the AIACR (International Association of Auto Clubs). Formulas restricting
The Tipo 159 1,5 litre staging 425bhp from a screaming supercharged straight eight finished the 1923-1952 era of kompressor-racers. Alfa Romeo withdrew from formula racing after wining the world championships of 1950 and 1951, and did not return before 1979, a few years before turbo-charging took over once again. In 1921, the ACF decreed a maximum displacement of 3 liters. Fiat constructed an entirely new car, the Type 801, with a twincam engine following the lines of the 1912 Peugeot. The Grand Prix Fiats became dominant and, when the formula was reduced to 2 liters in 1922, continued their domination with the 804, which produced 112 hp at 5000 rpm. For 1923, Fiat introduced
the supercharged 8-cylinder 805 car. With 130 hp at 5500 rpm, two 805s made a 1-2 sweep of the European Grand Prix at Monza, the first grand prix won by a supercharged car. Supercharged cars would continue to reign supreme until 1952, when the FIA decreed an unsupercharged formula. In Fiat's wake, other manufacturers, Alfa Romeo included, were just trying to play catch-up.
The Alfa Romeo P1 (or GPR) was almost ready for race action when the 1923 GP season came up. Everybody knew that Fiat had the best eqiupment, but Alfa and all other marques tried hard to keep up. In the P1 lay the sum of Merosiâ€™s know-how, but unfortunately Sivocci was killed during final training, causing Nicola Romeo to withdraw the company from racing that year. Before the season ended Alfa Romeo had headhunted Vittorio Jano from Fiat to develop the P2 for the 1924 season. One of the two remaining P1s was used as a testbed for Janos theories, but sadly they never saw actual racing action. In 1923, Fiat 6-cylinder work-alikes were introduced by Sunbeam as well as Alfa Romeo. It is clear that Merosi was uncomfortable designing racing cars. When he was asked to design a "modern" grand prix engine, he simply updated his work on the Henri-inspired 1914 GP. The GPR of 1923 was not even sorted out when Ugo Sivocci crashed in one and was killed. Romeo was intent on competing successfully in the grands prix and set about to find a designer who could make him a winning car. At the peak of his passenger-car efforts, Merosi was fired for want of a good race car. One of the Fiat designers, Vittorio Jano, was lured away from his beloved Turin with an offer which doubled his Fiat salary. His appearance at Alfa was hardly noticed, but as he walked through the drafting room, he tapped a young draftsman to be his assistant: Luigi Fusi. Jano's first action, evidently, was to supercharge the GPR with a Wittig-type blower similar to the
Vittorio Jano with driver Rodolfo Caracciola at the practice sessions for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza 1932. units used on the Fiats. But he quickly grew uncomfortable with Merosi's design. In several weeks of intensive work, Fusi dutifully converted Jano's ideas into mechanical drawings of the new P2 Alfa Romeo. Had this car, like the 1914 Grand Prix A.L.F.A. or the 1923 GPR, been unsuccessful, we would not have to pause in our discussion of Alfa passenger cars. But the P2 quickly dominated racing and continued to be competitive over a period of six years, a remarkable achievement.
While a Wittig-type positive-displacement supercharger had been tried on the GPR Alfa, Jano elected to use a Rootes-type blower for the P2. The unit was driven at 1.2 times crank speed for a boost of 10 psi. The Rootes unit, which uses two figure-8 lobes, was the preferred performance-enhancer for sporty cars in the 1930s. Looking ahead for just a moment, the two lobes run with about 0.002 in. clearance, so there is a boost pressure above which the blower begins to leak back into the carburetor. For this reason, additional supercharging pressure can only be gained by feeding one blower with another, the 2-stage technique employed by the Type 159 Alfa of 1951 to develop 425 hp from only 1.5 liters. P2 racer wearing the Quadrifoglio Verde emblem of Alfa Corse. The Type 35 Bugatti also dates from 1924, but in virtually every instance where the Alfa and Bugatti raced together, the Alfa won. As with Bugatti's practice of transporting race-car practice to passenger cars, many of the P2's design details, including the twin-cam head, were translated to Alfa passenger cars. For its victories and seminal design, the P2 deserves special study. The 1921 8-cylinder Fiats, from which Jano took his inspiration, introduced a one-piece crankshaft with full roller-bearings and a one-piece twin-cam cylinder head with valves set an included angle of 96 degrees. The wide valve angle allowed very-large diameter valve heads for improved breathing. The 2-liter Fiat had a bore/stroke of 60/87 mm. In Jano's design, the bore/stroke ratio was revised to 61/85 mm for a slightly lower piston speed. Both the Fiat and Alfa powerplants maxed out at 5500 rpm, the Fiat giving 130 hp and the Alfa 140 hp. The P2 engine was built up of three large castings: an iron cylinder head in unit with the cylinders, cast without water passages; a shallow alloy crankcase which split at the centerline of the main bearings and a deep, lower crankcase half in alloy with large bearing supports. The through-bolts which connected the two crankcase halves also secured the cylinder block. The sump was little more than a ribbed plate, since drysump forced lubrication was used. Thin sheets of metal were welded around the cylinders to provide jackets for the coolant, a Mercedes technique. The roller bearings gave superior loadbearing capabilities with minimal lubrication needs and reduced drag from friction. The mains and rod big-ends were split so they could be assembled to the crankshaft, and semicircular cages were used to maintain individual roller spacing.
The carburettor side of the P2 engine On the P2, the supercharger lobes were displayed horizontally and an air inlet was provided on both sides of the casting. Pressurized air was delivered from beneath the supercharger to a finned tube which led along the frame rails to a plenum on which two updraft carburetors were mounted. Two two-into-four manifolds completed the intake plumbing. The exhaust featured a graceful eight-into-one manifold which maintained its elevation along the length of the car.
Biscaretti museum, is Varzi's P2 which was fitted in 1930 with a 1750 Gran Sport radiator to improve cooling. Other modifications to Varzi's car included reversing the relationship between the supercharger and carburetors and fitting a 6C1750 front axle, steering and brakes. The P2 became the first world championship Alfa in 1925, earning Alfa a garland around the badge which it displayed proudly until some unlettered nitwit deleted it in the name of modernization.
Lancia introduced the Roots blower again in the eighties under the name Volumex. When using carburettors wih supercharging they have to be placed upstream from the kompressor in order to have the proper constant air-pressure conditions. In the case of injection-engines it is possible to compress the air before introducing the fuel, because the injection jets are less vounerable to pressure change. Compare with the section drawing of the 512 engine, where it is also visible that the (second stage) Roots compressor is the last component before the inlet valves. The chassis of the P2 was thoroughly classic: a ladder-type layout with solid front and rear axles on semi-elliptic springs. The rear of the chassis was curved to match the tapered bodywork and the rear springs were splayed inward at the rear to match the curve of the chassis. The engine mounted to the chassis solidly at three places and a torque-tube drive was used, with a single universal joint located behind the 4-speed transmission. According to Fusi, only six of these cars were produced. One survives today in the Alfa museum and another, in the Carlo
In 1924 the P2 delivered 140bhp at 5500rpm. The following year the same engine had been developed to 155bhp. When it finally retired five years later it was tweaked to 175bhp, which meant that the P2 engine had a higher specific output than the first 8C2300s in 1931.
A Pinnacle Some seeds, planted deep, take a long time to sprout. The settlement imposed by the allies on the Germans at the end of the first world war virtually guaranteed the second. While the winners were reveling in the roaring '20s, the losers were groping to pull themselves out of a political, social and economic depression.
A year after Mussolini marched on his King, Hitler attempted to seize the Bavarian government but failed and was jailed, just long enough, it seems, to write Mein Kampf.
Poster from the Auto Salon in Rome 1929. Pure italian Fascist art. -But very stylish.
Northern Italy. The twenties. Style. Everybody hailed the Good Life. Alfa Romeo fitted in perfectly. Italy was still operating as a collection of city states when Mussolini began organizing the fascist party at war's end. By 1922, his party was strong enough to march against King Victor Emmanuel III and demand that Il Duce be made prime minister. Thereafter, by sheer hooliganism, Mussolini was able to consolidate his power as the undisputed ruler of Italy.
The worldwide depression of 1929 was enough to catapult him to the chancellorship in 1933 and absolute control of the country by 1934, when President Hindenburg died. In 1933, Alfa Romeo, foundering in the depression, was nationalized under the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI). Mussolini and Hitler both used a sense of national secondclassness to rally their constituencies, and both were committed to dispelling it by racing automobiles. While Germany and Italy were equally committed to fielding world-championship teams, Germany had first to rebuild its industry, then supply Hitler's war machine. As a result, the racing SS-series Mercedes of the early 1930s were old designs and nothing new was attempted
until the last half of the decade. In contrast, Fiat's success in the grands prix in the early 1920s and Alfa's succession to championship in 1925 left the Italians with a clear automotive superiority going into the 1930s. Though Hitler never considered the car to be anything more than a propaganda medium, it seems that Mussolini was something of an enthusiast, switching his allegiance from Lancia to Alfa Romeo as that marque continued to pile up victories.
A 1921 RLS parked next to a ten years younger 6C1750. After the succes of Janoâ€™s P2 Mussolini commisioned Alfa Romeo to repeat Merosiâ€™s parrallel effort of both building sublime racers as well as tourers. Luigi Fusi has always disparaged Merosi for not being able to translate race-car into passenger-car practice. We've already mentioned Merosi's inability to use design details of the 1914 GP car in the RL series, and his fumbling attempt to update the design in the ill-fated GPR. The observation clearly favors Fusi's mentor, Vittorio Jano who, we can well imagine, was under great pressure from Mussolini to create a "road-going P2." Indeed, it's comfortable to consider the wonderful series of 6cylinder cars which Jano designed after the P2 to be little more than streetable versions of that great racer. In some gross details, they were: the engines of both offered twin overhead camshafts and hemispherical combustion chambers and they ran with virtually identical chassis.
Indeed, the most sporting of the 6-cylinder cars was even supercharged. While Bugatti was making great success selling "road-going grand prix cars," Alfa certainly aspired to more comfort and reliability for its passengers and it provided it in unmatched form with the 6C1500 series introduced in 1925 at the Milan auto show. The first Jano passenger-car engine displaced 1.5 liters. A castiron detachable head and a cast-iron block sat on an aluminum alloy crankcase. A deep aluminum sump carried a cross shaft, driven by a gear at the rear of the crankshaft, for the generator, water and oil pumps.
Three pairs of cylinders from the P2 engine fed from a sideways mounted Roots blower sitting between the front of the crankcase and the radiator. This is a Gran Sport 6C1750. The engine was designed to accommodate several stages of tune, represented by a single-overhead camshaft unit developing 44 hp, while a twin-cam head with hemispheric combustion chambers for the 6C1500 Sport gave 54 hp. The supercharged 6C1500 Super Sport also had twin cams and developed 76 hp. A high-compression engine, essentially the Super Sport without supercharger, developed 60 hp. All engines shared a bore/stroke of 62/82 mm and had compression ratios between 5.5 and 6.75 to 1. These high-speed engines (4200-4500 rpm)
Alfa Romeo 6C1500. This was the last model that Enzo Ferrari drove before taking over the management of Alfa Romeos racing efforts. It is hard to believe, but these 1500cc cars outclassed much bigger cars in the period 1927-1929. The Alfa 6Cs are counted among the top ten best cars ever made. were mated to a 4-speed non-synchromesh gearbox. An enclosed driveshaft featured a single flexible joint at the end of the gearbox and springing was by semi-elliptics front and rear. Large-diameter mechanical brakes were finned radially to promote cooling and 18 in. wire wheels were standard. These cars were notable for the diminutive size of their engines yet offered remarkable output and high average speeds. They carried everything from sedan bodies to 2-seat roadsters, the former most frequently from Castagna and the latter from Zagato. While the heaviest of sedans was hardly capable of much over 60 mph, the light supercharged spiders could exceed 90 and offered superb roadholding. They were an immediate success and have proved remarkably durable cars over the years. In 1928, Jano offered a slightly modified 6C1500 Super Sport intended for competition use. The engine of this car followed the lead of the P2 in that its head was cast in unit with the cylinder block. These 6C cars are referred to as testa fissa, or fixed-head models. Though compression was only 5.25:1, the engines developed 84 hp at 5000 rpm, an astonishing speed only 500 rpm lower than the P2.
The 6C1500 cockpit. Notice that the accelerator pedal is placed between the clutch (left) and the brake (right). Beautiful dash with stylish Veglia instruments.
1928 Zagato-bodied roadster.
The sublime 6C1750 GS. The old team of Campari and Ramponi drove the first Gran Sport in the 1929 Mille Miglia. The exitement of that debut came with overall victory in the race, one of the most grueling of its time, considered on a par with the Targa Florio. But if there was ever any doubt as to which was the toughest race, Alfa Romeo left the world in no doubt as to which was the toughest car, taking third place in the Sicilian race, then a 1-2-3 in the 24 hours Spa. In 1929, the 6C line was enlarged from 1487 to 1752 cc and power went up to 46 for the single-cam engine, 55 for the twin cam and 85 for the supercharged model. Again, a nonsupercharged high-compression version was offered at 64 hp and a fixed-head racing version fetched 95 hp, enough to safely exceed 100 mph with a light Zagato body. It is no understatement to say that these 6-cylinder cars from Jano rank very near the top of any list of the world's greatest automobiles. They offered a combination of style and performance which was unmatched for their day. The casting work on these engines, especially the finned intake manifold, has to be seen to be believed. In spite of their jewel-like appearance, the engines were wonderfully reliable. They also proved to be the ideal mount for Mussolini's nationalistic posturing. Compared to the heavy Sindelfingen bodywork of Hitler's 540K and 770K Mercedes carriages, they were grace incarnate.
Hard Times and Great Eights From an Italian point of view, the depression was an inconvenience on Italy's way to greatness, and that euphoria may in part explain why Alfa did not respond to the hard times immediately by producing a down-scale car. I need to underline just how popular Mussolini was to the Italians: in addition to making the trains run on time he gave Italy a sense of honor and national destiny.
Enzo Ferrari and the 8C2300 in 1931, when Alfa Romeo and Italy were still rising with nothing stopping them. That the honor was purchased quite cheaply -- if not pitifully, in Ethiopia -- completely escaped the appreciation of the average Italian. Mussolini did, in fact, unify Italy and the Italians. For some reason that I cannot quite understand, the hardest times seem to produce the greatest cars. Consider the choices offered to the few affluent purchasers of the '30s: Bugatti, Talbot, Mercedes and Alfa in Europe, and Deusenberg, Cord, Packard and Cadillac in the US. One wonders if, 30 years from now, enthusiasts will recall wistfully the Hondas and Mitsubishis as we now recall the Alfas? By the 1930s, engineers had refined the technique of designing the motorcar so it was a reliable, if not quite essential, member of the family. European high-performance cars were, by and large, supercharged. Even some American cars, such as Graham and Cord, were similarly enhanced. Bodybuilders had
Ferrari succeeded in combining sponsorship, great cars and star drivers of other marques into the dominating â€?Scuderia Ferrariâ€?. The Alfas now sported both the Green Clover as well as the prancing black horse. played with enough variations to settle on a design which was considered universally attractive. Generally, Alfa bodybuilders, from Castagna to Zagato, helped define what was beautiful in coachwork. Metallurgy had progressed, but the real advances in this era were the increasing quality of petrochemical products
and tires. The advances in making reliable tires helped make the automobile reasonable transportation. Tire changing had become progressively more rare on a journey. In such heady company as Mercedes and Bugatti, Alfa was a clear standout. Alfas were beautiful, powerful and reliable, and offered a sporting character which was only approached by Bugatti. So, for 1931, Jano designed a car certain to maintain Alfa's superiority: an 8-cylinder supercharged sportster which borrowed much from the 6C series including the bore and stroke, the chassis and even -- occasionally -- the body work.
8C2300 engine and gearbox assembly. A single Roots compressor feeds the two 4-pot blocks. The valve timing gear runs between the two halves, dividing the crankshaft as well as the camshafts into shorter units, not so exposed to torsinal vibrations, thus allowing higher revs. Compared to German (Mercedes), British (Bentley) as well as US engines this â€?bigâ€? Alfa Romeo engine seems tiny with its 2,3 litre displacement, even by today standards.
An Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Tourer of 1933 With the inline eight, however, Jano had to confront increased problems of a significantly longer engine. To fit under the same hood as the six, the new eight carried its supercharger on the side rather than the front and it was given a dry sump to improve lubrication. Then, to reduce flexing of the long crankshaft, an accessory drive gearset was fitted to the middle of the bolted-up unit, giving each half of the crankshaft the strength of a 4-cylinder unit. The actual firing order of the engine, however, was not the same as if two 4-cylinder engines had been bolted together. To help distribute forces evenly along the crank, the new 8C2300 engine was built so one of the fours was in the middle of the block, with each of two cylinders of the other four flanking it front and back.
The firing order of the Jano cars, incidentally, was always given as a straight sequence beginning with 1 and ending with the highest-number cylinder: that is, the firing order of the 6C1750 was 1-2-3-4-5-6! The cylinders were numbered according to the firing order so that, while cylinder #1 was front most, the one immediately behind it was #5, followed by cylinder #3, etc. (In point of fact, not having a 6C crank in front of me, I can't remember exactly the order in which the cylinders were numbered, but you get the idea). The new 2.3 liter engine produced 142 hp, compared to the approximately 100 hp of its 6-cylinder forebear. In spite of this, the 8C2300 is not a significantly faster car than the six. Greater weight is one reason. The 8C2300 weighed in at 1000 kg, compared to 840 kilos for a similarly-bodied 6C1750, in spite of the fact that the new engine was cast entirely of aluminum, compared to the iron head and block of the 6C.
straightened and the front brakes were once again fully applied, only to cause another cycle of chassis wrap-up. This antique equivalent of ABS was not only disconcerting but dangerous because it spoiled the delicate handling which characterized most Alfas. Bodybuilders flocked to the new 8C2300 and adorned its chassis with some of the most beautiful bodies ever placed on four wheels. Like the 6C, short- and long-chassis versions were available. Unlike the 6C chassis, however, the 8C was never fitted with sedan or limousine body work, so the car retained its sporting character in all configurations
An Alfa 8C2300 Spider by Touring.
These pictures shows the 1931 Alfa Romeo 8C2300 in early styling and the 1930 6C1750 late series. The similarity of design is obvious to the eye, but the difference in front suspension is also clearly visible. Since it used almost the same chassis as the six but with larger brakes, the front of the 8C chassis had a tendency to flex when its brakes were fully applied. You will note a traction bar on the front axle of the 8C cars, an attempt to minimize the flexing which, because of the mechanical brakes, created a significant problem. When you applied the brakes, the chassis wrapped around the front axle, effectively shortening itself just enough to release the front brakes. In this released state, the chassis
The long-wheelbase 8C2300 Castagna-bodied convertible is certainly one of the most beautiful cars of any era, and the short Zagatos continued to be aesthetic knock-outs. There were some stutters, too: Figoni and Graber built some less-thanbeautiful samples, and a few excessively-heavy bodies helped keep performance lower than expected. I must not denigrate the 8C2300, however. I owned an 8C which, with its heavy body, proved to be an outstanding freeway tourer. I drove my car from Connecticut to Detroit with a single flat tire to relieve the pleasure. My car was quite capable of 70 mph all day long, though I never tested its top speed because of a fear of a blowout. I will say, however, that the car was used to crash the Hungarian border because its owner knew there wasn't another passenger car in the whole
Eastern bloc which could catch it. My 8C was a long-chassis model and the supple chassis gave a very comfortable ride. I never got into trouble with the brakes because I knew to use them carefully.
I've driven an 8C Zagato and found it only slightly more ponderous than the 6C1750 Zagato I owned. Though the 8C is a much more dramatic car, I prefer the 6C for its agility. There were three series of the 8C cars, identified by the second digit of the serial number. The differences between series are hardly worthwhile repeating now, but they had to do with such things as where the oil tank was located. Then, in conjunction with Scuderia Ferrari, a hotted-up version, called the Monza, was created. This car carried a magneto ignition on the exhaust side of the engine instead of a coil/distributor setup with the distributor sitting atop the engine. Other mods included hotter cams and higher 6.5:1 compression compared to the stock 5.75:1.
Low-slung 2,9 Alfa among chrome-glistening Americans. The Italian car has a very different stance, -it almost seems to be moving while standing still.
Two Monzas flashing their Scuderia Ferrari wonderful Alfa Rosso colour.
The Monza had very light 2-place body work and a partially shrouded grille which became popular to fit on other 8C2300 body styles. In addition to the Monza, Ferrari, and then Alfa itself, enlarged the engine from 2.3 to 2.6 liters. But the search for speed never ends, and it was only a short time before Jano would create his masterwork, a 2.9-liter 8-cylinder engine which would power the all-conquering Tipo B.
Pre-War Successes and Failures By the mid-1930s, automotive engineers were able to produce engines which developed more power than could be applied to the road. The fault can be laid to a want of more sophisticated chassis and tires. On a classic car such as the 6C1750 or an 8C2300 the duration of tire contact with the road depended almost entirely on how supple the chassis was: it -- rather than the springs -- helped keep the tires in contact with the road. The springs, which we modern types have come to expect to be the supple member of the suspension, were made almost-rigid in the 1930s to reduce body roll and improve the predictability of handling.
Maserati had experimented with a 3-litre race car using two of their 1500cc straight-eight engines in a parallel layout. This led Vittorio Jano to build the Tipo A using two 6C1750 engines. Each powerunit (counter-rotating) drove its own gearbox, cardan, ring/pinion gear and back wheel. The car was only succesful in a couple of hill-climb races in 1931, but the splitdrivetrain idea was perfected in the Tipo B (also called P3 by the press –and subsequently by Alfa Romeo after it went on and became an immense succees).
The tires of that period were skinny and relatively hard, offering very little traction. Between 1935-1940, independent suspension improved roadholding significantly. Advances in tire adhesion would await the advent of radial-ply tires on sports cars in the early 1950s and the super-sticky compounds formulated initially for dragsters.
1932 Alfa Romeo Tipo B. The early cars had semi-elliptic springs front and rear, while the 1935 cars, modifications of earlier machines, were fitted with Dubonnet independent front suspension. Some had Quarter elliptic rear springs fitted to improve rear end adhession. Engines grew in displacement from 2,6 litres to a final 3,8 litres in the frustrating fight against the silver arrows of Mercedes and Auto Union in the later half of the thirties. Tazio Nuvolari’s win at the Nürburgring in the 1935 German Grand Prix, where the 300bhp 3,8 litre P3 showed superior reliability over the 430bhp nazi cars, stands as one of racing history’s greatest achievements ever. The limitations of suspension and tires did not deter the quest for more horsepower, and in the early 1930s, both Maserati and Alfa Romeo introduced twin-engined racers in a search for higher absolute speeds. The twin-engine craze was international, as Bugatti used pairs of Royale engines to power high-speed trains. It remained for Mercedes-Benz, in 1936, to introduce an independently-suspended race car which would confront more directly the problem of harnessing available horsepower by keeping the tires on the ground. But the use of
twin engines had a surprisingly salutary effect. Alfa's twinengined effort, the Tipo A, placed two supercharged 6C1750 engines side by side, complete with two transmissions and two parallel driveshafts. Since the two engines could handle the differential action required between the two rear wheels, the final drive was nothing more than a pair of ring-and-pinions driving stub axles on a solid rear housing. Four Tipo A cars were built, and the model won the Coppa Acerbo and the SusaMoncenisio hillclimb, neither especially noteworthy races. The road holding capabilities of the Tipo A, however, were noteworthy.
The Tipo B Aerodinamica which Guy Moll took to victory in the 1934 Berlin Avusrennen at an amazing 220 km/h. I am convinced that Jano and his Alfa engineers did not understand the reason for the Tipo A's superior traction, but they clearly knew that it offered an advantage. In retrospect, we now understand that the dual-driveshaft layout reduced the torque reaction under acceleration which tries to lift a driving wheel, especially in a turn. Thus, when it came time to design a new Grand Prix car, Alfa retained as much as possible of the Tipo A driveline while consolidating the two separate Tipo A transmissions into a single unit to save weight. The compromise forced the introduction of a single differential fitted just behind the transmission. From that differential, two driveshafts angled out to stub-axles driven by ring/pinion gears in the fashion of the Tipo A. The power unit for this new chassis was an enlarged and refined version of the 8C2300. The basic design remained, but with the new 8-cylinder Tipo B engine, Alfa cast the head and cylinder as a single unit, swapped intake and exhaust sides, and fitted separate superchargers for the front and rear sets of
four cylinders. There were numerous other modifications, such as drilling the camshafts through for lightness, but the basic design of the Tipo B Grand Prix engine was a clear crib of the production 8C2300 powerplant.
The Alfa Romeo Bimotore designed by Colombo in the Ferrari offices at the Modena ”Racing Stable”. Two 8C-engines drove a single gearbox, but the concept was still-born, as it was too heavy. The only significant result being Chiron’s second place in the 1935 Avusrennen. The Grand Prix car was properly called the Tipo B, but was unofficially referred to as the P3 as a follow-on to the worldchampionship P2 (the GPR was never called the P1). The Tipo A was a single seat car but, because it was a prototype and the Tipo B a series-production item, the Tipo B is usually credited as being the first true monoposto Grand Prix car. Seventeen Tipo Bs were produced, according to Fusi. In point of fact, the monoposto configuration of the Tipo B is a testimony to the increasing reliability of the automobile. The riding mechanic was an important companion on the earliest cars when it came to tire-changing or replacing worn or broken parts: by the mid-'30s, his offices had become unnecessary. I need to say something about the unit construction of the Tipo B engine. With the 6C1750, Alfa had cast some cylinder heads and blocks as single units, a practice which was the favorite Bugatti configuration. Clearly, this technique eliminated the danger of head-gasket leakage (which, so far as I know, was
never a problem with the 6C cars -- though my own 6C1750 did suffer a blown gasket, due to my negligent maintenance). On the Tipo B engine, the valves seated directly on the aluminum head. On the "production" 8C2900B cars, valve seat inserts were fitted. Clearly, the maximum length of the valve was a function of the cylinder's diameter and the angle of the valve as it projected into the cylinder. The downside of this unit design is that a valve grind is a truly major operation. On some Bugattis, in fact, a valve grind began with the removal of the rear axle, then the removal of the driveshaft, transmission and, finally, the entire engine so the head/cylinder block could be dismounted. In racing trim, the Tipo B engines proved singularly reliable and rendered Alfa virtually unbeatable in the 1934-35 seasons. In 1936, the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union cars appeared to contest the introduction of a new formula which specified a 750 kg weight limit. Jano and Alfa were clearly satisfied with an existing, and very successful, design. The Germans, on the other hand, were able to re-visit basic premises. To simplify the situation: Alfa was running a 3-liter engine successfully, but both Mercedes and Auto Union independently determined that a 4-liter engine was feasible under the 750 kg formula. The difference in displacement, combined with the improved aerodynamics and independent suspensions pioneered by Mercedes and Auto Union, put a sudden end to Alfa's superiority. The German ascendancy corresponded to the following Alfa efforts, all feckless: 1935 - The Tipo B received experimental Dubonnet independent front suspension and cantilever quarter-elliptic rear springs - Two Bimotore (twin Tipo B engines front-to-back) Grand Prix cars were built by Scuderia Ferrari - The 2.9 liter engine was enlarged to 3822 cc (b/s 78/100 mm for 330 hp) as the Tipo C 8C 1935, with fully independent suspension - The 8C2900A 2-place sports car carried a version of the Tipo B engine with Tipo C fully-independent suspension 1936 - Jano designed a 4-liter 60-degree 12-cylinder engine for the Tipo C fully-independent chassis
Alfa Romeo 8C35. A streamlined interim model using the 3,8litre Tipo B engine, but built to hold the new 12C36 V12 4-litre. The model-name indicates number of cylinders and build-year. Alfa naming-policy in these turbulent years is almost as inconsistent as Ferrariâ€™s are nowadays. For the 1937 season the chassis was lowered and the suspension was perfected. The entered models were Tipo 308 and Tipo 312 and the international motor press looked forward to Alfa Romeoâ€™s comeback, -just as we now are waiting for Ferrari to win the F1 championship. But the days of glory were gone. Alfa bailed out of Grand Prix racing and focused on the 1500cc Voiturette class, hoping that the state-funded german teams would stay away.
1937 - A version of the Tipo B engine appeared in the 8C2900B sports car with fully-independent suspension. For a very long time, it was the conventional wisdom that 8C2900B sport cars carried surplus Tipo B engines. Simon Moore has stated that the 8C2900B engines had many detail differences to the Tipo B powerplants and I yield to his superior knowledge of the subject. - The Tipo C chassis was lowered to improve performance as the 12C 1937 - Jano was fired when the new low-chassis car failed to win the Grand Prix of Italy
1938 - Alfa explored more aerodynamic bodywork with the Tipo 308 Aerodynamica - Gioacchino Colombo designed a new Tipo 312 V12 and a Tipo 316 V16 engine based on the 8-cylinder 158 he designed while at Scuderia Ferrari
post-war Gran Tourismo cars, and the 158 voiturette racer which would survive the war and be developed to win back-toback Grands Prix world championships in 1950 and 1951.
1939 - The tipo 412 sportscar was created on a 8C2900B chassis powered by an unsupercharged version of Jano's 12C 1937 engine - A 135-degree 16-cylinder front-engined prototype race car was designed by Wifredo Ricart 1940 - Ricart designed the Type 512, a mid-engined boxer 12cylinder prototype based roughly on the Auto Union Grand Prix car.
The Tipo 312 from 1938. New numbering shows that the car has a three liter 12-cylinder engine. Gioacchino Colombo did the development of this new category of powerplant. It is interesting that Colombo designed Ferraris first V12 in 1946 on the basis of this Alfa Romeo engine, and he worked with another of Enzoâ€™s men, Aurelio Lampredi, who also was at Alfa Romeo before and during the Second World War. Virtually every one of these cars is ephemera. They were produced as prototypes and proved ineffective against the German onslaught. Two cars, however, remain notable: the 8C2900B sport cars which were the pre-war progenitors of the
As this poster indicates, people were still hoping to see the Alfa Romeo Racers take the lead.
Seeds of Success The years just before the second world war were equally frustrating for Alfa Romeo and Mussolini, for both wanted to field winning grand prix teams against the German "friends." Alfa had taken the development of its racing cars back in-house
Ferrari stayed on with Alfa Corse for only a year. At the same time, being a hard-headed businessman, he organized a new company, Auto Avio Costruzioni. As part of his separation agreement with Alfa, Ferrari agreed not to build a car under his own name for four years (thus the 815). In exchange, he was retained as a consultant with a contract to help develop an Alfa 1500 cc voiturette race car. Alfa even sent one of its premiere designers, Gioacchino Colombo, to help. A voiturette was then the equivalent of the more modern Formula 2: a smaller-displacement, (theoretically) lessexpensive car. The Italians hoped that Mercedes and Auto Union would stick to proper grand prix competition and not enter the voiturette class, which might reasonably become the exclusive domain of the Italians. To jump to the end of this little story for a moment, even that hope was vanquished: Mercedes constructed two W165 V-8 voiturette cars which took a 1-2 win at the 1939 Tripoli Grand Prix...and then never raced them
After Enzo Ferrari left Alfa Romeo at the age of 42 in 1940 he produced a handfull of cars under the name Auto Avio Construzione. This is the 815 (eight cylinders, 1500cc). The engine lay-out may not be a Tipo 158 rip-off, and the bodywork may not be a copy of contemporary Alfa-design, but it looks a bit like something we have seen before!
The monsterous 8C2900 Le Mans Speciale. In the 1939 race it was 19 laps ahead of the rest at noon Sunday, but it didnâ€™t last. The car had to retreat with technical problems. A 1940 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Touring-bodied Mille Miglia Corsa. The resemblance with Enzo Ferrariâ€™s Tipo 815 is obvious. from Scuderia Ferrari, only to make Enzo Ferrari himself the head of the in-house group, Alfa Corse.
again. It was an effective, albeit expensive, demonstration of the fact that the Italians had no place to hide. From about 1937 to the beginning of the war, Alfa Romeo could only content itself with minor victories in races not contested by
Mercedes-Benz or Auto Union. In point of fact, the new 6C2500 passenger car was pressed into service to win races: its 1-2 success at the Tobruk-Tripoli race in 1939 was heralded on the cover of the Alfa in-house publication, Alfa Corse, and the same illustration became a frequently reproduced ad for the marque.
by two back-to-back world championships for both car and driver in 1950 (Farina) and 1951 (Fangio). Some have tried to mitigate the success of the Alfetta, as it was affectionately known, by pointing out that the immediate postwar field was not a strong one and frequently a very mixed bag. Certainly racing began quickly after the war, and a wide variety of surviving cars were pressed into service.
The winner of Italyâ€™s 1938 Sports Car Championship. A 6C2500 SS spyder.
Tipo 159 Formula 1 racer
A new paradigm in car design: Stabilimente Farinaâ€™s wonderful 6C2600 Pecara from 1936 . The real interest in Alfa's immediate pre-war efforts centers on the voiturette 1.5-liter 8-cylinder race car first constructed at Scuderia Ferrari. The car achieved some pre-war successes, such as a 1-2-3 wins at Tripoli and again at the Coppa Acerbo (Pescara) in 1940. But the string of post-war wins for the little 8-cylinder (much augmented as the 159 of 1951) was capped
But the sheer accomplishment of dredging 425 hp from a 1.5 liter engine suggests just how far the engine's development was taken, and how sound the basic design was to accommodate such an output. Many of us have been fortunate to see Fangio demonstrate the car at Laguna Seca, and its high-pitched scream is not to be forgotten. Success has many fathers: Ferrari claimed credit for the Alfetta design, as did Jano and Colombo. I am persuaded that Colombo, alone, deserves the most credit for the Type 158 Alfetta engine. Much of Jano's vocabulary is seen in its crosssection, but Jano was in disgrace (indeed, working for Lancia) during the car's development period. For a very long time I was under the impression that the Alfetta was derived from Wifredo Ricart's V-16 Alfa. That, however, is exactly the opposite of the truth.
Alfa Romeo Tipo 159. Peak performance in the 1951 F1 season was 450bhp. The compressor demanded 130bhp to produce the 3,5 bar (kg/cm2) pressure, so the actual power produced at the crankshaft was 580bhp. These figures were achieved at 9800rpm â€“the compressors running af 13000rpm. The torque was equally amazing: 350 Nm. At the 1951 Bari Grand Prix Fangio lost all gears except fourth, and still he won. After a few laps he was back at the same pace. Fuel-stops were a bit difficult, but the pit crew managed to push-start the car. Certain things about the Alfetta engine cross-section can almost be taken for granted: twin overhead camshafts driven by a series of gears and hemispheric combustion chambers. The single supercharger was located toward the rear of the engine and driven by an exposed shaft off the front gear train. Lightweight alloy castings formed the head/block and deep crankcase, while dry sump lubrication kept things cool and welloiled. Fully-independent suspension featured transverse leaf springs fore and aft. Later, for the type 159, a deDion rear suspension was fitted. The initial 158 weighed 620 kg dry while the 159 tipped the scales at 710 kg. The biggest question in most enthusiasts' minds is how Alfa managed to coax so much power from such a tiny engine. The answer is simple: supercharging, and more of the same. The complexity of the 159's final supercharger setup, however, says a lot about racing engine technology -- and the fuels -- of the time.
The fabulous engine, at this stage only equiped with a single Roots blower. The first 158 Alfetta produced 195 hp with a boost of 0.8 Kg/cm2, or something on the order of 11 psi. At such boosts, the Rootes type blower (two figure-8 lobes) works just fine. But at some point as the boost pressure rises, the 0.001 in. to 0.002 in. clearance between the lobes begins to leak gasses back. In other words, there is a practical limit to the amount of boost a single Rootes blower can provide, regardless of its speed. In 1947, two-stage supercharging was employed for the type 158/47 Alfetta. That is, a smaller supercharger was used to compress the intake of a larger one. By this method, the tendency of the second supercharger to leak could be overcome by the pressure of the first. Using dual-stage supercharging in 1947, a boost of approximately 35 psi was achieved and an output of 350 hp at 8500 rpm. In its final year, the Type 159 Alfetta achieved a boost of some 42 psi and put out a measured 450 hp at 9500 rpm on the test bed. Installed in the car and limited to a racing maximum of 9300 rpm, the engine provided a reliable 425 hp. At such outputs, the engine consumed fuel alarmingly: I have always understood that the 159 enjoyed a fuel economy of about 1.5 gallons per mile. Fuel was literally pouring through
Right after the start of the 1950 Grand Prix of Monaco there was an enormous shunt when Farina spun on a wet patch as he came out of Tabac on the habour front. Fangio had taken the lead and didnâ€™t notice that the following four cars were eliminated before he came round on his second lap. Farinaâ€™s Alfa, a Maserati, a Ferrari and a Talbot is seen wrecked on this picture. The Alfa Romeo tipo 159 draws attention at a Concours Show in California. the engine: after all, that fabulous energy has to come from gobs of fuel. In a very real sense, the 159 was fuel-cooled, for the pressures and temperatures within the cylinder were beyond the mere ministrations of coolant. The fuel, of course, was not gasoline, but a witch's brew of petro-volatiles, not-so-volatiles and unspeakables. (Well, a poetic understatement: Don Black informs that it was: 84% methanol, 14% 140-octane AVGAS, 1% defummed castor oil and 1% acetone). It appears that the cars depended as much on fuel formulation as basic design for their power. I recall that at one of the first post-war outing of one of the Mercedes Grand Prix cars the fuel formula had been lost and the engine could hardly be made to run. And, if you have never smelled the
exhaust of a car which uses castor oil in the fuel to help lubricate things, then you have missed one of life's great pleasures. In retrospect, we understand that the true limiting factor for these cars was not power but tires. Skinny and hard, they made racing like driving on perpetual ice. One of the legends of the Alfetta was that, at any speed attainable on any race course, you could break the rear wheels loose by flooring it. The same was said of the W125 MercedesBenz with its 646 hp. Legend for Alfa, perhaps, but a good indication of the skill it took to drive one of these fabulous cars. Two Alfas, the 8C2900B for sport cars and the Tipo 158/159 for formula cars, link pre- and post-war technologies.
Pre-War Passenger Cars With the 8C2900 we reached the pinnacle of Alfadom. Simon Moore has made the wise observation that the 8C2900B sport car was the progenitor of the post-war Grand Touring coupe, a form refined post-war most notably by Ferrari.
At the beginning of the second world war, Alfa had reached a level of achievement which was virtually unmatched by any other marque, excepting Bugatti. While the Type 55 and 57 Bugattis were fabulous sport cars, Bugatti was a privatecompany hard hit by the depression. It virtually ended its existence as an auto producer with the war. Alfa, on the other hand, was a bureau within the Italian government and a favorite ride for Mussolini, so its future was rather more assured. Consider the other sporty continental manufacturers of the pre-war era. In Italy, Lancia was dedicated to passenger cars and Maserati to grand prix cars. A few Fiat Balillas received bodies from Zagato, but offered puny performance by comparison. OM offered some sport cars but was generally undistinguished. Outside Italy, the Mercedes-Benz SS sport cars were huge compared to Alfa, yet hardly faster. And the Mercedes and
Touring-bodied Alfa Romeo 8C2900B spider.
1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B Touring. Horsch sedans of the late 1930s were all, as one journalist has coined the term, "peasant-crushers." The fastback coupe form was not limited to Italy.
1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B Spyder parked alongside an 8C2300 Monza.
1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K There was a 540K Mercedes Autobahn Tourer which had the same general configuration as the 8C2900B coupe, and in France, the Type 57 Bugattis were also similar. England was filled with sporty cars but few offered performance which approached Alfa and certainly none the reliability.
worth in 1930? When I owned my 1750, I was told that it sold new for about $3500: my parents paid exactly that much for a house in Michigan about four years later. As a rough guide, then, you could choose between buying a 1750 Alfa at 59,500 lire or a middle-class house. The 8C2300 was significantly more, at 91,000 lire. In gross terms, I'd estimate that in today's terms, a 6C1750 would probably have cost about $150,000, and an 8C2300 about $200,000. At 115,000 lire, the 8C2900B would be well over a quarter-million of today's dollars. What we have not talked about so far are the "bread and butter" Alfa sedans of the 1930s. It is clear that Alfa knew it would need a cheaper car to stay in business through the depression. Fusi gives us the details of a unit-bodied 1935 4-cylinder 1.5 liter car which would have anticipated the Giulietta by 30 years, but the car never entered production. For 1933, Alfa extended the life of the 6C 1750 sedan by offering a bored-out, aluminum-alloy headed version called the 6C1900. But then it was time to introduce a new car.
1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet Triumph constructed a knock-off of the 8C2300, incidentally, but I think none of those survive. Also, a sporty car in pre-war England was most likely open, not closed. Of all these sporty cars, the BMW 328 Rennsport came closest, perhaps, to the sporting level achieved by the 6C1750 Alfas, but it was completely outclassed by the 8-cylinder cars. So, in 1929, if you were wealthy and wanted a sporty car, the proper marque was Alfa Romeo. The 6C1750 is still (arguably) one of the most desirable sports car in the world, and it was followed by even more exotic 8-cylinder cars, the 8C2300 and 8C2900B. These Alfas were more than just fabulous: they were also fabulously expensive. Exactly how expensive is hard to say: though we know how much the chassis cost, the relative value of the money is hard to establish. What exactly was a dollar
Carrozzeria Touring produced this very prety, if a little heavy, cabriolet on the 6C2300B chassis. In 1934, Alfa introduced an entirely new six cylinder engine, made to much less ambitious specifications than the 6C1750: the 6C2300. It was a 76-horsepower six offering the displacement of the 8-cylinder sport car, but with cost-saving innovations as a single-plate clutch, partial chain drive for the camshafts and the deletion of a supercharger option. Don't misunderstand: these cars were still expensive, with the
6C2300 sedans coming in at 44,500 lire compared to 58,000 lire for the 6C1900. Continuing the guestimating, the 6C2300 was still over $100,000, but that price also got you a body with your chassis. A comparison of sales over three years shows how successful the cheaper model was: 6C1750 1932 514
8C2300 1932 68
6C2300 1934 692
Alfa Romeo 8C2300 1933.
8C2900A 1936 5 Especially considering the fact that the 8C2900As were factory racers. That is, in 1936, Alfa Romeo sold only five automobiles to the general public. While the sporting Alfas offered dramatic styling, the sedans' lines were much less venturesome. In fact, there was very little more than a longer hood line to distinguish an Alfa sedan from other cars of the era -- until, that is, you either raised the hood or lowered the accelerator. In contrast, the sporting version of the 6C2300, with dual carbs and 95 hp, had much more modern styling, with fully-rounded, aerodynamic fenders. These cars swept the first three places at the 24 hours of Pescara and thus were immediately dubbed Pescara models. Though the new 6-cylinder cars were intentionally cheapened, Alfa couldn't keep from adding technical innovations. In 1935, the 6C2300B models appeared with fully-independent suspensions, the same year that Alfa introduced Dubonnet independent front suspension to the Tipo B. In the same year, the Tipo C received a virtually identical front suspension to the 6C2300B.
Alfa Romeo 6C2500 1940. This suspension featured short trailing arms with large shock absorber unit enclosing the front coil spring and working on an upper transverse link. At the rear of the passenger cars, there were longitudinal torsion bars, telescopic shocks and a swing axle with trailing links.
This is the time that I need to say some things about independent front suspension (IFS). The first car with IFS was the sliding-pillar 1922 Lancia Lambda, a milestone vehicle which also introduced the unit body.
A special 8C2900A from 1936 with body styling details from the Tipo C racer. In the 1920s and '30s, with the use of supercharged engines, manufacturers were able to generate much more power than either the chassis or tires could handle. The Tipo B came very close to having an independent rear suspension (IRS), but is settled instead for a very light rear drive design which still minimized wheel hop and the tendency for one of the rear wheels to lift under acceleration. Keeping the wheels on the ground is the main goal of any suspension, and by 1930, speeds had risen to the point that maintaining traction had become a significant challenge. The solution, of course, was to allow each wheel to move independently over the ground, unaffected by the undulations of the other wheels. Independent suspension virtually reversed the characters of the frame and suspension. The idea of the original "ox-cart" frame was a stiff suspension and supple frame. Independent suspension required just the opposite: a supple suspension and rigid frame. In the solid-axle era, a flexible frame was relied on to provide acceptable ride quality. A lot of research went into frame tuning to avoid resonances, and some designs even
included weights at the ends of the frame rails to help manage vibrations. The compromises achieved with supple frames and
Lancia introduced their Lambda as early as 1922. It was the first car to have independent front suspension. rigid suspensions produced quite a comfortable ride and offered the advantage of a very robust suspension. That was the reason why manufacturers didn't flock to IFS in 1923: the traditional system was working quite well. Furthermore, it was less likely to break at high speeds over rough roads. I remember when the TD MG introduced independent front suspension in 1952: there was a lot of discussion if it would be as strong as the TC's solid front axle. The advantages of IFS were not exploited until the Germans introduced it on the W25 grand prix car of 1934. While the Auto Union cars also used fully-independent suspension, their handling problems were so great as to obscure any advantages of independent suspensions. The Mercedes move was both tentative and secretive, for the W25 suspension travel was only 1.75 in. and so covered by bodywork that its actual workings were well hidden. The W25 proved unreliable, but its huge power reserve and innovative suspension quickly made it a model after which other manufacturers patterned their race cars. The W25 was to suspensions what the 1912 GP Peugeot was to engines. After
1934, fully independent suspensions were a requirement of successful race cars, and a desirable feature on the most exotic passenger cars such as the 6C2300B. The W25 and 6C2300B both used a swing axle, which means that there is one joint near the ring and pinion around which the axles pivot. The
one of the leaders in styling, and a real appreciation of this era can only be gained by looking at photographs -- or the cars themselves as they are lined up at Arese. Though "cheaper" Alfas, just think what the 6C2300B sedan offered for 1935: twin-overhead-cam engine with aluminumalloy head, freewheeling 4-speed transmission, fullyindependent suspension with telescopic shock absorbers, hydraulic brakes, and a top speed of 70 mph.
The 1934 Mecedes-Benz W25 Grand Prix Racer had a 3,4-litre straight-eight engine developing 354bhp. disadvantage of this design, as VW and Porsche owners can attest, is that it causes a significant camber change. The W125 Mercedes of 1937 corrected many problems with the introduction of a double A-arm front and deDion rear suspensions. Carrozzeria Touringâ€™s Berlina introduced in 1938 and built on the 6C2300 chassis.
Mercedes-Benz W125 Grand prix Racer from 1937. This awsome machine produced 646bhp from its supercharged 5,7-litre engine. The 6C2300B picked up the modern styling cues of the Pescara, and it is with this model that Alfa really entered the modern era. In fact, if there is a story to be told about the 6C2300 series, it is about bodywork. Certainly there were also considerable advances with clutches, transmissions and suspensions in the era, but the foundations of what we find beautiful in modern, aerodynamic bodies was laid in the late 1930s. Alfa was clearly
With its semi-fast-back styling, the 4-place Berlinetta bodied by Touring can fairly be called the first 2+2 GT Alfa. In 1938, a new gearbox was introduced which featured fully-meshed (that is, non-sliding) silent helical gears with synchronized third and fourth speeds. In 1937, a true fastback body by Touring appeared on the 6C2300B and two horizontal carburetors were fitted -- so far as I can tell, this is the first instance of twin side-draft (though single-throat) carbs being fitted to a naturally-aspirated Alfa. With a compression ratio of 7.75:1, the engine developed 105 hp at 4800 rpm. For 1939, Alfa enlarged the engine to 2443 cc as the 6C2500 and offered a "Super Sport" model with three downdraft carburetors, giving an engine output of 125 hp. This would be the production model which would see Alfa through the rigors of the post-war reconstruction.
Death and Rebirth I remember the Michigan winter of 1941 as being unseasonably warm. My parents, I realize now, did not know how to tell me: walking to school on a clear December morning, I learned from a classmate that the United States had just gone to war. My reaction was that it would be over in a few days. Such was the innocence of youth, for Europe had been at war since the invasion of Poland in 1939. I spent early grade school wearing Army patches, studying aircraft silhouettes and hunkering down in bed when the air-raid sirens were practicing. Our 1937 Pontiac wore a black-and-white A-ration sticker and was limited to 35 mph to save tires and fuel. I learned that some distant madman named Hitler was the ultimate incarnation of evil. Mussolini was dismissed as a bully and a buffoon.
destruction that I had only seen on the MovieTone News. Yet the carnage of the second world war seemed no more real to them than it did to me. War demonstrates how resolutely we cling to the routine in the face of the exceptional. Most people got through the war trying to act as if nothing special were happening.
Silver German car, red Italian and blue French car shown on this 1938 German GP Poster. The Tadini and Nuvolari pits. I learned a strikingly different Italian view while living in Naples in the mid-'60s. One of my closest friends confided in me that Italy would really benefit from another dictator like Mussolini, who had unified Italy with a national pride it had not enjoyed since the Caesars. As she recited Mussolini's virtues, another friend's eyes were wide with the same innocence I enjoyed during the war years. Mussolini cared for his troops so much that he sent them Italian prostitutes so they would not have to soil themselves with black Ethiopians. Both friends' naivetĂŠ was astounding, for I knew they had grown up through a terrible
That trivialization of reality made it possible to treat gold stars as dispassionate statistics or, if you lived in Europe, to continue to report for work at a bombed-out building, even to plan confidently for the future. Thus, in the midst of relocation and destruction, Alfa was planning new, post-war vehicles. The same trivialization also lends credibility to post-war disavowals: Seaman and Nuvolari just wanted winning rides, Neubauer didn't really get along with the Nazis, Porsche never paid attention to anything but cars and Piero Dusio's CIS company made him wealthy producing Italian "Sporting Arms." Those like Carracciola who truly chose sides (and Einstein, et.
al.) stood out distinctly. Those who collaborated were left to invent their excuses. Alfa's wartime leaders, President Ugo Gobatto and chief engineer Wifredo Ricart, were committed to fascism beyond apology. There is some evidence that both were approved by Mussolini himself. Il Duce's personal admiration for Alfa Romeo (he called the company a "national jewel") kept the company alive during the immediate pre-war years.
Production at Portello shifted to aero engines, and the entire Alfa design team moved to a rural area near Lake Orta. The grand prix cars were put in hiding nearby at a wealthy patron's villa. The Portello factory was first bombed by the allies on October 24, 1942. On the following Valentine's day, the factory was targeted again, then was completely leveled by a heavy bombing on October 20, 1944. Workers were incensed by the final destruction, feeling that the factory had already been appropriately chastised almost a year and a half earlier. At Orta, work was frequently interrupted by German, fascist and partisan raids, none of the raiders being quite sure what was going on in the offices. In spite of the confusion, forward planning proceeded and several models for the mid-1940s were under development. In Ricart's racing department, there was a lot of mix-and-match activity in preparation for events which were never held.
The tipo 512 engine. Wifredo Ricart did contribute with interesting changes to the Alfa Romeo heritage. Enzo Ferrari virtualy hated Ricart, but then again, Ferrari hated everybody at one time or another. Nevertheless, they never managed to symbiose like Ferrari and Jano did. Alfa Romeo re-introduced the flat boxer-engine again with the Alfasud in 1972 and in the Sports Car Racer World Champion Tipo 33SC12 2,1-litre 640bhp of 1977. In 1933, the Agnellis had recommended that Alfa Romeo either be shut down completely or turned over to Fiat. Instead, Alfa became part of IRI (a rough equivalent of our WPA) and Gobatto was made its president. He was fluent in German and collaborated closely with the Nazis. For his enthusiasm, he was assassinated by partisans on April 28, 1945. Ricart's conservatism in pre-war Spain made him politically acceptable as Alfa's chief engineer and he returned to Franco's Spain in 1945 at the end of his contract with Alfa.
A war-time 8C2900 prototype of far greater beauty than any of the early post-war sports cars. Looking a bit like the 1948 Jaguar XK120, but being infinetly more aerodynamic and smooth looking. The chassis of the 8C2900A received an unsupercharged 4.5liter V12 engine to become the Type 412 sport car. I believe this car ended up in the hands of Argentinean Clemar Bucci after the war. The Type 163 sport car prototype was an aerodynamic, mid-engined two-place coupe with a Ricart-
designed, normally aspirated 3-liter, 135-degree V-16 engine. This prototype was broken up for parts. Its engine went into the prototype supercharged Type 162 grand prix car while the chassis became the basis of the 1.5liter flat-12 mid-engined 512, also designed by Ricart. Alfa passenger cars were the domain of Bruno Trevisan, and he planned two new series of passenger cars for 1941 introduction, by which time, one presumes, they believed the axis would have proved victorious. Both cars would have returned Alfa to the prestige of the 8C2300 and 8C2900B. The S11 had a 2.2 liter SOHC V-8 engine and the S-10 was equipped with a 60degree 3.5 liter SOHC V12. Both featured fully-independent suspensions with aerodynamic bodywork, the S-11 being the more aerodynamic of the two. Two of each prototype were constructed but did not survive. Super Sport versions of both models were planned with dual overhead camshafts: three S10 SS cars were planned for the 1941 Mille Miglia but never built. The most provocative of all these stillborn works, the 6C2000 prototype, was developed under Trevisan at Arimeno, near Orta, and then, after that facility was overrun by partisans, back in the rubble of the Portello factory in Milan. The Gazelle, as it was called, had a 2-liter 6-cylinder aluminum engine with twin overhead camshafts. The rear-mounted 4-speed transmission was shifted hydraulically, with the gear change lever mounted on the steering column. Fully-independent suspension used torsion bars and hydraulic shock absorbers. The Gazelle was clearly a revolutionary concept, and a vision far beyond the grasp of a defeated Italy. Those who drove the prototype felt it was a truly engaging vehicle that would have sold very well. But because of the need for additional development work and the shortage of machine tools immediately after the war, the 6C2000 was abandoned for a face-lifted 6C2500. The Gazelle might possibly be one of those unrestored cars in the museum collection. All these prototype cars, and the incredible struggle which produced them, came to virtually nothing. Had Italy emerged victorious, the prototypes give us a glimpse of what might have been: top-of-the-line fascists of the late-1940s would have been driven around in Alfa Romeo V-8 and V-12 luxury cars of great sophistication, with a technically-brilliant Gazelle the car of choice for the less affluent functionaries. Yet, the seeds for
In-house Alfa Romeo sketch of the futuristic 6C2000 Gazella originating around 1940. Alfa's future were indeed nurtured during the war years. Wifredo Ricart was responsible for hiring the aeronautical engineer, Orazio Satta Puglia, from the Politecnico di Torino, then assigning Giuseppe Busso as his assistant. The pair would create both the 1900 and Giulietta, but that is getting ahead of the story.
Reconstruction and Realignment Hard on the heels of the allied victory, Europe returned to auto racing with almost incredible speed. Haystacks erupted grand prix cars and barns ceased to be the havens for the most exciting sport cars pre-war engineers could devise. It is clear that not everything at Alfa had been melted down to make machine tools or airplane engines: during the period 1941-1945, some 189 6C2500 passenger cars were assembled, and another 150 "Colonial" military jeeps came into being. Presumably, 1945's production of six 6C2500 Turismo and three 6C2500 Sport models proceeded among the rubble of a flattened Portello plant. Enough spare parts survived the war for
regulations were announced by the new FIA (a replacement for the pre-war AIACR) in February, 1946. Maserati dominated the earliest races, but only because Alfa Romeo had not yet geared up for competition. That happened for the July, 1946 "Grand Prix of Nations" at Geneva, when the Alfas of Farina and Wimille took the first two places.
Because so many Alfa Romeo racers were sold to private â€?hobbyâ€?-drivers, a lot of the car survived the war. The German Grand Prix cars of Mercedes end Auto Union were almost all destroyed. This picture tells it all: A string of Ferrari-Alfas and a single Auto Union at a classic race somewhere in the 1990s.
A Maserati hopelessly chasing an Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 round Circuito Pescara in a Coppa Acerbo Race. Alfa to assemble 165 6C2500 chassis for 1946, and 1947 production rose to 486. This is all the more incredible when one considers that the most appropriate transportation at this time was the Vespa scooter and the Isetta, which was also built under license by BMW. Fuel was not the only thing in short supply in post-war Europe. The fact that Alfa also produced domestic gas stoves suggests the most pressing civilian needs. The earliest post-war race was held on the Bois de Boulogne, Paris on September 9, 1945. The French were especially anxious to return to grand prix racing and post-war formula
Post-war competition by a German team was prohibited by general public intolerance. British and European fans were not about to flock to a course to see the "Silver Arrows" sweep the field, as they no doubt could have done given adequate support. The Mercedes 1.5 liter Tripoli cars had hid under haystacks until it became clear that Germany would lose. The cars were then smuggled to Caracciola in Switzerland where they were bought at auction by the Mercedes concessionaire and eventually returned to the factory museum. Two of the 3-liter Grand Prix cars were found on a Berlin used car lot and exchanged for a new 170V sedan by Neubauer. Thus reconstituted, the German team did make an outing to Argentina in 1950, engaging a local named Fangio to drive for the team (he came in third), but a planned factory appearance at Indy for 1951 was canceled, in
part because it was clear that a great deal of relearning would be necessary to tune the cars to winning form. The Mercedes team, under Neubauer, pressed on with competition plans and in 1952, 300SLs appeared at but failed to win the Mille Miglia and LeMans events, and the Monte Carlo rally was won by a 220 sedan.
The Chassis of the Mercedes-Benz W196 2Â˝-litre Grand Prix Racer used when they finally re-entered Formula one.
Lancias highly succesful D50 as battling the Mecedes W196 in the 1955 F1 season. Driving after the non-supercharged formula, engines of 2Â˝-litres gave approximatly 250bhp from both cars. With the Germans effectively barred from competition, the winners' lists began to resemble those of 1930-35, with Alfa Romeo dominant, and Maserati and Talbot the only other teams able to field competitive cars. It was an era long on enthusiasm
but short on vehicles and resources. Bugatti tried to restart auto production with the Type 101 but failed, and Ferrari was just starting up, as was Cisitalia and, shortly later, Porsche and BRM. The early post-war grids were filled with a varied assortment of marques, including Veritas, ERA, Delage and Alta, but the winners were usually driving Alfa Romeos. The second world war spurred the development of many technologies which would eventually change the nature of automobile production. The use of plastics in place of natural materials, the increased sophistication and miniaturization of electronics and developments in metallurgy, fuels and aerodynamics all had eventual impact on automobile design and production. It took some time for these technologies to work their way into industry: the growing use of plastic is my most memorable feature of domestic cars in the 1950s. In America, octane ratings of gasoline increased to allow higher and higher compression ratios and tires gained significant durability. In Europe, high-quality gasoline was not available and engine development concentrated on getting high efficiency from smaller-displacement engines. Disc brakes were adapted from aircraft practice, but the airplane's turbine engine proved too difficult to adapt to the automobile (after brave attempts by manufacturers, most notably Chrysler and Rover). I need to emphasize the dramatic difference in performance between American and European cars in the 1950s and '60s. These were my teen-age years and, as you may guess, I was on the side of the European car. In comparison to the MG, Triumph and Jag, which were the most frequently-seen cars of the era, American cars handled with incredible imprecision. The large, slow-turning V8 engines gave superior straight-line performance, but as soon as a corner was encountered, the American car was seriously outclassed. The 6C2500 specification of a lightweight twin-cam engine with fully independent suspension would not be matched by American passenger cars for some 30 years. In the present age of technological parity, the contrast between European and American cars in the 1950s should not be forgotten. In America, the post-war boom increased the production of automobiles and many veterans, trained in auto mechanics, made cars a vocational interest. The hot-rod was a genuine American phenomenon spurred by products from Edelbrock, Offenhauser and many smaller companies. Enthusiasts were not content with fast cars; they also wanted unique ones, and for this they turned either to importing the European cars they had used during the war or to "customizing" American iron. The veterans who brought back MGs and Jaguars sowed a seed which would eventually revolutionize the American car market.
American manufacturers were resistant to change, so while they busied themselves building bigger-is-better cars and hanging increasing ornamentation on their works, enthusiasts were just as busy trying to improve overall performance and taking the gewgaws off, "shaving" their cars and "Frenching" the headlamps into smooth, integrated units with the fenders. For benchmarks of style, handling and performance, enthusiasts looked to Europe, where the Alfa Romeo 6C2500, bodied by Touring or Pinin Farina, was one of the trend setters.
1950 6C2500 Villa dâ€™Este by Touring. The clean lines of those cars were the inspiration for several generations of American car enthusiasts. While these two body builders were concerned with elegance and clean lines, Ghia was much more innovative, and was frequently retained by American manufacturers to help them recapture some styling initiative. While it can be argued that there never was an ugly Touring or Pininfarina car, Ghia missed almost as many times as it hit. Zagato, in the immediate post-war years, was busy building bodies for the Fiat Topolino, while Castagna had become Alfa's in-house carrozeria.
front suspension was independent, with two A-arms and a kingpin, the rear was a solid rear axle with coil springs.
In the post-war period of reconstruction, Italy dragged its economy up through countless governments and a labyrinthine bureaucracy. The visionaries recognized the era as one of great opportunity, for the industrial leadership of the next generation would be formed from the ashes of the second world war. New companies such as Porsche and Cisitalia were doing very well and the specialists, Conrero, Nardi, Siata, Moretti and countless others, were prospering.
The less-than beautiful 1900 Berlina was a far better car than its contemporaries. Alfa couldnâ€™t help it; they had to make it a DOHC engine, and they had to adopt an advanced suspension.
Assembly line for the Alfa Romeo 1900 at the Portello factory. Not exactly North American proportions, but a giant leap forward for Alfa. Alfa was abuzz with plans: the innovative Gazelle was shelved, a replacement for the 6C2500, the 6C3000, looked promising -but there was no money for development. There was a good deal of soul-searching. Europe would most certainly offer important new markets as its citizens gained affluence. Alfa had always courted the wealthy, but post war Europe offers the opportunity to capture new, and much larger markets. The decision was made to enter serial production. That was a momentous decision for Alfa, one which changed the nature of the company and its products. But again, no money. Until the US Marshall plan subsidized the development of a volume-production facility at Portello, the original site of Alfa. The new model broke with Alfa tradition in a number of ways. In keeping with its "inexpensive" price, it had a four-cylinder engine, the first four from Alfa since the RMU of the late 1920s. And the car had no chassis, being instead a unit body. While the
It was an instant success and no one paused to soul-search whether or not this was a "real" Alfa. The four-door sedan was not pace-setting in its styling and might have been mistaken for a Plymouth or Fiat 1400 by the casual observer. In fact, it was something between the two in size. The 1900 had its share of teething problems on the new assembly line. While Satta was its undoubted father, Rudolph Hruska was brought in to sort things out. Hruska's experience included start-up of the VW facility before the war. He would stay on to help put the Giulietta into production, and singlehandedly create the AlfaSud and its factory near Naples. The 1900 made unashamed use of plastics, and I think it was the first Alfa to use a wiring harness. In keeping with Alfa's racing heritage, the new 1900 sedan was advertised as "The family sedan which wins races." And, in fact it did. The 1900 entered events from Monte Carlo to the Carrera Panamerica. But it also carted several generations of Italians around as a taxicab and populated the new autostradas as police pursuit cars. The design was conservative and the 1900 proved to be exceptionally durable.
New manufacturing techniques learned from the war years and an enthusiastic sense of the future spurred stylists into thinking seriously about what the future would look like. More often than not, their ideas rolled on the Alfa 1900 chassis. The 1900 chassis was the basis of both the dramatic Bertone BAT cars and the sleek Pininfarina Superflow series.
The two-door coupés from Alfa Romeo are always christened ”Sprint”. So this is a 1953 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint. The truly ugly Bonschi one-off attempt at creating the 1900 Sprint of the future. The 1900 was also the basis of Zagato's return to body building for Alfa. Further, the Touring-bodied 1900 coupe of 1955 set a styling theme which the Giulietta would emulate. If you pick up any worthwhile book on automotive styling of the 1950s, you're going to see a lot of 1900 Alfa Romeos. The BATs certainly set a record for winged imagination, but some of the most controversial bodies on the 1900 chassis were from Ghia.
1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 Spint by Touring. Like its predecessor 6C2500, the 1900 was current in an era of optimistic experimentation. Production cars were capable of reaching aerodynamic speeds (the 1900 was good for about 100 mph) and extensive research was underway to find out how to keep them stable at high speed.
There were two basic engines in the 1900 series: the original displaced 1884 cc while the Super version displaced 1975 cc. Both featured sodium-cooled exhaust valves and chain-driven twin overhead camshafts (some early 1884 cc engines had a half-size idler gear drive off the crank, then a chain).
The three Bertone BAT aerodynamic prototypes created on the 1900-frame.
Front wheel suspension using un-even length triangles.
The 1900 DOHC single-carb engine. No one, of course, could see the future, but Ghia peered more resolutely than most. In the process, the carrozeria managed to produce some disjointedly ugly creations.
A single carburetor graced the standard sedans while a pair of down draft carbs were standard equipment for the Super. While a 4-speed gearbox was standard, the more-sporting Supers had a 5-speed, either column or floor shift.
A tuned engine in the Alfa Romeo 1900 Super Sport Zagato, a very rare machine. Can we talk? I've owned a whole lot of Alfas, including a 1750 Zagato and an 8C2300. Yet the favorite of all the Alfas I've owned is the 1900 Zagato I had for a few happy years back in the 1970s. That's my idea of what a car should be. It was fast, ultimately reliable and just on the edge between ugly and beautiful. You could not fail to notice it (deep red paint aside) nor be exhilarated by its capacity to dominate the road. Its equipment included a five-speed gearbox, wonderfully full instrumentation, seats which were both beautiful and comfortable -- and an engine sound I shall never forget. An exceptional synthesis of the classic and modern, it is the only Alfa I have regretted selling.
The First Real Kiss There is no question that, in the broad history of Alfa, the 1900 series cars were the most pivotal model since Vittorio Jano's 6C1500 replaced Giuseppe Merosi's RL series in 1926/27. The decision to produce the Giulietta was a proper extension of the decision to enter mass production with the 1900. I have been continually frustrated by Alfa management's inability to understand that the significance of the Giulietta's success was that it was a downscale car.
The Giulietta. This is especially frustrating because, just after the war, someone in the company understood what it would take to save Alfa Romeo. Alfa management shelved the 6C3000 in the clear realization that its only salvation lay in the mass-production of an affordable vehicle. That was a realization which should now be haunting the 164 sales folk in New York and Jacksonville. The fact of the matter is that, as soon as the Giulietta had established itself as a success, Alfa began moving away from it, inching upscale. The 1900 was the first sports sedan. Those who know only the Milano or 164 would find the 1900 incredibly stark. By the time of the Giulia Super, Alfa absolutely owned the sport sedan market. But it abdicated that market to BMW. As a result, it now finds itself crowded out of the market it invented, slugging it out with much better financed companies who are producing much better products. There's a circular cause-and-effect which also operates here: with smaller market share, you have to make more expensive cars, which means
you're going to sell even fewer.... Having failed to cultivate the seeds of its own success, then, Alfa broadcast the seeds of its own failure, ending up as a badge-engineered Fiat. I can't minimize the catastrophe that the Fiat acquisition represents to the historic Alfa Romeo. The very best face which can be put on the deal was that it kept Alfa in business. A cynic might ask to what advantage.
To take the Giulia Super racing, You only had to floor the accelerator. Alfa could have survived by eschewing deDion rear suspensions and V6 engines and simply continuing the production, say, of the Giulia Veloce spider as a reputable sport car and the Giulia Nuova as a no-nonsense sport sedan. It might have worked: in point of fact, the current spider is a Duetto, but one so overloaded with gadgets that its essential character is lost. The AlfaSud coupe might have done it for Alfa in the US, but by the time it came along, Alfa didn't have the money to promote it, even though the â€˜Sud itself had passed our emissions and safety standards. As we now know, Alfa decided against producing a micro spider, a minimalist sport car which used many off-the-shelf components. Had it done so, it most certainly would have scooped the Miata, recaptured some of the magic of the marque and possibly saved the company's independent identity. Instead, it finds itself a marque with no real identity, trying to sell an undistinguished sedan in a market segment populated by several distinguished sedans.
All Alfa Romeo cars are sporting by appearance and handling, but it took the 156 to convince the world that Alfa had returned from oblivion and was back to the days of the lively Giulias.
Roadster versions of Alfa Romeo cars are ”Spiders”. The upper picture shows the Pinin Farina design adopted by Alfa for the production model, the lower picture shows Bertones proposal for a Giulietta Spider.
A 1980 Alfasud Sprint: Not for the North American market, but tremendously popular in Europe for its Gocart-like feeling.
Which is a long way from where the Giulietta pointed. In an age of wide-eyed automotive innocence, the Giulietta stood out. Never mind that it couldn't out-drag a ‘Vette: it had a twin-cam engine with a power output which was absolutely heroic. And, never mind that it leaned around turns much more than the British ox-carts: the conventional wisdom had not yet
discovered that a flat-cornering car was not necessarily the fastest, especially on a road course. So far as technology is concerned, the Giulietta represents the pinnacle of pre-electronic automotive design. Its twin overhead camshafts and hemispheric combustion chambers were classic assurances of high engine speeds (reduced danger of valve float) and optimum volumetric efficiency. The wet-sleeve design was daring and helpful: you can replace all the parts subject to wear in a Giulietta. It is an infinitely rebuildable design.
Triumph was a match for performance but not comfort. The Jag was faster, shared much of the Giulietta's technology, but was a nightmare to maintain. The Corvette was a sledgehammer of a car and anything European which could keep up with it on the straights -- Astons, Masers and Ferraris, was simply beyond the budgets of most enthusiasts. There were cars which matched
Lovely Alfas lined up for a Concourse, so much different from Your ordinary â€?US Car dayâ€?. The picture shows a 1900 Sprint. Its monocoque chassis was both light and rigid (Duettos introduced cowl shake with a bolt-in dashboard), while its suspension was adequately supple to provide an excellent ride. The huge Alfin drums were aesthetically brilliant as well as mechanically efficient. The rear axle was so light and well located that the design gave away nothing even to exotic IRS setups, and its transmission was the benchmark for smooth shifting for over a decade. Everything mechanical on the Giulietta was designed in fealty to a classic vocabulary, and the result was a masterwork of the genre.
Giulietta Sprint in racing trim.
But none of these mechanical details explains the enormity of the Giulietta's appeal. For many of us, the Giulietta was a graduation from amateurish slobbering to the First Real Kiss. Consider the competition. The MG was slower, even with its new aerodynamic bodywork, and had a pushrod engine. The
the Giulietta for sheer charm, like the Siata and Abarth, but they were notoriously fussy. The Giulietta hit a lot of enthusiasts' hot buttons. Like a true exotic, there wasn't a lot of information available about it, and you probably needed help keeping your Giulietta running. They
were hard to start in the winter, the transmission required an oil which was available only in 55-gallon drums and the generator
… But whenever there is a special Alfa around, everybody gathers around hoping the owner is going to show up and start the beast.
Your Alfa doesn’t have to be a multi-million dollars vintage rarity to attract curious Alfisti … kept trying to fall off. The heater was a joke and the Veloce required a special technique just to get it underway without stalling. But the Giulietta, perhaps more than any other car of its era, spoke to the enthusiast's heart. It would travel all day at speeds which would have melted other cars' engines, it made wonderful sounds, was comfortable, could actually keep you dry in a rainstorm and was beautiful enough to turn heads. You could love a Giulietta. Really love it.
Enthusiasts have a way of getting together. Certainly the prewar East Coast coterie which waited with McClure Hallely for the delivery of his new 8C2900 could be considered a prototype club. I think Ralph Stein was another member of that group. There might have been an informal California group, to which Otto Zipper must have belonged. Those guys were Titans, because the Alfas they owned were hand-built and very expensive. The Giulietta changed the price of admission. There was the Detroit Alfa group with Ken Askew a successful schoolteacher-racer. But it was Dic Van der Feen and Bruce Young of the Chicago group who wrote a letter to Road & Track offering help and soliciting membership in an Alfa club.
That's where I came in. In a very real sense, it's where all us regular folk came in. The Giulietta started it -- and, for many of us, the Giulietta continues to define what an Alfa Romeo really is.
Modern Times While the Giulietta was a downscale step from the 1900, a modernized version of the 1900 appeared in 1958 as the 2000. This model used some of the Giulietta's vocabulary -- most notably the shim-type valve adjustments -- in a cast-iron block housed in a very modern body style. The 2000 sedan remains a distinctive if not distinctly ugly memento of a transition between classic elegance and modern kitsch. The more tasteful body styles, the spider and coupe, were from Superleggera Touring and Bertone, respectively. The straight lines of the 2000 spider offered an interesting contrast to the soft curves of the Giulietta, while the coupe, which appeared in 1960, anticipated the shape of the Giulia coupe by three years.
A 1962 Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider.
The 2000 used a live axle by trailing arms, just like the 2600 and 105-series cars to come, but lacked the reaction tringle. The 2000 was upgraded to an all-alloy straight-6 2600 engine (with minor body changes throughout the line) in 1962. The 2000/2600 cars deserve much more attention than they ever received, thanks to the runaway success of the Giulietta. Certainly, they deserve more attention here than this abbreviated glance. Though far from the heroic 8Cs of the 1930s, these larger Alfas nonetheless recalled a past glory to which Alfa could no longer aspire.
Triple twin-choke carbs with minimum air-filter. The sound is heaven. These larger Alfas form a line which continued through the Montreal, a V-8 powered 2-seat GT coupe, and, through the sedans, to the 164. In 1959, Giulietta owners were astounded to find that, unannounced, some critical dimensions of the engine had been increased. The 2000 gearbox also appeared in Giuliettas at
about the same time, but with four rather than five speeds forward (an easy conversion to 5-speeds was popular among enthusiasts). While not understood at the time, these changes to a "beefier" driveline set the stage for a 1600 cc version, which would be called the Giulia (Giulietta is the diminutive of Giulia).
The Giulia Sprint, -worth waiting for. This is a 1972 2-litre GT Veloce. 132bhp propels the car to quiet amazing 200 km/h.
The Alfa Romeo Montreal has a 2,6-litre V8 delivering 200bhp. The new 1600 engine appeared in 1962, first in a boxy little sedan called the Giulia TI. The Giulia offered the power of a Giulietta Veloce with none of its fussiness, while Bosch electrics gave a great improvement in reliability. To fill out Alfa's marketing technique of offering a sedan, coupe and spider in a model line, the popular Giulietta spider and sprint bodies were carried over with the new engine. It was clear, however, that unique Giulia bodies were just around the corner for both spider and coupe. But even in the 1960s, enthusiasts knew that a new model from Alfa takes a very long time, indeed. In 1963, the Giulietta Sprint Speciale was upgraded to the Giulia engine, and the 1600 engine finally received dual DCOE Weber carburetors, continuing the "Veloce" line of the Giulietta. The same engine was also installed in a tube-framed, Zagatobodied car Alfa had been working on since 1959: the TZ. One month after the engine appeared in the Sprint Speciale it was
Bertone re-shaped the Giulietta bodywork into this Sprint Speciale in 1963 for Alfa Romeo, in order for the factory to have a competitive works-car that could beat the unauthorized Zagato aluminium-bodied cars. It never succeded, -it was simply to heavy. So Zagatoâ€™s Giulia SZ/TZ and TZ2 took over as official Alfa Romeo Cars. introduced in a racing version of the Giulia sedan, the TI Super. In May, 1964, the engine was installed in the spider body to
make the Giulia Spider Veloce, the fastest production car Alfa had produced to date. In September 1963, the new Giulia coupe appeared, a smaller vision of the 2000/2600 coupe. The Giulia engine was also downsized to 1300 and installed in the old Giulietta Bertone sprint body as the Giulia 1300. In 1965, the Giulia Veloce engine appeared in a sedan, the Giulia Super, and in an alloypaneled coupe, the GTA, which was equipped with a twin-plug head.
The 105-series Spider Veloce, originally designed by Pininfarina, was kept in production until the 1990s.
The Giulia 1600 Sprint GT with the two-headlight front layout, as originally designed by Giugiaro. In 1966, a entirely new spider appeared. It was based on Pininfarina's Superflow show cars, and was dubbed the Duetto. Only slightly modified over its lifetime, the Duetto remains in production to this day as the classic Alfa spider. Its replacement is promised to be a front-wheel drive car based on the Fiat Tipo platform. Generally, in this era, Alfa provided a 1300 version of all the Giulia cars so Italian owners could take advantage of lower taxes on the smaller-displacement engine. As a result, in the 1960s and early 1970s, Alfa produced an incredible range of Giulia models in sedans, coupes, spiders, a cabriolet, racing
The new Spider shares the platform of Alfa 145/146/155 but has a much more direct steering characteristic. sedans, racing coupes, special-bodied racing and show cars, station wagons, replicar and even a diesel-powered sedan. Most of these models were offered with both 1600 and 1300 engine sizes. If the models seem a blur, they should. The 1960s saw more models of Alfa than the company had ever produced before, or would again. I want to skip much of the details of this cornucopia of Alfas for a larger view. The Giulia era represented Alfa's pinnacle as a car producer, but the variety of models taxed the state-run company beyond its limits. Alfa was a
technology-driven company mired in the bureaucracy of a government which saw its leadership change almost monthly. The bureaucracy was disposed to continue pouring money into the company. A new plant at Arese was constructed to build the Giulia, and plans were being made to revitalize a plant near Naples for the production of a new, smaller car.
The 1965 Giulia TZ2 (tubolare Zagato) a high performance lightweight racer. Aggressive and yet reliable. It was at this point that the US market became significant in Alfa's future. The success of Volkswagen hinted at the sales volume an importer might expect and, I am sure, every president of ARI in the US assured his management back home that the same fortune awaited Alfa. Never mind that Renault hadn't made it with the Dauphine (there was an Alfa version of the Dauphine, incidentally). The American market still remained a kind of holy grail to more European companies than just Alfa. Alfa's perennially optimistic sales projections had more to do with internal communications than marketing planning. Labor unrest rolled throughout the Italian economy. Strikes were frequent and productivity was low. The problem was not particular to Italy: England was having similar upheavals. Postwar Europe was finally coming to grips with itself. As demand softened for the marque, workers were not laid off, rather, they continued to receive their salaries while staying at home. It was clear that the measures which would have put Alfa on a sound business footing would also have brought down the government. Rudi Hruska brought some balance to the Alfa
workforce by ridding Alfa of some of its surplus workers, but the training effort required to get the AlfaSud plant productive was beyond even his masterful grasp.
The Giulia TZ with its tweaked twincam and twin-spark engine and tubular chassis. Thoroughbred racing eqiupment from Alfa Corse This was an era of high-octane gasolines and tremendous engine outputs, and probably represents the pinnacle of automotive design before the intervention of emission and safety regulations. For many, the 1960s was an halcyon era, populated with a wonderful variety of free-spirited enthusiast cars. The Giulia range of models provided something for almost everyone. More importantly, the Giulia lost none of the charm of the Giulietta. It was nimble, comfortable and reliable. It was the last Alfa model not to suffer the constraints of US emission controls. It is recognized today as a classic and the appreciation of its value is sure to continue.
The Fall In 1967, a slightly enlarged version of the Giulia engine appeared in Europe. The engine displaced 1779 cc, close enough to endow it with the mantle of the legendary 1750 of the early 1930s. Americans waited two years for this engine to arrive. In 1968, no Alfas were imported into the US as a result of the extensive testing required to meet new US emission laws.
1968 was the year of the fabulous Tipo 33-2 Stradale. Alfa Corse yielded 250bhp from a 2-litre V8 at almost 10000rpm. This car is a true classic ecclipsing the 8C2900s of the thirties. Domestic manufacturers hoped to make the new emission laws fail in the same way they tried to scuttle the seat belt and bumper laws: make the result so unworkable that the legislation would be abandoned. Remember the original 3-piece seatbelts which virtually defied use, and the 5-mph bumpers which were needlessly ugly? I owned a 1971 Nova, and that was the worstdriving car one could ever fear owning. The American emission controls were easily disabled, just as the original 3-point seatbelts had handy "holders" for the shoulder belt, assuring its non-use. On the other hand, European manufacturers were terrified of the US regulations. Rumors of 35-mph barrier tests were common, as was the sense that a failure to meet emission standards (and keep them there) would result in heavy penalties, if not outright disbarrment from the market. As a result,
Alfa took a very integrated approach to emission controls with the SPICA fuel injection unit, a mechanical unit adapted from a small diesel powerplant. Alfa's goodie-two-shoes approach to the emission controls caused a major battle within the Alfa club, because a lot of owners wondered what was inside the SPICA pump. At one point, ARI feared that the club's interest in the interior workings of the SPICA pump would endanger its tenure in the US. The 1750, even with its mechanical fuel injection, has proved to be one of the most engaging of the modern Alfas. It is wellpowered, responsive and reliable. With the possible exception of its intake system, a 1750 spider or coupe is probably a better car -- certainly more easily repaired -- than the current clone.
The Nord-engine with two twin-choke Weber carbs and with Spica mechanical injection. It took injection techniques too tweak the engine to its 220bhp maximum, as Alfa Corse did in the 2000 GTAm in 1968, but the Carburetted version, as used in Europe, was the classic Alfa Romeo version. Alfa introduced a new sedan body with the 1750 engine. It was more squared off than the Giulia, and its instrument panel copied the "nacelle" style of the 1750 coupe's dash. While certainly more modern, the 1750 (and subsequent 2-liter) sedan failed to capture the charm of the Giulia berlina. Slowly, Alfa enthusiasts watched BMW become the dominant "sport sedan."
At the world's fair in 1967, Alfa had shown a prototype GT coupe powered by a V8 engine. This car was such a hit that Alfa was almost obligated to put it into production. It appeared in 1970 as the Montreal coupĂŠ, the last of the "big" Alfa coupes.
A racing aluminium bodied Giulia GTA.
The original round-tail 2000 Spider Veloce
The Tipo 33-2 Daytona Sports Racer. In 1968, Alfa introduced the Type 33 series of sport prototypes, with V8 engines. A roadgoing version of this car, the Stradale, remains one of the most exotic and desirable Alfas of all time. For some time, Type 33 cars, of quite varied specifications, represented Alfa on the racetrack. The two-liter version of the Giulietta/Giulia engine arrived in 1970, and appeared here in 1971. By this time, Alfa was putting most of its available cash into the development of the next model, and so no new body styles distinguished the 2-liter from the 1750, with the exception that the spider lost its pointy tail for a "Kamm" version.
Bertones prototype for a Giulia CoupĂŠ replacement as it was introduced at the 1967 Expo in Montreal, Canada. The chassis is identical to the 105-series car, but the powerplant has been exchanged with a lower-output version of the Tipo33 V8.
In 1975, a new Alfa chassis arrived. Alfa had hung onto solid rear axles to the point of anachronism. The 1975 Alfetta offered deDion rear suspension with coil springs and front torsion bar suspension. These cars quickly distinguished themselves as having an appetite for rubber driveshaft joints (donuts), and a much lower build quality than former models. A new fastback coupe was greeted with mixed reviews. Alfa was trying to civilize its cars to make them more palatable to a larger public, but in doing so it lost the enthusiast edge which made the Giuilietta and Giulia so memorable. In Europe, a new, small Alfa appeared in 1972 from a factory near Naples: the AlfaSud. This was a front-drive 4-cylinder with a water-cooled boxer engine.
continuous. A replacement for the GTA-based series of sport/racing cars was the type 33, introduced in 1968 and running in various engine/chassis combinations. Racing Alfas evolved from Type 33 sport racers to full-blooded Grand Prix cars, including the type 179 and 182. Engines were V8 and 12cylinder V and boxer configurations.
The coupĂŠ version of the Alfetta. At first called the Alfetta GT and later taking over the GTV name from the bertone GTV after it was discontinued in production. This is the V6 version, a highly capable car with a turbine like engine note.
Alfetta advertisement poster. The AlfaSud was available as both a sedan and coupe, the coupe looking rather like a scaled-down Alfetta. These cars were certified for US emissions, but never imported. They did quite well in Europe and England, and it is a pity they never made it here. There were several other Alfas of this era: the Giulia models continued until 1972, and there was a short flirtation with Nissan in the form of the ARNA, a Bluebird-bodied, AlfaSud powered sedan. Small-displacement "Junior" Giulias proved remarkably fine GTA racers, while the 1750 and 2-liter engines, much modified, powered the GTAM cars. This history has not covered much of Alfa's racing efforts after the 158/159 period. They were extensive and somewhat
For a while, Alfa supplied its racing engines to other chassis builders, notably Brabham, but finally fielded its own cars with some success. Alfa won the Manufacturer's World Championship in 1971 and remains a potent force in Formula 3. The overall effect, however, was that Alfa had lost its mission. In trying to survive by mass producing cars, it had settled for a degree of dullness which failed to keep enthusiasts in its camp. Suddenly, sport cars such as the 240Z and the 2002 sedan seemed much more interesting. Alfa, in the 1980s, and after 70 years of technical prowess, was seen as a curious, antique marque. In an age of sophisticated electronics, multi-valve engines and superb ergonomics, Alfas seemed very out of step.
Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 SC12 World Champion car of 1977. The engine was a 12-cylinder boxer with a displacement of 2,1 liter and giving a maximum 640bhp. The car was driven at 365 km/h at Daytona.
The 1977 Brabham F1 car was powered by an Alfa Romeo 3litre flat-twelve.
Roads not taken Alfa needed to cut its work force. Hruska's cuts failed to stem the hemorrhage of funds, and laying people off was something no politician would venture. As a result, Alfa looked as if it might continue on its path unhindered. A shortage of funds restricted the development of new vehicles, however, and those which did appear began to seem out of step with current automotive technology. Although it had developed a very interesting turbocharged racer, the GTA-SA, Alfa failed to take advantage of the US market's appetite for turbocharged cars. Several aftermarket units appeared for Alfa, and they gave the kind of performance increase which very well might have revitalized the image of the car. While turbocharged Alfas finally appeared in Europe, none came to the US.
engine, which varied the number of working cylinders, looked promising for a while but failed to be licensed by another manufacturer. A laminar-flow head, which added one-way reed valves to the intake port, gave a significant performance improvement by eliminating reversion, but failed to see production. The variable intake camshaft proved to be the only significant innovation Alfas offered.
The third-generation GTV: A true high-performer, especially in its 3-litre V6 edition. The smile on Your face keeps growing, You’ll be grinning for hours after finishing a high speed drive.
The Alfa Romeo 75 (Milano in the United States) was the end of the road for the transaxle principle driving the back wheels. The car was offered with the ”standard” 2-litre Nord engine, with or without double ignition (Twin Spark) as well as a 1,8-litre turbo and the 3,0-litre V6. While stylish in line and form, the shape certainly didn’t convey a true impression of the performance of the car. It’s a very fun car to drive! After the turbo enthusiasm had cooled, multi-valve engines became the rage. The Japanese manufacturers were quick to adopt the technology which dates back to the Grand Prix Peugeot of 1912. Again, Alfa had a multi-valve head in development, but failed to pursue it for the American market. Alfa was certainly not bereft of technological innovations. The V6 engine was light, innovative and reliable, if one ignores the early head gasket and belt detensioner problems. The modular
In an era of active suspensions and computer controls for traction, Alfa fails to make even the starting gate. In a broader scope, its products began to seem less exotic than merely strange. The styling and ergonomics of the Milano sedan left enthusiasts around the world shaking their heads. Advances in automotive technology came rapidly in the 1980s, borrowing heavily from aerospace and computer technologies. Low grades of fuel have kept compression ratios low. Maximum engine speeds, while moving past the 6000-rpm mark for the sportier cars, have not really taken advantage of the overhead camshafts and multiple valves which now grace even the most pedestrian passenger car engines. While few passenger cars utilize rugged new man-made materials such as kevlar, common plastics fill the interior of cars and are now widely accepted instead of fabric, wood or leather. Stickier tires and more sophisticated suspensions permit cars to generate more than 1g on the skidpad, while anti-lock brakes and air bags have become almost universal. Emission control
laws virtually compel the use of computers, and integrated systems, controlling both engine and transmission, are common. Traction control systems introduced by Mercedes and Lexus even apply the brakes and/or throttle back the engine on loss of traction. For a while, cars spoke to their owners, reminding them that the door was ajar or the lights were on, but these systems were rejected as wretched excesses. Still, the level of automotive power or computer assists shows no tendency to decline.
A kit-car alternative to the MX-5. Re-build Your 33 16V into a very fast roadster.
A sporty turbocharged conversion of the Alfa Romeo 146 ti. Trimmed and facelifted by German tuner Novitec. Voice recognition systems seem next, making power windows and door locks absolutely prehistoric. All these systems are the automotive equivalent of the infrared remote control couch potatoes use for their TV and VCR: they add nothing to the total experience, only make it easier to endure. At the other end of the scale, the Miata discovered a niche for a "no-frills" sport car. It is, however, feature-laden compared to the austerity of the Giulietta and Giulia. The Miata is an engaging car which, given a lot more time and money, probably should have been an Alfa. Finally, it became clear that something had to be done about Alfa. A quiet inquiry was made to BMW if they would be interested in purchasing the company. Having already captured the major part of Alfa's sedan market, BMW had no need of Alfa's production capacity. Ford stepped up as a buyer. For a brief time, it seemed a good match. Ford needed exposure in Italy and might infuse enough
money into the company to revitalize it. But Fiat, which had so many years ago gone on record for Alfa's closure, was unwilling to see a marketing giant such as Ford gain position in its home market. Fiat's position was very much in line with the protectionism which has characterized the Italian auto market. Japanese companies have effectively been kept out of Italy, though the Common Market may undo much of that effort in the near future. While the Japanese have been quick to adopt new trinkets to their cars, the Italians have generally ignored their brand of consumer appeal. That has proved detrimental to the Italian auto industry, just as it has been to the Americans. It's hard to compete when you're not watching the competition, and the price of an Alfa is hard to justify when you're comparing features with similarly-priced Japanese products. The arrangement with Fiat was much more politics than business, and no one at the time gave Alfa a hope of surviving as an identity within Fiat. Fiat's feckless track record in the US, both with its own products and the Lancia, gave Alfisti nightmares. One of the first acts after the Fiat takeover was the cancellation of the Milano sedan. Fiat management had discovered that the sedan was being sold for less than the cost of its manufacture. Now, the product line for Alfa would be mediated somewhere between the niches occupied by Lancia and Fiat, since they
were all one company. Publicly, Fiat reserved stately sedans for Lancia and sporting ones for Alfa. While that does not explain the Lancia Delta Integrale, it seems to provide some breathing room for Alfa.
Alfa Romeo has hit a new road with the style of the 156/166 models. It is a return to the old values, without having to proove anything on the racetrack. BMW, Honda, Peugoet, CitroĂŤn and Ford havenâ€™t yet come up with a serious competitor to the Alfa Romeo 156. The road is open ahead! Many years ago, I proposed that history would blur the distinctions between the Giulia and Giulietta and make all the 4cylinder cars a single identity, differing only in horsepower and displacement. In the same spirit, I propose that Fiat's takeover of Alfa will be seen as the end of the marque, and the Milano, with all its shortcomings, as the last "real" Alfa. That is a very solemn note on which to end, for it writes fin to a very long and glorious story. But, as we have learned with Packard, Bentley and even MG, the term "badge engineering" defines a strict line between what is real and what is only pretend. â–
Into The Red PRESS ÂŠ 2000 Per Einarsson
Published on Oct 30, 2009
I found these words on the web back in 1998 - a dull html text without any pictures ... That's the way it was back in those days. I spent a...