This page is dedicated to the memory of Pat Braden who died on August 25, 2002.

Pat Braden

Pat Braden served as the Vintage Editor of the American Alfa Romeo Owner's club beginning in 1961. In 1980, he became Editor, a position he held for six years. He is an honorary Life Member of the club, and has owned over 50 Alfa Romeos, from a 1929 Gran Sport Zagato to a 1981 GTV-6. Of his seven published books, Giulia History and Restoration, co-authored with Jim Weber, is available from Classic Motorbooks, and the Alfa Romeo Bible is available from Robert Bentley.

He submitted this work on Alfa Romeo to make it available on the KTUD Web.


Many years ago, Alfa Romeo Incorporated circulated a pamphlet of its history. That work satisfied a need which has not really been filled thereafter. About three years ago, the Directors of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club expressed interest in publishing a brief history of the marque. I began stringing together an historical overview in Note Brevi, my monthly column in the club magazine. That series is the basis of this work, published independently of both the club and Alfa Romeo.
Given the volume of excellent Alfa histories, the desire for another seems curious. The reason for the club's need is tied to the flow of casual Alfa owners through the club. New owners are interested in the marque history, yet are unwilling to invest in one of the standard works on Alfa. And many of those owners sell their Alfas before ever learning much about the marque.
This booklet, then, is not for the budding Alfa scholar, but rather the owner or intender who just wants to learn a bit about the history of Alfa Romeo.
Copies may be purchased for $12.50 from Pat Braden at: 449 West Madison Avenue Placentia, CA 92670
Copyright 1993 by Pat Braden.
The use of copyrighted names, including Alfa and Alfa Romeo, is for information only and is not intended to suggest endorsement by or for a product or service.

Chapter 1

The Beginnings

We are taught not to stereotype individuals, peoples or nations, yet I have a very hard time not stereotyping the Italians. I lived in Naples (Northern Italians will quickly point out that I really don't know Italians) and left quite a large part of my heart there. The reason I mention this is that the history of Alfa Romeo could only -- I am convinced -- have happened in Italy. If I may play Jacques Barzun for an introductory paragraph, I'd like to defend the premise.
Consider the irrepressible effervescence of the Italian: the force which makes him break out in song while dining in a trattoria. I know of no parallel in the American psyche, but I do find the same wonderful exuberance in an Alfa. There is also a delicious genius for art, whether graphic, musical or automotive: I have observed that, whenever he erupts creatively, an Italian is quite likely to work a masterpiece. I also note a tragic side to the Italian, reflected in countless feckless escapades: given the choice, he is quite likely to choose wrong. All these elements, exuberance, creativity and tragic idiocy, I find also in Alfa history. Alfa is an Italian phenomenon.
So far as the automobile is concerned, Italy was a late starter. The idea of a self-propelled vehicle dates back to Cugnot's carriage of 1769, while Otto's four-stroke concept dates from 1876. The first internal combustion engine issued from Karl Benz in 1885. The 1889 Benz engine still used hot-tube ignition and an automatic inlet valve. An adequate clutch or transmission was still several years away. In 1891, a Peugeot made the first long-distance journey by an internal-combustion vehicle from Beaulieu-Valentigney to Brest and return. By 1899, several false starts, such as the surface carburetor, had given way to what is essentially the modern engine, with a float-controlled fixed-jet carburetor and mechanically-operated exhaust valve worked by a half-speed camshaft driven by the crankshaft. Peugeot introduced electric ignition in 1899 and in the same year, Renault introduced a shaft drive to a rear-axle differential, eliminating the problems with belt or chain rear drives.
Germans and French, but not an Italian in the bunch. Why did Italy enter automotive production so late in the game? One reason is that the country was occupied with political matters. Italy was trying furiously to establish itself as a colonial power when the century changed. There was plenty of internal strife: the first Emmanuel's successor was assassinated in 1900 (Italophiles will tell you that Italy is still not unified). There was also international strife: Italy suffered a stinging defeat during its 1896 attempt to defeat Ethiopia. In 1911 Italy declared war on Turkey, gaining Tripoli with the win. Italy's turmoil was great enough to cause a large outflow of emigrants. It is fair to see Italy as being basically disorganized during the whole era: one of the reasons Italians were grateful to Mussolini was that he finally brought some semblance of order to the country.
Indeed, at the turn of the century, Italy was so unable to develop its own industry that it became a happy hunting ground for foreign firms. Italy entered the modern industrial era both by copying designs and buying out foreign firms, and that is precisely how the Italian automobile industry got its start. Much of the Italian auto industry owes its start to deDion Bouton, which was founded in 1883 and produced a famous 2000 rpm engine in 1895. In 1899, Edoardo Bianchi founded a company to produce cars powered by the DeDion single-cylinder engine. Bianchi's engineer was Giuseppe Merosi. In the same year, Cesare Isotta and Vincenzo Fraschini formed a partnership to import Renault and Mors cars. The first Isotta-Fraschinis were thinly-disguised Renaults. F.I.A.T. (Fabbrica Itailana Automobili Torino) was formed in a 1903 takeover of Ceirano, which had been founded in 1901 to make cars under Renault license using a deDion engine. (Ceirano assets included a race driver named Vincenzo Lancia.) In a similar 1910 move, a group of Milanese businessmen took over a factory set up to produce Darracq 4-cylinder taxicabs. This group was called Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, or A.L.F.A.
A.L.F.A. hired Merosi from Bianchi, which was very much at the front of automotive technology, and Merosi brought that attitude to A.L.F.A. Even the first A.L.F.A., produced in 1910, featured mechanically-operated intake valves, magneto ignition and an updraft carburetor. Merosi's first cars for A.L.F.A. were powered by monobloc engines (the iron head is cast integrally with the block) with an aluminum crankcase and three main bearings. The crank was not counterbalanced but the poured metal bearings were force-lubricated and an oil line ran up the rod to provide lubricant to the wrist pins. Priming cups helped get the cold engine started. A dry, multiple-disc clutch transmitted power to a 4-speed sliding-gear transmission. Alfa produced essentially three displacements of four-cylinder engines before the Great War. The 24-hp model, of 4084 cc, was produced between 1910 and 1920, and exceedingly long production period considering the rate at which technology was advancing. This was a relatively high-speed engine, giving between 42 and 49 hp at rev ranges from 2200 to 2400 rpm over its life. The compression ratio was 4.15:1, a reflection of the poor state of fuel technology. A smaller engine, produced over the same time span, was called variously the 12, 15 and 15-20 hp. It displaced 2413 cc and gave 22-28 hp at speeds up to 2400 rpm. A sport model, the 40-60, was produced from 1913 to 1922. It displaced just over 6 liters and offered speeds approaching 100 mph in racing trim.
On all these Alfas, behind the transmission, there was a large flexible cardan joint which connected to the driveshaft. The shaft was enclosed in a tube which was rigidly bolted at its rear to the solid rear axle. At the front, the tube connected to a yoke which embraced the cardan joint. This yoke was actually the point at which forward motion from the wheels was transmitted to the chassis. The torque tube surrounding the driveshaft located the rear axle so the rear springs could be shackled at both ends. Internal expanding rear brakes were used and grease cups provided lubrication to critical joints.
The suspension technology of these early cars was very much derived from the horse cart. The shock absorbers were alternating discs of steel and hardwood clamped together to limit bounce, and ride smoothness depended on the chassis flexing. The engine was bolted firmly to the chassis to stiffen it. It was not until the introduction of independent front suspensions that this scheme changed.
It's interesting to compare A.L.F.A.'s technology with its contemporaries. By 1910, F.I.A.T. (under owners Agnelli and Biscaretti) was already diversified with interests in ball bearings, shipbuilding and marine engines. Its vehicles were conservatively engineered for the time, but the S61 Fiat of 1911 used four valves per cylinder with a single overhead camshaft. The multiple valves improved engine breathing and the overhead camshaft eased valve maintenance (it did not appreciably raise engine speed, which was a leisurely 1650 rpm). Fiat practice was a curious combination of old and new, since most of their cars still used chain rear drive. The advantage of chain drive is the same as the deDion rear suspension of modern Alfettas: unsprung weight is low and there is no torque reaction by the differential under acceleration. In comparison to the Fiat and Itala sporting cars, the Alfas carried relatively small engines: the S61 fiat displaced 10 liters and the 1908 Itala 12 liters.

chapter 2

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Copyright March, 1996

Paul Negyesi
Budapest, Hungary.
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