The History of Alfa Romeo – Documentary Video

Watch A Documentary of The History of Alfa Romeo.


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Video Transcript

“Just to look at the badge alone does something to me.”

” You remember the most exclusive club in the world.”

“These are cars with soul”

“Tremendous power”

History of Alfa Romeo - Early - Grand Prix - Racing

History of Alfa Romeo – Early Grand Prix Racing

The beginnings of the Alfa story

David Owen (Alfa Romeo Historian): The beginnings of the Alfa story are about as an promising as it’s possible to be. When the company actually started life, it wasn’t even called Alfa. It was called SAID for the Italian Darracq Automobile Company. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Darracq was actually bought out by the Italian codirectors of the company. They renamed the company the Lombardi Automobile Factory, which the initials of which in Italian are A L F A. And the story really began when they recruited Giuseppe Morosi, a surveyor turned automobile engineer to actually design some new cars for them.


History of Alfa Romeo The P2 Grand Prix Car

History of Alfa Romeo – P2 Grand Prix Car

The Morosi’s designs put the company on a sound commercial footing and it was beginning to do rather well. Until, the outbreak of the First World War, when the car market disappeared virtually overnight. Cars and car parts which had been produced ready for assembly were simply locked away in the warehouses and the company really stared bankruptcy in the face. Until one of the major financial shareholders the Banker Disconto introduced Alfa to Romeo in the person of Nicola Romeo.

“He took over the Alfa factories”

A mining engineer and another entrepreneur who was doing very well out of Italian government army contracts. He took over the Alfa factories, switched them to war production and expanded the output of the company twenty-four-fold. He was caught in turn by the end of the first world war on the disappearance of these markets that have provided their salvation. So, that all he could do in the short term, although he was no car enthusiast himself. He could see the commercial value of all the pre-war parts that lay in the workshops and he organized the workforce to assemble these into cars which could be sold.

History of Alfa Romeo Alfa P2

History of Alfa Romeo – The Alfa P2

Enzo Ferrari Joined Alfa Romeo

Another, famous name who joined Alfa at about this time was Enzo Ferrari, who was then a very keen racing driver. Ferraris main value was that he knew Vittorio Jano a racing car engineer and designer who then worked for the all-conquering Fiat racing team in Turin. Jano came to Milan to head up the new Alfa Romeo racing development. The result of that collaboration was the Alfa Romeo P2, which was the first Alfa Grand Prix racing car to be successful.

Janos main contribution to Alfa history, starting with the P2 was in the engine he designed. That engine in the P2 gave Alfa two World Championship winning seasons. It also provided the inspiration for a series of production cars. Because, the other half of Nicola Romeo’s interest in cars was to provide income for the company. Jano produced a single overhead camshaft version very, very much detuned. Cut down to six cylinders instead of eight and this produced the 1500. The first of a series of immortal sports cars that people think as perhaps the most classic Alfa of all.


History of Alfa Romeo - 6C 15000 Engine

6C 15000 Engine – History of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo 1500

Bill Meacham (Alfa Romeo 1500 Owner): This car is a 6C Super Sport fitted with a one-and-a-half-liter supercharged engine. It’s an FW Stiles team car, he was the Alfa Romeo concessionaire in England in the 20s. This particular car was in the ELSA TT in 29, driven by Campari. It came second overall and won its class in that race. And also, raced by Rampony and in the Double 12 of Brooklyn’s which he won. When the team had finished the car went away and had other bodies put on it. A Turing body was put on this particular car. It had this present Zagato body fitted and jazz musician Buddy Felson Hall bought the car and raced it extensively at Brooklyn’s in in the 30s.

History of Alfa Romeo -1500 6C

Alfa Romeo 1500 6C Super Sport – History of Alfa Romeo

When I was a student, I was approached by a friend of mine who wanted me to design and build him a special. And, I said it would take at least two years to get it from the drawing board to completed car. I said why not go vintage and I found this car. I think it was a 52 copy of Motorsport and I said that’s your car. Well, when we went to see the car. I could hear this car coming all the way down the road. That sound of the blower. He turned around the corner and there it was. I inspected it for Han Sung this Chinese friend of mine and he bought it.

“It’s a delightful car to drive”

It took me two years to convince Han Sung to sell in the car and eventually he capitulated and that was 32 years ago. It’s a delightful car to drive. It’s not an easy car if you don’t know it. The gearbox is a little bit difficult, you have to double de-clutch up and down. It’s very light, there’s a lot of movement, the whole car is moving. Yet It feels tight, it’s hard to explain. And, you’ve got that lovely sound from that from the engine and blower, the hole car talks to you. A car with this sort of history is a lot of fun to learn. You think my god, Campari was sitting behind this wheel once.

History of Alfa Romeo -Alfa 1500 6C

History of Alfa Romeo -Alfa Romeo 1500 6C Super Sport

“They won sports car races, but the company was still hankering after Grand Prix success”

David Owen: Successive models from the 1500 the 1600 and the 1750 were really variations on the same theme. They won sports car races, but the company was still hankering after Grand Prix success. Because, this was the real trump card with the public. It was difficult for Jano to carry on developing the P2. What was needed was a new design altogether, which he developed in the form of the immortal P3.

This car proved so competitive in its first outing as it seemed as if all the money and all the time that had been spent on it was now actually going to put the company at the top of the Grand Prix racing tree. But, the company had horrendous financial problems once again. They’d spent too much on sporting success and not enough on sound production cars. Hardly had the P3 started to establish themselves on the racing circuit that the company called a complete halt to all racing activities. The cars were wheeled away into a warehouse to be kept in Milan away from the racing circuits and everything came to a grinding halt.


History of Alfa Romeo Monza-Win

Monza-Win – History of Alfa Romeo

“It actually won on its first competitive out”

The company fortunately had one more shot left in the locker. One of the derivatives had been a sports racing version to take over from where the 1750s had left off. This car was entered in a major sports car race at Monza and it actually won on its first competitive out. The cars ever afterwards in honor of that victory were to be known as Manzo’s.

The History of Alfa Romeo - Alfa Romeo Monza

Alfa Romeo Monza – The History of Alfa Romeo

James Lindsay (Monza Owner): This car is an Alfa Romeo Monza. The car was bought in 1933 by an English man who was a privateer. You could buy it direct from the factory, then. With 1,600 pounds, which was a lot of money. It was immediately race throughout the circuits in Great Britain and Ireland and in Europe tremendous successes. It was only at that time ten original Monza’s.

Monza - Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo Monza

My father bought the car in 1962 when I was born for an unbelievable 800 pounds. Even though that was quite eccentric to buy an old banger like this at the time. And, he died about ten years ago, leaving a wonderful collection of cars. This particular car was the car that I took on as my responsibility. This was the Formula One car of its day. If things are different now because an F1 Car would stay on the racetrack. F1 cars, then would do your road races as well as all track races you had to have a versatile car and a versatile driver.

“It could go 140 MPH”

It’s very fast depending on your drive ratio. How you set it up, in fact, it could go 140 MPH. Not bad for that age. It has a big fuel tank, 130 litters. I stop filling it up when it gets to 50 quid but if I filled it out to the top you can go 400 miles.

Monza - The History of Alfa Romeo

The History of Alfa Romeo – Monza

The accelerator pedal is in the middle, which can put you off to start with, and you can go shooting through the traffic lights if you know not careful. It’s got a crash gearbox and that once you handle all these little quirks about it, it’s as smooth as butter. Very high torque, very direct steering, you see the wheels in front of you. You’re on top of the car and its tremendous power.

I’ll push it out of the garage, I’ll drive it to the racetrack, I’ll take the wings off I’ll thrash around hurl it as hard as I can, around the track and then at the end of the day I’ll dive it home. They’re very few thoroughbreds you can actually do that with. It’s of the most fantastic car to own because you remember the most exclusive club in the world.

“They would give their eye or teeth to have a Monza”

There are only six really original ones around. A lot them have been wealthy car collectors. They would give their eye or teeth to have a Monza. I’m the first to admit that I’m the luckiest person alive. I want to use it as much as I can. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that one is just really the custodian of it and that it would be passed on to the next generation no one really own a Monza the Monza owns.

History of Alfa Romeo Grand Prix Racing

Grand Prix Racing – History of Alfa Romeo

David Owen: The thing that really kept Alfa Romeo going during the remainder of the 30s was in fact a dictator Benito Mussolini, the leader of Italy’s fascist government. One of the things that dictators need is prestige and it seemed clear in the world of the 30s that one very, very useful way of gaining national prestige was winning Grand Prix races.

The government in effect, became a major shareholder pumped more and more money into the company and changed its priorities completely. Alfa was kept going by the racing team and buy more and more armaments contracts for the aero engines that were becoming an increasingly important part of the company’s stock in trade. Of course, Alfa Aero engine production was to make the company a priority target once more actually did break out and by the time that war was over the company’s factories were literally in ruins.

The History of Alfa Romeo Part II

David Owen: By the end of the war the intention was to move into the mass market to an extent far greater than they’d managed to do before the war. One of their engineers Dr. Orazio Satta Puliga had designed a car which was the first Alfa to be mass-produced. It was the first monocoque alpha with an integral body and chassis.

It was the first four-cylinder twin-cam alpha setting really a new theme for all the production alphas right down to the present day. The 1900 really reestablished alpha as a major car producer in this enthusiast-oriented market. The next car the Giulietta took things a whole stage further.


1900 Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo 1900

Peter Shaw (Giulietta Owner): The Giulietta was designed almost by accident. Alfa Romeo were not used to this sort of volume production and therefore they didn’t have the financial backing etcetera. So, they decided very cleverly to have a lottery and award 200 cars. The lottery tickets had been dished out and Alfa got their money and they had to name 200 winners, but they had no cars to give them. So, in a flash in the Italian Way, they decided to build Sprint’s as opposed to saloons.


Giulietta Sprint Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint

“They only made 750”

This one in particular is a lightweight 1957 Giulietta Sprint, which is quite rare. I think they only made 750. I’ve had the car since 1969, 70. It was my normal Road car and then I had a bit of an engine problem and put it in storage when I went abroad. And, about 1986 or so I decide to have it restored.


Giulietta Sprint - Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Front

My passion for the Giulietta stems from a long time ago and it basically is the shape. It’s totally balanced, it’s got flowing lines, it’s simple, it’s got no frills and it’s just exactly right. Everywhere I go with this car people say to me, what a beautiful car. An old lady of about sixty rushed across the Petrol Court, the other day and said. I love that car, she said it’s one of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen.

Giulietta Race Car - Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Race Car

I do have another Giulietta which I race on the tracks, in historic events. That is a different kettle of fish to the standard Giulietta in that it’s got stiffest springing, heavier anti-roll bars, the engine in the higher state of tune and it goes like hell. The car is totally Italian in character every part of it. It’s temperament and style the way it drives. The engine is just fantastic 1290 CC all aluminum with wet liners and can be tuned up to one hundred and twenty, hundred and thirty brake horsepower. And is very flexible, you can do anything with it. Beautiful. It’s a little jewel. The whole car is a jewel. Just to look at the badge alone does something to me.


V6 Engine Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo V6 Engine

“A car that was well engineered”

Andrew Swift (Motor Marketing Historian): Whenever you look at Alfa Romeo marketing you find obviously the sporting characteristics emphasized, but also the technology. It’s acknowledged that if you bought an Alfa Romeo you didn’t just buy a car that had sporting potential or indeed sporting character, but a car that was well engineered. And, in their brochures and general marketing you do find pictures of the engines, of the suspension and acknowledgment that a buyer of that car would enjoy understanding how it, worked what it did, rather than just enjoying what it looked Like.

Alfa Romeo GT

Alfa Romeo GT

David Owen: One thing that Alfa were always very good at was taking a good design and capitalizing on it. The Giulietta eventually became the bigger Giulia and the various versions the spider and the Veloce and the largest six-cylinder cars. These really established a golden age for production Alfas where people could buy a car with an almost unique combination of character and performance and looks. The Italian government was undoubtedly delighted with the success of its prodigy.

But, a new political factor began to enter its dealings with Alfa Romeo during the late nineteen sixties. When it began to see Alfa as a possible solution to a problem of increasing unemployment and unrest in the south of the country. And, it was decided that a completely new car should be produced to enter a part of the market that Alfa hadn’t been involved with. It was to be produced in Naples rather than Milan, where all previous Alfa production had been concentrated. So that the Alfasud owes its name because it was a product of Alfa south, Alfasud in Italian.

Alfasud TI

Alfasud TI


“The problem of the workforce”

Ian Brookfield (Alfasud Owner): They built the factory at Pomigliano, in the south and basically employed the peasants from the fields to build them. The problem of the workforce was that having worked in fields on farms they were used to a three-day week and obviously Alfa and the government wanted to work five.

David Owen: The end result was that the factory never worked at anything approaching full capacity. That lighted the commercial viability of the project even with government money behind.

Ian Brookfield: I first became interested in Alfas when I was an apprentice back in 1979. Thompson and Tailors who were the original importer of Alfa in the 60s. And, having worked on them and spend lots of time around them it took less than a year me to have one. My first Sud was a little red 1200 TI, Which I owned in total for ten days. Seven of which I spent fixing it. On the third day of ownership I hit a very fast Opel Ascona in it, head-on, put my girlfriend in hospital and broke my wrist.

This didn’t put me off because, well, I’ve had another 31 there since then. The Suds always had a rust problem in the early days. Which was probably due to the thin metal used and also the total lack of anti-corrosion treatment of any description. They then attempted to cure it by filling some of the inner panels with foam which basically retained the moisture and made them rust from the inside out.


Alfasud TI - Race Car

Alfasud TI Race Car

“I did have a back-window fallout”

The rusts in the Suds that I’ve owned is usually cosmetic. But, I did have a back-window fallout, one of the side back window fallout on the motorway coming back from my father-in-law’s. With my mother-in-law and the same girlfriend, I nearly killed. And, she was actually physically sick when she got home due to all the exhaust fumes and everything that was coming in. So that was well worth the window disappearing down the motorway just to make her ill.

David Owen: It was designed once again as a car for the mass market. A car where performance was important, but not to be all and end all of the car. And, yet this is a car which established its own racing reputation to the point where a special formula was established in Italian and increasingly European racing. For Alfasud they became extremely popular.

Ian Brookfield: A combination of qualities that make the office is such a great car. It’s not the body work that’s for sure, are the engine gearbox suspension. You feel attached to it or when you’ve got all of the steering wheel. It’s giving you information all the time, It’s almost human, it’s willing. You know, if you had a Golf GTI, it’s very nice, it’s well made, it sits outside, it doesn’t rust, it’s boring. The Sud has got lots of things going for it, you know. If you’ve gone a long journey you get there you give it a little pat, you know. You just get out your golf and shut the door, walk away, I wouldn’t you. It’s got real character.

“I wish I had brought my Sud”

My journey to work in the morning would be deadly dull if I didn’t this. I take the wife’s Uno sometimes and I think, God, I wish I had brought that Sud.

David Owen: By the 1980s it was clear that the company could no longer carry on, on its own account. Fiat who had by then taken over the rest of the Italian car industry was seen as the most logical buyer. Here’s a company that survived two world wars, three cash crises, two changes of ownership and the eventual elimination of the dictatorship that kept it going during the 1930s. And yet, it looks on the face of it, as if the Fiat takeover may well be the best thing that could have happened for Alfa Romeo.

Most people, even if they’re not dedicated Alfa enthusiasts will admit to having a soft spot for the mark. Possibly because, it has been hanging on by its teeth for so long.
James Linsay: Alfa Romeos tended to be works of art as opposed to racing tools. Fortunately, sometimes the two combined.

Ian Brookfield: I love them, I race them, I drive on the road every day, I’ll fix them, I wouldn’t have anything else.

David Owen: Unless you’ve actually driven one, it’s difficult to be sure what people are talking about when they say that these are cars with soul. But, any Alfa enthusiast will know exactly what you mean and that’s what makes the mark unique.

The End



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