Grand Touring - an Alfa Romeo Tradition

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The origins of grand touring

Already in the course of the first years of the Twenties, the great technical progress achieved in the automobile industry allowed the volume production of the first powerful and fast cars.

Such automobiles felt the effects of the influence of competitions and Concourses d'Elegance which took place in the most exclusive international localities, like Monte Carlo, Cannes or Deauville. They were reserved for custom-built cars, works of the most famous body builders of the time.

In those years were borne the most beautiful Bugattis, Isotta Fraschinis and Alfa Romeos.

The binomial speed-elegance lived its period of greatest splendour at the end of the 1920's when the great automobile companies provided to the carrozzeria chassis which were true [veri e propri] masterpieces of technology. The automobile was endowed with, finally, its own identity without any analogies to the horse-drawn carriage.

In those same years the name "Grand Touring" was born in Italy. Initially it was given to cars that offered the maximum comfort and a high grade of mechanical reliability. Successively, the name GT itself changed meaning to indicate, instead, cars with a [prettamente] (decidedly?) sporting character. Very quickly this term was also adopted abroad, since it married to perfection with the image of fast and sporting cars.

One of the first Italian cars to carry this acronym was the Alfa Romeo 1750 GT of 1931, bodied by Carrozzeria Touring. This car represented perfectly the new concept of grand touring; as well as on the road it was in fact used in competition, and brought back achievements of importance.

After the second world war, the concept of GT, even if slowly, came to be transformed.

In postwar Italy, the recognised homeland of the grand tourers, began the destiny of these cars, from the end of the 1950's to the first years of the 1970's, that is from the end of postwar reconstruction to the oil crisis.

With the diffusion of a certain well being and with a higher purchasing power the number of sporting clients longing for fast cars, luxurious and comfortable, specialised for the new motorways, increased.

In those years there emerged the image of the future GT in Italy: high speed, ability to maintain high averages under various types of journeys, given considerable ease of handling and roadholding.

Alfa Romeo, already a protagonist in the sector with the 1900 Sprint, launched in 1954, surprised the international market with the Giulietta Sprint, a grand tourer of only 1290 cc.

This car represented a new concept of GT: medium capacity, sophisticated mechanicals, excellent performance and great ease of handling.

From this moment, capacity, power and, therefore, high speed no longer represented absolute criteria for qualifying as a grand tourer.

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The ancestors of the Montreal

In the course of its existence, Alfa Romeo has always been distinguished by a sort of "technical linkage" between the diverse phases of its history. These links consist of uninterrupted faithfulness to avant-garde engineering, on a base of which they have adopted original solutions and sophisticated technical construction.

For a particular selection [una precisa scelta] of the market, the first cars of the Portello company were already characterised by sporting grace and engines of high power. At Alfa Romeo it was not difficult to enter this path, considering the personality of its first designer, Giuseppe Merosi, a man totally in love with the automobile and, above all, enhancing its performance.

Among his better achievements was significantly the Grand Prix of 1914, the first Italian car with an engine with a twin-cam configuration, and the famous RL of 1921.

The Grand Prix, built for international races, is remembered for its sophisticated engineering: four cylinder engine of 4490 cc, 88 horsepower with maximum power at 2,950 rpm, four valves per cylinder, inclined at 90 degrees, hemispherical combustion chamber and dual ignition with spark plugs at the centre. Maximum speed (was) 150 km/hour.

The RL, called by the English "the little Rolls Royce" because of its class and finish, distinguished itself in power and performance. Provided with an engine of six cylinders of 2916 cc, it participated with success in competition with the Sport, Super Sport and Targa Florio versions. The RL SS, provided with an engine of 2994 cc and 83 horsepower at 3600 rpm, was able to reach a 130 km/hour maximum speed.

Vittorio Jano, an engineer [tecnico] of remarkable merit, was Alfa Romeo's second designer. Taking over in 1923, he designed in a few months the new Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car: the P2, equipped with an 8-cylinder in-line engine of 1987cc. Its characteristics: maximum power 140 HP at 5,500 rpm, breathing by double overhead camshafts, inclined valves and boosted by means of a Roots-type supercharger. Maximum speed 225 km/hour.

Still in 1924, after the first victories of the P2, which culminated in the conquest of the first World Championship in 1925, Jano began the design of the 6C1500.

To the new car were transferred a few of the technical solutions of the P2 engine. The engine, of six cylinders, even if of small capacity for the period (1487 cc), revealed itself sparkling [brillante], very fast and capable of excellent performance.

Unlike the designers of other automobile companies, Jano believed the procedure of transferring to production engines the technical solutions adopted for racing engines was effective. In this his intuition gave birth to the "sports car" which was to characterise Alfa Romeo production.

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In 1928, with the Sport version of the 6C1500, he introduced in series production remarkable technical innovations: removable cast-iron head, twin overhead camshafts and hemispherical combustion chambers with valves inclined at 9 degrees.

Even though it was called Sport, this automobile was a true grand tourer, capable of achieving 125 km/hour, given by the considerable power of the engine: 54 HP at 4,500 rpm.

In 1929 the 6C1750 was introduced. Its engine, improved fundamentally on the experience of the 6C1500, succeeded in reaching an extreme perfection. A little later, the new 6C1750GT obtained considerable commercial success in varied configurations: sedan, tourer and spider. Equipped with an engine of 1752 cc, supplying 55 HP at 4,400 rpm, it was able to reach a maximum speed of 125 km/hour. It represented the perfect grand tourer of the time: light, manoeuvrable, adapted to the roads of those days, supplied with excellent acceleration and a very flexible engine.

In 1932 a new race car, the Tipo B, was made ready to follow faithfully the feats of the P2.

Named by journalists P3, the car adopted an eight-cylinder engine of 2650 cc, boosted with two superchargers built by Alfa Romeo. The maximum power supplied by the engine, 215 HP at 5,600 rpm, was able to drive the car to 232 km/hour.

The P3, victorious on debut, dominated the European competition stage for a long time. Light, manoeuvrable, secure in exploiting all its power and acceleration, it established Vittorio Jano as one of the greatest of car designers.

After the international victories of the P3, the name Alfa Romeo became symbolic of avant-garde technology, envied by all the builders of automobiles in the world.

In 1934 the 6C2300 was introduced, provided with an engine of six cylinders in line of 2309 cc, double overhead camshafts, removable head in light alloy with valve seats made in bronze, (and) new camshaft drive [distribuzione] by chains instead of gears.

At the 24 hours of Pescara of 1934, three 6C2300 Grand Touring cars, with sedan bodywork by Touring, were awarded the first three outright positions. A great part of the credit was to the engine, supplying a high 95 HP at 4,500 rpm, this power driving the car to 145 km/hr.

The binomial grand touring-competition car demonstrated by this went through its period of maximum splendour.

In 1934 the first Alfa production car with independent suspension was introduced, the 6C2300B. Next was introduced the 6C2300B 2a series. Among the varied versions of this model is remembered the 6C 2300 B Tipo Mille Miglia, equipped with a new body built by Touring: it was fitted with the first example of the famous body construction method [famose berlinette] "Superleggera", built using aeronautical methods. Lightness, good aerodynamics and greater strength, compared with traditional bodywork, were its characteristics.

The Superleggera body construction method was invaluable to Alfa, as it allowed the Milanese company to continue to win the great road races. It is interesting to note that its cars had already transformed themselves little by little to luxurious grand tourers for normal customers.

At the end of 1938 the Spanish engineer Wifredo Ricart took over from Jano. Engaged in 1936 in the role of consultant, in 1940 he was promoted to be responsible for special projects and design [progettazione] services, becoming in this way responsible for all design activities up to March 1945.

Ricart distinguished himself by the production of aircraft engines and cars of very advanced technology, all remaining as prototype studies because of the war. He produced, among others, the 512, a truly revolutionary Grand Prix car: horizontally-opposed rear engine of 12 cylinders, breathing through a two-stage supercharger: maximum power 335 HP at 8,600 rpm, De Dion rear suspension, slowed by drums with three brake shoes, which were later adopted in the sporting versions of the Giulietta and of the Giulia.

Unfortunately, because of the Second World War, this car was not able to be tested in competition.

Ricart, extraordinary theoretician of mechanical engineering, was ahead of his time [un precursore dei tempi]. Many of his intuitions were to enrich the store of experience of his closer collaborators, such as the engineer Orazio Satta who, as we shall see, was to put into practice many of his technical concepts.

In 1946 Satta was appointed director of design and experimental services. Engaged by Alfa Romeo in 1938, for several years he dedicated himself to aeronautical research and to aircraft engine design.

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He was an exceptional personality in (both) human and professional qualities, endowed with genius intelligence and great learning. He demonstrated immediately his own competence in the automobile field.

His ideas for the future of Alfa cars were founded on two technical principles. The first remained faithful to a concept that itself had characterised the Alfa achievements from the beginning, and thanks to which the Milanese company represented something more than a simple automobile factory; it became for customers of sporting cars the very symbol of their passions. This phenomenon was based on various mechanical characteristics derived from competition. For this, Satta believed in applying the concepts of competition cars also in production cars, continuing this way the traditions inaugurated by Jano.

The second principle was based on previous experience in the field of aircraft engines: Satta believed in applying aeronautical technology, absolutely reliable and safe, to studies of new automobiles.

In this achievement, the contribution of his direct collaborator, Giuseppe Busso, was decisive.

Employed by Alfa in 1938, he was immediately used in the special projects area created by Ricart, where he had come to know the engineer Satta. After a brief stay at Ferrari, in 1948 he returned to Alfa Romeo in the capacity of responsibility for the mechanical components design department. From then he studied and planned the new projects for all the cars that were products of the postwar years, up to the Alfa 6 of 1979, with the exception of the Alfasud car.

The sojourn of Satta at Alfa, lasting until 1974, the year of his death, permitted the production of cars that still today are considered "supporting structures" ["struttura portante"] of the company.

Let us analyse briefly his most important projects in the field of grand tourers.

After the Second World War, in 1947, he began with an aerodynamic coupe: the Freccia D'Oro, equipped with the mechanicals of the pre-war 6C 2500 Sport.

Among the following production one remembers the 6C2500 Super Sport Villa d'Este of Touring, which constituted the principle point of reference for the style of the future 1900 Sprint of 1951.

For this last car less sophisticated engineering was planned: twin-cam four cylinder engine of 1994 cc, supplying power of 100 HP @ 5,500 rpm and live axle rear suspension. Most examples were built by Touring with a light and elegant body, in aluminium, particularly suited to competition use.

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The 1900 Sprint confirmed the slow evolution of the GT concept towards comfort and luxury. Nevertheless, with its maximum speed of 180km/hr, it was one of the most sparkling and quick-off-the-mark cars that then could be found on the market.

The 1900 was the progenitor of all the following cars built both in Portello and at Arese.

The Giulietta Sprint of 1954 is one of these. It had exciting characteristics: compact body, pleasant and elegant; sophisticated engineering with an engine of 65hp, cast totally in aluminium with removable iron sleeves. It was a car more powerful and sparkling in all points of view. To all that it added excellent roadholding, a high maximum speed (165 km/hr) and it was given exceptional acceleration.

As well as (being) a commercial success without equal in its genre, the car gave a further sporting boost to the business of Alfa: many were, in fact, the victories of the Giulietta Sprint, enhanced by Conrero, the famous Torinese tuners.

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Giuseppe Busso, who, with his invaluable testimony, has made an essential contribution to the production of this book, recalls that Conrero, in this manner, induced Alfa to persist and develop furthermost the sporting characteristics of the Giulietta model.

The new category created by the Giulietta Sprint constituted for many years the image of the Alfa of Satta. Its evolution passed through cars almost exclusively for competition, like the Giulietta Sprint Veloce and the varied Giulia Sprint GTA's, concluding finally with the prestigious 2000 GTV Bertone.

In 1960 was introduced the 2000 Sprint, an interesting and elegant coupe by Bertone which anticipated the styling elements of the future Giulia coupe. The engineering, certainly less modern than the body, was still that of the 1900SS. The engine of 1975cc supplied power of 115 HP at 5,900 rpm. The maximum speed achieved was 175 km/hr.

The car proved, with the considerable weight of the body (1200 kg), a comfortable car with four seats, adapted to long journeys, rather than a sporting coupe with the traditional Alfa performance.

In 1962 appeared its development: the 2600 Sprint, equipped with an engine of six cylinders in line of 2584 cc, supplying 145 HP at 5,900 rpm. The maximum speed was 200 km/hr.

The bodywork is identical to the 2000 Sprint, with the exception of the air intake on the bonnet of the engine owing to the greater dimensions of the motor. This, entirely built in aluminium, was derived from experience with the Giulietta engine, and so had two overhead camshafts and one throat per cylinder carburation [alimentazione singola].

In September 1963 the Giulia Sprint GT was introduced. Equipped with mechanicals derived from the Giulia TI, it adopted an engine of 1570 cc, with two dual-throat carburettors giving 106 HP at 6,000 rpm. The gearbox was of five speeds and the brakes were disks on four wheels with servo assistance. Maximum speed: 180 km/hr. The fresh [inedita] bodywork appeared like a 2000 Sprint of reduced proportions, more compact.

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In 1967 the 1750 range was introduced, still supplied with the classic twin-cam aluminium engine, but enlarged to 1779cc. The coupe version, called GT Veloce, had a body even more modified [curata] and refined. The greater power at disposal (118 HP) and above all greater flexibility of the motor, due to the increase in the capacity, made its performance livelier. The maximum speed again increased: 190 km/hr.

At the end of the Sixties Alfa Romeo could be considered one of the greatest Italian automobile companies. Notwithstanding the increase in size of the firm, the marque did not lose its traditional image as a builder of cars of high quality, from the Giulietta Sprint to the Giulia and then from Alfetta to Alfasud. Also in these phases the faithfulness of Alfa to avant-garde engineering remained constant. Even though producing cars in large quantity it continued to transfer to design and development of engines the experience of racing and to anticipate in bodywork the evolution of taste and custom.

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p.6: The Montreal illustrated in this page has been chosen as the main subject of this book for the importance that it occupies in the history of Alfa Romeo. It represents the synthesis of the events of the Arese company of the last twenty years: financial problems and political interference did not prevent at the end of the Sixties the birth of this prestigious GT, as did not prevent Alfa Romeo itself from continuing along its own path.

Opposite: one of the first Italian grand touring cars, the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GT of 1931, body by Touring. One of its numerous remarkable achievements was the eighth place outright and the first in the closed car class in the 1931 Mille Miglia.

p.8 The first Alfa Romeo cars were characterised by a pronounced sportiness given by avant-garde engineering. On this page, the first designer of Alfa, Giuseppe Merosi, at the wheel of the 1914 Grand Prix. In the opposite page, at the top, the RL Super Sport in the spider version built by Zagato (1926). Together with the model "Targa Florio" it participated with success in competition, contributing to the commercial success of the Alfa Romeo products.

At the bottom, the engineer Nicola Romeo at the wheel of the P2 surrounded by the workforce and technicians of Alfa Romeo. The car was equipped with a twin cam engine of 8 cylinders, boosted by means of a volumetric supercharger.

P.11 (top picture). The Tipo B of 1932, which long dominated European competition. Designed most skilfully by Vittoria Jano, it was powerful, light and manoeuvrable. Its engine, eight cylinders in V formation of 2654 cc, boosted by two superchargers, supplied power of 215 HP.

(bottom picture). The 6C2300 with four seater sedan bodywork by Touring, which won the 24 hours of Pescara of 1934 with the first three outright places.

p. 12:  To the side, the Giulietta Sprint of 1954, with which Alfa created a new category of GT: medium capacity, sophisticated engineering, high performance and great manoeuvrability. Below, the 6C2500 SS "Villa d'Este of 1949, which was one of the most beautiful creations of Carrozzeria Touring.

p. 13: To the side, the Giulia Sprint GT of 1963, which built on the heritage of the Giulietta Sprint with a new body derived from the 2000 Sprint of 1960. Below, the 1900 Sprint of 1951 was the ancestor, together with the 1900 Berlina, of all the cars that were to be produced at both Portello and Arese.

p. 14: To the side: the 2000 Sprint of 1960. Even though it was not a GT of high performance, it anticipates the stylistic elements of the future Giulia coupe. In 1962 was introduced the 2600 Sprint (below). The only new features with respect to the 2000 coupe (were) the powerful twin cam six-cylinder motor of 2584cc and 145 HP and the bonnet with the characteristic air intake. The new GT was appreciated for its sporting character, able to ensure high performance.

p. 15: The 1750 GT Veloce of 1967. Thanks to the worth of its engine, powerful and flexible, it is regarded by Alfisti as the best GT of the Giulia derivatives. It was distinguished, in fact, as a car with notable gifts of acceleration and speed.

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