The iconic but often troubled Alfa Romeo brand turned 108 years old this week. To celebrate, let's have a look at ten of its most memorable. What's yours? Let us know!
Very much like Porsche, which celebrated its 70th anniversary recently, the famous Italian marque's history is rich with motorsport successes. In compiling this list, I've again focused on its road cars, but admit that at times the line is somewhat blurred when it comes to Alfa Romeo... So, what you'll find here are some of the brand's most famous cars, as well as those that have only recently started receiving the attention they deserve.
Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale
The Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale - a very rare '60s sports car.
My list kicks off with the 33 Stradale, simply for no other reason than it being – in my humble view – a piece of art... sculpture even. No ranking of the world's most beautiful cars would be complete without it. Still, there are other reasons... The Stradale was essentially a roadgoing version of the successful Tipo 33 sports prototype racers and featured a mid-mounted and highly tuned 2.0L V8 that pushed out around 170kW, giving the very compact 33 Stradale a top speed of 260kph. It certainly has pedigree.
At the time of its launch in 1968 it was the most expensive car on the market and only 18 were ever made. This makes the 33 Stradale incredibly desirable and valuable these days, with estimates being around the $10 million mark. They are hardly ever traded.
Alfa Romeo Giulia/Giulietta Sprint Speciale
Strikingly effective aerodynamics for a car born in the '50s, Sprint Speciale boasts beautifully liquid lines.
First shown in prototype form in 1957, the Giulietta Sprint Speciale was initially built with FIA homologation in mind, and as such the first cars featured significant use of aluminium. Later mainstream production cars featured slightly revised styling and less of a focus on weight reduction, but still the zesty twin-cam 1.3L engine under the bonnet was strong enough to propel the SS's slippery shape to 200kph! The Giulietta SS boasted a drag coefficient figure of 0.28, not equalled by a production car until decades later.
Alfa Romeo upgraded the SS in 1963 by fitting a 1.6L engine and also changed the name to Giulia.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA
One of the great driver's cars of its era, the Giulia Sprint GTA's values have grown rapidly.
Again essentially developed for racing, the GTA was built for homologation purposes (Group 2 Touring category) and set up by Autodelta. Based on he Giulia Sprint GT, the "A" added to the nomenclature stands for "Alleggerita", which means "lighter". And it was much lighter indeed! With much of the steel in the car replaced with Peralumen 25 (an aluminium alloy), and other weight reduction measures applied, the GTA was around 200kg lighter than the car it was based on. This, combined with the revvy 1.6L twin-cam engine, gave the GTA thrilling performance and made it a dominant racer.
Alfa Romeo Montreal
Stunning Bertone-styled Montreal featured a 2.6L V8.
In the greater scheme of things the Montreal was neither a commercial success (3925 built from 1970 to 1977), nor did it introduce anything particularly new. It was largely based on the underpinnings of the Giulia GTV coupe and its engine was closely related to the 2.0L V8 used in the 33 Stradale, but with an increased capacity to 2.6 litres. The '70s fuel crisis arguably hit the Montreal's chances of success hard, and it cost more than a Jaguar E-Type or Porsche 911. However, it makes this list simply because of its gorgeous Bertone-penned bodywork, and because we can only imagine what that V8 sounded like when revved to 7 000rpm...
Alfa Romeo 2900 B
Beautiful but once again with a significant dose of racing in its DNA - the 8C 2900 B.
Alfa Romeo's straight-8 cylinder engine, again the work of Vittorio Jano, powered the brand to victory in numerous races in the '30s and also featured in the world's first genuine single-seater Grand Prix racing car, the Monoposto P3, from 1934. The 2.9L version of the engine used in the car above featured 2 Roots-type superchargers but was detuned for on-road use. Nevertheless, the 8C was one of the fastest and most stylish cars of its era and these days fetches obscene amounts of money on auction.
Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 "Duetto"
Probably one of the most recognisable Alfa Romeos to non-Alfisti, the famous Spider had a long and successful model life.
Alfa Romeo replaced the gorgeous Giulietta Spider with this, the famous Spider 1600 "Duetto" in 1966. It ended up having a very long model life (1966 to 1993) though received numerous facelifts and upgrades. The most beautiful version, however, remains the original boat-tail model penned by the great Battista Pininfarina (his last work). The car was propelled to world fame by the movie The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. In the movie the Spider symbolized the "Made in Italy" concept, and it remains a powerful image of its land of origin to this day. More than 120 000 Spiders were produced in its nearly 30-year model life.
Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0
A South African special, the GTV6 3.0 was, at the time, the fastest production car on local soil.
Now let's look at something homegrown and rather special, the legendary GTV6 3.0. A uniquely South African development, the GTV6 3.0 was born with the single purpose of winning on local racetracks where it competed against BMW in Group One racing. It was built in very limited numbers (just over 200). Powered by a 3.0L V6 even before Italy offered such an engine, the GTV6 3.0 had enough grunt to achieve a top speed of over 220kph and to blast to 100kph in around 8.3 seconds. These days it's a rare collectable.
Alfa Romeo 6C Mille Miglia
The '30s 6C cars were developed to be more affordable alternatives to the 8C.
Yes, in the greater scheme of things the first-generation 6C cars also deserve a spot on this list. In fact, the first run of '30s 6C cars still used the chassis of its illustrious predecessor, but just look at the flamboyance and style of this Touring-bodied "B" chassis car. It was developed by the legendary Vittorio Jano as a more affordable alternative to Alfa's flagship 8C, and featured a brand new 2.3L 6-cylinder engine. The emphasis was on comfort and style, but the 6C 2300 also did well in the races, including at the 1937 Mille Miglia.
Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
In the late '90s the critically acclaimed 156 provided a glimmer of hope for Alfa Romeo.
There have been several cars in the past 3 decades that have been tasked with "saving" Alfa Romeo (the latest Guilia and Stelvio are also examples), and the 156, launched in the late '90s, was just such a vehicle. It simply had to succeed, and happily it was one that Alfa Romeo smashed out the park. It won the European Car of the Year title the year after its launch, and had (by Alfa's standards) a long and commercially successful model life.
The high point of the 156's development was of course the GTA, powered by the glorious Bussone 3.2L V6 engine. As far as "modern" Alfa Romeos go, it doesn't get much better than the 156 GTA, seeing as it managed to combine everything that made the brand so desirable, a stunning engine, enthralling drive and gorgeous looks courtesy of none other than Walter de Silva.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta
The Giulietta was Alfa Romeo's first successful small car.
Introduced in 1954, the Giulietta was Alfa Romeo's first commercially successful foray into the small car category. It was introduced first as the 2+2 Sprint Coupe (pictured above), powered by a 1300cc engine, and the sedan followed a year later. The Sprint, by the way, was designed by none other than Franco Scaglione of Bertone and was actually produced by the coachbuilder for Alfa Romeo. Nearly 180 000 Giuliettas (all body types) were produced in its 11 year model cycle.