Alfa Romeo Questions

Alfa Romeo Overview

Many U.S. drivers may be familiar with Alfa Romeo only as a manufacturer of expensive collector cars or vehicles that occasionally show up in movies, but that's about to change. The Italian-based automaker has announced that after an absence of more than a decade, it will return to the U.S. market with three new models at the end of 2009, just in time for its 100th anniversary.

That's good news for fans of one of the world's legendary automakers. Alfa Romeo traces its roots back to the year 1910, when Italian aristocrat Ugo Stella purchased an underperforming French auto company and redubbed it A.L.F.A. -- the Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (or Lombard Anonymous Automobiles Factory). After building a factory in Milan, Italy, the company's first car, a racer known as the 24 HP, debuted with a one-piece, four-cylinder engine.

In 1915, at the beginning of World War I, the automaker was acquired by Nicola Romeo, who funneled production into the building of military hardware for a few years. Following the war, the company returned to the manufacture of motor cars, and like many European automakers of the era, focused primarily on racing.

In 1920, the company formally adopted the name Alfa Romeo. The first car to officially carry the Alfa Romeo name and bear the automaker's round, blue-bordered badge, which remains a distinguishing characteristic to this day, was a race car, the 40-60 HP. Enzo Ferrari, who got his start as a driver for Alfa Romeo, participated in his first races behind the wheel of an open-topped 40-60 HP.

In the years that followed, Alfa Romeo continued to participate in the racing scene and produced a series of cars that are still highly coveted by collectors today, including the RL, the first car with an inline six-cylinder engine; the 6C 2300, which featured independent suspension; the 6C 2500 Sport, also known as the Golden Arrow; and the dynamic 8C 2900.

Through the 1950s and '60s, Alfa Romeo produced a number of small, sporty cars, like the Giulietta Sprint and the Spider 1600 Duetto, that helped establish the automaker's modern-day reputation. And in the early 1970s, Alfa Romeo produced its own versions of the muscle car, like the Montreal, which it termed a luxury sport car, and the front-wheel-drive Alfasud.

In 1985, Alfa Romeo celebrated its 75th year in production. The following year, the company was acquired by Fiat, which created a new group, Alfa Lancia Industriale, to produce both Alfas and Lancias. More recently, in 2005, Fiat acquired Maserati and plans to share some production components between Alfa and Maserati cars.

The link with Maserati will serve Alfa Romeo well as the automaker returns with new cars to American shores. Initially, Alfas will be available through Maserati dealerships. Initially, three models, including the 159 Sedan, the Brera coupe, and the Spider convertible, will be available, and other models may follow in 2010 and beyond.

All three of the cars initially scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. are currently available in Europe and feature the distinctive V-shaped Alfa grille with the round, blue-bordered badge positioned at the top. And all display clean, sleek, European-chic lines. It's a look that will soon grace American highways once again. Now we can only hope that other Alfas, like the hatchback-oriented 147 and the futuristic 8C, soon follow.