Of Serpents and Great Passion…

Of Serpents and Great Passion…

Stellantis has owned Alfa Romeo since 16th January 2021, when Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles merged with French automaker Peugeot. The company also controls the brands of Abarth, Chrysler, Citroen, Dodge, DS Automobiles, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, MOPAR (brand of vehicle parts), Opel, Peugeot, RAM and Vauxhall.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

The origins of Alfa Romeo date back to “The Società Italiana Automobili Darracq” which was founded in 1906, and located at 95, Strada del Portello, Milan, Italy. When financial hardship hit in 1909, the company shares were acquired by the organization’s managing director, Italian aristocrat Ugo Stella. On June 24, 1910, Stella relaunched and renamed his plant Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – A.L.F.A. or “Alfa”. 

Giuseppe Merosi, Alfa’s young technical director, designed the first vehicle to come off the new production line at Portello. The 24HP featured a single block 4.1-liter engine which reached top speeds of 62 mph! In 1914 Merosi was allocated the task of designing a competitive sports car based on the 40-60 HP. The result was the Alfa Grand Prix, the first automobile to feature a twin spark ignition. The 4 cylinder 4.5-liter engine helped it reach a top speed of 87 mph (roughly 140km/h). 

Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA.

In 1915, WWI Forced a change of plans as Alfa lacked the funds required to convert its automobile manufacturing. Nicola Romeo (a successful electrical engineer from Naples, Italy) purchased Alfa and other companies, and started producing airplane engines and portable compressors. The firm was called Società Anonima Italiana Nicola Romeo & Company. The new badge was changed to read “Alfa-Romeo Milano”. In the winter of 1918, investors decided to take the company public with a new make on the original name – “Alfa Romeo”. The new company name was officially registered February 3, 1918. And so, the true history of Alfa Romeo began. To this day, Italian passion and flair run deep in the DNA of the brand. 

The emblem belonging to Alfa Romeo is interesting and, as usual, there are a variety of meanings attributed. There are two main elements which have remained. On the left side, the red-cross-and-white-field motif is borrowed from the Milanese coat of arms. This red cross over a white background is actually a medieval Christian symbol. During the Crusades, Giovanni of Rho’s Milanese soldiers donned a red cross and white undergarments beneath their armour. This image could also be considered the Cross of St Ambrose or St George’s Cross. 

Alfa Romeo Super in France.

On the right half of the logo is a blue serpent, wearing a crown, that is eating a human (originally red) – the Coat of Arms of the influential Visconti family of 11th century Milan. Its origins are unknown. This serpent, also called the Biscione, is a historic symbol of the city of Milan. It was used by other companies based in the city as well. The serpent is also referred to as a “basilisk”. In European legends, this legendary reptile was reputed to be a serpent king (hence the crown), who causes death to those who look into its eyes. Others believe the crown celebrates the Visconti family gaining a dukedom in the 15th century. The man being devoured? Likely a Saracen or Moor being defeated during the Christian Crusades.

Included in the original 1910 Alfa Romeo logo, the Savoy-dynasty knot is a type of heraldic, decorative knot. It is well known for its appearance on the heraldic badge of the House of Savoy. The Savoy-dynasty knots were removed in 1950. 

The beautiful profile of the 1930s Alfa Romeo 6C.

The changes made to the crest along the way were all historically significant. In 1925 the logo featured golden laurels to commemorate Alfa Romeo’s victory at the first Automobile World Championship. In 1946, in World War 2, the machines that made the emblems were destroyed, resulting in a crude, simplified example of the once colourful logo. 1950 returned the logo to colour. As expansion was taking place, the opening of the Pomigliano d’Arco Alfasud plant saw the word “Milano” removed from the crest in 1972. The latest iteration of Alfa Romeo’s logo came out on 24th June 2015 to help celebrate their 105th birthday.

Alfa Romeo has an incredibly proud motorsport history, and have always been a force to be reckoned with. They can claim many firsts in their history, including becoming the first car to win the World Automobile Championship in 1925, and successfully following up this win with a first-place victory at the inaugural F1 championship. But did you know that Enzo Ferrari joined Alfa Romeo to work and compete as a racer, which launched his first long-term employment in the automotive field? He and Ugo Sivocci were great friends, and together with Giuseppe Campari and Antonio Ascari, they were Alfa Romeo’s first factory racing team. Sivocci was fast, but never seemed to have Lady Luck on his side. So, he decided to paint a four-leaf clover, set in a white diamond, on the side of his car. Sivocci won the 1923 Targa Florio – and the legend of the Quadrifoglio (‘green four-leaf clover’) was born. 

The limited edition of the Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio 100th Anniversary editions proudly sport a special gold version of the historic logo.

At this time in history, motor racing was an incredibly dangerous sport that often claimed the lives of its most talented drivers. Sivocci died later that year during a practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza — the now well-known symbol hadn’t yet been painted on his Alfa Romeo P1 race car at the time of the accident. His death was recognized in a symbolic change to the Quadrifoglio: before Monza, the clover sat inside a white diamond, each point said to represent each of the Alfa Romeo factory drivers. After his death, a white triangle was used – the missing corner was a tribute to the loss of Sivocci. Alfa Romeo racing cars have not used his racing number 17 since, to signify his passing and honour his legacy. In the 1970s Quadrifoglio Verde (‘green four-leaf clover’) became the trim level for each model’s sportiest variant, equipped with the most powerful engine. It is often abbreviated QV.

 The epic Alfa Romeo Grille or “Scudetto” (a word that means “little shield” in Italian).

By the early 1930s, Ferrari had stopped racing and dedicated his efforts to managing drivers under “Scuderia Ferrari”, which became Alfa’s official racing department. In 1932, a yellow shield featuring a black prancing horse appeared on the Alfa Romeos of Enzo’s Scuderia at the Spa 24 Hours (a classic endurance race held on the demanding circuit made up of roads linking villages in the Belgian Ardennes). The “lucky charm” worked with the two cars entered coming first and second. Ferrari left Alfa Romeo in 1939 – with the condition that he could not use the Ferrari name in racing for the next four years.

I have always been a sucker for advertising campaigns that are creative, unusual, provocative and filled with a passion for the brand. Alfa Romeo has, in my humble opinion, produced some stunning work over the years (see info block). Many of the beautiful tag lines used by Alfa Romeo convey the passion and emotion of this brand. “La meccanica delle emozioni” (which translates to “the mechanics of emotion”). “Beauty is not enough”. “Without heart, we would be mere machines”.

The phenomenal “Alfa Romeo: Wicked Game” advertisement (see info box).

Few brands engender these levels of devotion…  I’ll leave you with two quotes about this legendary brand. The first was by Henry Ford: “When I see an Alfa Romeo go by, I tip my hat”. Jeremy Clarkson went on to say “You can’t be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo” in an episode of Top Gear. Considering the number of petrolheads in our country, it is not surprising that, according to a very reliable source, in the late ‘70s, there were more Alfa Romeos on South African roads that in any other country in the world except Italy…

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team


Alfa Romeo. The Quadrifoglio – FCA Heritage

Alfa Romeo: Wicked Game

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia, Giulietta, MiTo commercial “Animals” Full Version

Alfa Romeo Stelvio OFFICIAL

Alfa Romeo Giulietta – My Baby Shot Me Down

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