Legendary Italian Sports Car Maker Alfa Romeo Turns 100

The turmoil of the last couple of years has left an indelible mark on the auto industry and led to the demise of a number of household name brands including Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and, most recently, Mercury. Against that backdrop, it Alfa Romeo celebrated its 100th anniversary on June 24.

Alfa’s last Grand Prix victory was over half a century ago, and the reliability of some models has deteriorated  in recent years. Fiat’s legendary sports brand hasn’t been sold in the U.S. for nearly 20 years. However, the Alfa Romeo name holds a special place in the hearts of true auto enthusiasts, and its storied history is the stuff of legends.

Alfa Romeo was founded in 1910 under the name Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (A.L.F.A) which is Italian for the Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company. The company’s first vehicle was powered by a 24 horsepower engine. In 1915 the company was bought by Naples businessman and engineer Nicola Romeo who gave the company its current moniker.

The company flourished in the 1920s. In 1923, driver Ugo Sivocci won the prestigious Targa Florio endurance race behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo RLTF, sporting a green cloverleaf decal. The victory placed the Italian automaker on the world stage and the green cloverleaf on a white background became Team Alfa’s good luck token.

Alfa Romeo went on to win a total of 10 first place finishes in the Targa Florio. Only Porsche can boast more all time wins in the series. Alfa also took 11 victories in the Mille Miglia open-road endurance race, two Grand Prix world championships and two Formula One racing titles. Alfa withdrew from the Formula One circuit in the 1950s.

During the first and second World Wars, Alfa mobilized to support Italy’s war efforts. In 1941, Alfa Romeo was taken over by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government.  One of the company’s smaller divisions, led by designer Enzo Ferrari, was considered too small and insignificant to be of value to the war effort and was therefore not confiscated. Following the war, Ferrari emerged as a separate brand and competed with its former parent company for decades until coming under the common Fiat S.p.A. umbrella.

The 1950s ushered in what many consider to be the golden age of the Italian automobile and Alfa Romeo’s contributions included the Guiletta, followed by the Giulia. Based on the Guilia 105 series chassis, the Alfa Romeo Spider was featured in the 1967 classic film “The Graduate”, and became an icon of 1960’s U.S. pop culture.

In 1986, Alfa was bought by rival Italian automaker, Fiat S.p.A. and withdrew from the U.S. market in 1995. Under Fiat’s control, Alfa has arguably lost some of its allure, but many feel its future is much more secure. Fiat has signaled that U.S. sales of the Alfa brand may resume within the next few years.

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