In a new, regular series, WhichCar delves deep into the history of automotive brands to bring you fascinating facts and intriguing information.
Running in alphabetical order, the first cab off the rank is Italian sports-luxury manufacturer Alfa Romeo – owned by the Fiat Group since 1986.
- FRENCH ROOTS
Alfa Romeo may be famously Italian, though it started life as eponymous French auto maker Alexandre Darracq. After Darracq’s 1906 expansion into Italy with a factory outside of Milan failed, the outfit was acquired four years later by a consortium of Italian investors and renamed Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili. That accounts for the ALFA part of the name; the Romeo half came into the equation in 1920 – five years after businessman Nicola Romeo had purchased a controlling stake in Alfa.
- BIRTH OF A SPORTY REPUTATION
Alfa Romeo won the inaugural (pre-Formula One) Grand Prix World Championship in 1925, while the foundations of a reputation based around sports cars was cemented between 1931 to 1934, when the brand achieved four successive victories in the 24-hour Le Mans endurance race.
- TURNING OVER A NEW CLOVERLEAF
Alfa’s performance variants continue to wear the ‘quadrifoglio’ – or four-leaf clover – badge. The ‘good luck’ symbol was first used by Ugo Sirocci, on the Alfa RL he raced to the brand’s first road victory in the 1923 Targa Florio. When he died a year later in a car not featuring the quadrifoglio, Alfa started applying it thereafter.
- FERRARI’S ORIGINS
Enzo Ferrari became a works driver for Alfa in 1920 before starting a Scuderia Ferrari outfit nine years later that would look after Alfa’s racing team for four years. He was made manager when Alfa brought the team in-house again, though the ambitious Enzo would leave to focus on what would become the world’s most famous automotive brand.
- WALL STREET CRASH RESCUE
Alfa, like many companies, was affected badly by the Great Depression that was a consequence of the October 1929 Wall Street crash known as Black Tuesday. Four years later it was rescued financially by the Italian government.
- WAR CRAFT
Alfa contributed to the production of military components and aircraft engines during World War I, a role it would repeat for Italy’s involvement in the Second World War – this time with, rather than against, Germany. Bomb damage delayed the restart of vehicle production to 1946.
- FORMULA FIRST
Ferrari is the Italian car brand most synonymous with Formula One, yet it was Alfa Romeo that won the inaugural championship in 1950 – with the 158 driven by Nino Farina. It repeated the success in 1951 with legendary Argentinian racer Juan Manuel Fangio, driving a 159, and then promptly retired from the sport.
- THE 40-YEAR ENGINE
Alfa unveiled the world’s first aluminium, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine at the 1954 Geneva motor show. It would be used in the company’s cars until the 1990s.
- GRADUATING TO THE BIG SCREEN
The Alfa Romeo brand seduced the world in 1967 when its Duetto Spider, launched just a year earlier, starred alongside Dustin Hoffman in the hit film The Graduate. The shrewd product placement was the result of Hoffman’s uncle, Max, being a famous Alfa importer. If you notice any continuity issues in the film, it’s because the film-makers used three different European-specification 1600 Spiders.
- THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
With the exception of the quarter-million-dollar 8C supercar, Alfa has been missing from the US market for more than 20 years. It pulled out in 1995 owing to unhappy executives (sliding sales) and unhappy customers (quality issues). The new Giulia, Alfa’s rival for the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, will mark its oft-delayed return in 2017.
Alfa’s 4C sports car, winner of the 2016 WhichCar Style Awards (pictured top) was intended originally to wear the scorpion badge of Fiat’s racy Abarth brand, according to well-placed Italian sources. It’s understood the change of brand was made because executives desperately needed a new interim product for Alfa while development of the new Giulia sedan was being delayed.
- BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Alfa Romeo will release its first ever SUV in 2017. Named the Stelvio, the model will mark 14 years since the brand showcased the Kamal SUV concept at the 2003 Geneva motor show. Expect plenty of component sharing with the Alfa Romeo Giulia mid-size sedan that will be the first all-new model aiming to revive the Italian brand’s fortunes.
- THE ALFISTI
This is the established collective noun for the global legions of passionately devoted fans of the Alfa Romeo brand.