Alfa Romeo has been known for its sporting image since its inception as A.L.F.A. Class, heritage and luxury are also considered to be part of Alfa Romeo’s image, offering engaging driving experiences mixed with that Italian flair of style and design. However, there has been some questionable aspects of Alfa Romeo’s image as well, reliability and rust have affected peoples perception of the brand. More recently, a small lineup and low sales number have failed to ignite the passion for Alfa Romeo’s in the younger generations. An analysis of Alfa Romeo’s image will be explored below.
Competing in various categories in the early days of motor sport, Alfa Romeo first competed in the Targa Florio in 1911 but was unsuccessful. From 1913, with the production of the 40-60 Corsa, success was instant. The Giuseppe Merosi designed car claimed its very first victory in the Parma to Poggio di Berceto hill climb. After strong finishes in the Coppa Florio the company was persuaded to allow Merosi to design a Grad Prix car. He was successful in the completing the car, although it was heavier and lacked the power of the other cars, its first initial test looked promising. It was not meant to be, as the race never begun. Europe succumbed to war and racing was soon forgotten. However, the seeds had been sewn and A.L.F.A was to become an integral part of motor sport throughout the coming decades. Alfa Romeo themselves would compete in Grand Prix racing, Formula 1, Sportscar Racing, touring car and rally. Both a supplier of engines and a constructor.
While Merosi was a good designer, Alfa Romeo needed someone with proper grand prix experience. Vittorio Jano of Fiat was hired to produce Alfa’s Grand Prix cars and creating the P2. On its first outing in June 1924 it won at the Circuit of Cremona. “More importantly, in August, it won the Grand Prix of Europe so convincingly that the all conquering Fiat GP team withdrew after the event, never to enter Grand Prix racing again.” (Owen, D, 1999) In 1925 they secured their first world championship in Grand Prix racing and their second would arrive in 1932 right before the financial crisis and the sale of Alfa Romeo to the Italian Government, which ceased the racing program to save money. However, Alfa Romeo had established themselves as a sporting marque, known throughout Europe. The factory racing team was outsourced to former Alfa Romeo driver Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia Ferrar team from 1933 to 1938.The Quadrifoglio emblem (cloverleaf) has, been an important part of Alfa Romeo’s racing cars since 1923. Used as a good luck symbol after Ugo Sivocci, a racing driver noted for his bad luck, painted a white square with a cloverleaf on his car before the Targa Florio. Finding immediate success, this became the symbol of the Alfa Romeo race cars and after World War Two, would be used to designate the higher trim performance models. This racing pedigree would stay with Alfa Romeo and its sporting image would become a part of the brands ethos as a car manufacturer. After World War Two ended, Alfa Romeo entered the first Formula One world championship in 1950 with the 158 driven by Giuseppe Farina and again in 1951 with Juan Manuel Fangio in the 159. However, from 1952, withdrew from competion due the Italian governments lack of investment. An engine supplier from 1961-69 and a return to the grid in from 1979-85 Alfa Romeo was never able to repeat the success of its former years but its name was still a by word for sporting success. Alfa Romeo would also enjoy success in the Mille Miglia 11 times, 10 Targa Florio victories, 4 at Le Mans, 17 European Touring Car championships and 5 World Championships spanning Grand Prix Racing, Formula One and Sports Car racing. Alfa Romeo has not had any great success in motor sport since 2004 with its last Italian Super Turismo Championship. One of the most charismatic of all the great pre-war Grand Prix racing cars – the ex-Tazio Nuvolari 1935 Alfa Romeo Tipo C 8C-35 sold for £5,937,500 at Bonhams Goodwood Revival Meeting on Saturday the 14th of September 2013. This was a new world record for an Alfa Romeo sold at auction. The previous record sold for £4,245,118, this was the 1933 Alfa Romeo 8 cylinder Monza 2300, which was sold in California in 2010 (3).
Owing to Alfa’s sporting image was that it was a manufacturer that only produced rear wheel drive vehicles. Rear wheel drive being considered a better set up for driving dynamics. Unfortunately, this only lasted until the 1980s, with the introduction of the Alfasud and the last rear wheel drive model, the Alfa 75 introduced in May 1985 (Alfa Romeo 4C is rear wheel drive and will be sold from late 2013/2014) This was not a death sentence for the brand as the company would claim European Car of the Year twice with its 156 in 1998 and its 147 in 2001. The 156, which was the recipient of 36 awards goloablly. It was said to be “The perfect balance to restore the Alfa image.”(1) It also won engine of the year award in 2000 as well. With 40 out the 56 judges voting for it. Edging out the Ford Mondeo by a single point, the 147 “impressed for its looks, a mix of retro and boldness with clear Alfa gene in its lines. Roadholding reminded its chassis derives from the 156.” (2). Unfortunately, Alfa Romeo’s lineup would continuously shrink from the end of the century, leaving the manufacturer with a two model lineup the MiTo and Giulietta (bar the recently introduced low production 4C) both small, front wheel drive hatchbacks, hardly the sporting image that used to be attached when buying an Alfa Romeo.
It wasn’t only Alfa Romeo’s sporting qualities that it was known for, but also its design. The Alfa Romeo 156 won the European Award for Automotive Design in Belgium. The 159 winning the AUTO BILD design award in 2006 and the 4C in 2011, the 4C concept also winning the design award at the prestigious Concorso d’Eleganza in Lake Como, Italy.
Alfa Romeo’s have been known to rust, and this has become common knowledge, especially to those who are a bit older. A certain television show, featuring three gentleman has done nothing but to exacerbate this opinion of the brand. After the Alfa Romeo and Nissan joint venture, Alfa learnt a lot about Japanese production techniques and began to apply them to their own facilities. This meant that more rust prevention techniques were employed on Alfa Romeo’s. This was important because with cars now being imported into the UK, they would be dealing with the wetter climate and also the salt and grit placed onto the roads in winter. Later on, Alfa Romeo, in an attempt to remedy the brands image and maintain customer satisfaction began to offer an 8 year anti perforation rust warranty and a 5 year manufacturer warranty. Reliability is another factor that affect Alfa’s positive image. In the 2013 JD Power Survey, the Alfa Romeo Mito plunged 70 places to second last out of 116 cars. There were over 20 percent faults, mostly concerning the cars drivetrain. Alfa Romeo as a brand dropped 7 places to second last for ‘worst brand’. In 2013’s What Car? and Warranty Direct used car reliability survey, which surveyed 38 manufacturers and 50,000 cars, Alfa Romeo was once again down at the bottom end of the table coming 36 out of 38. Based on average mileage / reliability index / average repair cost, Alfa Romeo scored 47,095, 251, £385.54. An average score being approximately 100. So unfortunately, Alfa Romeo seems to fall down hard on reliability. This is an area which will need vast improvement in the future, if not so much the mechanical side but the marketing side.
Alfa Romeo’s have made many famous appearances in movies. Probably the most famous is in the 1967 film The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman, it gave the Alfa Romeo Spider worldwide notoriety, especially in America and pushed the Spider to be produced into the 1990’s. A special edition was even produced in America, named the Alfa Graduate and was on sale until the 1980’s.
Top Gear has been both good and bad for Alfa Romeo. Jeremy Clarkson saying that ‘you aren’t a true petrol head until you have owned one’. However, the hosts have also reiterated that they will break down and rust.
Alfa Romeo sponsors the Mille Miglia rally and Superbike World Championship, along with the Ducati Corse program since 2007. It also sponsored the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and in 2010 was a featured brand for its 100th anniversary.
In 2002 Alfa Romeo’s super maxi yacht was launched, finishing first in at least 74 races, including the famed Sydney to Hobart. Its successor, the Alfa Romeo II, was launched in 2005 and has finished first in at least 140 races, also setting a new record for the 2009 Transpac Race. The current boat, named Alfa Romeo III, is 70 ft long and has an interior styled like an 8C Competizione.
Heritage, style and sporting prowess are all part of the Alfa Romeo image. If they can work on the public’s perception of reliability and rust, there will be many more happy Alfa Romeo owners out there in the future.