A brief history of Alfa Romeo

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

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

The name 'Stradale' translates directly as 'road-going' – a strong hint as to exactly what this most famous of Alfa Romeos was. Essentially, the 33 Stradale was Alfa's official factory racer of the day, given a little extra comfort in the passenger compartment and a few adjustments to make it legal for road use. Its ultra-distinctive style includes the first dihedral (butterfly-wing) doors ever on a production road car, although their hand-built nature resulted in every example having subtle visual differences. All used the same jewel-like 2.0-litre V8 petrol engine, detuned to 230bhp for road use for a 160mph top speed. Such is their scarcity, examples are rarely offered for sale, but Alfa Romeo bosses in North America estimated 2015 values as in excess of $10 million.

Alfa Romeo Montreal

The rakish Alfa Romeo Montreal was quite a departure from any car the Italian firm had made before. Evolving from a Gandini-styled 1.6-litre show car displayed at Expo '67, an international exhibition held in Montreal, it was well received by the public and developed into a production model using a high-revving 2.6-litre V8 petrol engine derived from the 33 Stradale mentioned above. Its body was almost as exotic as its engine, including retractable louvred covers that partially concealed the four headlamps and distinctive cutaway slats in the side pillars – later aped by the graphics on some American muscle cars. Pricier than the Jaguar E-Type or Porsche 911 when new, after a long period of relative obscurity the Montreal is now an expensive and sought-after classic car.

Alfa Romeo Alfasud

The Alfa Romeo Alfasud probably did more to give the Italian company a presence in the mass market than any other model. Introduced in 1971 as part of a government-subsidised scheme to bring industry to southern (or sud) Italy, the Alfasud's name was inspired by the all-new factory in Naples it was built in. Although that doesn't sound like an exciting beginning, the Alfasud soon became renown for its sheer driver appeal. It used a charismatic flat-four petrol engine and – although it was front-wheel drive – four-wheel disc brakes, a long wheelbase and low centre of gravity made it an exciting car to drive, with impressive grip and nippy performance. Ending production in 1983, its mechanical structure continued in the replacement Alfa 33 hatchback and Giardinetta estate.

Alfa Romeo GTV

The GTV name dates back to the 1960s, but many feel that this version, produced from 1974 until 1987, was the most appealing of all. Based on the Alfetta saloon car, the range opened with the 1.6-litre Alfetta GT, the GTV name being reserved for the more expensive 2.0-litre version. It's the later GTV6 that enthusiasts hanker after, though – distinguished by an unmistakable bulge in the bonnet to clear the engine intake, the 2.5-litre V6 powered coupe was an immediate hit on its 1981 launch, making a name as a very charismatic grand tourer – although beset by confusing interior design and poor ergonomics until the very end. Its 1994 replacement was designed alongside its Alfa Romeo Spider open-top sister, and every subsequent GTV has been front-wheel drive.

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