Alfa Romeo Definition
Alfa Romeo is one of the most famous sports cars in the world, along with Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Corvette, Lamborghini, and Jaguar. After experiencing severe economic difficulties during the early 1990s, which resulted in the company's pullout from the U.S. market, Alfa Romeo and its parent company, Fiat, have performed a turnaround of the legendary carmaker--booking international success with the 156 model, introduced in 1998 to universal acclaim, followed by the 166 sedan. In 2000 the company prepared for more success with the October launch of the 147. Alfa Romeo's renewed success has not been enough for Fiat, however, which saw losses totaling more than US$100 million in 1999. In March 2000, Fiat announced a share-swap partnership agreement with General Motors Corporation (GM), giving the U.S. carmaker 20 percent of Fiat and making Italy's dominant automaker the largest single GM shareholder, with 5.1 percent of the Detroit company. The GM-Fiat agreement has already produced a bonus for Alfa Romeo--following the agreement, Fiat announced its intention to reintroduce Alfa Romeo to the U.S. market with a new Spider design.
Alfa Romeo was founded in Portello, just north of Milan, in 1910. Cav Ugo Stella, managing director of a Portello assembly plant for the Darracq, a French automobile, decided to organize a group to purchase the plant and build a car more suitable for the harsh and mountainous Italian roads. Along with a few Milanese businessmen, he took out a loan to purchase the Darracq plant. The group named itself the Lombardy Car Manufacturing Company (Società Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) and soon was known by its initials--ALFA.
Ugo Stella hired Giuseppi Merosi as chief automotive designer of the new company. Merosi had worked previously as a designer for Marchand, Fiat, and Bianchi car companies and was well qualified to design both touring cars and cars for the racing circuit. His first design for ALFA included a monobloc engine, high tension magneto ignition, three-bearing crankshaft, side valves, and pressure lubrication. A radiator badge also was designed for the new firm's cars, including the soon-to-be famous red cross and snake, symbols that were part of the emblems of the city of Milan and the Visconti family. A blue border surrounded the edge of the circular badge, with the word 'ALFA' at the top and 'MILANO' at the bottom. First inscribed in brass lettering, the lettering was replaced shortly afterward with white enamel. During the first year of business, ALFA manufactured ten cars each of a 12 horsepower and a 24 horsepower model; one year later, production had increased to 40 cars of each model. By the time World War I began in 1914, ALFA was manufacturing 272 chassis a year with a staff of almost 300.
Although revenues from car sales seemed to provide adequate funds for ALFA to continue business, in 1915 the company was acquired, suddenly and surprisingly, by Nicola Romeo. From rather humble beginnings, Romeo had graduated from the University of Liege with a degree in electrical engineering. After working for a short time in Germany and then France, he returned to his native Italy and started a business in Milan in association with the American company Ingersoll-Rand. Romeo's business was so successful that he soon formed his own firm to manufacture mining equipment. This, too, proved successful; the expansion of his company was so rapid, that the number of employees he hired increased from 100 to more than 1,200 in three months during the summer of 1915.
When Romeo purchased ALFA in 1915, there were fears among the remaining management and workers that the company was doomed for extinction. Romeo had purchased not only ALFA, but also numerous other firms in the area. His goal was to create an engineering combine that manufactured compressors, tractors, air brakes, ploughs, railway equipment, and other assorted products for use in heavy industry. Fortunately, Romeo was also a motoring enthusiast and had always dreamed of making a prestigious Italian sports car. As a result, he immediately expanded the production facilities at the ALFA factory in Portello. In February 1918, he changed the name of the firm to Società Anonima Italiana Ing. Nicola Romeo & Company. In addition, he decided to place his own name next to the well-respected ALFA name on the company's radiator badge, and after 1918 all the firm's cars appeared with 'Alfa Romeo' on the hood.