There’s been an Alfa Museum for over 30 years now. But few people have heard of it, and even fewer have probably visited it. Unlike the expensive creations by Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, the Museo Storico Alfa is located inside the historic Arese site, and until recently, you could not just turn up and expect to visit. You had to request a visit, and state a reason why. “I’m an Alfisti” was considered an acceptable reason, by the way. With the factory days of Arese behind us, the museum is now open from 9 – 12:30 and 2 – 5pm on working days, except in August when it is closed. Having now visited, I can see why. I was quite worried that the directions seemed a bit vague, but actually, it is easy enough to find, just a few hundred metres off the Arese exit of the A8 autostrada, north of Milano. Follow signs to Arese Nord & Sud, and you see a huge sign marking the museum. Head down this road, and you are greeted with a security booth and a barrier. In a mixture of broken English from the security guard and my marginal Italian, he told me to park up, took some details, signed me in, and gave me a visitors badge. He told me to walk through the gates and then take the left hand path, and follow round until I would come to the museum. The building itself does not look promising!
The door was open, so in I went. I was alone. The museum is unstaffed, unless you have booked a guided tour. There is no shop, no cafe, just homage to “il cuore sportivo”. I’d been there an hour before anyone else entered the building. And this turned out simply to be a cleaner. While I was there an English couple, a Hong Kong lady and a group of 3 Italian lads also visited. That was it. What everyone is missing is a superb display of the history of this most charismatic Italian marque. The displays are only in Italian, but I was able to work out most of what they were saying. In any case, the cars really speak for themselves! The story begins in 1906, when the Italians first assembled a version of the French Darracq 8/10 hp model.
The real foundation of Alfa came in 1910. The Anonima Lombarda Fabbricia Automobili (literally, the Lombardy Car Factory Company) was founded, in Milano, and the first model was this one, a 20hp tourer.
Like many manufacturers at the time, new models came at frequent intervals. This is a 15hp model from 1911
This is from 1913 and is the 40 – 60 hp model.
By 1920, this is the car that was being produced, the 20-30ES
It was in the early 1920s when Alfa enjoyed success in the Targa Florio, and this encouraged the fledgling firm to focus on motor sport, and set off down a path which would set the company’s course for ever. This is the RL series Targa Florio car from 1923:
This is the 1924 RL Targa Florio car.
In an effort to make a slightly cheaper car, the RM Sport, available for 1924, was the result.
Another RL SuperSport, from 1925:
The RL SS from 1926
And a further RL SuperSport
During the 20s, Alfa concentrated on further evolving the breed, designed by the great Vittorio Jano. At this time, Alfa produced the chassis and the engine, and a number of coachbuilders offered bodies for the cars. This 6C1500 dates from 1927.
Soon after this, an enlarged engine was offered, and the legendary 6C1750 was created.
This is a grand tourer version of the 6C1750, from 1930
An 8 cylinder version followed, in the quest for more power. This is a 1931 8C2300 Le Mans car.
And here is the 1932 model.
The 1931 8C2300 Monza
This Bimotore model, the first 12 cylinder had literally 2 engines in it!
This is the Tipo A car from 1934
It was not just cars that were keeping Alfa busy, as from the 1920s until the second world war, they were also making airplane engines, and a row of these were on display.
Although Alfa were very focused on sports and racing cars, they did also produce a number of more evidently road and touring-oriented cars.
This 6C1900 dates from 1932
This is the 6C2300 from 1934
A coupe version, the 6C2300 Coupe also from 1934
This is the 6C2300 from 1938
These 8C2900s were very elegant grand tourers, dating from 1938, with bodies by Touring
From 1939, this is a 6C2500 SS Corsa.
This streamlined car competed in the Mille Miglia against the BMW 328s
During the 1930s, Alfa had produced some out and out racers, which competed in the Grand Prix races of the day. This is the Tipo C Gran Premio car from 1936
This is the Tipo 512 Gran Premio from 1940
Next car was the 158, also known as the Alfetta, and which was particularly successful. This car dates from 1938.
Alfa continued with their motor sport cars after the war, and in 1951 had a successor to the 158 model, called the 159. This is a 1951 car.
During the second half of the 1960s and most of the 1970s, it was the 33 that brought Alfa success.
After the end of European hostilities, it took a couple of years before Alfa production resumed. In 1947, the 6C2500 model was launched. Three examples of this car were on show: 6C2500 Freccia d’Oro
6C2500 Ville d’Este
The big news came in 1950, with the launch of the first mass-produced Alfa ever. That car was the 1900 Berlina.
In 1952, the underpinnings of this car were used for one of the first “Disco Volante” show cars.
From the same period, there was a smaller coupe, with a 750cc engine
In 1954, the 1900 Touring SS Coupe was launched. A beautiful car, and some way ahead of the styling of many other cars on the market at the time.
1955 saw the launch of a new, cheaper line of cars, the Giulietta. These cars had an engine of just 1290cc, but far more powerful than you might expect.
Gorgeous Coupe and Spider models were also in the range.
The museum includes a prototype of a model that was never built – the 103. This car was rear-engined, and intended to slot in the range under the Giulietta. Although it was not built- and instead, Alfa built a small number of rebadged Renault Dauphines instead, the styling theme was kept, and was later to emerge on the Giulia range in 1963.
The next new range came in 1960, with the launch of the 2000. There was a Berlina version, and an elegant coupe.
A couple of years later, the engine was enlarged to 2.6 litres and the cars were now called the 2600. Here is the Berlina.
By this time, there was now a convertible on offer as well.
And here is the coupe.
A small number of special bodied Berlinas were made, and this one dates from 1965.
A new medium sized car arrived in 1963, the Giulia. Despite somewhat boxy styling, the drag coefficient was an incredibly low cd 0.34. The 4 door Berlina was augmented with a stunning coupe. This is a 1300 GT Junior, dating from 1965.
Quickly establishing a reputation for prowess in motor sport, a lightened version was launched, called the GTA.
A 2 seater convertible offering, based on the Giulia, was first produced in 1966. In production for over 20 years, the Duetto, so called as result of a competition to find a name for the car, was made famous after a lengedary appearance in the “The Graduate” a few months after launch.
Throughout the 1960s, Alfa retained strong links to the styling houses of Italy. Many of their production cars were styled by Bertone and Piniinfarina, but they also had links to Zagato, who offered some very different shapes. This is their effort on the 2600 base:
And this is the Junior Zagato, offered a few years later.
The 1750 Berlina and Coupe models were launched in 1967. Despite boxy styling, the 1770cc engine put out an incredible 132 bhp. In its day, this car, and the rival Lancia Flavia far outsold BMW. How things change!
The glorious Montreal was made in small quantities following overwhelmingly positive reactions when the car was shown at Expo67 in Montreal. This is the production car. Later I was to see the Expo 67 car as well.
In the 1970s, everything changed, with the launch of the first ever front wheel drive Alfa, the Alfasud. Built in a brand new factory just outside Naples, the brilliance of the car was repeatedly overshadowed by labour relations issues, build quality and the use of the notoriously low quality Russian supplied steel, which coupled with minimal rust proofing meant that the car quickly established a reputation for premature rust. Sadly, few survive today, certainly not like this original 1200cc model.
Also new in the early 1970s was the Alfetta. The Berlina model arrived first, in 1972, with the 1770cc engine, and, in an effort to ensure better handling, the gearbox mounted at the back, to endow the car with more balanced weight distribution.
The Alfetta GT and GTV models were launched in 1974, and they remained in production into the mid 1980s. By this time, the obligatory updating had added plastic bumpers, and also the new and legendary V6 engine which was first show in the Alfa 6 luxury saloon.
There were few of the most recent Alfas on show, but four cars from the very successful Touring Car exploits were on show. I remember that my Alfa 164 was supplied with a window sticker proudly celebrating the 1994 Touring Car Championship success, which I was happy to leave in the rear window all the time I had the car!
In the same hall as these cars, I found a concept car, the 1966 Alfa Scarabeo
A separate hall had a rather more comprehensive display of concept cars:
This is the car made for Expo67 in Montreal
The Tipo 33-2, from 1969
The Alfa Carabo from 1969
The Alfa Caimano from 1971
The Cuneo from 1971
An Alfetta Spider from 1972
The Alfa Iguana from 1969
The Eagle, based on the 1.8 litre Alfetta was from 1975
This Navajo dated from 1976
The Proteo dates from 1991 and shows a lot of the styling ideas that were used on the GTV and Spider that were launched a couple of years later.
Finally, there is this one….. my favourite concept car, and one that they really should have made. The lovely lovely lovely Nuvola.
It was a long haul to Arese from Bolzano, where I was staying, but well worth it!
Since my visit in June 2008, the museum was closed for a 12 month period for refurbishment. It reopened in December 2009, just in time for the Alfa Centenary celebrations in 2010.
More details can be found here: http://www.alfaromeo.com/cgi-bin/pbrand.dll/NEWALFA_COM/controller/alfaworld/alfaworld.aspx?language=1&category=PB_TMPL_FIAT_WORLD|/MENU/HISTORY