Alfa Romeo Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Alfa Romeo Home Country: Italy Italy

The origins of Alfa Romeo are on slightly complicated, multi-national lines, so pardon me when I start their story in a complicated manner. It starts with the French brand Darracq, which - pardon me - is a very confusing brand. Talbot was a company founded by a Frenchman but based in the UK and soon Talbot bought Sunbeam. Later the Frenchman also added a French factory to Talbot, but the UK remained priority for Talbot. Later Talbot UK was swallowed by Rootes, Talbot France was sold to Lago and swallowed by Simca and both Talbot arms merged again when both of them were swallowed by Peugeot. Can you keep up? Well, when Alexandre Darracq founded another car company, Darracq built Talbot licence products in Talbot's neglected French factory. For the Talbot boss this meant he could focus on his main business in UK, while he had someone who helped in looking after his French factory. This led to a brand identification "STD" = Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq, even though Darracq was an independent firm! When Darracq moved onto the German market they produced Opel licence products in the same STD factory in France. While expanding, there came a turning point for Darracq when they built their first own production facility, though surprisingly this was in Napoli, Italy, while the French STD factory kept producing Talbots and Darracqs also. Darracq was brave and even built a 2nd factory later in Milano.

Sorry, it is quite a complicated but interesting scenario. French Talbots were different cars to UK Talbots, although both was the same company. Darracqs in turn were largely identical to Talbot France and Opel models, were for the French market even produced in the same factory that spit out French Talbots and even their name was combined to STD aka Sunbeam Talbot Darracq. In Italy Darracq produced the same Talbot France and Opel cars under licence, but here under the Darracq name alone. Yet Talbot France and Opel sold cars on the same markets.

Eventually in Italy Darracq's expenses broke their neck. Especially since they had marketing problems, as they were competing the originals, plus technically the cars seemed not to be really up to scratch with the originals. Soon some Italian enthusiasts took charge of Darracq's 2nd Italian production facility in Milano and formed their own brand with the aim to built a 100% Italian car with powerful engine and good brakes. Alfa was born!

However, all this does not happen overnight which means in the first years Alfa actually built and sold these Talbot/Opel related Darracq cars! The men behind Alfa included Alexandre Darracq too, but joined by Ugo Stella, an investor, and Guiseppe Merosi, a former Fiat senior employer who was responsible for the engineering. While Milano pretty much stayed the heart of Alfa with most of its traditional, sporty cars being made there, Napoli joined the frame much later again as the Alfa Sud (South) factory. And here we have the rare case of a car being named after its production facility, the Alfasud!
(And funny enough, the distant modern day successor to the Alfasud, the Alfa Mito has its name created after the reg plates of Milano and Torino: MI-TO, although TO is not really an Alfa reference. For the big hatchback the Giulietta name is revived and at the moment there is word the long awaited 159 successor will be called Giulia, which is moving away from old traditions with these names, but back in order of things:)

Interesting also how Alfa Romeo came to its name. As a kid I used to believe Alfa was simply a Greek letter, which maybe is a tempting thought since today's sister brand Lancia has a history of using Greek letters for model names. It has nothing at all to do with this. The company was founded by Darracq, Stella & Merosi as Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which means as much as "Car Factory Ltd". After only a few years a man called Nicola Romeo came in as partner with 50% of the shares and the brand was renamed, making up the initials of Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili and Nicola Romeo's surname: Alfa Romeo.

The Alfa logo also does not look very straight forward. It actually refers strongly to the Milano base. The red cross on white ground on the left half is the flag of Milano, while the child eating snake on the right half is the logo of the Visconti family, who ruled Milano when Milano was a self governing state in the 14th century (a bit like San Marino today). However the Visconti emblem had no colours, the green on light blue was designed by engineer Guiseppe Merosi. When Nicola Romeo joined the company a dark blue round frame was added with the writing “Alfa Romeo Milano”, however the Milano bit was dropped when the Alfa Sud factory in Napoli opened.

Despite earlier links and cooperation, Alfa Romeo only came under full control of Fiat in the 1980s. However it appears there were links and friendships already before the take over, after all Merosi and Stella were former Fiat senior people, and even later Alfa is more losely connected to Fiat than Lancia is. This means when Fiat and Lancia programs were often linked to each other (i.e. the Stratos being stopped prematurely for the conservative 131, the Fiat 131 team and drivers turning Lancia 037 team and drivers), Alfa's motorsport program was independent. Yet Alfa’s rallying seemed to always stay in the shadow of touring car programs, partly because “friends” Lancia and Fiat were already into rallying. Alfa was in fact the winner of the very first F1 season ever. The Giulietta Sprint followed by the similar Giulia GTA was Alfa Romeo’s first really huge success in touring cars as well as rallying. In touring cars they were mainly up against BMW 1800tisa and later BMW 2002tii. Even though the Giullietta Sprint turn Giulia GTA was built from 1954 to 1971, and the cars kept being a huge touring car number throughout their life, the rally program suddenly turned low key in around 1964, just as Lancia Fulvia and Fiat 124 Spider hit the roads as well as the rally stages. However an Alfa contributed to Paul Coltelloni's ERC title in 1959! This means that the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint and its facelift Giulia GTA came long before Lancia and Fiat had equivalent products in shape of the Fulvia HF & 124 Spider and their first serious rally programs to come with it. The comparison of Alfa to BMW is interesting simply for the similarity of their motorsport porgrams, however compared to Lancia and Fiat, Alfa was the trend setter! Although Lancia already was involved with successful privateer support programs with Aurelia and Flavia models, the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA can be regarded as an initiator to the more professional approaches in rallying by Lancia and especially Fiat. Interestingly there was also a group 5 prototype Alfa in rallying, something Lancia and Fiat didn't have. This group 5 car was called the Giulia TZ. TZ stood for Tubolare Zagato and meant exactly that, a Zagato engineered car based on a tubular subframe. Unfortunately we just missed the famous Giulia GTA in rallying with the WRC start.

Traditionally Alfa had 2 levels of saloon cars with each having a coupé sister of very different looks. And most of them had a transaxle layout! The smaller saloon kept with generations swapping names between Giulietta and Giulia with its Giulia GTA sister being the coupé. And the bigger saloon was the Alfetta with the Alfetta GT being the coupé and a car that was just called GTV6 (without the Alfetta name despite its similar looks) being the posh, power coupé. For some reason the Giulia GTA production stopped long before its saloon car version and even the next generation, the 1977 Giulietta was never made as a coupé. Therefore the rallying was switched to the Alfetta models in the early 1970s. To try and provide a better picture how the Giulia/Giulietta and Alfetta models compare: In the late 1980s the Alfa 90 was exactly a facelift of the Alfetta, while the Giulietta looked like a smaller but characterful version of the same. The Giulietta was replaced by the very different, grown 75 model, while the 33 was regarded as an Alfasud replacement. All this would make it sound as if Alfetta/90 had to be top of the range cars, but they were not really that huge (The posh Alfa would be the Alfa 6, the predecessor to the 164). If you don't know the Alfa 90, it is hard to draw a relation. You could possibly compare the Alfetta/90 in size to the Ford Cortina (and Giulia/Giulietta then to the Escort), while the Sierra would already be too big. Or the relative small step Peugeot 204 to 304, the 304 would have competed the Giulietta, but the bigger Alfetta was still smaller than 404/504. The Giulietta saloon could as well be described as the typical Italian police car. However, when I describe the difference in size between Giulietta and Alfetta was not so big, the 75 was meant to be the Giulietta successor, but was quite a bit larger, too close to the Alfetta/90 now. Which probably was a slight strategic error and led to both models being replaced at once by the 155, turn 156 etc... a shame really, two very characterful and legendary cars had disappeared, which surely helped towards Alfa falling into a crisis by the 1990s.

Unfortunately in future years Alfa Romeo was concentrating on the touring car side of things – not that touring cars is a bad sport. Although in the 1970s the Alfetta saloon car was a successful rally car, rally programs stayed small scale and usually circled around private teams with some works support. Involvement was including Zagato and Jolly Club, who both had their fingers in Lancia projects as well. Most notable however is the French Gema team and the Italian tuner Autodelta. Autodelta, although clearly an independent, private company, could maybe be regarded as a works team, as the boss of Autodelta was Carlo Chiti who for some time was also Alfa Romeo’s motorsport director. While in around 1980 Autodelta created an Alfetta Turbodelta that had a tendency to catch fire, it seemed to be the French that took the 'Alfa in rallying' theme further. They ran a groupA GTV6 in the groupB days and with the introduction of groupA as the main category the same Gema team turned out an Alfa 75, that interestingly was rallied in two different versions: a 2.5 V6 and a 1.8 Turbo, both RWD.

Gema as well had the biggest successes of the Alfa teams from the 1980s, especially with their drivers Yves Loubet and Pierre-Cesar Baroni. Another driver connected to Gema is Bertrand Balas. He deserves a mention as a big Alfa Romeo fan who would rally a big, if not strange collection of Alfa Romeo cars, including an Alfasud TI, a car that turned the first groupN winner at WRC level ever, and a 4 wheel drive Alfa 33! In fact, let Jacques Panciatici join the frame too. In Loubet, Balas and Panciatici you find drivers that were incredibly loyal to Alfa Romeo, quite a testimony since Alfa’s rally program was never that big!

In fact I see an interesting link between the Gema team and Alfa's take over by Fiat. When in 1975 Jean-Claude Andruet secured proper Alfa works support for a mainly French program, well on all his French starts his cars always carried Milano plates. In contrast at most other times Alfas in rallying carried French 75 plates, even more commonly than Italian MI registrations, so much so that it sometimes seems like a cover up to make official Alfas not look that official where Fiat bosses might watch!

However Gema leads us to a sad and curious end to Alfa’s rallying. Gema, originally a touring car team (so in contrast to the works Citroën World Racing Team they are excused for actually being called Gema Racing), was big in Alfasuds before they got ever more involved in Yves Loubet’s GTV6. In 1986 the Gema GTV6 featured extensive Rothmans sponsorship and the cars were sensational where they started, even though the GTV was already around since over 10 years. On the Tour de Corse 1986 Yves Loubet came a brilliant 3rd overall and Bertrand Balas was on course for 4th when his differential broke. OK, this was a sad Tour de Corse, but i.e. when Volkswagen tells us proudly how they dominated gA in 1986, well on the Tour de Corse the best Volkswagen (the works car of Kenneth Eriksson, so no lame driver either) was 35 minutes – yes minutes – down on the gA winning Alfa! Alfa and Gema with Rothmans sponsorship actually had the idea of an extended WRC program, at least for the asphalt rounds, when for 1987 gA should become the main category. But then the FIA decided they did a mistake in homologation all those years back, re-evaluated the GTV6 and decided the GTV6 interior is a tiny bit too small for a groupA car. Indeed the GTV6 became the last groupB car ever, and totally unintentionally of course, when on 1st January 1987 – when groupB was already banned – the FIA transferred the gA GTV6 into gB! Very, very strange that, the Sierra Cosworth was rumoured to have more than the new 300BHP limit, Toyota even openly admitted their gA Supra Turbo had 400BHP, yet the GTV6 was a problem?

We actually saw Gema entering the 75 on the Tour de Corse for a few more years, but that program stayed solely French orientated. It is hard to understand why this happened to the GTV6. OK, if these are the rules... but then, the GTV6 was homologated into gA, did it shrink? What a shame, in 1986 the Loubet GTV6 had only 218BHP, more would have been possible, maybe 240-250, but no thread for the power limit. What was maybe most stunning about the GTV6, and in fact in gA as well as on the road, is that its V6 engine has a very wide V-angle and a very short stroke. For me this makes already on the road the GTV6 the most beautiful sounding car except maybe the Rover 3500. Because apart from having a beautiful sound it could rev very high. Maybe this is a contradicting criteria for rally car sounds, but I would even say it sounded more refined than the Lancia Stratos, making the GTV6 even at high revs sound more melodic. Finally, the news of the groupB transfer scandal somehow didn’t make it round the globe to Australia and Greg Carr became Australian rally champion 1987 in a GTV6, the last 2WD car ever to win the Australian championship, meaning the car even worked on smooth-ish gravel! God, would I have loved to see it in the WRC 1987!

COLOURS & TYRES:

Alfa Romeo were near always all red. The one most distinct exception was when Gema secured Rothmans sponsorship for their GTV6 and Alfa 75 programs. Only in French Championship rallying, but distinct, the 75 was also seen in Pioneer colours.

No tyre brand identification in the Giulia GTA days, from the 1980s Autodelta used Pirelli and Gema used Michelin.

REGISTRATIONS:

The works cars would display registration plates starting with MI for Milano, followed by a combination of 1 letter and 5 numbers in typical Italian style. For Autodelta I unfortunately could not get it verified if the cars were registered in the name of Autodelta or Alfa Romeo. But since Autodelta was also based in Milano and had the same boss als the Alfa Romeo motorsport department, it probably is not an essential info. Gema's cars were supported through the French Alfa importer, who was Paris based. The 75's were Paris registered with reg plates ending on 75 (coincidence!). But confusingly the GTV6's were registered more locally to the drivers. Bertrand Balas' cars were registered in Val d'Isère 38 and those of Corsica born Yves Loubet in the du Var region 06. However even without Gema we quite often see Alfas with works involvement registered on the French importer with Paris plates. It is maybe interesting to note, that in contrast to other Fiat SpA rally cars, works Alfas were never registered on TO Torino plates.

Alfa Romeo Rally Cars

Model Class
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo 33  Group N
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo 33  Group A
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo 75  Group A
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo Alfasud  Group N
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo Alfetta  Group 2
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV  Group 4
Alfa Romeo Alfa Romeo GTV6  Group A

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1985 WRC Group B 14th. Alfa Romeo (14pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1984 WRC Group B 10th. Alfa Romeo (9pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1978 WRC Open 14th. Alfa Romeo (14pts) 11

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1976 WRC Open 12th. Alfa Romeo (12pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1975 WRC Open 10th. Alfa Romeo (23pts) 10

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar