The history of four world-leading Italian motoring brands
From the most emblematic models to the most successful, revolutionary people, and the most significant events, this section illustrates and celebrates the cornerstones of Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and Abarth.
Autodelta marked Alfa Romeo's official return to racing: an innovative organisational configuration led by the charismatic engineer Carlo Chiti brought the Biscione brand back to the international stage of motorsport, in a phase when the organisation was developing to the max.
To follow victories in the first two Formula 1 World Championships in the unbeatable “Alfetta”, Alfa Romeo confirmed its leadership in the world of motorsport. But the growing commitment to mass production, a primary objective in the early post-war years, forced the Milanese company to leave behind its primacy in racing. Drivers and private teams were left with the highly successful task of overseeing the competitions where, for over a decade, the “1900” would dominate, followed by the “Giulietta”.
In full swing for the “Giulietta project”, Alfa management decided to bolster the leadership team by hiring young engineers. One morning in October 1952, a group of recent engineering graduates crossed the threshold of the Portello. Only one of them had already been hired by the chemical company Montecatini: that was Carlo Chiti. The account of that day, and of the distinctive personality of his colleague, was given by the young Domenico Chirico, who later became one of the heads of the Alfasud project.
With his notable Tuscan accent, in a few minutes Carlo Chiti became the centre of attention, as he would remain for the rest of his life. Chirico said that Chiti had been entrusted with experimentation on sports cars, where he immediately stood out for his wit and ingenuity. Word of his abilities soon reached Maranello and in 1957, Enzo Ferrari called on him to replace his technical director, who had passed on prematurely. Chiti therefore joined the world of motorsport via one of its leading lights.
This is a necessary premise to explain the link between Chiti, Alfa Romeo and the world of motorsport all over the globe, which developed over time.
From 1957, we skip ahead to 1963, the year he arrived at Maranello. On 5 March in Feletto Umberto, a village near Tavagnacco in Udine province, Auto Delta was founded by three partners: Carlo Chiti and the two Chizzola brothers, owners of the Alfa Romeo dealership alongside the warehouses where the company had begun to assemble the first Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ (Tubolare Zagato). Alfa Romeo put this racing car on display at the Turin Motor Show in late October 1962.
Free of the constraints of the production sites at Portello and Arese, this was the basis for a structure that was proactive in its decision-making, design and construction and could co-ordinate Italian companies that stood out in their own industries: from Zagato’s bodywork and Ambrosini’s chassis, to using special electron light alloy castings made by Gilera, putting everything together based on Alfa Romeo mechanics. The Biscione brand was certainly no stranger to what was going on in Udine province, quite the opposite, but it could not make that point officially if the cars had not achieved the successes that had been wished for.
The factory evolved, changed its name to Autodelta and, in 1965, officially became the Alfa Romeo Racing Department. It wrote new chapters in the success story that reached its apex with victories in the World Sportscar Championship, until the return to Formula 1.
Results in races were not long in coming and Alfa Romeo took an increasingly active presence within the organisation led by Chiti and his partners, especially in terms of economic commitment and more besides. 1965 saw the full acquisition of a company that in the meantime had changed its name to Autodelta, had moved from Udine province to Settimo Milanese, near both Milan and Arese, and had maintained a decent amount of independence, with sufficient distance from the production apparatus.
The few Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ models put together were highly successful, in only the right number of cars needed for type approval in racing: from the FISA Cup on the Monza circuit to the Coupe des Alpes and the Tour de Corse, along with races where they won in their class, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Targa Florio and the Tour de France Auto. Never mind the later TZ 2 and its prestigious series of successes, including at Sebring, the 1965 Targa Florio (third overall and first in its class), the 1000 km of the Nürburgring and the Giro d’Italia.
In the same year, the lighter version of the new Giulia Sprint GT coupé conferred worldwide authority on Autodelta: the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA took the racing limelight, as a winning car in terms of speed, handling and robustness. All these multiple evolutions collected victories in every corner of the world. In sum: three European Championships and 16 national titles taken by the GTA between 1966 and ’67, whereas the GTA 1300 Junior took three continental laurels in the 1300 Class, the European Tourism Challenge in 1971 and ’72, and 14 national titles between 1969 and ’74. The final version, the Giulia GT Am, won two European Championships (1970 and ’71) and dozens of national and international races between 1970 and ’72.
But from 1967 Alfa Romeo's ambitions rose higher, at the most prestigious category in those years: the World Sportscar Championship. The true saga written by the Alfa Romeo 33 began with its numerous evolutions: from the first 33 with a two-litre V8 and the Alfa Romeo 33/3 with a V8 that had been souped up to 3 litres, to the glorious 12-cylinder Alfa Romeo 33 TT 12 that took the 1975 World Championship for Makes, winning seven races out of eight, followed in ’77 by the 33 SC 12’s victory in the World Championship for Sports Cars.
As many victories as they took on circuits all over the world, the big names at the steering wheel were just as prestigious, from official testers who enabled wins in races such as Teodoro Zeccoli, to renowned drivers in all categories. Listed in strict alphabetical order: Bell, Beckers, Biche, Brambilla (the man of the 33 SC 12), Bussinello, Casoni, De Adamich (the one who made the “GTA” grow), Dini, Engeman, Facetti, Galli, Giunti, Hezemans (the best in the “GT Am”), Ickx, Jarier, Marko, Merzario (the greatest performer in the 33 TT 12), Munari, Pescarolo, Pinto, Pregliasco, Rindt, Vaccarella, van Lennep.
Times changed and the balance of prestige shifted towards Formula 1. As such, the three-litre engine in the 33 TT/SC, with 12 opposing cylinders, gave Autodelta its opportunity to return to the top league, first as an engine supplier to the Brabham team then later with the creation of cars that were designed at Autodelta in their entirety. The upshot was the 1976 Brabham BT45-Alfa Romeo, followed by the BT 45B one year later. In 1978 came the turn of the Brabham BT46, renowned for its “fun-car” version with the fan in the rear. 1979 was the final season of partnership with the British team: the BT48 had already been fitted with the new Alfa Romeo V12 60° engine, which was also adopted by the single-seater designed by Alfa Romeo in its entirety (car and engine) that would come to be known by the press and by insiders as “Alfa-Alfa”. The advent of ground effect forced manufacturers to design cars that made the most of this aerodynamic configuration, then to consider engines with a minimised footprint in terms of width. Alfa Romeo-Autodelta drivers who made their names in F1, including during the Brabham period: Andretti, De Cesaris, Depailler, Giacomelli, Lauda, Pace, Piquet, Reutemann, Stuck, Watson.
The cars that wrote chapters in the history of Autodelta, the legendary Alfa Romeo Racing Department, are now on show at the Museum in Arese, together with many others. They all bear witness to the incredible journey – in sport and beyond – taken by the Biscione brand, which has left an indelible impression on automotive and motorsport history.
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