STORIE ALFA ROMEO:

FORTH EPISODE: THE FIRST FORMULA 1 CHAMPIONS

The Alfetta 158

 

The 1938 Alfetta was a technological jewel. The 8-cylinder straight-line engine - with a single-stage compressor and a triple-body carburator – was immensely powerful, ready for instant acceleration and absolutely reliable. The distribution was driven by a double overhead camshaft, and the use of light alloys enabled engine weight to be reduced to as low as 165 kilograms. The gearbox was mounted in the rear in a block, with the differential taking up less space and providing an optimal distribution of weight.

 

The Escape to Abbiategrasso

 

The Second World War disrupted the process of research and development of new vehicles. It was a harrowing and uncertain time - by 1943, Milan was occupied, with round-ups and arrests increasing every day. A small number of Alfetta 158s were stocked at the Portello factory, running the risk of being carried away as spoils of war. Some Alfa Romeo technicians and labourers decide to hide them, but a problem arose: just as the trucks were about to depart, a Wehrmacht patrol appeared with weapons at the ready. Fortunately, the Alfa test driver Pietro Bonini was Swiss, and had lived in Berlin for some years. Speaking perfect German and waving a safe-conduct authorization, he persuaded the commander to let the convoy be. The 158s were then hurriedly transported to garages and farm sheds, to be hidden behind false walls or heaps of logs, where they would wait for better times. In the end, the technical solutions adopted by the original project were sophisticated enough to still be valid in the post-war period - and in some cases, they’ve endured to the present day.

 

The Launch of F1

 

As the war ended, those same Alfetta 158 models were carefully restored to return to racing – and racing meant winning. Between 1947 and 1948, Nino Farina won the Gran Prix of the Nations in Geneva, Varzi won the Valentino Grand Prix in Turin, and Tossi triumphed in the Gran Premio of Milan. At the 1950 British Grand Prix of Silverstone - the first of the eight races that constituted the first FIA Formula 1 World Championship - the first F1 podium was monopolized by Alfa Romeo. In the same year, Nino Farina became the first ever Formula 1 World Champion. The message was loud and clear: Alfa Romeo was still the car to beat.

 

The 3 Fs Team and the Alfetta 159

 

The 158’s combination of outstanding speed, handling and reliability made it the ultimate achievement in motorcar technology. The unbeatable trio of drivers comprised of Farina, Fangio and Fagioli - nicknamed ‘the 3 Fs team’ - demolished all rivals. The Alfa Romeo aces won all the Grand Prix races they took part in, ending on the podium twelve times and achieving five fastest laps.

 

Despite the Alfetta’s 17 years of age , during 1951 the technicians renamed the car Alfetta 159 and managed to wring out from its engine even more power, reaching the milestone of 450 horsepower. Thanks to this effort and to its extraordinarily talented drivers, the 159 triumphed in the GPs of Switzerland, Belgium, France and Spain, with eleven podium finishes, the fastest lap in all seven of the races, and the final victory of the Championship.