Today, the 24th June 2020, marks the 110th anniversary of Alfa Romeo, during it’s time the Italian car maker has brought the world some of the most beautiful and iconic cars ever, of which many have been highlighted in the recent “Storie Alfa Romeo”series. Today as we mark the brand’s 110th anniversary we delve into the FCA Heritage archives and to Alfa’s Motorsport history with the Alfa Romeo GP Tipo 158 – Sovereign of the first ever Formula 1 World Championships.
The story of the Alfa Romeo GP Tipo 158 is a testament to the tenacity and ingenuity of the men at Alfa Romeo’s Portello Plant, who cleverly concealed the winning single-seaters during the Second World War, before picking up where they left off and continuing to dominate the premier class of motorsport. But above all, at the heart of the story is a mythical racing car that proved to be a champion from the outset, winning the first Formula 1 World Championship at a canter.
After parting ways with Enzo Ferrari, whose Scuderia Ferrari division had been the acting racing team for Alfa Romeo, the Portello Plant founded its own in-house racing department, Alfa Corse, which was based in Milan and officially separate from Maranello. It focused on designing a new car with a supercharged engine in the 1.5-litre Voiturette class, which was to become the leading class from 1940. The team, led by Gioachino Colombo, sketched out the lines of the GP Tipo 158, soon to be nicknamed the Alfetta (Little Alfa).
The engine was an innovative straight-eight design with dual blocks in light alloy, screw-in steel bores, double overhead camshafts driven by a cascade of gears and a fuel system featuring a Roots supercharger. The gearbox was integrated with the differential and mounted on the rear axle, for perfect weight distribution. The power output of the first version was 195 hp, but in 1939 this was increased to 225 hp with a top speed of 232 km/h.
The Alfetta dazzled the public with a 1-2 finish on its debut in the 1938 Coppa Ciano, but its career already seemed to be over following the Tripoli GP in 1940, when all competitions were halted by the outbreak of war. With farsightedness, however, Alfa Romeo managed to hide the cars under a fake wood-pile on a pig farm near Milan, to avoid discovery by German army search parties.
Having averted calamity and survived the war, the Alfa Romeo GP Tipo 158 went on to enjoy a magical year in 1950, accumulating six GP wins out of seven and only missing out on the Indianapolis 500 because no European teams attended the American race that year. This total domination allowed the Alfetta to convincingly win the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship.
During the early postwar period, Alfa Romeo improved the 158 engine with a two-stage supercharger that produced 275 hp and enabled the car to reach 270 km/h. Its superiority in races was remarkable, but the Alfa team was still not content and further boosted output to 340 hp, with a top speed of 290 km/h. It was this upgrade that allowed the Alfetta to dominate the first Formula 1 World Championship in 1950.
The team consisted of the “three Fs”: Nino Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli. The Alfettas won six out of seven Grands Prix, snubbing the Indianapolis 500 like the other European constructors but dominating another five non-championship races. From its F1 debut at the Silverstone GP, the Alfa Romeo remained unbeaten and occupied the top three places in the standings, with Giuseppe “Nino” Farina becoming the first world champion of the new Formula 1 series.
The showpiece car is owned by FCA Heritage and normally exhibited at the Alfa Romeo Historical Museum in Arese.
Like the other Alfa Romeo racing cars, the Giulietta 158 also had a Quadrifoglio painted on the bonnet. Watch the video of the history of the Quadrifoglio.
*Special thanks to FCA Heritage*