‘Storie Alfa Romeo’ is an Italian automotive 110-year journey tapping into unpublished anecdotes and archive images of the cars on show at the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo, Arese.
Famous for sporting successes and unforgettable styling, the ‘Storie Alfa Romeo’ series celebrates the Italian marques historic milestones by telling the inspiring tales of character, ingenuity, courage and victory that make up the history of Alfa Romeo.
Embracing Italian history and society while highlighting the brand’s evolution from coachbuilder to motorsports champion, and on to a global car brand. Each episode will rendezvous with drivers and stars, engineers and designers, celebrities and fans, who all key play key roles in the legend that is Alfa Romeo, accompanied by archive images from the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo, Arese.
‘Storie Alfa Romeo’
Officially the story of Alfa Romeo begins on the 24th of June 1910, with the foundation of Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (ALFA). But it actually starts a few years earlier, with a colourful character: a Frenchman with a handlebar moustache and an outstanding instinct for business.
Pierre Alexandre Darracq began his career running a bicycle factory in Bordeaux, before falling in love with cars. He began producing motorcars in France and making a success of it. Then he decided to export them, opening branches in London and then Italy where he began operations in Naples in April 1906. But Naples was a long way from France and the journey was complex and costly, so by December, he had transferred production to Milan, at number 95 in the Portello district.
Along with the logistical difficulties, he realised that there were also market problems. Car sales in Italy were struggling with only a few thousand cars on the roads and to make things worse, prospective customers in Italy had different expectations and Darracq’s cars were light and inexpensive, lacking in power for Italian tastes. So in late 1909, Darracq put his company into liquidation.
The Cavalier from Milan
Someone else was convinced of the Portello factory’s potential. Cavalier Ugo Stella, managing director under Darracq, moved quickly to find local funding and a guarantee from Milan’s Agricultural Bank, then took over the factory and re-hired the over 200 people who worked there. An ambitious and risky move, but Stella’s was one of the many daring intuitions with which the Alfa Romeo Story would be paved. He knew his job well, had weighed up the risks and understood which cars his customers desired. Plus, he had an ace up his sleeve: he’d found the man to design it.
The surveyor from Piacenza
Giuseppe Merosi had been a quantity surveyor in Piacenza but, like many young men at the time, he’d been seized by a passion for motorcars and had worked in various roles in the sector. In the autumn of 1909, Stella asked him to create two completely new cars in the power ranges of 12hp and 24hp.
In his lodgings in Milan, at Via Cappuccio 17, the young engineering designer worked night and day, and on the 1st January 1909, he consigned the plans for the first car to the Technical Office.
The 24 HP
Perhaps for the only time in the history of motorcars, the model was created before the brand that would eventually sell it. The 24 HP had a monobloc engine had 4 cylinders, 4-litres of displacement and 42hp. It had a sturdy frame with side members and crosspieces in C-pressed sheet metal, enabling the coach builders Castagna, Schieppati, Sala and Bollani to develop torpedo and limousine versions for a highly demanding clientele. The 24 HP aimed high from the start, costing about two years of an employee’s wages.
It was quick but also delivered outstanding road performance. The first A.L.F.A. was already a true Alfa Romeo: elegant and sporty, technologically avant-garde and projecting unmistakable charisma. This would be the brand’s magic formula throughout its long history.
The 40/60 HP
For a fledgeling brand, racing was the best way to make its name. Well aware of this, Merosi decided to take the plunge and build a racing car with a new concept engine. By 1913 the 40/60 HP was ready.
Castagna, the coachbuilder, had been requested by Count Ricotti to model this A.L.F.A. chassis on the principles of new technology. The result was the 40/60 HP Aerodynamic Ricotti Torpedo, a creation straight from a Jules Verne novel, capable of reaching a speed of 86mph.
But the outbreak of the First World War changed the playing field for everyone, including A.L.F.A., which was called upon to contribute to military needs. But change means opportunity, and on 2 December 1915 the Limited partnership company named Engineer Nicola Romeo & Co took over the Portello factory, reconverting it to manufacture munitions and aircraft engines. The original production department was flanked by a new smelting works and foundry, equipped with machine tools and equipment purchased directly in the United States. A few hundred employees soon rose to over 1,200.
The Italian answer to the world’s most elegant vehicles, wrote the British press about the new Alfa Romeo RL when it was presented at the London Motor Show in November 1921. The RL once again rewrote the rules of motoring. It was probably Merosi’s masterpiece. A 3-litre engine, with 56hp, a 6-cylinder monobloc with removable head and valves controlled by a rod and rocker arm system, the RL reached speeds of 68mph, but with impeccably precise control.
In April, Ugo Sivocci took his place on the starting line with a green four-leaf clover painted on a white background at the side of his car. The good luck charm did its job and Sivocci triumphed in the 15th Targa Florio, and the Quadrifoglio became part of the brand’s history.
The designer introduced by Ferrari
The time had come to separate mass-produced series from special Grand Prix racing cars and it was Enzo Ferrari who suggested the right man for the job. Vittorio Jano was a young engineering designer from Piedmont who had worked for FIAT and was a specialist on the architecture of engines and frames.
He brought revolutionary ideas to Alfa Romeo, such as the forced induction of low displacement engines. His winning ideas saw Ascari crush all his competitors on the Cremona circuit, at an average speed of over 98mph in Jano’s GP P2.
The P2’s victories brought Alfa Romeo to the pinnacle of the world of motor racing. In 1925 Alfa Romeo triumphed at the first Grand Prix World Championship, organised by the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR). To celebrate the victory, the Alfa Romeo logo was surrounded by a laurel wreath.