Military SUV, V10 coupe from Dodge Viper and other renegades with Alfa Romeo emblem.
When we mention Alfa Romeo, we usually think of beautiful front-engined coupes or extraordinary sedans. But the history of a 110-year-old company cannot be so consistently yawning. Many of her cars are denied the attention they deserve. Hardly anyone remembers that Alfa Romeo was thinking about participating in Group B races, and in the nineties, it could be one of the first to break into the crossover segment. Let’s delve into the history of the glorious Italian brand!
Alfa Romeo 1900 M “Matta”, 1952
The modern crossover Stelvio is by no means the first time Alfa Romeo has been torn off-road. And not even the second. Someone will remember the 2003 Kamal concept, but in fact, it all started much earlier – in the fifties of the last century. And, as often happens, the state military order was to blame.
In 1951, the Italian authorities held a competition to build a utilitarian military vehicle. It was attended by Fiat and Alfa Romeo, which were not the first time to work with the Ministry of Defense. Under similar conditions, Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol were born in Japan, Willys MB (the grandfather of the current Jeep Wrangler) in America, and the Italians presented Fiat Campagnola (Peasant) and Alfa Romeo Matta (Crazy). And they got their names for a reason.
While the Fiat SUV focused on cheapness, simplicity, and maintainability, the Alpha prototype tried to outperform its opponent with performance. The Matta engine was more powerful (65 horsepower versus 53) and faster (105 km / h top speed – 5 more than Fiat’s). And in terms of carrying capacity, “Crazy” did put the “Krestyanka” on its shoulder blades: 650 kilograms against 480!
However, the Italian government was not impressed by the powerful SUV: the simple and unpretentious Fiat won. Campagnola was so successful that it lived for two generations and only left the market in 1987. Alfa Romeo was less fortunate. For three years of life (from 1952 to 1954), only about two thousand of these machines were assembled. Although it was not without success: one of the Matta all-terrain vehicles took part in the Mille Miglia race, and two more took part in the race across all of South America. But after that, until the end of the nineties, Alfa Romeo tried not to remember about SUVs.
Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Aerodinamica Spider, 1935
The Tipo 512 is considered to be the very first mid-engined Alfa Romeo. Also with a centrally located driver’s seat, just like the McLaren F1! Like the “five hundred and twelfth”, the 6C was created for the battle with the Germans from Auto Union in racing championships.
Vittorio Jano, Alfa Romeo’s chief engineer during those years, played a key role in the development of the car. The management of the brand was offended by the dominance of Germany on the racetracks and instructed the designer: to prepare a decent answer as soon as possible. Vittorio decided to play it safe and began work on two projects: a front-engined sports car and a mid-engined spider, an order for the preparation of which he secretly sent to Croatia. Why such a strange choice of location? The fact is that Jano had Hungarian roots and a connection with the Jankovic family, who own a large automotive business with points in Hungary and Croatia.
So, the engineer secretly supplied the Yankovich brothers with components and drawings, according to which they built the car. Initially under the hood was a six-cylinder engine from the usual Alfa Romeo 6C 2300, but later Jano planned to replace it with a new V12. By 1937, the car was almost ready, but there was a surprise: Vittorio was fired from Alfa Romeo. He moved to Lancia along with all the drawings, and the Jankovici were forced to keep the Aerodinamica Spider for themselves. In 1941, the prototype had to be hidden altogether so that it would not be damaged during the Second World War. In 1946, the brothers tried to rescue him and crossed the border into Italy, but during the throw, the spyder caught a bullet in the port side.
Fortunately, the car was not badly damaged and was sold to an American serviceman. The Italians wanted to return the car – there were two unsuccessful attempts in the eighties. But only in 2008 Aerodinamica Spider tires touched their native land, where it was restored and finally left alone.
Giocattolo Group B, 1987
Mid-engined two-doors are common in Alfa Romeo, but what about a V8-powered hatchback? And yes, this is another story from the “what if …” category. After all, if “Alpha” dared to release on the road a hot hatch for Group B, it would be … Alfasud Sprint 6C. Yes, the Italians were really preparing a car for the rally. Either money problems or the abolition of a dangerous championship prevented him from bringing him to mind. However, there was a person who was not satisfied with this alignment.
His name is Paul Halstead, and his main profession was IT consulting. At some point, a passion for auto exotic prevailed over him and he opened his own dealership in Australia, where he sold Alfa Romeo, Porsche, and Ferrari. Things were going well, and suddenly he heard about the frozen Alpha project. Paul decided to do everything his own way and prepared his analog, made according to the same patterns: the Alfasud Sprint body and the V6 engine. However, the Italians found out about this and immediately stopped the supply of engines and bodies: no one but them should have built such a sports car. Then Paul undertook to buy up those Alfasuds that had already ridden around Australia, and a five-liter V8 from Holden came in place of the six-cylinder engine! Add to that the ZF gearbox and Kevlar body and you have a mid-engined beast,
However, a car that drives like a Ferrari must and should cost accordingly. This was facilitated by the Australian laws that imposed a large tax on imported cars and components for them. In the end, Giocattolo Group B proved to be so expensive that buying it would have been an unwarranted feat. Halstead went bankrupt before he sold two dozen cars. Subsequently, they dispersed to the collections, and one of them even ended up in the service of the Australian police. But if Paul were not in Australia, but, for example, in Germany or Italy, he could repeat the fate of RUF or Alpina. But history does not tolerate the subjunctive mood.
Alfa Romeo 164 Pro-Car, 1988
In 1988, Alfa Romeo proved itself capable of risky experiments. It all started rather prosaically: the brand’s engineers began work on the V10 for Formula 1. But when the engine was ready, the Alpha formula program was suddenly turned off, and the engine had to urgently look for a new application. And few people could have guessed that their choice would stop at the Alfa Romeo 164. External differences from a conventional car come down to low ground clearance, a small wing, and extraordinary wide wheels. But instead of the rear sofa – a formula V10, a roll cage is installed in the cabin, and the rear half of the body is removed entirely!
164 Pro-Car was supposed to become the ancestor of the championship of the same name, in which the so-called “sleepers” would compete – cars with a complete factory appearance, sales of serial versions of at least 25 thousand units per year and an impressive filling. So, the rules of the regulation provided for a maximum weight of 750 kilograms and the ability to use any engines up to V12 (but with a volume of at least 3.5 liters). The 605-horsepower Alfa Romeo prototype turned out to be obscenely fast: its top speed was almost 340 km / h, it covered a quarter-mile in 9.7 seconds, and a kilometer in 17.5 seconds.
Alas, the Pro-Car series was doomed at birth. Other manufacturers considered the development of such cars unprofitable, and the insane sedan was consigned to oblivion. And the knowledge gained during its creation was used later, turning them into victories in DTM and BTCC.
Alfa Romeo SZ, 1989
This coupe, created jointly by Alfa Romeo and Zagato, can be loved or hated. But for fans of the brand, this car is much more important. The SZ is one of the first cars created by Alfa Romeo after joining Fiat in 1986. It was she who gave us the same headlights “three in a row” that the 159 and Brera flaunt. And who would have thought that under such a body are the units of the 75 IMSA sedan, which also cannot be called trivial! This entailed rear-wheel drive and a 3.0-liter V6 with 210 horsepower.
The unusual Alfa Romeo has become a delight for purists. Five-speed “mechanics”, fiberglass body, Koni hydraulic suspension – what else do you need to be happy? By the way, thanks to the latter, it was possible to change the ground clearance within five centimeters, and the Fiat rally engineer Giorgio Pianta was engaged in fine-tuning the chassis. And if the eyes got tired of contemplating the beauty of the body (or absurdity, this is already a matter of taste), then the interior did not shine with bright solutions. A panel with seven instruments in a row, an analog clock, a fixed steering wheel, and a “mechanics” lever – that’s all the pilot has at his disposal.
Usually, cars with the Zagato nameplate are limited to a few dozen copies, but the SZ is more fortunate: maybe thanks to the platform from a regular sedan. For three years (from 1989 to 1991) 1036 two-door cars saw the light, and in 1992 they were joined by 284 RZ roadsters. According to rumors, three such cars (two red coupes and a yellow roadster) even made it to Russia.
Castagna Vittoria, 1995
Six years after the creation of SZ, the story has an unexpected continuation. The businessman Gioacchino Acampora decided to revive the body shop Carrozzeria Castagna, famous in the pre-war years, and immediately prepared two projects. The first one was built on the basis of the Maserati 3200GT and was named Castagna Auge, and the second car was based on the same Alfa Romeo 75!
When you look at it, you get the feeling that Acampora just looked at the Alfa Romeo SZ and decided to do the same, bringing the absurdity to the maximum. How else can you explain the sharp “beak” of the front, framed by “cheeks” under the headlights and ending in a black “wing” of the splitter? The carrozzeria also worked on the engine: if the SZ engine produced 210 horsepower, then on the Vittoria – about 300. The car turned out to be one and a half centners heavier than the coupe from Zagato, and the interior was similar to the SZ, but green leather and alcantara were used in the decoration. The feed brings back memories of the modern Lamborghini Aventador S.
After the Geneva Motor Show, Gioachino took the concept for his own use. The car was spotted every now and then on the outskirts of Milan, and in 2010 it was restored, after which it again began to visit exhibitions. And the studio itself continued to work, creating unusual concepts based on Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Fiat models.
Alfa Romeo Sportut, 1997
In the crossover segment, Alfa Romeo with the Stelvio model is now catching up. But in the late nineties, everything could be exactly the opposite. The championship could have been given to the brand by Nuccio Bertone, who two years before his death created the Sportut concept. The car proved to be both elegant and production-ready: it was based on the platform from the Alfa Romeo 145, and the compact size allowed for imposing a battle on the Toyota RAV4.
A two-liter TwinSpark with a capacity of 150 horsepower was chosen as a power plant, a box – a five-speed “mechanics”, and four-wheel drive at the head. There were some bold decisions – the headlights are recessed behind the decorative sections (hello to Alfa Romeo Montreal), the black element on the front door resembles today’s Range Rover, the rear door handles are hidden in the rear pillars, and the rear-view mirrors are located on the wings. The fifth door was unusually large and boasted panoramic glass.
Alas, such a daring project was too expensive for Fiat, which already had financial difficulties. But now Alfa Romeo has a chance to recoup the upcoming Tonale SUV.
Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale, 2011
The TZ3 Stradale is another collaboration between Alfa Romeo and Zagato. And one of the most controversial on the technical side.
The TZ series of cars dates back to 1963 when two Italian firms introduced the TZ1. It had an aluminum body, roll cage, and two versions: road and track. A few years later, the TZ2 followed with a fiberglass body and a 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine. After the construction of twelve cars, the Tubolare Zagato was forgotten and remembered only in 2010.
The TZ3 Corsa premiere was dedicated to the centenary of Alfa Romeo. The sports car was built on the basis of the 8C Competizione. The coupe turned out to be light: despite the long and wide body, the weight of the car was 850 kilograms. Here are just in the series “Korsa” did not go, but for production, they prepared something radically different.
2011 saw the premiere of the TZ3 Stradale. He no longer had an Italian platform or a passionate V8: the donor for the project was the Dodge Viper ACR! Alfa Romeo with American roots has almost doubled its weight – to a remarkable 1,450 kilograms. Instead of a sequential gearbox, the coupe was equipped with a six-speed “mechanics” Tremec. In this form, 9 cars and went into the series, leaving the fans of the brand in disbelief.
Alfa Romeo Pandion, 2010
Alfa Romeo celebrated its centenary on a grand scale. While the Zagato atelier congratulated the brand on the revived TZ coupe, Bertone also did not stand aside. At the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, Carozzeria unveiled its gift – the Pandion concept two-door.
When creating it, the designers were inspired by the appearance of the bird of prey osprey (in Latin – Pandion Haliaetus), and this is most clearly seen in the design of the doors. Instead of regular flaps, the Pandion has huge sections that include both a portion of the roof and the front and rear fenders! The wings are 3.6 meters long, and they rise 90 degrees to provide access to the bright turquoise interior. Mike Robinson, who worked on the concept, seemed to try to return the fashion to design: the luminous chairs and the central tunnel seem to be woven from living fibers, and the wheels resemble chaotically growing tree roots. This bio-frenzy continues on the stern, which is adorned with LED “blades” that can outperform even the Aston Martin Vulcan headlights.
Just like the TZ3 Corsa, the Pandion concept is based on the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione but is almost 300 kilograms lighter. From there, a 4.7-liter V8 with 450 horsepower, and acceleration to “hundreds” in 3.9 seconds, and the maximum speed was 320 km / h. And this is not the last time that a third-party atelier took the 8C as a basis for revision: you can remember at least the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante from Touring Superleggera. But unlike the latter, the Bertone concept never went into production. Maybe it’s for the best: repairing 3.5-meter doors or rebuilding the stern after an accident would be a real nightmare for owners.