The Triple Crown of Motorsport is quickly approaching, leaving automobile enthusiasts eager to see who will come out on top during what is considered a series of the most important auto races in the world. From May 25th to May 28th, all eyes will be on the prestigious Formula 1 Grand Prix on the Circuit de Monaco, a race that has long attracted spectators for the event’s racing difficulty and glamorous location.
Action will then move stateside for the Indianapolis 500, followed by the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the oldest Motorsports and endurance car race in the world.
In honor of the upcoming flurry of high-stakes Motorsports racing, now is the perfect time to explore the history of some of the earliest Motorsports competitors. One such brand that gained international praise is the fiery Alfa Romeo, which roared into the racing world in 1911. While Alfa Romeo stopped participating in the Formula 1 circuit in 1988, this iconic Italian brand has over 100 years of racing success and is recognized for being a dominant force in Motorsports.
Alfa Romeo can claim many firsts in its history, including becoming the first car to win the World Automobile Championship in 1925, and successfully following up this win with a first-place victory at the inaugural F1 championship. 120 titles later, Alfa Romeo has raced in just about every form imaginable, picking up victories in rally races and endurance hauls alike.
One of the staples of Alfa Romeo’s racing success was its elite racing team, which included Antonio Ascari, Tazio Nuvolari, Juan Manual Fangio, and for close to 20 years, Motorsport legend Enzo Ferrari.
Before Enzo Ferrari created and managed one of the most recognizable Italian car brands of all time, he honed his early racing skills with Alfa Romeo. Ferrari’s interest in the fast-paced world of Motorsport was first piqued as a child, when at the age of 10 he accompanied his father and brother to the circuit on Via Emilia in Bologna, Italy.
After an honorable discharge in WWI, Ferrari failed to secure a job with Fiat, and instead started his career with car manufacturer Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali as a test driver. He was quickly promoted to the company’s racing division and made his official debut at the Parma-Poggio di Berceto race in 1919. The following year, Ferrari joined Alfa Romeo to work and compete as a racer, which launched his first long-term employment in the automotive field.
In 1921, Ferrari began his run as an Alfa driver with a series of successes, including a fifth place finish at the Targa Florio and a second place finish at Mugello. By 1923, Ferrari had solidified his racing prowess to the Alfa team with his win at the inaugural Circuito del Savio, which attracted the attention of Count and Countess Baracca, the parents of legendary Italian WWI pilot Francesco Baracca. After watching Ferrari’s win, the Countess gifted the young driver with a signed photograph of her son and encouraged Ferrari to use the emblem on the side of her son’s plane as a mascot on his cars. This black charging horse emblem will become the Ferrari symbol known around the world when Enzo starts his own company.
In 1924, Ferrari was honored by the Italian state and made a Cavaliere (knight) to honor his services to the nation as a successful racer with Alfa Romeo. In 1927, his honorable status was upgraded to Commendatore (knight commander) for his continued contributions to sport, which he followed up with a definitive first-place showing at the first Circuito de Modeno in the Alfa Romeo 6C-1500 SS.
By the early 1930s, Ferrari had stopped driving race cars and had dedicated his efforts to managing drivers under Scuderia Ferrari, which became Alfa’s official racing department in 1933. The team that Ferrari oversaw included legendary driver Tazio Nuvolari, who famously beat Nazi-backed Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union vehicles at the German Grand Prix in 1935. During this time, Scuderia Ferrari also made critical contributions to the brand on the production side, with the creation of the Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta, one of the company’s most successful race cars.
Ferrari left Alfa Romeo in 1939 under the condition he could not use the Ferrari name in racing for the next four years, a bargain that inspired the consummate competitor to make it one of his goals to beat Alfa Romeo in one of his own vehicles. Though he left Alfa Romeo on less than favorable terms, Ferrari contributed to some of the most formative years of the marque as both a driver and manager.
Despite its storied history, many drivers in the United States don’t know much about these Italian sports cars. For those who do, Alfa’s track record here was marred by spotty quality and poor service support. They officially left the U.S. market in 1995. However, a three-commercial showing at this year’s Super Bowl confirms that Alfa Romeo is most assuredly back in the game stateside.
The return of the Giulia is a pre-cursor to the arrival of the Stelvio, a new SUV. While only time will tell if the excitement and passion of Italian engineering will woo American drivers, Alfa Romeo’s pedigree as one of the greatest racing vehicles ever certainly bodes well for the sports car enthusiast. As Top Gear and The Grand Tour’s Jeremy Clarkson once said, “you can’t be a true petrolhead if you have never owned or wanted to own an Alfa Romeo.”
Richard Reina is a Product Trainer at CARiD.com and lifelong automotive enthusiast.