Alfa Romeo, half French half Italian origin
Funny enough, The Italian Alfa Romeo story started with French blood. Società Anonima Italiana Darracq (SAID) was founded in Naples in 1906 between Monsieur Darracq and some Italian investors. Alexandre Darracq was a successful French inventor who was producing more than 10% of all automobiles sold in France by year 1904. At that time, he sold a substantial part of his shares to some UK investors in London and he kept investing in different things for a living. So the French heart of the brand was replaced by the UK.
In this story as well we need to talk about two people. One is Cavalier Ugo Stella, managing director of SAID, who promoted the setting up of a new company in an attempt to improve the factory's fortunes. But also, in late 1909 Darracq (SAID) cars were selling slowly and the Italian partners of the company hired Mr Giuseppe Merosi to design new cars too. On 24 June 1910, the new company named, A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) was officially registered in Milan with Merosi about to launch the first Alfa (non Darracq) car: 24 HP.
A.L.F.A. decided to get into motor racing too, with the drivers Mr Franchini and Mr Ronzoni competing in the 1911 Targa Florio with two 24-hp models. But A.L.F.A. was unable to take off from the financial point of view, they needed more sales.
At the onset of World War I (2014), due to the failure to obtain an order from the government, A.L.F.A. was instructed to get wind up. The task was entrusted to the Banca Italiana di Sconto (BIS, not the Bank of International Settlements which is in Switzerland and has the same initials). In the meantime, a young entrepreneur from Naples named Nicola Romeo had set up a company called Ing. Nicola Romeo & C, and had built a small factory very close to Portello. He managed to obtain an important order in 1915 for the production of shells. The Romeo workshop, however, was not large enough to produce this order. Not far away were the A.L.F.A. premises which were available as just shortly before they had been put into liquidation. BIS took over the shares of A.L.F.A. and entrusted its management to Nicola Romeo & C in order to get the order going. Business grew relentlessly with Nicola and in February 1918, the investors decided to make the company public. Its name became Società Anonima Italiana Nicola Romeo & C., that is the certainly the origin of the Alfa Romeo brand. During the war, Mr Romeo had not even taken car production into consideration and both, Romeo and Merosi had been moved to the railway carriage plant in Naples. Only at the end of 1919, after the war had ended, car production resumed, initially with the assembly of parts in stock, then with the design of new models. And here we have the beginning what we know as Alfa Romeo.
In 1920, the name of the company was changed to Alfa Romeo with the Torpedo 20-30 HP the first car to be badged like that.
In 1921, the BIS went broke and the government needed to support the industrial companies involved, among which was Alfa Romeo, through the "Consorzio per Sovvenzioni sui Valori Industriali". In 1925, the railway activities were separated from the Romeo company, and in 1928, Nicola Romeo left. In 1933, the state ownership was reorganised under the banner of the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) by Benito Mussolini's government, which then had effective control. The company struggled to return to profitability after the Second World War, and turned to mass-producing small vehicles rather than hand-building luxury models. In 1954, the brand developed the Alfa Romeo Twin Cam engine, which would remain in production until 1994. During the 1960s and 1970s, Alfa Romeo produced a number of sporty cars, though the Italian government parent company, Finmeccanica, which struggled to make a profit, so they sold the marque to the Fiat Group in 1986 with the headquarters now in Turin.
Alfa Romeo racing history
The first A.L.F.A racing car was made in 1913, three years after the foundation of the company but their first success came in 1920 when Giuseppe Campari won at Mugello and continued with second place in the Targa Florio driven by Enzo Ferrari. Giuseppe Merosi continued as head designer, and the company continued to produce solid road cars as well as successful race cars (including the 40-60 HP and the RL Targa Florio). Alfa Romeo also won the inaugural world championship for Grand Prix cars in 1925. The number victories in races until the Second World War, against rivals such as Bentley, and the production of luxury cars compete with Bugatti, have made Alfa Romeo a world motorsport legend. The company gained a good name in motorsport, which gave a sporty image to the whole marque. Enzo Ferrari founded the Scuderia Ferrari racing team in 1929 as an Alfa Romeo racing team, before becoming independent in 1939.
As we have said on the tittle, the brand is the most laureated in history of car racing. Forza Alfa Romeo !
Pictures thanks to Hemmings