Alfa Romeo turns 110 this year. Established on the 24th of June 1910 as “Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili” or ALFA for short, this charismatic Italian automaker has been seen as the La Dolce Vita choice of automobiles. With gorgeous styling and characterful nature, many were seduced by the Italian flair and passion that the Alfa lifestyle provided.
Even in Malaysia, the love affair with Alfa Romeo runs deep. Older enthusiasts still fondly remember a time when Alfa Romeos were a common sight on Malaysian roads and there was even a time when the Malaysian police were catching criminals in Giulia and Alfettas cop cars.
To many a petrolhead, the Milanese marque could be distilled to gorgeous styling and characterful engines. Underneath any Alfa bonnet, usually sculpted by one of the many legendary Italian design houses, would be an engine that will set the heart of any car enthusiast racing. These range from rev-happy twin cams of old to the newer peppy twin-spark variety. And lest we forget the iconic soulful V6 burble that comes from an Alfa Busso.
The Alfa Romeo back catalogue is filled with many legendary cars that range from stylish classics like the original Giulia, GT, Montreal and the gorgeous Tipo 33 Stradale to retro icons like the Alfasud, Spider, GTV6, 164 and the quirky SZ. And in more recent times there was the Brera, 156 and 159, made all the more appealing if there was a GTA badge at the rear.
Of course, one can’t talk about Alfa Romeo without mentioning their motorsports heritage and achievements. They were a force to reckon with in the early days of Formula 1, with the company’s works drivers winning the World Drivers’ Championship in 1950 and 1951. Even a certain Enzo Ferrari began his motorsports pursuit as an Alfa Romeo racing team before going founding Scuderia Ferrari. In addition to that, Alfa Romeo were dominant in other motorsports categories, with victories in the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio LeMans, Formula 3 and Touring Car Championships worldwide.
Flair and passion however isn’t enough to sustain a business where dollars and cents are king. The Italian car maker consistently faced financial troubles throughout its 110 year history, culminating in a takeover by Fiat in the 90s.
In the mid 2010s, it was even remarked that the once great Alfa Romeo only had two models in their line up, and both were variations of front wheel drive fiat-based hatchbacks, the MiTo and Giulietta. Even the supposed Alfa halo car the 8C was based on a Maserati.
Happily for the Italian company though, it entered a bit of a renaissance in recent times. Starting with the launch it’s little two door sports car, the 4C followed by the unveiling of the Giulia sedan and the Stelvio SUV. Tongues were wagging too about the Quadrifoglio variants with their Ferrari V6s that were able to stand toe to toe with the established German M, AMG or RS rivals. There were even discussions about the revival of the GTV nameplate on a grand tourer and a proposed 8C supercar on top of plans for track ready GTA-m variants of the Giulia and a crop of new SUVs and crossovers.
The iconic Alfa Romeo name with the red and white livery made a comeback in top-tier motorsports too. Taking over the back-marker Sauber Formula 1 team in 2017 and turning it into a competitive midfielder under the Alfa name.
For all of Alfas recent success however, we do not anticipate to see the revival of the Alfa brand in the local market anytime soon. Although the love for the brand is still strong among a select few, to the average car buyer at least, Alfas are still considered a fringe choice. Especially with the notion of unreliability and rust that still dangle over the Alfa name locally. A quick look at other non-mainstream premium brands like Jaguar and DS that have been struggling for years to make a foothold in the market indicates that the Malaysian market might not be ready to accept Alfa Romeo back just yet.
But let’s not get bogged down on the lack of new Alfas roaming our local streets. Many an Alfa owner today willingly admit that once bitten by the Alfa Romeo bug, one Alfa isn’t enough. There still exists a lively enthusiast community with many passionate and enthusiastic owners keeping classic and retro Alfas alive on Malaysian roads. Filling the streets with brilliant design and soulful engine note, and reminding Malaysians about the existence of this iconic Italian marque. Happy 110th Alfa Romeo!
Text by Joshua Chin