America welcomes back a beloved Italian marque
Italian cars are a rarity in the United States, but the ones that are sold here roll with major head-turning potential. Exotic manufacturers Lamborghini and Ferrari are the best known, but with limited production and stratospheric prices it’s not often you see one on the street. However, there’s a historic Italian marque that’s making a return to the USA, with approachable costs, practical offerings, and plenty of passione.
Alfa Romeo is one of the world’s oldest auto brands, with history dating back to 1906. Originally conceived to create coach-built luxury performance vehicles, the company pivoted after World War II into mass-producing cars for the everyday driver. Their small, sporty, and stylish coupes and sedans grew in popularity through the 1950s and ’60s, and Alfa Romeo began exporting cars to the United States. Their best-known hit is the 1600 Spider, the roadster driven by Dustin Hoffman in 1967’s film “The Graduate.”
Motorsport has always been a focus for Alfa Romeo, and they hold an impressive trophy case of race wins. Many of the technology innovations in their road cars, like dual overhead camshafts or variable valve timing, were pioneered and refined on the track. The legendary Enzo Ferrari got his start in racing behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo, and his eponymous brand wouldn’t exist without his work with Alfa.
One of Ferrari’s 1920s-era racing teammates was Ugo Sivocci, who, while lesser-known, left a lasting impact on the brand’s fastest cars. Cursed by a streak of second-place finishes, Sivocci painted a green four leaf clover — a quadrifoglio verde — as a good luck charm on the hood of his Alfa Romeo. Somehow it worked, and Sivocci finished first in his next race. Soon after, Sivocci was killed while testing a prototype — suspiciously without the clover on its hood. Alfa Romeo decided to honor his legacy by adorning their highest-performance models with the quadrifoglio verde, a tradition that continues today.
Over time the company expanded its range but found financial success elusive. At different points it was owned by the Italian government, tried a joint venture with Nissan, and was eventually acquired by Fiat. In 1995, the company decided it was economically unwise to continue adapting cars for American regulations and ended sales here. Quality wasn’t a strong point for Alfa Romeos of the era, and in following years became an increasingly rare sight.
Then, in 2007, something beautiful happened. Fiat (then owned by Chrysler) leveraged its presence in the USA and brought a limited edition Alfa Romeo grand tourer to market. The 8C Competizione was a stunning reintroduction of the brand to America, and while only a few hundred were built, it became an instant collector’s item and laid the groundwork for a bigger return strategy.
Alfa Romeo’s first production model for their US reentry was the 4C, which might be the cutest little supercar ever made. But despite its diminutive size, it’s a serious machine: a carbon fiber chassis, turbocharged mid-engine drivetrain, and puristic unassisted steering deliver a visceral driving experience unlike anything else. Removing the roof on the 4C Spider floods driver and passenger with its raucous exhaust note.
Hardcore coupes are never huge sellers, so Alfa Romeo launched the Giulia in 2016 to take on sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. It’s undeniably stylish, with an elegant body and well-appointed high tech interior. Topping the Giulia range is the Quadrifoglio Verde — wearing Sivocci’s four leaf clover — designed to compete with icons like the BMW M3 and C63 AMG. Under the hood is a snarling 505-horsepower twin-turbo V6, essentially a shortened version of the V8 in the Ferrari 488 GTB.
Completing their lineup is the Stelvio, a crossover named after a famous Italian driving road. Basically a lifted and enlarged Giulia, it has the cargo capacity and spacious seating that modern drivers demand. Plus, with perfect 50/50 weight distribution, it might be the best handling crossover available today.
Alfa Romeo’s success in the USA is uncertain as it takes on better-known players. But with a deep history of performance focus and racing success, the modern offerings are sure to thrill. For those looking for something more unique, vogue, and fun than the staid establishment, look no further than Alfa Romeo.