Museo Storico Alfa Romeo: the time machine

The Italian brand is celebrating its 111th anniversary this year… a good reason step back in time and have a look at the brand’s long and eventful history by visiting the Alfa Romeo factory museum in Arese, Italy.

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Archetype of the Formula 1, this Alfetta or Tipo 158 was famous from 1938 to 1951. Designed by Ferrari, it won the 1950 Formula 1 World Championship and the drivers’ titles with Giuseppe Farina in 1950 and Juan Manuel Fangio in 1951.

If you’re travelling to Italy by road, chances are you’ll drive past the Alfa Romeo Museum. It is located in the municipality of Arese ,on the A9 motorway leading to Milan. The Alfa Romeo factory used to be there but were demolished a long time ago.

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During the 1950s, many racing boats were successful thanks to their Alfa Romeo engine.

However, the former factory are still there and have been partially refurbished to house the brand’s museum while the factory site itself is now a shopping mall. Here, the exhibited cars are not lined up in a row but shown in large open and airy spaces.

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A not very well-know fact: Alfa Romeo produced aero engines and powered many aircrafts. The Arese museum houses this model as well as several Alfa aero engines.

A condensed history

The brand’s long history is laid out through three major themes. First of all, the production cars section allows you to (re)discover Alfa’s major cars. For example, you will see a 6C 1750 Zagato there. It’s the archetypal sports car of the 1930s, already fitted with a double overhead camshaft engine. Alongside it, there are some rather exclusive pre- and post-war productions.

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A sports car par excellence, the 1750 two-seater allowed wealthy enthusiasts to go to the theatre as well as taking part in races with a real chance of success.

The 1900 saloon marked the revival of the brand and was Alfa Romeo’s very first mass-produced car back in the early 1950s. This well-built family saloon was even more powerful than many sports cars of the time. Then came the cars that mark Alfa’s golden period: the Giulietta, nicknamed « Italy’s little fiancée », an essential part of the economic « miracolo » of the Peninsula ;  the unforgettable Giulia, with its angular yet highly aerodynamic shape- as much prized by gangsters and thugs as it was by the Carabinieri and other national police forces.

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After the Second World War, Alfa Romeo changed a lot and adapted itself to mass-production. The 1900 was the first Alfa to be mass- produced (albeit in tiny numbers). It featured modern pontoon lines and used a double overhead camshaft engine. A real oddity for a saloon back in the early 1950s!

In the early Seventies came the Alfasud : the brand’s first front-wheel drive car and its legendary boxer engine.  The most recent era is well represented : the 75 was the last « real » Alfa produced before the FIAT takeover. The 164 was the brainchild of the collaboration between FIAT, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Saab while the 156 is the latest Milanese brand success.

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The golden era of Alfa’s history is perfectly illustrated by the Giulietta of the 50s and 60s. “Italy’s little fiancée”, it was aimed at a rather wealthy clientele with a taste for sportiness. More sporty versions and timelessly elegant cabriolets were also produced.

Bellezza

This part of the museum is dedicated to aesthetics… beauty always was a major concern for Alfa Romeo. Here, prototypes that have marked their era and the history of the automobile are on display. The greatest names in Italian bodywork are prominent: Bertone and Pininfarina, of course, but also Castagna, Touring and Zagato.

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Created in honour of the Montreal World Fair in 1967, the Montreal is a Grand Touring coupé fitted with a 2.6 litre V8 engine producing 200 bhp DIN. Unfortunately, it was not as successful as expected : just under 4,000 examples were produced between 1970 and 1977. It was designed by Marcello Gandini for Bertone.

Eight prototypes exemplify the Alfa’s spirit and DNA as well as the close relationships that has always existed between the Biscione brand and Italian car designers. All the prototypes on show have shapes that were well ahead of their time and have shaken up the conventions of car design. All were signed by artists who knew exactly how to combine art and technology, form and function to make them true works of art.

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In 1914, Count Ricotti ordered an aerodynamic Alfa Romeo 40/60 HP from Castagna bodyworks. It was shaped like a drop of water and could reached speeds up to 140 km/h. It is the forerunner of the MPVs and makes maximum use of the interior space. This replica was built in the 1970s.

From the iconic 1900 Disco Volante with partially closed wings, the inspiration for the Jaguar E-Type, to the 33/2 Speciale and Marcello Gandini’s Carabo, which defined the proportions of supercars still in use today. The Iguana may be less well known but it was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

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The 75 is seen by many Alfisti as the « last true Alfa ». In addition to the traditional four-cylinder twin-shaft engine or V6 Busso, it uses a « transaxle » transmission with a gearbox on the rear axle to get perfect weight distribution. Its bodywork and proportions make it as much a family saloon as a sports car, even fitted with least powerful engines.

Racing

Racing was in Alfa Romeo’s blood right from the start. From the city-to-city races of the 1920s, such as the Mille Miglia, to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Formula 1, Alfa tok part in all sorts of races and won very often.

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The Carabo, by Bertone. This Marcello Gandin project was introduced in 1968. The chassis came from the 33 Stradale, fitted with a 2-litre V8 developing 230 bhp and allowing a 250 km/h top speed. This prototype set the standards still used by today’s supercars.

This part of the museum obviously focuses on Formula 1- Alfa Romeo won the category’s very first world title back in 1950-  as well as various versions of the 33 from the 1970s and other track cars, such as the Bertone GTA coupés, the 75s and the 155s.

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The Coupé 33/2 was signed by Leonardo Fioravanti for Pininfarina and shown at the 1969 Paris Motor Show. Using the 33 Stradale chassis, it never went past the prototype stage, unfortunately.

Temporary exhibitions

The area at the entrance of the museum hosts temporary exhibitions. At the time of our visit, it was dedicated to racing boats. Up until the late 1960s, outboard racing was very popular in Italy. Many Alfa engines were fitted to these boats and were quite successful. On top of that, Alfa Romeo engines powered many aircrafts too.

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The Nuvola dates from 1996 and was another Alfa Romeo concept car unveiled at the Paris show. This time, it was the brand’s Centro Stile that produced it under Walter da Silva leadership. Its name is a play on words evoking the great driver of the brand, Tazio Nuvolari while meaning “cloud “in Italian. Its name is evocative of speed and also refers to its magnificent bluish colour. It was even available as an extra on the 156 and 166.

Several Alfa aero engines are on display in the Museo, as well as a complete aircraft! The Italian police forces always relied on the products of the Milanese manufacturer. A part of the museum pays tribute to it, presenting numerous models of the Carabinieri cars: the Giulia of course but there’s an armoured Alfetta dating from the dark Seventies era are also part of the history of the brand.

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Before and after the Second World War, the 6C was Alfa’s flagship. All the great Italian coachbuilders made bodies for it. This elegant bodywork was designed by Touring Superleggera and features integrated headlights in the front wings. Up until the 1960s, putting the steering on the right was seen as an advantage to drive on narrow, winding mountain roads thus allowing the driver to stick as close as possible to the mountain side.

Whether you are a big Alfa fan or just a car enthusiast, a visit to the Museo Storico will allow you to get to know the Italian manufacturer better and understand what it means to some people : feelings, attachment and even love. The shop at the exit will even allow you to take a part of Alfa history back home !

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This striking Bertone-penned Giulietta Sprint coupé is one of the most beautiful car designs of all time. Elegant and well-balanced, it is still a real beauty even though it’s now more than 60 years old!

The Automobile Redactor would like to thank Dominique Fontignies and Wim Willems, Stellantis’ P.R. Manager and P.R. Officer for their help and support in organising this visit, as well as Mrs Raffaella Quaquaro and the museum staff for their genuine kindness.

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The 33 Stradale is a bit like Alfa’s GTO… this masterpiece was designed by Franco Scaglione on the basis of the 33 competition car. 18 examples were produced between September 1967 and early 1969. Built by Autodelta, the brand’s competition department, it weighs only 700 kg. Its monocoque chassis was made of aluminium, like the bodywork. The engine was the 33 2-litre V8 230 bhp lump that enabled it to reach a 260 km/h top speed.
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The Giulia epitomises Alfa Romeo as much as being a part of Italian culture, just like the Vespa and the Fiat 500. It appeared at the beginning of the 1960s with a 1300 or 1600 cc twin-shaft engine, a 5-speed gearbox and disc brakes on all four wheels. A saloon car for sporty fathers, it was also a favourite of national police forces and gangsters alike! Here it is in the « Carabinieri » livery. The front grille without centre lights is reminiscent of the TI Super.
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This armoured Alfetta was also used by the police in large numbers during the dark ‘lead’ years (1960-80), when the Red Brigades killed many people in Italy.
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This wall contains a display of various aerodynamic and other studies models. Among them are some Alfa trucks.

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