|Alfa Romeo Cars|
|Country of Origin : ITALY|
|Established : 1909|
|Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili|
|Parent Group : FIAT AUTO spa|
|The Quadrifoglio - the four-leafed clover, a biological oddity of the papilionaceous genus Trifolium, recognised talisman for good luck and a symbol of excellence in selected Alfa Romeo's|
purveyor of famous badges
The Alfa badge was adopted from its founding city, Milan. It is an Italian rendition of the cross of St George, with a Serpent.
The four leaf clover was adopted by Alfas racing team for the 1923 season and has remained ever present since.
It was after a victory at the Circuit of Savio, in which The winning race car was driven by one Enzo Ferrari, that the Family of Francesco Baracca, an ace wartime fighter pilot who fell in World War One, endowed Ferrari with the rampant-horse badge that Francesco had worn on his aircraft.
The Alfa badge is one of the most
remarkable emblems associated with any marque.
It combines two symbols that had been associated with the city of Milan since the crusades:
The red cross of Saint George is a Christian symbol of medieval heraldry.
The man in the serpent's mouth is supposedly a Saracen.
so the serpent motif recalls
the Crusader's defeat of the
infidels. The serpent motif became an honorary sign awarded to a prominent Milanese
family. It was eventually permanently attached to the Sforza family.
The wreath around the badge commemorates Alfa's World Championship in 1925.
Alfa is an Italian phenomenon.
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. In 1891, a Peugeot made the first long-distance journey by an internal-combustion vehicle from Beaulieu-Valentigney to Brest and back. 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.
Germans and French, but not yet an Italian.
Why did Italy enter automotive production so late?
One reason is that the country was pre-occupied with political matters. Italy was trying furiously to establish itself as a colonial power when the century changed. There was still plenty of internal strife: the first Emmanuel's successor was assassinated in 1900. 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. Italy's turmoil was great enough to
cause a large outflow of emigrants. It is easy 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 later in the century.
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 De Dion 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, 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 4-cylinder taxicabs. This group was called Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, or more memorably A.L.F.A.
A.L.F.A. hired Merosi from Bianchi, which was very much at the forefront 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 with an aluminum crankcase and three main bearings. The crank was not counterbalanced but the poured metal bearings were force-lubricated and an oil line ran up the rod to provide lubricant to the small ends. Priming cups helped get the cold engine started. A dry, multiple-disc clutch transmitted power to a 4-speed sliding-gear transmission.
Alfa produced three displacements of four-cylinder engines before the Great War. 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 development.
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.
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, any ride smoothness was dependent 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 overhead camshaft eased valve maintenance (it did not appreciably raise engine speed, which was a leisurely 1650 rpm).
Fiats practice was a curious combination of old and new, since most of their cars still used chain drive. The advantage of chain drive is the same as the DeDion rear suspension of modern Alfettas and such. 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 had relatively small engines: the S61 fiat displaced 10 liters and the 1908 Itala 12 liters.
The Italian automobile industry owed its origins to France, and even A.L.F.A. was a follow-on to a French enterprise. Its not then surprising that the same French dominance ocurred in automobile racing. the history of Car 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 would later evolve. The first Grands Prix were two-day events run on what is now known as the Sarthe circuit of Le Mans.
While Mors, Panhard, Peugeot and Renault were the 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 had little to do with production cars (no change there then), and there was some suspicion among manufacturers that racing did nothing to enhance sales. Further,despite the early start the French teamswere souring on grand prix racing, being unable to field a winning team: THe French Renault took the first grand prize in 1906, but Fiat won in 1907 and Mercedes won in 1908. As a result, Many of the manufacturers agreed to withdraw from racing just as plans for the 1909 grand prix were underway.
Luckily 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 better 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 of Peugeot proved very competitive. Its primary competition was the Hispano Suiza designed by Marc Birkigt and the British 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.
For the 1912 event, Peugeot decided to field a new grand prix car of some 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.
A.L.F.A. decided to enter grand prix racing in 1914, four years after its founding and two years after the appearance of the Peugeot. Merosi did little more than copy Birkigt's design, as copied by Henry and in a classic case of industrial rip-off of the rip-off. Indeed, when, in 1923, he was once again asked to create a grand prix engine, he did little more than update his 1914 design.
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 and Engineers 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.
The most obvious direction for improvement was to increase the speed of the engine. The reason for this is that the formula for horsepower includes a variable for time, in Theory at least the faster an engine works, the more horsepower it can develop (Honda probably still subscribe to this theory)
It was not long before the engineers ran into the limitations of such theory. Improvements in both metallurgy and petrochemicals allowed the higher engine speeds as metals were stronger, fuels could be burned in a more controlled manner and lubricants protected metals better. At higher engine speeds, however, engineers ran into a new problem, gas dynamics became the limiting factor: the the charge could not get in and out of the engine fast enough.
The original gas path through an engine was almost an afterthought. A half-speed camshaft driven by a gear off the crankshaft lent itself to 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 tortuous, with every turn offering resistance to gas flow. At slow speeds, the resistance was negligible, but at higher speeds, the forces had to be became a limiting factor.
As we now know the most efficient gas path through an engine is a straight line. It was this realization, which may have prompted Birkigt to place the valves at an angle above the combustion chamber so that the gas flow might follow a nearly straight line. 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. 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 hemispherical 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. designs, the entire valve assembly, seat, springs and all, was screwed into the monobloc cylinders. In both cases, the cams ran in cam boxes above the exposed valve stems and springs to gain adequate valve cooling. Unlike the Peugeot, the GP Alfa had two spark plugs per cylinder for more positive ignition.
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, 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.
In the Peugeot we find design still thought advanced today ( the twin cams, desmodromic valve actuation, four valves per cylinder, hemispheric combustion chambers and twin plugs) . 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 the extra work did not give much more power.
That may explain why Merosi failed to use a twin-cam design in any of his passenger cars.
Merosi's Grand Prix car and its exploration of the twin-cam layout was a diversion, rather than the first example of a long line of twin-cam engine designs. As long as Merosi was Alfa's chief designer, Alfa road 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.
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 designs produced strokes as long as the 250 mm (about 10 inches!) of the 28.4 liter, 300 hp Grand Prix Fiat of 1910. 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 current 4-cylinder Alfa engine.
Alfa's product line immediately after the war was simply a continuation of the pre-war models. 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.
Early cars 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-to-respond engine meant the driver had to develop real 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 post-war 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.
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. 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. 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 full-blooded car. 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.
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 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 last of the Edwardian Alfas, a single example of the G1 survives in Australia.
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!
Early cars so far had been pre-war designs: even the technology of the G1 is more tied to the Edwardian cars than proper post-World War I designs. 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, 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. 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 19 teens, Merosi kept with pushrods, 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. 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).
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. (quite something then) 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 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 whoping 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. Engineers 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 to allow the bearings to wear into a proper fit with the crankshaft journal.
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 a 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 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 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 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 . 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. Only nominal changes differentiated the series, typically, and the differences are largely lost to us today.
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 perhaps Merosi's greatest race car.
Between 1923 and 1925, a four-cylinder version of the RL was produced, called the RM. It developed 40 hp from 1944 cc (total production 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 1920, a Milanese financier, Niccola Romeo,had 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.
In the story of Alfa, it's sometimes 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. The early cars were little more than chassis given over to specialist carrozeria for a body.
The 1914 Alfa Grand Prix car was singularly unsuccessful a. But, beginning in 1923, significant developments in race car design began to happen..
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, and associated bits 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 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.
In 1921, the ACF decreed a maximum displacement of 3 liters. Fiat constructed an entirely new car, the Type 801, with a twin-cam 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. In 1923, Fiat 6-cylinder work-alikes were introduced by Sunbeam as well as Alfa Romeo. It seems 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 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.
The P2 quickly dominated racing and continued to be competitive over a period of six years. 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 holds a special place in Alfa history.
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 center-line 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 dry-sump 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 load-bearing 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.
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.
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.
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.
Only six of these cars were produced.
The P2 became the first world championship Alfa in 1925, earning Alfa a garland around the badge which it displayed proudly until some idiot deleted it in the name of modernization.
The settlement imposed by the allies on the Germans at the end of the first world war ruined the abilities and economies of the losers . While the winners were reveling in the roaring '20s, the losers were groping to pull themselves out of a political, social and economic depression.
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.
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.
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, floundering in the depression, was nationalized under the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI). Mussolini and Hitler both used a sense of national suppression 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 piled up victories.
Vittorio Jano who, we can well imagine, was under great pressure from Mussolini to create a "road-going P2." Indeed, it's easy to consider the wonderful series of 6-cylinder cars which Jano designed after the P2 to be little more than streetable versions of that great racer. In some 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. But while Bugatti was making great success selling "road-going grand prix cars," Alfa 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 cast-iron 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. 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) 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 speeds. They carried everything from Saloon bodies to 2-seat roadsters, the former most frequently from Castagna and the latter from Zagato. While the heaviest of Saloons was hardly capable of much over 60 mph, the light supercharged spiders could exceed 90 and offered superb roadholding. They were an immediate success.
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.
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 non-supercharged 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. 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.
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.
Despite later episodes Mussolini was popular with the Italians: in addition to making the trains run on time he gave Italy a sense of honor and national destiny. That the honor was purchased quite cheaply , if not pitifully, in Ethiopia, completely escaped the average Italian. But Mussolini did, unify Italy and the Italians.
For some reason the hardest times often seem to produce the greatest cars. Consider the choices offered to the very few affluent purchasers of the '30s: Bugatti, Talbot, Mercedes and Alfa in Europe, and Deusenberg, Cord, Packard and Cadillac in the US.
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 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 tyres. The advances in making reliable tyres helped make the automobile reasonable transportation. Tire changing had become progressively more rare on a journey.
Even in such heady company as Mercedes and Bugatti, The Alfas of the day stood out. Alfas were beautiful, powerful and reliable, and offered a sporting character which was only approached by Bugatti., 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 the body work.
With the inline eight, however, Jano had to confront increased problems of a significantly longer engine. To fit under the same bonnet 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.
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.
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. A traction bar was fitted on the front axle of the 8C cars, as 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 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 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 Saloon or limousine body work, so the car retained its sporting character in all configurations The long-wheelbase 8C2300 Castagna-bodied convertible is one of the most beautiful cars of any era, and the short Zagatos continued to be aestheticly perfect
There were alway some dodgy attempts,
too: Figoni and Graber built some less-than-beautiful samples, and a few
excessively-heavy bodies helped keep performance lower than expected.
There were three series of the 8C cars, identified by the second digit of the serial number. 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. 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 masterpiece, a 2.9-liter 8-cylinder engine which would power the all-conquering Tipo B.
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 tyres. On a classic car such as the 6C1750 the duration of tire contact with the road depended almost entirely on how supple the chassis was, The Chassis rather than the springs, helped keep the tyres in contact with the road. The springs, which we 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. The tyres of that period were skinny and hard, offering very little traction. Between 1935-1940, independent suspension improved roadholding significantly. Advances in tire adhesion would have to await the advent of radial tyres on sports cars in the early 1950s and the super-sticky compounds formulated initially for dragsters. Still the limitations of suspension and tyres 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 even 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 tyres on the ground.
But the use of twin engines had a surprisingly salutary effect. Alfa's twin-engined 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 Susa-Moncenisio hillclimb, neither especially noteworthy races. The road holding capabilities of the Tipo A, however, were noteworthy.
Jano and his Alfa engineers may not have understood the reason for the Tipo A's superior traction, but they clearly knew that it offered an advantage. In retrospect the dual-driveshaft layout reduced the torque reaction under acceleration which tries to lift a driving wheel 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 modification of the production 8C2300 powerplant.
The Grand Prix car was properly called the Tipo B, but was unofficially referred to as the P3 as a follow-on to the world-championship P2 .
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.
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 tyre-changing or replacing worn or broken parts: by the mid-'30s, his job had become unnecessary.
With the 6C1750, Alfa had cast some cylinder heads and blocks as single units, a practice which was the favorite Bugatti configuration. This technique eliminated the danger of head-gasket leakage. On the Tipo B engine, the valves seated directly on the aluminum head. On the "production" 8C2900B cars, valve seat inserts were fitted. 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 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 basics. 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 useless by comparison:
- 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
- Jano designed a 4-liter 60-degree 12-cylinder engine for
the Tipo C fully-independent chassis
-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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 12-cylinder prototype based roughly on the Auto Union Grand Prix car. 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 post-war Gran Tourismo cars, and the 158 voiturette racer which would survive the war and be developed to win back-to-back Grands Prix world championships in 1950 and 1951.
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 from Scuderia Ferrari, only to make Enzo Ferrari himself the head of the in-house group, Alfa Corse.
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. In exchange, he was retained as a consultant with a contract to help develop an Alfa 1500 cc voiturette race car.
A voiturette was then the equivalent of the more modern Formula 2: a smaller-displacement, less-expensive 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. Eventually even that hope was smashed, 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 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. 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.
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 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 post-war field was not a strong one and frequently a very mixed bag. Racing began quickly after the war, and a wide variety of surviving cars were pressed into service. But the sheer accomplishment of producing 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.
The Alfetta engine featured 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 well-oiled. 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 is how Alfa managed to coax so much power from such a tiny engine. The simple answer is supercharging, and more of the supercharging.
The complexity of the 159's final supercharger setup, however, says a lot about racing engine technology , and the fuels , of the time.
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) worked 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. 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: The 159 enjoyed a fuel economy? of about 1.5 gallons per mile. Fuel was literally poured through the engine, after all, that energy has to come from burning 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 water.
The fuel, of course, was not petrol, but a brew of petro-volatiles, not-so-volatiles and unspeakables. 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. (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.)
In retrospect, the true limiting
factor for these cars was not power but tyres. Skinny and hard, they made
racing like driving on 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 Mercedes-Benz with
its 646 hp. Legend for Alfa, perhaps, but a good indication of the skill it
took to drive one of these cars.
Two Alfas, the 8C2900B for sport cars and the Tipo 158/159 for formula cars, link pre- and post-war technologies.
With the 8C2900 we perhaps reached the pinnacle of Alfa. The 8C2900B sports 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 private company 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 Horsch Saloons of the late 1930s were all, as one journalist has coined the term, "peasant-crushers." The fastback coupe form was not limited to Italy. 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. Triumph even constructed a knock-off of the 8C2300, 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.
In 1929, if you were wealthy and wanted a sporty car, the proper marque was Alfa Romeo. The 6C1750 is still 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. an 1750 Alfa was 59,500 lire The 8C2300 was significantly more, at 91,000 lire.
By the 1930s Alfa knew it would need a cheaper car to stay in business through the depression. 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 Saloon by offering a bored-out, aluminum-alloy headed version called the 6C1900. But then it was time to introduce a new car.
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.
These cars were still expensive though, with the 6C2300 Saloons coming in at 44,500 lire compared to 58,000 lire for the 6C1900. A comparison of sales over three years shows how successful the cheaper model was:
But not for Long:
especially considering the fact that the 8C2900As were factory racers. In 1936, Alfa Romeo sold only five automobiles to the general public.
While the sporting Alfas offered dramatic styling, the Saloons' lines were much less adventurous. In fact, there was very little more than a longer bonnet line to distinguish an Alfa Saloon from other cars of the era ,until, that is, you either raised the bonnet 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. 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.
The first car with IFS had been the sliding-pillar 1922 Lancia Lambda, a milestone vehicle which also introduced the unit body.
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 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.
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 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 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.
Though "cheaper" the 6C2300B Saloon offered in 1935: twin-overhead-cam engine with aluminum-alloy head, freewheeling 4-speed transmission, fully-independent suspension with telescopic shock absorbers, hydraulic brakes, and a top speed of 70 mph. 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 chassis of the 8C2900A received an unsupercharged 4.5-liter V12 engine to become the Type 412 sport car.
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 1.5-liter 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 60-degree 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.. 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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 finally happened for the July, 1946 "Grand Prix of Nations" at Geneva, when the Alfas of Farina and Wimille took the first two places.
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 Saloon 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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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 front suspension was independent, with two A-arms and a kingpin, the rear was a solid rear axle with coil springs. It was an instant success and no one paused to soul-search whether or not this was a "real" Alfa. The four-door Saloon was not pace-setting in its styling and might have been mistaken for a Fiat 1400 by the casual observer.
A completely new passenger car, the Alfa Romeo 1900, was introduced in 1950 and in 1954 the Giulietta was introduced. The Giulietta is essentially the beginning of the modern era in Alfa Romeo's history.
The 1900 had its share of teething problems on the new assembly line. 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 single-handedly create the AlfaSud and its factory near Naples. The 1900 made unashamed use of plastics.
In keeping with Alfa's racing heritage, the new 1900 Saloon was advertised as "The family Saloon 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.
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. 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 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 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. No one, of course, could see the future, but Ghia peered more resolutely than most. In the process, the carrozeria managed to produce some strange ugly creations.
There were two basic engines in the 1900 series: the original displaced 1884 cc while the Super version displaced1975 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). A single carburetor graced the standard Saloons 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 normal floor shift.
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.
Still Alfas management was resolute in its inability to understand that the significance of the Giulietta's success was that it was a downscale car.
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 Saloon. Nowadays we would find the 1900 incredibly stark. By the time of the Giulia Super, Alfa absolutely owned the sport Saloon 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. 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.
The Fiat acquisition represents a catastrophe to the historic Alfa Romeo marque. The very best face which can be put on the deal was that it kept Alfa in business.
You could ask to what advantage.
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 Saloon.
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 Sud itself had passed emissions and safety standards.
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 MX5, 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 Saloons in a market segment populated by several very distinguished Saloons.
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 sportsters: 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 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.
Its monocoque chassis was both light and rigid , 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.
But none of these mechanical details explains the enormity of the Giulietta's appeal.
The MG was slower, even with its new aerodynamic bodywork, and had a pushrod engine.
The 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 the Giulietta for sheer charm, like the Siata and Abarth, but they were notoriously fussy and expensive.
The Giulietta was touching a lot of enthusiasts' hearts. 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 Alternator kept trying to fall off. The heater was a joke and the Veloce required a special technique just to get it underway without stalling.
Entrance to the famous "Portello" factory in the late '50s
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 engine , most notably the shim-type valve adjustments , in a cast-iron block housed in a very modern body style.
The 2000 Saloon 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.
was upgraded to an all-alloy straight-6 2600 engine in 1962.
These larger Alfas form a line which continued through the Montreal, a V-8 powered 2-seat GT coupe, and, through the Saloons, 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. While not understood at the time, these changes set the stage for a 1600 cc version, which would be called the Giulia (Giulietta is the diminutive of Giulia).
The new 1600 engine appeared in 1962, first in a boxy little Saloon 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 Saloon, coupe and spider in a model line, the popular Giulietta spider and sprint bodies were carried over with the new engine.
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, Zagato-bodied car Alfa had been working on since 1959: the TZ. One month after the engine appeared in the Sprint Speciale it was introduced in a racing version of the Giulia Saloon, 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 Saloon, the Giulia Super, and in an alloy-paneled coupe, the GTA, which was equipped with a twin-plug head. 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 remained in production for many years as the classic Alfa spider.
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 Saloons, coupes, spiders, a cabriolet, racing Saloons, racing coupes, special-bodied racing and show cars, station wagons, and even a diesel-powered Saloon. Most of these models were offered with both 1600 and 1300 engine sizes.
The 1960s saw more models of Alfa than the company had ever produced before, or would again. 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.
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. Never mind that Renault hadn't made it with the Dauphine 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. Post-war 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.
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.
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 5-mph bumpers which were needlessly ugly? 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.
Alfa introduced a new Saloon 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) Saloon failed to capture the charm of the Giulia berlina. Slowly, Alfa enthusiasts watched BMW become the dominant "sport Saloon."
In 1967, 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.
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 coupé, the last of the "big" Alfa coupes.
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 1971 Alfa decided to go into the small car business. The new car had a flat-four engine, front-wheel drive and disc brakes. It was to be built at a new factory near Naples. Hence the name - Alfasud. It did not take people long to find out that the handling could out run a Mini-Cooper - if the rust did not catch up before that. The cars' propensity to disintegrate almost before your eyes means that few have survived to become classics, and it did little for Alfa's reputation.
In Europe, the 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. The AlfaSud was available as both a Saloon and coupe, the coupe looking rather like a scaled-down Alfetta. These cars were certified for US emissions, but never imported. They did very well in Europe and England often quoted as car of the decade. 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 Saloon. 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 continuous. A replacement for the GTA-based series of sport/racing cars was the type 33, introduced in 1967 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 12-cylinder V and boxer configurations. 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 remained 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 Saloon 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 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 went to the US.
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, The modular 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.
In an era of active suspensions and computer controls for traction, Alfa failed 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 big Saloons 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 tyres 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 excesses. Still, the level of automotive power or computer assists shows no tendency to decline. 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 MX5 discovered a niche for a "no-frills" sport car. It is, however, feature-laden compared to the austerity of the Giulietta and Giulia. The MX5 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 Saloon 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 . 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 British and 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 track record in the US, both with its own products and the Lancia marque, gave Alfisti nightmares.
One of the first acts after the Fiat takeover was the cancellation of the Big Saloon. Fiat management had discovered that the Saloon 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 Saloons for Lancia and sporting ones for Alfa. While that does not explain the Lancia Delta Integrale, it did seem to provide some breathing room for Alfa.
In the early 1980s Fiat bought Alfa Romeo, and started to change the image of its models. The 'Sud was scrapped, replaced by the more upmarket 33 saloon and Sprint coupé, both using the flat-four engine. The Alfetta and Giulietta models were replaced by the 75. The front-engine, rear-gearbox layout was retained, giving a better weight distribution.
New too was the Twin-Spark 2.0 engine, while the 3.5 V6 gave the best performance. Less successful was the big Alfa 6, aimed at the executive market - and failing. Very much better was the 164, launched in 1988 as part of the Type Four project between Saab and Fiat. The Pininfarina body looked exactly right, with handling to match.
In 1992 the 155 saloon was introduced, to be followed by the 145 hatchback and 146 saloons, the latter initially using the flat-four engines. These were replaced in 1996 by new transverse, in-line four-cylinder 1.6 and 1.8 Twin Spark units. The GTV tradition was maintained, with the 2.0-litre, 150bhp front-wheel-drive version, with looks that could not be mistaken for anything but an Alfa Romeo.
Witness now though the lovely 156,166 and new Spider and there is renewed hope for Alfa.
By 2000, the 155 has given way to the 156, and its larger sibling the 166. Powered by a range of Twin Spark engines now including a V6, they continue to sell reasonably. Whilst still a niche choice, Alfa's quality today is much improved and Fiat's investment has enabled the company to develop a range of modern vehicles. Meanwhile their slogan curore sportivo ('sporting heart', an anthropomorphic reference to the hallmark sophistication of mechanical components) says all that needs to be said about their appeal: the carefully cultivated image makes Italian engineering passion affordable to the average executive car buyer.
In its Alfa Romeo produced a lot of cars which have remained memorable whether commercially successful or otherwise.
There are few cars which are so unique that they're considered a design classic as soon as they appear, but the Alfa Romeo SZ certainly is one of them. It was a product, a remarkable synthesis of two well known Italian companies looking for a new lease of life. There was Alfa Romeo, submerged in the Fiat-concern in the 1980s, with a tarnished image of building rusting cars which lacked quality searching for a renewed link with their exiting sportscar past. And there was Zagato, the Milan-based design studio and coach builder, which was making a gradual transition from developing and manufacturing (exotic) production car bodywork to industrial design and prototyping. Both companies found each other in a common need to reestablish their images in the late 1980s which lead to the remarkable Alfa Romeo SZ coupe and ultimately the RZ roadster. It wasn't fashionable nor conservative, it took no cues from any other model and it wasn't easy on the eyes. You either loved it or hated it and at best it was avant-garde. It set a standard which was never followed, it was named and revered as "The Monster"; it brought life to the scene of wind tunnel and consumer groups dictated anonymous car design. In other words: it stirred emotions. And that's what makes a car more than an object.
This "Experimental Sportscar-3.0 litre" was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show as a prototype by Zagato, but in fact its design history was far more complicated. No less than 3 teams were asked to design a proposal: the studio of Zagato, Alfa Romeo's own Centro Stile (Walter da Silva and Alberto Bertelli) and Fiat's design center headed by Mario Maioli and Robert Opron, the distinguished French designer of the Citroën SM and the Renault Fuego for example. Unfortunately for Zagato its original design was discarded early on and ultimately the design which originated from the Fiat design center lead to the ES-30, with Robert Opron making the initial drafts and young designer Antonio Castellana largely responsible for both the styling of the body and the interior of the car. The SZ was planned and designed in a very brief lapse of time - 19 months to be exact - thanks to the use of integrated computer systems and CAD/CAM design, right from the first rough sketches.
Apparently Zagato only made small contributions to the design of the front and the rear of the ES-30, but still the illustrious "Z" crest of Zagato would grace the sides of the car. General opinions on the almost extra terrestrial looking ES-30 were encouraging enough for Alfa Romeo to start up a production line for a limited series of this car, now renamed into SZ (Sprint Zagato) as a reminder to Alfa's inspiring past. The first 11 SZ cars were made that same year and a maximum production number of only 1,000 was announced. In 1990 the distribution of the SZ got under way with 289 cars produced. 1991 was to be last production year for the SZ. The final 736 cars left the factory, making the grand total for the SZ 1,036 produced cars (of which 38 were prototype and pre-production cars destined to be scrapped, but some of them are still extant ). There was only one color scheme available for the SZ: a red body ("Rosso Alfa") combined with a dark grey roof section. The only exception to that was Andrea Zagato's personal car (a rebuilt Trophy racing car) which was completely black. The mechanical components of the SZ were produced by Alfa Romeo and enhanced by Alfa Corse.
The coachwork was a thermoplastic resin, reinforced with glassfibre composite material, bonded to a steel chassis with special adhesives to produce a body with extraordinary torsional rigidity. The result was dramatic and the Italian press described the car as " Il Mostro "..... "The Monster". It was instantly loved or hated. The glassfibre composite plastic bodyparts were manufactured by Carplast (Italy) and Stratime (France). Zagato's role was mainly assembling the cars
The mechanical concept of the SZ prototype was the fruit of intense work by Alfa Romeo who with the important contribution of Alfa Racing, were determined to achieve characteristics of road holding and handling unusual for a car which was not specifically intended for competition. For this purpose, three prototypes based on the "75" chassis, and the experience gained by the 75 in the World Touring Championship were necessary. After many experiments and test runs, the definitive mechanical lay-out was a fact.
In January 1988 the SZ prototype had a similar looking engine as used in the 3.0 litre V6 America 75. The 2959 cc., double overhead camshaft V6 light alloy engine with the banks set at 60 degrees and conventional 2 valves per cylinder was kept on as the sole candidate for the SZ. Maximum care was taken with the timing, the camshafts, the compression ratios and the geometry of the manifolds. The intake manifolds, wider diameter exhaust manifolds and the tubing for the coolant radiator are all of a new design, while a heat exchanger for cooling the engine oil plus a wider diameter air filter were also added. Fuel injection and ignition are controlled by an integrated electronic system ( Bosch Motronic ML 4.1 ) fitted with a detonation sensor.
The horsepower this engine did produce is 210 Hp. ( in reality mostly higher ) supplied at 6200 rpm. with the maximum torque of 25 kgm. ( also higher in reality ) coming in on a very flat curve at 4500 rpm. The top speed of the SZ is according to Alfa Romeo 245 km/h. ( I have seen the needle of the counter hit 275 km/h. ! ). The acceleration from 0 to 100 ( two persons and 50 kg. luggage in the car ) is within 7 seconds, while it covers the standing kilometre in 24,7 seconds.
The underpinnings of the car were also based on that of the
Alfa 75. Front and rear suspension were adapted from the Alfa 75 group A/IMSA
competition cars, complete with uniball joints. The transaxle scheme, with
front engine, rear gear-box-differential gearing group and De Dion axle,
guarantees exceptional gear stability, thanks to optimal distribution of the
load on the two axles. These characteristics and the particular asset assure
the car's practically neutral behaviour and safe reliable driving under any
condition. The transmission constitutes the rear change group in block with
the differential gearing. The gear-box with 5 gears plus reverse, is provided
with a single plate clutch with hydraulic command. The differential gearing is
self blocking with 25% slip. The group is provided with an oil cooling circuit
with radiator and circulation pump.
The coachwork had been lightened by 150 kg, with a dry weight of 539 kg. bearing the front axle and 501 kg. on the rear, but in contrast to its lightweight construction style it is actually heavier (by 10 kg) than the full steel Alfa 75 saloon car: the SZ puts a stately 1,260 on the scales. Other measurements are a width of 1.730 m, a length of 4.060 m and a height of 1.300 m. The frame was stiffened in accordance with the data provided by the torsion and flexibility testing on the racing vehicles.
The SZ prototype's very restricted ground clearance prompted the adoption of a hydraulic lifting . By means of a button on the konsole, the driver can raise the car by 50 mm. in order to get over bumps in the road etc. The SZ featured an extreme torsional rigidity as a result of the steel shell construction with bonded plastic body panels. Combined with the sophisticated racinf suspension and the asymmetric Pirelli P-Zero tyres, the roadhandling is superb. With the suspension in the low setting ( 80 mm. ground clearance ) the SZ is able to pull more than 1.1. G in corners ( some drivers did succeed in pulling upto 1.4 G. ) It stays on track resisting a pulling force of more than its own weight. Imagine to go round a corner while a person of more than your own weight is hanging on to you, trying to force you the other way: that's what cornering in this car can be like... For the first time there was a - not for active racing - sportscar built with a very low Cx of 3.0 together with a ground effect to balance the natural lift of the car
The SZ is the synthesis of traditional technology pushed to its highest level. So the SZ is not, and does not pretend to be a high tech car - in other words, it is not an expression of the desire to condense in a single automobile all the most modern technological advances. It is not a projection of the future with ingredients such as four-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, anti skid systems or anti locking systems, stuffed with electro-technology etc. So you can not see the SZ as a kind of concept car, but Alfa Romeo built a car deliberately lacking in this respect, seeking rather to push to the utmost a synthesis of traditional technology and sportiness, reaching goals which were extremely close to the characteristics of competition cars.
"The Monster", like it was known by the press because of its extreme looks and amazing driving potential, is an unique car. It surprisid people, getting attention and boosting Alfa Romeo's image. Many of the cars are still around and it's not hard to find one in Europe. The SZ had done the job it was meant to, but ultimately was hard to sell because of its extreme looks and because of the fact that the market for luxury cars collapsed. A special racing class (the SZ Trophy) was introduced so the SZ (and RZ) could be used in competition on tracks all over Europe. Participants received a 25% discount on the not even exorbitant price of the cars in order to boost sales and to promote the series.
Regardless of the lacking commercial success of the SZ a new version appeared in 1992: the Roadster Zagato (RZ). Like the name indicates it was a convertible version of the SZ coupe. A year before Zagato had presented a SZ spider styling study, a remarkably elegant looking prototype SZ convertible with some curvy, almost feminine forms. But the actual RZ looked more like its SZ brother with angular shapes and the high waist line; more as if the SZ had been decapitated. However this car, unlike the SZ, was an original Zagato design.
A limited production of only 350 cars was announced, but the RZ proved to be even harder to sell than the SZ. Only 278 roadsters left the factory; 50 in 1992 and 228 in 1993. Like the SZ the RZ was sold and distributed outside Italy mostly by enthusiasts and specialists, and not by the official Alfa Romeo channels.
A remarkable feature in the interior was the "Kevlar" panels in the dashboard of the SZ, which give a racy light-weight impression. But it isn't really (expensive) carbon fibre material, only Fablon with a plastic coating. In the RZ these panels have been replaced by black coated aluminum panels. The seats have no height adjustment and this means that taller people have reduced visibility in the RZ because of the low windscreen with the large top edge. The windscreen rim also acts as a roll-over bar in the RZ, hence its size. Underneath the body not much was changed. Like the SZ the new RZ featured the 3.0 litre V6 with 210 hp and 245 Nm. A nice aspect of this engine is the even availability of torque: between 2500 and 6000 rpm there's always at least 230 Nm available. This makes the SZ and RZ flexible cars to drive, equally competent at touring as at performance driving. A downside to the RZ is its weight: 1380 kg, an increase by 120 kg causing it to be less nimble than the SZ. Maximum speed of the RZ is 230 kph and the car is capable of a 0-100 kph acceleration in 7.5 seconds.
The body of the RZ shows some revisions from that of the SZ. Most notably of course the (unlined) fold away top which disappears in a space behind the seats, under a lid with two typical Zagato bulges. Other changes include different side windows to fit the top, a new engine cover, now without the ribbed segment in the middle part in front of the windscreen, more concealed window wipers, a higher front spoiler to offer more ground clearance, revised side-skirts and a darker rear light strip. Less noticeable but also a remarkable difference from the SZ is the utilization of thinner plastic panels in order to reduce weight. In all, creating the RZ required more than 500 new parts and all moulds for the plastic components had to be renewed. Quite expensive for such a limited production run.
The RZ is definitely a car for those who like to be defined as non-conformists. A typical Alfa Romeo characteristic can be found in the drive train of the SZ and RZ: the transaxle transmission construction. This means that the gearbox isn't directly attached to the engine, but to the rear axle, combined with the (limited slip) differential. The construction offers a better weight distribution with enhanced road holding as a result, but always had the downside of an indirect, uncomfortable gear change. Remarkably Alfa had finally solved this problem in the SZ and RZ, the last models the factory fitted with this construction. The original 5-speed gearbox of the SZ was fitted with a single plated clutch, which proved to be too weak. As from 1991 a larger sized clutch with a stronger release assembly was provided in the SZ and RZ .
Unlike the SZ the RZ was available in three different color schemes: red, yellow and black. Next to that three RZ cars were delivered in silver and one in metallic white. In all the RZ is a rare, exotic car and definitely a future collectors item. Since the SZ/RZ Alfa Romeo more or less abandoned the sports car niche market and went for volume production. Also the ties with Zagato weren't renewed; the successors to the SZ and RZ models, the elegant and stylish GTV and Spider introduced in 1995, were built by Pininfarina, Zagato's long term rival.
In its day a brilliant little car trouble was by the next day it had dissolved to a pile of rust.
After long years of planning and
engineering, the Alfasud is presented at the Turin Motor Show in 1971.
The entirely new vehicle has nothing in common with the Alfa Romeos (series 105) which were produced before.
|In contrast to the classic Alfa drivetrain-layout with a front Bialbero four cylinder engine and rear-wheel-drive, the Alfasud is a front-wheel-drive car which has a four cylinder Boxer engine with a capacity of 1186 cc which overhangs the front axle. The engine was developed in order to repair and maintain it as easily as possible, everything is accessible without greater problems. Valve adjustment has been simplified: you do not have to remove the camshafts anymore to adjust the valves with shims because the camshafts of the Boxer-engine have little holes. Through the holes you can adjust the valves with an Allenkey|
A hydraulically operated dry single clutch provides the connection between the engine and all new four-speed gearbox with integrated differential. The engine comes with one vertical single-barrel Solex C32
|DISA/2 carburettor and has develops 63 bhp and a torque of 8,5 kgm at 3500 rpm. With a kerb weight of only 830 kg, the Alfasud reaches a top speed of 152 kph. This makes it one of the fastest 1200 cc cars at its time. The front brake discs are inboardly mounted to reduce unsprung masses. This improves the comfort. The rear wheels are als braked with disc brakes. The first Alfasuds still do not have power-assisted braking. The independent front wheels with Mc Pherson struts, transverse arms and trailing beams have an anti-roll bar. The rigid rear axle has trailing beams and a Panhard-rod. 145 SR 13 wheels are standard.|
|Compared to other Alfa Romeos of that time, the equipment and trim of the Alfasud is rather stingy. Neither a rev-counter nor a water temperature gauge can be found on the dashboard. A red light lights as long as the engine has not reached a certain temperature. The seats are covered with plastic, the floor with rubber mats. The height-adjustable steering wheel is unique in the 1200 cc-class. Nearly all controls and switches are mounted in the two steering column stalks also the fan-switch and the horn. At the end of August 1972 the Alfasud has reached the European Alfa dealer's showrooms. There are so many orders that Alfa Romeo can not deliver the new car fast enough.|
In 1973 a two-door version of the Alfasud arrives. Alfa Romeo presents the sportive two-door version Alfasud ti in October 1973.
|Ti stands for tourismo internazionale - this abbreviation was used in the sixties when Alfa used it for the faster and more powerful versions of the famous Giulia. With the help of one Weber 32 DIR 61/250 twin-choke downdraft carburettor, the Alfasud ti's power output is increased to 68 bhp. At 3200 rpm it has a torque of 9,8 kgm (about 98 Nm). The ti is offered with a five-speed gearbox which is an optional extra to start . Automobile sportyness in the seventies is connected with black. Alfa Romeo follows this trend and replaces nearly all chromed parts of the four-door Alfasud's body with black ones. To distinguish the ti from its four-door brother, it has new bumpers, four round headlights and special wheels. In addition to that, there are a front and a rear spoiler.|
|The cabin is more luxurious. The rubber mats are replaced by a floor carpet and the seats now have head rests.The latter are covered with a bi-colour upholstery with black skai and grey fabric. Then there is a new steering wheel and two additional gauges in the middle of dashboard which inform about water temperature and oil-pressure. The dashboard offers room for another gauge. A new centre console which allows the integration of a radio is there, too. All Alfasuds which are made from June 1973 on have power assisted brakes. Two new extras enlarge the price list: a cigarette lighter and a heatable rear window can now be ordered by the clients. In addition the Alfasud Berlina is now available with headrests and rev-counter (which are offered as optional extras).|
|The first improvements to the Alfasud-range are made in 1974. Now all versions have black instead of chromed wipers and a modified carburettor. In December there is a new bearing for the steering column which eliminates vibrations. The production of the Alfasud L starts during the year 1974. With the launch of this Lusso-version the more simple Alfasud is called Alfasud N (N means "normale"). In early 1975 the Alfasud L can be admired in the show rooms. The L features a rev-counter, an electric windscreen washer, ashtrays in the rear doors and iluminated controls of the heating panel of the dashboard. The new version is easily distinguishable by its new bumpers, and a chrome strip on boot lid grille and along the sills.|
|The cabin has become more luxurious, too. The
seats have head rests (only at the front) and are covered with more
comfortable velours instead of the platic trim of the Alfasud N. A
floor carpet replaces the rubber mats. In addition the Alfasud L has a
new dashboard with a lockable glove compartment. On the boot lid one
finds an "Alfasud L" signature. The kerb weight is increased
to 860 kg. So the Alfasud L reaches a top speed of 153 kph.
The Alfasud L is named Alfasud SE in the UK and was launched in May 1974.
There is another new Alfasud besides the L. It is the three-door Alfasud Giardinetta. The Giardinetta is the first mass-production estate made by Alfa Romeo.
| It has the 63 bhp engine which is also
used in the Alfasud N and offers a large boot (600 to 1300 litres of
storage capacity). 165 / 70 SR 13 tyres are standard on the 915 kg
heavy little estate car. The Giardinetta body measures 3935 mm - 9mm
longer than the Berlina body. Alfa Romeo states a top speed of more
than 150 kph.
The equipment of the Giardinetta is nearly similar to the Alfasud L. Only the rev-counter and the fabric upholstery is missing. The boot of the Giardinetta is covered with bright artificial wood and rubber stripes to attempt to keep goods were they are.
All Alfasud have power assisted brake from February 1975. Clients who get their car in October 1975 or later have a one year warranty. The old alternator is changed to a 600 W one in December.
Alfa Romeo presents the Alfasud Sprint. The coupé which completes the Alfasud range is designed by Giugaro.
|With its introduction, a new engine is
introduced, too. With the enlargement of the stroke by 5 mm, the
capacity of the Boxer engine is raised to 1286 cc. The new
powerpack with one Weber 32 DIR 61 carburettor develops 75 bhp at 6000
rpm. The maximum of torque of 102,9 Nm is reached at 3500 rpm. The new
1286 cc engine is the only engine which is available in the new
Alfasud Sprint. The 4019 mm long five-seater coupé reaches a top
speed of 165 kph and has a kerb weight of 890 kg. It has the
five-speed gearbox in common with the Alfasud ti. The 165 / 70 SR 13 tyres
are standard equipment.
In the same year, Alfa launches the Alfasud 5m. 5m stands for "cinque marce" (Italian for five speeds). The level of trim and equipment (rev-counter, head rests, floor carpet, chrome strips etc.) can be compared to the L / SE version. The Alfasud Giardinetta is now also available with the five-speed gearbox used in the ti and 5m.
In January Alfa Romeo prolonges the service intervals from 8000 to 10000 km. The B-pillars now have two holes (placed in different height) for the safety belt in order to adapt its position to the driver In Pomigliano d'Arco they call the new higher hole "Germans-hole", the old one "Italians hole".
In mid-December 1977 Alfa Romeo presents the Alfasud Super. In Italy it is offered as 1.2 litre with 63 bhp and as 1.3 litre with 68 bhp (99 Nm at 3500 rpm). The 1.2 is not available in most of the other European countries.
|The Alfasud Super 1.3 has the 1286 cc engine of the Alfasud Sprint which has been modified with a single Solex C32 DISA21 carburettor. The Alfasud Super can be distinguished by its new bumpers and a small air dam on the bonnet which is meant to collect more air for the interior. The interior has been upgraded with a new dashboard with dark blue instruments, and has a modified steering wheel. The old black plastic gear lever knob has been replaced by a wooden in the Alfasud Super. The centre console of the dashboard offers room for a radio-cassette player and one speaker.|
|The seats are covered with a bi-colour fabric.
Depending on the colour of the car they are covered with a combination
of beige and brown or black and grey. The door panels now are also
covered with fabric.
A five-speed gearbox is standard on both versions of the Alfasud Super (1.2 and 1.3). The 1.2 reaches a top speed of 155 kph, the 1.3 runs 4 kph faster. The Alfasud Super is the first four-door Alfasud which belongs to the series II.
Alfa Romeo offers a metallic paint and new alloy wheels as optional extra. The rust-protection of the body is once again improved with the launch of the Alfasud Super.
|But there is another new Alfasud in 1977. It
is the Alfasud ti 1.3 which has the 1286 cc engine of the Alfasud
Sprint with 76 bhp. With its five-speed gearbox it reaches 169 kph.
The Alfasud L now comes with a serial five-speed gearbox.
In June, Alfa Romeo introduces an important
modification to the windscreen and rear window fitting into the
production of the Alfasud: the windsreen and the rear window are no
longer glued-in. They are no rubber-mounted. The chromed stripe along
the windscreen is no longer fixed with clips but is now glued to the
Alfa Romeo satisfies the wishes of many Alfasud drivers and presents a 1.5 litre engine. The bore of the engine is raised to 84 mm, the stroke to 67.20 mm.
|The engine has a capacity of 1490 cc and can
be ordered from May on, in the reworked Alfasud ti and in the
Alfasud Sprint. It has 84 bhp at 5800 rpm. The Alfasud ti 1.5 reaches
a top speed of 171 kph, the Alfasud Sprint 1.5 170 kph.
The old 1286 cc engine is replaced by a new 1351 cc one, which has a stroke of 67.20 mm (as the 1.5 litre) and a bore of 80 mm. Installed in the Alfasud ti, the 1351cc-Boxer has one Weber 32 DIR 81/250 twin-choke downdraft carburettor and develops 79 bhp at 6000 rpm. The same engine equipped with a Solex 32 DISA carburettor is available in the Alfasud Super and Giardinetta where it develops 71 bhp.
In May 1978 Alfa Romeo introduces the facelifted Alfasud ti (series II). It has black wheel arch extensions, a larger rear spoiler and a modified grille. The bumpers are the ones of the Alfasud Super.
|With the introduction of the 1.5 litre engine
into the Alfasud Sprint,Alfa Romeo modifies the Alfasud Coupé. From
now on one speaks of the series II. A modified steering column stalk
and new seat upholstery enter the production. The former chromed
window-frames are now kept in dim-black. As the Alfasud Super and ti,
the Alfasud Sprint also receives the 79 bhp-strong 1351 cc engine
which replaces the old 1286 cc 1.3 litre.
|From January Alfa Romeo gives a 100.000 km
warranty on the engine and a two-year warranty on the paint.
In June Alfa Romeo starts another offensive against the rust. From now on all parts of the body which tend to rust quickly are PVC-covered. The use of "zincrometall"-covered metal plate is increased. Cavities of the body are filled with a special foam.
(still not enough though)
|Alfa Romeo also raises the power output of the Alfasud Sprint engines to 106bhp|
|Following the old Alfa-doctrine "one carburettor per cylinder", the new 1.3 Veloce and 1.5 Veloce have two Weber 32 DIR 61/100 (1.3 Veloce) 32 DIR 71/250 (1.5 Veloce) twin-choke downdraft carburettors. The Alfa Romeo engineers also modify the camshaft-timing and the ignition. The result are 86 bhp at the 1351 cc engine and 95 bhp at the 1490 cc engine. This means 9 % more at the 1.3 and 12 % more at the 1.5 compared to their predecessor with only one twin-choke downdraft carburettor. With the introduction of the Veloce versions, an additional bearing is added to the engine which connects the left cylinder head with the body.|
The old 1.3 litre disappears out of the catalogues at once while the Alfasud Sprint 1.5 with 84 bhp live on till 1980.
1980 - a new decade has begun. It will be the decade of black plastic. Alfa Romeo recognises this trend and facelifts the Alfasud for the second time.
|New front wings and a new boot lid offer room for larger indicator flashers and rear lights. The steel-bumpers are replaced by larger ones made of plastic. A small air-dam which is integrated into the front bumper improves the aerodynamics of the Alfasud. At the front there are new larger indicator flashes, modified headlights and a new radiator grille. The appearance of the rear of the Alfasud has been altered by new larger rear lights. A part of them is integrated into the boot lid. Dim black door handles and protection strips on the doors, new signs and the missing chrome-strip along the boot lid are further details of the new Alfasud-generation.|
The interior shows even more modifications. An entirely new dashboard with air vents in the middle and separate windscreen-defroster vents is installed into the series III Alfasud. Then there is a digital clock in the middle of the dashboard. A rear fog light is added to the standard equipment. The very first series III Alfasuds were delivered with the old series II dashboard, the RHD-versions of 1980 were nearly all equipped with the old one
|The old series II dashboard is another detail which remains alive in the series III Alfasud 1.2. The 1.2 is available with four and five speeds. The four-speed version has one Solex C32 DISA/21 carburettor and develops 63 bhp while the five-speed version has a Weber 32 DIR 61/250 twin-choke carburettor and 68 bhp. The Alfasud 1.3 and 1.5 now both have a Weber 32 DIR 61/250 twin-choke carburettor which raises the power to 79 in the 1.3 and 84 bhp in the 1.5. The German Alfasud 1.3 is stated with 75 bhp in order to keep in a cheaper insurance-class.|
A short time after the Berlina had been facelifted, Alfa Romeo also facelifts the Ti. it now has black wheel arch extensions made of plastic and an again enlarged rear spoiler. With the launch of the series III Alfasud Ti, the letters Ti are written with a capital T. The interior of the Ti shows two differences if you compare it to the four-door Alfasud.
|There are two extra gauges in the centre
console and a different steering wheel. The Ti is available as 1.3
with 86 bhp and as 1.5 with 95 bhp. Both engines have the same
specifications as the Alfasud Sprint Veloce engines. The Tis are
equipped with a contact-less ignition.
In the UK, Alfa Romeo dealers offer a special edition of the Alfasud ti series II. It is called the Alfasud Ti 'S'. A heady £ 4600 buys one a special version of the ti 1.5, which mixes elements (i.e. the bumpers) of the Ti series III with the body of the ti series II.
The Alfa Sud despite its rusty faults is still voted car of the decade in britain, by the Motor magazines. In retrospect its rusting is not all that far advanced of most contemporary models of the day. How many Austin 1100/1300's do you still see.
At the end 1980 the Alfasud 1.2 5m Valentino with 68 bhp is offered in Italy. Later it will be also sold with a 1351 cc engine (79 bhp) and 1490 cc engine. The 1.3 Valentino and the 1.5 Valentino are also available in other countries.
After the facelift of 1980, Alfa Romeo finally offers a (three-door) hatchback version of the Alfasud in 1981. Extra stiffenings on the C-pillar and in the boot-section allow a back door.
From June 1982 Alfa Romeo offered a five-door version of the Alfasud with hatchback. Additional stiffenings of the Alfasud's body make it possible.
|With the launch of the five-door versions,
Alfa Romeo modifies the complete Alfasud range. The Alfasud 1.2 Junior
remains the last four-door version with the small boot-lid. It is the
cheapest version of the range. All other Alfasuds now have a
hatchback. Besides the Junior there are two other Alfasuds which have
the 1186 cc engine: the five-door 1.2 S and 1.2 SC. The S stands for
"Super", the SC means "Super Comfort". Some
sources also state a 1.3 S. At the other end of the range there is the
new Alfasud 1.5 Quadrifoglio Oro (Golden Cloverleaf). It has the 95
bhp engine of the Alfasud Ti 1.5 and offers a luxurious equipment. A
wooden steering wheel and gearlever-knob, fine beige velour
upholstery, front light wipers / washers, bi-coloured steel-rims, a
rear-window wiper, electric windows in the front doors and a metallic
paint are standard. The radiator grille of the 1.5 QO is made of
bright grey plastic while all the other Alfasuds have a black
one. if you wanted to buy an Alfasud in 1982, you had the choice
between seven different versions:
Alfasud 1.2 Junior (4-doors)
Alfasud 1.2 S (5-doors)
Alfasud 1.2 SC (5-doors)
Alfasud 1.3 SC (3-doors)
Alfasud 1.3 SC (5-doors)
Alfasud 1.5 SC (3-doors)
Alfasud 1.5 QO (5-doors)
The Alfasud Junior is offered in two different versions. It is sold as 63 bhp and as 68 bhp version. 6000 units are built - 4500 of them for the Italian market.
Alfasud 1.5 Quadrifoglio Oro
|1.3 with 75 bhp, five speeds and four doors.
It has a red-orange-yellow stripe following the contours of the
Alfasud's side. Compared to the usual 1.3 SC it costs 1000 DM less.
The German Junior 1.3 can only be ordered in three different colours:
white, ivory and dark brown. The dark brown version is more expensive
and is equipped with alloy wheels. The Junior 1.3 is sold as a limited
edition (a thousand units) and is meant as Alfa Romeo for beginners.
All Alfasud Berlinas now have the long transmission ratio gearbox
which reduces the fuel consumption of the 1.3 by about 13.5 %.
in October 1982 Alfa Romeo launches the fastest Alfasud ever made, the Alfasud Ti 1.5 Quadrifoglio Verde with 105 bhp. The raised power-output of the 1.5 litre engine is the result of the use of two larger Weber 32 DIR 71/250 carburettors and modified camshafts.
|It stands on Michelin TRX (190/55 HR 340) or
Pirelli P6 (185/60 HE 14) tyres and special alloy wheels made by
Speedline. The interior is upgraded by a leather steering wheel and
new sportive seats. The seats are covered with a special fabric which
shows the "Ti"-Logo in red letters on black ground, the
floor carpet is kept in red. The 1.5 Ti QV needs 31,2 seconds for one
kilometre (standing start) and reaches a top speed of 185 kph. The 1.3
Ti is now sold with the long transmission ratio. So, there are two Tis
in the 1982 Alfasud range.
In 1982 Alfa Romeo introduces a new marchio. Its design has been modernised.
Alfasud 1.5 Ti Quadrifoglio Verde
the last days of the Alfasud Giardinetta finally come. The production of the unsuccessful estate is stopped.
In 1983, the successor of the Alfasud is born. It is the brand new Alfa 33 which is intended to free Alfa Romeo from the rusty disaster called the Alfasud.
|The Alfasud range is reduced to one version, the Alfasud Ti 1.5 QV with 105bhp. This version survives because there is still no sportive version of the Alfa 33. The production of all other versions of the Alfasud ends step by step during the year. The Alfasud Sprint is called Sprint from now on. Alfa Romeo gives it a facelift. It now has dim black plastic bumpers and a new radiator grille made of plastic. Lateral protection panels and a new mirror are added to the body. Two different versions are available: the Sprint 1.3 with 85 bhp and the Sprint 1.5 Quadrifoglio Verde (Golden Cloverleaf) with 105 bhp. The Sprint 1.5 QV is only available with the short transmission ratio.|
The Sprint 1.5 QV offers a rear wiper / washer and 14 " Speedline alloy wheels with 190/55 HR 340 or 185/60 HR 14 tyres as standard equipment. The 1.3 is delivered with 13 " steel rims and 165/70 SR 13 tires.
For a short period, the Sprint Speciale
is offered in the uk. The production of the Alfa Romeo ARNA starts in
Pratola Serra near Pomigliano d' Arco. This new Alfa which is positioned below
the 33-range uses the body of the Datsun / Nissan Cherry and combines it with
the engine, gearbox and front axle of the Alfasud.
1984 -Launch of the Sprint 1.5
|The production of the Sprint 1.5 starts. It
has the trim of the 1.3 and can be recognized by the red stripe on the
bumpers and lateral protection panels. The Sprint 1.5 stands on 165/70
SR 13 tyres with steel rims and can only be ordered with the long
transmission ratio gearbox.
The Sprint 1.5 Grand Prix special edition is sold sold in some countries. It is based on the 1.5 QV.
At the end of the 1984, Alfa Romeo installs the chassis of Alfa 33 under the body of every new Sprint. So, all Sprints have a modified front suspension with outboard mounted brake discs and the rigid rear beam axle of the 33 with brake drums.
The last Alfasuds are built, there are few mourners
at its funeral..
The production of the Sprint 1.5 Quadrifoglio Verde ends. Parallel to the brand new Alfa 33 1.7 QV Alfa Romeo offers a Sprint with 1712 cc. It is called the Sprint 1.7 Quadrifoglio Verde.
|Its engine has hydraulic tappets and two Weber
32 DIR 62/100 twin-choke downdraft carburettors. The new engine
develops 114 bhp. The Sprint 1.7 QV's brakes were adapted to the
increased power. At the front it now has larger vented discs.
The big lateral protection panels and the colourful strips disappear and let the body look thinner. Alloy wheels with a new design and a colour-coded mirror enter the production. The scudetto is again chromed.
The Sprint 1.7 QV comes with a small, colour-coded rear spoiler. It is stated with a top speed of 202 kph. This makes it the fastest Alfasud / Sprint ever built.
|Compared to the interior of its predecessor
Sprint 1.5 QV, the interior looks rather plain. A rough grey
fabric with leather inlays replaces the black fabric with green
points. The 1.7 QV is sold with an electronic fuel injection in some
countries. It is called the Sprint 1.7 ie Quadrifoglio Verde. It has a
Bosch LE 3.1 Jetronic system and develops 105 bhp. A three-way
catalyst according to Euro-1 standards is standard. It is sold in the
Netherlands, Switzerland and some other countries. The Sprint 1.3
still exists besides the 1.7. In 1989 the production of the Sprint
18 years after the launch of the first Alfasud in 1971, the long and sometimes sad story of the series 901 / 902 / 904 ends silently.
The superb idea of Rudolf Hruska has been copied by many other companies. Meanwhile it can not cope with the raised standards in passive safety and luxury equipment.
The old Alfa 33 (series 905) which has
delivered a lot of parts for the last Sprints will be replaced in 1990 by the
Nuova Alfa 33 (series 907).
|Alfa Romeo Model Specifications|
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Contents:Alfa Romeo Motors History