A Brief History of Alfa Romeo

We look at the interesting history of Alfa Romeo...
  • 9th November 2017
A Brief History of Alfa Romeo with a historic red Alfa Romeo in the background

According to Which, “anyone who buys an Alfa Romeo does so with their heart instead of their head”. Alfa Romeo have long had a loyal fan-base and has one of the most recognisable logos in the automotive industry.

But where did it all begin?

In this article, we look at the history of Alfa Romeo, from its founding to their popularity with businesses.

 

When did Alfa Romeo start making cars?

Alfa Romeo as we know it was founded in 1910. However, it was in 1906 that the original company was founded. It was originally Societa Anonima Italiana Darracq, or SAID. However, slow sales and a move to Milan meant the SAID investors created another company, A.L.F.A. This stood for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, this translates to Lombardy Automobile Factory Corporation. The Romeo came from the surname of Nicola Romeo, the entrepreneur who took control of the company in 1915.

It took just a year for Alfa Romeo to start producing cars. The first vehicle was the 24 HP car and took part in events such as the Targa Florio endurance race. It was designed by Giuseppe Merosi, who was hired by the previous company to design vehicles designed for the Italian Market. Merosi designed a series of A.L.F.A cars with more powerful engines. The company started to venture into motor racing, and in 1914 an advanced Grand Prix car, the GP1914. It had a four-cylinder engine, double overhead camshafts and a twin ignition.

Alfa Romeo race car on a race track in black and white

However, like all automotive companies at this time, production was halted during the First World War.

What happened to Alfa Romeo during World War One?

Nicola Romeo took over the company in August of 1915. The factory was converted to produce military hardware for the Italian and Allied war efforts.

This included creating munitions, aircraft engines as well as generators based on their existing car engines. The profits the company gained from the war were put back into acquiring locomotive and railway carriage plants in Saronno, Rome and Naples.

Car production resumed in 1919, and the company name was changed to Alfa Romeo a year later.

What happened to Alfa Romeo after World War One?

Alfa Romeo ventured back into the world of racing in 1920 with the Torpedo 20-30 HP. Merosi was still head designer and during his tenure Alfa Romeo they saw success with cars such as the 40-60 HP and the RL Targa Florio.

Merosi was replaced by Vittorio Jano in 1923, and the first car under his instruction was the P2 Grand Prix. This won the inaugural world championship for Grand Prix cars in 1925.

Road cars that Jano designed included the 4-,6-, and 8-cylinder inline engines in a small-to-medium-displacement. These designs were both reliable and powerful.

What happened to Alfa Romeo during World War Two?

Alfa Romeo was taken under government control in 1933 and became a national emblem of Mussolini’s Italy.

During this time, Alfa Romeo built bespoke vehicles for the wealthy and the era peaked with the 2900B Type 35 racers.

historic red Alfa Romeo convertible on a cream background

The factory was converted to the production of Macchi C.202 Folgore engines and the Daimler-Benz 600 series was built under licence, but was bombed during the Second World War.

Unfortunately for Alfa Romeo, they struggled to return to the profitability they had once seen. Luxury cars weren’t popular in post-war Italy and mass-produced, smaller vehicles were the way forward.

The 1954 Giulietta series was produced, featuring saloons, coupes and open two-seaters. These would stay in production until 1995, increasing the engine from 1300 cc to 2000 cc.

What did Alfa Romeo do after World War Two?

Motorsports resumed after the war, and Alfa Romeo soon dominated events. Formula One was introduced around this time, and this type of racing proved successful for Alfa Romeo, particularly with their Tip 158 Alfetta. This was adapted from a pre-war voiturette and ensured Alfa Romeo won the first Formula One World Championship in 1950. They won the following year as well.

In 1952, Alfa Romeo started Project 13-61, a front-wheel drive compact car. It was to be called the Tipo 103 and was essentially a smaller Giulia. However, the Tipo 103 never saw production due to financial difficulties in post-war Italy. However, if it had seen production then it would have been the first modern front-wheel drive compact car, not the Mini.

When did Alfa Romeo partner with Fiat?

During the 1960s Alfa Romeo concentrated on making production-based cars and focused mainly on competition. In the 1970s, they concentrated on prototype sports car racing.

However, it was around this time that they then ran into financial difficulties and there were attempts to shore it up. This included a joint venture with Nissan endorsed by the parent company of Alfa Romeo. The parent company was in the IRI, an Italian-government owned company. However, this partnership was unsuccessful.

IRI were suffering heavy losses by 1986 and put Alfa Romeo up for sale. The IRI president, Romano Prodi, approached Fiat who offered to start a joint venture with the car manufacturer. However, the venture was initially unsupported due to the strained industrial relations between the two parts of Italy. Fiat was based in Turin and Alfa Romeo were based in Milan.

Fiat withdrew their plan when Ford put an offer in. They offered to acquire part of Alfa Romeo and restructure the company, all while increasing their stake over time.

historic Alfa Romeo convertible in a green colour with a spotlight on it and a black background

However, Fiat offered to acquire the whole of Alfa Romeo and guarantee jobs to Italian workers, something Ford would not match. In 1986 the deal was concluded and Alfa Romeo merged with Lancia into Fiat’s Alfa Lancia Industriale S.p.A.

Models produced during this period included a GTA version of the 147 hatchback, the Bera and the 8C Competizione.

Fast forward to 2005 and Fiat plan to create a sports and luxury division from Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Fiat had recently bought back Maserati from Ferrari.

A reorganisation went underway in 2007, creating four new companies including Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A, which was fully owned by Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A.

Which other brands do Fiat own?  Find out in our Fiat history 

When did the police start using Alfa Romeo cars?

During the 1960s, Alfa Romeo became known for their small cars and the models specifically designed for the Italian police and Carabinieri, who were an arm of the Italian armed forces. This included the Giulia Super and the 2600 Sprint GT. The colours varied from group to group. The colours used by the police are green/blue with white stripes, known as Pantera (Panther). The Carabinieri Alfa Romeo’s are dark blue with white roofs and red stripes, these are known as Gazzella (Gazelle).

Alfa Romeo remain the chosen manufacturer for the highway police, the fiscal law enforcement and for the police and Carbinieri.

Interestingly, the Italian Prime Minister has used Alfa Romeos since the 1960s as the preferred government limousines. The 164 and the 166 were particularly popular.

Alfa Romeo and the present day

Alfa Romeo suffered huge losses in the mid-2000s and even in 2010, it failed to reach the annual sales target of 300,000 units. However, the production the Giulietta and MiTo are gaining popularity and the Stelvio is set to compete with the Porsche Macan and Audi Q5. The Giulietta has rekindled a lot of people’s love of Alfa Romeo, and the business edition was launched a few years ago, specifically aimed at business drivers. The business edition has low CO2 emissions, low running costs and brilliant fuel economy, making it the perfect company car and introducing a whole new generation to Alfa Romeo.

That pretty much brings us to the present day, current models include the Giulietta, MiTo, the Giulia and the Stelvio. Alfa Romeo are still a cult icon, and is loved by many. They are becoming an increasingly popular sight on British roads and, despite reports of unreliability throughout their lifetime, are shaking off that reputation to become hugely popular company cars. Soon enough, there will be a whole new generation of Alfa Romeo converts.

Ever wondered whether Alfa Romeo was a brand you could trust? Discover how reliable they are as a manufacturer today
Holly Martin

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

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