The design artistry of the Italian automotive coachbuilders and manufacturers has gained worldwide recognition for outstanding quality and superior performance on the highway and the racetrack for over 100 years. These masters of auto body design and engineering include Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and Fiat, just for starters. But for many car enthusiasts, the name Alfa Romeo is the first that comes to mind as one definition of the essence of fine Italian car making.
While many people are familiar with the current models from this fine auto maker, these designs are in many cases based on the timeless classics dating back to the early 20th century. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to appreciate some of the features that influence the cars of today making these classics unforgettable.
1930 Alfa Romeo 6C-1750
This car is often referred to as the origin of the “GT” model the Alfa Romeo 1750 stands as one of the most successful models of its period, combining elegant coachwork, functional simplicity and supercharged performance.
Automotive historians note that it was the P2 Grand Prix model propelled the name Alfa Romeo onto center stage in the car industry, the credit goes to the 1500 and 1750 models for making Alfa Romeo a prominent name in the sports car market.
Both of these cars were built on a lightweight frame with small, high-power engines, giving these designs superb agility on the road. This 1750 owes its power to a concept from Gran Prix engineering borrowed from P2 model.
1938 Alfa Romeo Tipo 8C 2900B
It was the talented designer Vittorio Jano who conceived the most successful engines of the 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C-1750. This 8 cylinder engine had two four cylinder engines plus twin overhead camshafts. In the original design, the engine displaced 2.3 litres and was installed in both the Tipo B ‘P3′ Grand Prix racers and the 8C 2300 sports cars, which won several Grand Prix races and was one of the most successful works of engineering in automotive history.
This car excelled at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia racetracks, where it won the 24 Hours race from 1931 to 1934. During this time, the displacement of the engine grew to a final size of just over 2.9 litres by 1935.
The 2.9 litre form of Jano’s 1935 version of the 8 cylinder engine became the base for the new 8C 2900A sports car. This engine produced a hefty 255 bhp, with a lower compression 220bhp version installed for reliability reasons. As one of the most successful engines in racing especially in the 1936 Mille Miglia it set the tone for future models.
After this astounding success on the race track, Alfa Romeo decided to produce a limited number of 8Cs for road use. The production models were dubbed 8C 2900B, featuring a 180 bhp version of the 8 cylinder engine. The engine was installed in a box-type chassis and was available with all-round independent suspension in either a short and long wheel base configuration. To the delight of drivers at the time, most of these models were fitted with lightweight auto bodies by Touring, built on the patented Superleggera design.
Enzo Ferrari and Alfa Romeo set went their own separate ways in 1937 and in 1938 “Alfa Corse” became the racing department of Alfa Romeo. From the Alfa Corse five 8C 2900Bs were entered for the 1938 Le Mans, four of them were fitted with “Spider” bodies, the other with a coupe body. What made this coupe outstanding was its construction by Touring; the car was designed to cut through the air as efficiently as possible on Le Mans’ long straights. Because of this design, the compression of its engine was enhanced and it was able to match the performance of the 8C 2900A’s power-plant.
1950-1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Cabriolet
However in terms of production cars, it is the introduction of the Alfa Romeo 1900 in 1950 that holds the title as their masterpiece of engineering designed after World War II. This beautiful car has the power of a four-cylinder twin-overhead-cam. The 1,975 cc engine produces 115 horsepower paired with a 5-speed manual transmission.
With an independent, front mounted coil-spring suspension and hydraulic drum brakes, this car weighed 2,535 pounds with the ability to reach a top speed of 115-mph. The revolutionary unit-body chassis coupled with the potent 80-100 horsepower twin cam engine represented dramatic departures from previous technical designs. These cars pleased drivers with their multiple body styles; Alfa Romeo produced sedans, coupes and convertibles based on this design.
For drivers who love the Italian sports cars of today, these classic designs deserve all of the credit for their existence. Although many developments have influenced Italian sports car design, their power and handling ability on the road has its origins in the pioneering work of the three models described here.