Alfa Romeo Automobiles S.p.A. is an Italian manufacturer of cars. Founded as A.L.F.A. on June 24, 1910, in Milan, the company has been involved in car racing since 1911, and has a reputation for building expensive sports cars. The company was owned by Italian state holding company Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale between 1932 and 1986, when it became a part of the Fiat Group, and since February 2007 a part of Fiat Group Automobiles S.p.A.
The company that became Alfa Romeo was founded as Società Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID) in 1906 by the French automobile firm of Alexandre Darracq, with some Italian investors. Late 1909, the Italian Darracq cars were selling slowly and a new company was founded named A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili English: Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company), initially still in partnership with Darracq. The first non-Darracq car produced by the company was the 1910 24 HP, designed by Giuseppe Merosi. A.L.F.A. ventured into motor racing, with drivers Franchini and Ronzoni competing in the 1911 Targa Florio with two 24 HP models. In August 1915 the company came under the direction of Neapolitan entrepreneur Nicola Romeo, who converted the factory to produce military hardware for the Italian and Allied war efforts. In 1920, the name of the company was changed to Alfa Romeo with the Torpedo 20-30 HP becoming the first car to be badged as such.
In 1928 Nicola Romeo left, with Alfa going broke after defence contracts ended, and at the end of 1932 Alfa Romeo was rescued by Benito Mussolini's government, which then had effective control. The Alfa factory struggled to return to profitability after the Second World War, and turned to mass-producing small vehicles rather than hand-building luxury models. The company, in 1954, developed the classic Alfa Romeo Twin Cam engine, which would remain in production until 1995. During the 1960s and 1970s Alfa Romeo produced a number of sporty cars, though the Italian government parent company, Finmeccanica, struggled to make a profit so sold the marque to the Fiat Group in 1986.
Alfa Romeo has competed successfully in many different categories of motorsport, including Grand Prix motor racing, Formula One, sportscar racing, touring car racing and rallies. They have competed both as a constructor and an engine supplier, via works entries (usually under the name Alfa Corse or Autodelta) and private entries. The first racing car was made in 1913, three years after the foundation of the company, and Alfa Romeo won the inaugural world championship for Grand Prix cars in 1925. The company gained a good name in motorsport, which gave a sporty image to the whole marque. Enzo Ferrari founded the Scuderia Ferrari racing team in 1929 as an Alfa Romeo racing team, before becoming independent in 1939.
The company that became Alfa Romeo was founded as Società Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID) in 1906 by the French automobile firm of Alexandre Darracq, with some Italian investors. One of them, Cavaliere Ugo Stella, an aristocrat from Milan, became chairman of the SAID in 1909. The firm's initial location was in Naples, but even before the construction of the planned factory had started, Darracq decided late in 1906 that Milan would be a more suitable location and accordingly a tract of land was acquired in the Milan suburb of Portello, where a new factory of 6,700 square metres (8,000 sq yd) was erected. Late 1909, the Italian Darracq cars were selling slowly and Stella, with the other Italian co-investors, founded a new company named A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili), initially still in partnership with Darracq. The first non-Darracq car produced by the company was the 1910 24 HP, designed by Giuseppe Merosi, hired in 1909 for designing new cars more suitable to the Italian market. Merosi would go on to design a series of new A.L.F.A. cars, with more powerful engines (40-60 HP). A.L.F.A. ventured into motor racing, with drivers Franchini and Ronzoni competing in the 1911 Targa Florio with two 24 HP models. In 1914, an advanced Grand Prix car was designed and built, the GP1914 which featured a four cylinder, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and twin ignition. However, the onset of the First World War halted automobile production at A.L.F.A. for three years.
In August 1915 the company came under the direction of Neapolitan entrepreneur Nicola Romeo, who converted the factory to produce military hardware for the Italian and Allied war efforts. Munitions, aircraft engines and other components, compressors and generators based on the company's existing car engines were produced in a vastly enlarged factory during the war. When the war was over, Romeo invested his war profits in acquiring locomotive and railways carriage plants in Saronno (Costruzioni Meccaniche di Saronno), Rome (Officine Meccaniche di Roma) and Naples (Officine Ferroviarie Meridionali), which were added to his A.L.F.A. ownership.
Once motorsports resumed after the Second World War, Alfa Romeo proved to be the car to beat in Grand Prix events. The introduction of the new formula (Formula One) for single-seat racing cars provided an ideal setting for Alfa Romeo's tipo 158 Alfetta, adapted from a pre-war voiturette, and Giuseppe Farina won the first Formula One World Championship in 1950 in the 158. Juan Manuel Fangio secured Alfa's second consecutive championship in 1951.
In 1952, Alfa-Romeo had experimented with its first front-wheel drive compact car named "Project 13-61". It had the same transverse-mounted, forward-motor layout as the modern front-wheel drive automobiles. Alfa-Romeo made a second attempt toward the late 1950s based on Project 13-61. It was to be called Tipo 103. It even resembled the smaller version of its popular Alfa-Romeo Giulia. However, due to the financial difficulties in post-war Italy, the Tipo 103 never saw the production. Had Alfa-Romeo succeed in producing Tipo 103, it would precede the Mini as the first "modern" front-wheel drive compact car.
During the 1960s, Alfa concentrated on competition using production-based cars, including the GTA (standing for Gran Turismo Allegerita), an aluminium-bodied version of the Bertone-designed coupe with a powerful twin-plug engine. Among other victories, the GTA won the inaugural Sports Car Club of America's Trans-Am championship in 1966. In the 1970s, Alfa concentrated on prototype sports car racing with the Tipo 33, with early victories in 1971. Eventually the Tipo 33TT12 gained the World Championship for Makes for Alfa Romeo in 1975 and the Tipo 33SC12 won the World Championship for Sports Cars in 1977.
By the 1970s Alfa was again in financial trouble. The Italian government company Finmeccanica bowed out in 1986 as Fiat Group bought in, creating a new group, Alfa Lancia Industriale S.p.A., to manufacture Alfas and Lancias. Models produced subsequent to the 1990s combined Alfa's traditional virtues of avant-garde styling and sporting panache with the economic benefits of product rationalisation, and include a "GTA" version of the 147 hatchback, the Giugiaro-designed Brera, and a high-performance exotic called the 8C Competizione (named after one of Alfa's most successful prewar sports and racing cars, the 8C of the 1930s).
In the 1960s Alfa Romeo became famous for its small cars and models specifically designed for the Italian police — "Panthers" and Carabinieri; among them the glorious "Giulia Super" or the 2600 Sprint GT, which acquired the expressive nickname of "Inseguimento" dir. trl. "to chase or predate" (this car is wrongly supposed to be the one that the famous Roman police marshal and unrivalled driver Armandino Spadafora brought down on the Spanish Steps in 1960 while following some robbers — it was actually a black Ferrari 250 GT/E — this picture of Giulia, one of the dozens about this legend, is taken from a film and not at the Spanish Steps). The colours of the Alfa Romeos used by the Polizia were grey/blue with white stripes and writing, known as "Pantera" (Panther), enhancing the aggressive look of the Alfa (particularly the Giulia series), while the Carabinieri Alfas were dark blue with white roofs and red stripes, known as the "Gazzella" (Antelope) denoting the speed and agility of these "Pattuglie" (armed response patrol units). However, the term "Pantera" became used interchangeably and the image helped create a no-nonsense, determined and respected perception by the general public of the men that drove these cars, true to their history.
Alfa Romeo has introduced some technological innovations over the years, the company has also been often among first users of new technologies. Alfa Romeo's trademark double overhead cam engine was used in the first time in 1914 Grand Prix car, the first road car with such engine the 6C 1500 Sport appeared in the 1928.
Alfa Romeo tested one of the very first electric injection systems (Caproni-Fuscaldo) in Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 with "Ala spessa" body in 1940 Mille Miglia. The engine had six electrically operated injectors and were fed by a semi-high pressure circulating fuel pump system.
Mechanical Variable Valve Timing was introduced in Alfa Romeo Spider sold in U.S. markets in 1980. Electronic Variable Valve Timing was introduced in (Alfetta).
The 105 series Giulia was a quite advanced car using such technologies as: All-wheel disc brakes, plastic radiator header tank it had also the lowest Drag Coefficient (Cd) in class The same trend continued with Alfetta 2000 and GTV, those had such things as 50:50 weight distribution, standard fit alloy wheels and transaxle.
Newer innovations includes complete CAD design process used in Alfa Romeo 164 design process, robotised/paddle control transmission Selespeed used in 156, the 156 was also world's first passenger car to use Common rail diesel engine. The Multiair -an electro-hydraulic variable valve actuation technology used in MiTo was introduced in 2009.
Alfa's badge incorporates emblems from fifth century Italy. It was designed in 1910 by an Italian draughtsman Romano Cattaneo who used two heraldic devices traditionally associated with Milan: on the right is the Biscione, the emblem of the House of Visconti, rulers of Milan in the 14th century; on the left is a red cross on a white field, the emblem of Milan, which Cattaneo had seen on the door of the Castello Sforzesco. In 1918, after the company was purchased by Nicola Romeo, the badge was redesigned with the help of Giuseppe Merosi. A dark blue metallic ring was added, containing the inscription "ALFA — ROMEO" and "MILANO" separated by two Savoy dynasty knots to honour the Kingdom of Italy. After the victory of the P2 in the inaugural Automobile World Championship in 1925, Alfa added a laurel wreath around the badge. In 1946, after the abolition of the monarchy, the Savoy knots were replaced with two curvy lines. The name "MILANO", the hyphen, and the lines were eliminated when Alfa Romeo opened its factory at Pomigliano d'Arco, Naples in the early 1970s.
Construction techniques used by Alfa Romeo have become imitated by other car makers, and in this way Alfa Romeo body design has often been very influential. The following is a list of innovations, and where appropriate, examples of imitation by other car manufacturers:
- 1950s : Monocoque body design in the Giulia : While not an imitation per se, this construction technique became extremely widespread, and remains so to the present day.
- 1960s : Aerodynamics : The 116-series Giulia boasted a very low Cd. Toyota in particular sought to produce a similarly shaped series of vehicles at this time.
- 1970s : Fairing of bumpers : In order to meet American crash standards, Alfa formulated design styling techniques to incorporate bumpers into the overall bodywork design of vehicles so as to not ruin their lines. The culmination of this design technique was 1980s Alfa Romeo 75. The process was widely copied, particularly in Germany and Japan.
- 1980s : The Alfa 164 : The design process and influence of this car is almost completely out of all proportion to previous Alfas. The 164 introduced complete CAD/CAM in the manufacturing cycle, with very little directly made by hand in the vehicle. In addition, the 164's styling influence continues into the present day line of modern Alfa's. Most manufacturers incorporated design ideas first expressed in the 164 into their own designs, including greater reliance on on-board computers.
- 1990s : The pseudo-coupé : The Alfa 156 and 147, while four door vehicles, represented themselves as two-doors with prominent front door handles, and less visible rear door-handle flaps. Honda has used this design style in the latest Civic hatchback, and a somewhat similar idea is also seen in the most recent Mazda RX-8 four-seat coupé.
- 2000s : The Brera and 159 : These vehicles design, by Giorgetto Guigaro, have proven influential as regards sedan and coupé styling, demonstrating that concept vehicles are often immediately translatable into road car form, providing that initial design takes place using CAD systems.
Alfa Romeo has been involved with motor racing since 1911, when they entered two 24 HP models on Targa Florio competition. In the 1920s and 30s Alfa Romeo scored wins at many of the most famous and prestigious races and motoring events such as Targa Florio, Mille Miglia and Le Mans. Great success continued with Formula One, Prototypes, Touring and Fast Touring. Private drivers also entered some rally competitions, with fine results. Alfa Romeo has competed both as a constructor and an engine supplier, via works entries Alfa Corse, Autodelta and private entries. Alfa Romeo's factory racing team was outsourced to Enzo Ferrari's Scuderia Ferrari between 1933-1938. The most legendary Alfa Romeo driver is Tazio Nuvolari, who took of the most legendary victories of all time by winning the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring.
According to the current Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne in order to reap economies of scale, all new Alfa Romeo models will be made from the same basic platform (i.e., frame). Even Maserati will share components with some Alfas.