A brief history of Alfa Romeo

We look back through some of the most significant cars in Alfa Romeo's history

With eye catching cars that keep enthusiasts enthralled, like the Giulia saloon and Stelvio – an SUV that thinks it's a sports car – Alfa Romeo is currently enjoying a welcome spell in the limelight.

The famous Italian marque hasn't always had an easy life, though – it has faced its fair share of financial crises and there have been times when enthusiasts felt that some of its cars' sporting spirit was ebbing away. We reckon it's high time, then, that some of the marque's most illustrious, significant or just plain sexy cars were celebrated.

The history of Alfa Romeo makes for fascinating reading. An interesting and little-known fact is that the company started under the Darracq name in 1906, with cars marketed under the A.L.F.A. brand from 1910. Those initials stood for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, or Anonymous Lombard Automobile Factory, referencing the administrative district of Lombardi, of which Milan is the capital. It wasn't until 1920, five years after the company came under the direction of entrepreneur Nicola Romeo, that the Alfa Romeo name was born and first appeared on a car – the Torpedo 20-30 HP open tourer.

The period between the wars was difficult and found Alfa Romeo under government control, where it, like many European manufacturers, concentrated on working towards the Italian war effort. Only one model, the expensive 6C 2500 sports car, was series-built during World War II, in both road and racing versions. At the end of the war, Alfa Romeo's car manufacturing interests would intensify, but a return to profitability didn't come easily.

The hugely successful pre-war Alfa Romeo 158 Grand Prix car returned to the track after the war ended and brought welcome publicity to the company, which restarted production in earnest with the 1900 saloon, coupe and convertible. It was the right car at the right time, and its positive image contributed to Alfa Romeo's continued expansion. Some of the company's most celebrated models were produced in the 1960s.

So, now you know a little about the company, grab yourself a cappuccino and relax as we explore some of the most significant cars in the history of Alfa Romeo.

Alfa Romeo 8C 2900

This elegant model, more than any other, exemplifies the glory of pre-war Alfa Romeo. Most famous in its Grand Prix car form, the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 was one of the last cars run by the Scuderia Ferrari racing team, before Enzo Ferrari founded his own car-building empire. In sports racing form, the 8C 2900 saw considerable success in road racing, including the infamous Mille Miglia. Road versions were also offered to very wealthy customers – a Pininfarina-bodied example was once sold at auction by Christie's for over $4 million, in Pebble Beach, California.

Alfa Romeo 1900

After World War II, the 1900 was the car that effectively rebuilt Alfa Romeo as a major force in European car production. First sold in 1950, it was available initially in saloon and later coupe and convertible forms. Although it used a twin-cam engine from the outset, in 1954 it would receive the next-generation Alfa Romeo twin cam engine that powered cars from the marque all the way up to 1994. The 1900 also formed the basis of many coachbuilt specials by famous Carozzeria such as Ghia and Zagato, as well as the near-legendary BAT series of cars from Bertone.

Alfa Romeo Spider 1600

The Spider name had already appeared on open Alfa Romeo roadsters before, but it was the perky, voluptuous Spider 1600 that remains the most famous of all. Styled by Pininfarina, and made made famous by the film The Graduate, it was produced from 1966 to 1994, although its appearance changed markedly through four separate major updates. The first, in 1970, replaced the curvaceous rear end with a square 'Kamm' tail, while the final 1990 update re-introduced some of the grace the Spider lost over the years. Its 1994 replacement made the change to front-wheel drive.

Recommended

Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon review
Alfa Romeo Giulia driving
Alfa Romeo Giulia
28 Mar 2022

Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon review

New 2022 Alfa Romeo Tonale arrives with plug-in hybrid power
2022 Alfa Romeo Tonale - front 3/4
Alfa Romeo
8 Feb 2022

New 2022 Alfa Romeo Tonale arrives with plug-in hybrid power

Best classic cars to buy in 2022
Classic cars to buy in 2022
Car buying
7 Feb 2022

Best classic cars to buy in 2022

Top 3 used petrol sports saloons for £20,000
Top 3 used petrol sports saloons for £20,000
Tips and advice
10 Nov 2021

Top 3 used petrol sports saloons for £20,000

Most Popular

Speed awareness course: how much does it cost, how long does it take and how do you do one online?
Police car - open boot
Tips and advice
19 May 2022

Speed awareness course: how much does it cost, how long does it take and how do you do one online?

Best new car deals 2022: this week’s top car offers
Fiat 500 deals
Deals
20 May 2022

Best new car deals 2022: this week’s top car offers

New car delivery times: how long will you have to wait?
Mazda3s at Bristol port
Car buying
17 May 2022

New car delivery times: how long will you have to wait?

Tips & advice

View All
Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
23 Mar 2022

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide
Electric car charging station
Tips and advice
5 Nov 2021

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?
PCP vs HP
Car buying
17 May 2022

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?

Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Tips and advice
23 Jul 2021

Average speed cameras: how do they work?

Best cars

View All
Top 10 best car interiors 2022
Peugeot 208 hatchback
Best cars
25 Jun 2021

Top 10 best car interiors 2022

Top 10 best electric cars 2022
Ioniq 5
Best cars
25 Apr 2022

Top 10 best electric cars 2022

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2022
Nissan Leaf front
Best cars
3 May 2022

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2022

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2022
Audi RS 3 driving - front view
Hot hatches
3 Feb 2022

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2022