Before exploring the men who shaped the marque in its early years, let us first look at how the brand has changed from its inception to where we are today. Alfa’s origins actually came from France. Alexandre Darracq established a factory in Milan to build cars out of French-supplied parts. This however, was not a success, and the venture was taken over in 1909 by Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (A.L.F.A.).
1910: The story goes that the young draftsman Romano Cattaneo said that he had been struck by the Visconti serpent (a mythical serpent that lived in a local lake and ate humans) seen on the Filarete tower while waiting the No. 14 tram in the morning. On the badge it is often described as the depiction of a snake eating a child. However, officially Alfa Romeo says it is a symbol of rebirth, a snake giving “oral birth” to a child, just as a snake sheds its old skin for a new one. Giuseppe Merosi, the designer of the first ALFA. model added the cross, a symbol of the City of Milan that dates back to the Crusades, when Milanese soldiers wore white tunics under their armor and carried red crosses. In gold on the blue outer ground read the scripts “ALFA” and “MILANO”, separated by two Sabaudian knots, a symbol of the Savoy region before unification. The script became white in 1912, the premise stayed the same although the logo underwent some minor changes in the years to follow.
The Romeo side of the name arrived in 1915, when racing enthusiast and engineer Nicolà Romeo joined the company and began its transformation into a race winner. Under Romeo’s guidance, the marque concentrated on racing cars, dropping its early four-cylinder models in favour for more exotic sixes and eights. It made no four-cylinders at all between 1925 and 1950. In 1925 the logo was adorned with a gold laurel wreath around the badge to celebrate Alfa Romeo as World Champion. All its racing success came at a price; hemorrhaging money, Alfa was taken over by the Italian government. Like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini wanted to promote national prestige through motor racing , and Alfa Romeo obliged with no less than 11 Mille Miglia wins in the 1930s, and four at Le Mans.
In 1945 the badge was simplified, the Sabaudian knots disappeared, and the gold and red signified the end of the war. In 1946 the colours returned to the badge, still without the knots and a simplified gold laurel. The badge remained this way until 1972 when gold became silver and the “Milano” script also disappeared. The gold returned in 1982 and remained relatively unchanged as what we associate with modern Alfa Romeo until quite recently when the marque made another change to their illustrious image.
Overleaf we discover the motor racing heroes who made Alfa Romeo a reckoning presence on the global stage.