103, 169? The car that Alfa should have built


Authoritative automobiles magazines and journalists – but also many fans – are waiting since a long time for the new Alfa Romeo 169, which is still in the Marchionne’s drawer.

The history of Alfa Romeo is full of revolutionary projects which could have changed its story.

Let’s speak about one of the many Alfa ever born, of which there is a rare example at the Historical Museum (closed to the public since February, 2011), some unwritten memories and a wooden small scale model. One of these hand-crafted models built in plasticine or wood in the 50s by the design offices of the carmakers – not yet called StyleCenter – to define the body of a new car. This small scale model is marked “esper carrozzeria 2/239”: the car is the 103!

In the first part of the 50s the “1900” was a very challenging, powerful and expensive automobile: this was a car designed for a very wealthy bourgeoisie, despite being the very first Alfa Romeo built in series. Alfa Romeo in these years – to survive after the WW2 – produced not only cars, but even trucks, tractors and… stoves!

F1 Alfa 103 (ITA e ENG)

In 1955 only 6,104 vehicles were built.

To become a great manufacturer it was a struggle for existence, so the Alfa’s Men started to develop a new car, smaller, able to attract many new buyers: the Giulietta! One of the icons of the Italian economic boom, a car ahead of its time; with which Alfa Romeo has become a great carmaker, producing – in 1960 – 36,311 cars.

The competitors were afraid of another new sub compact Alfa… but which has been this hypothetical new car that – as for the current 169 – shook the concurrency but never saw the light for economic problems and maybe… politicians?

In the meanwhile technicians were involved in the development of Giulietta, in 1953 they baste the project to build an even smaller Alfa Romeo, that could have be considered a commercial success, in a segment so popular and very profitable.

F2 ENG Alfa 103

At first this microcar named 103 – but baptized “louse” in the Alfa corridors – had been imagined and motorized by Busso, Hruska and Satta with a very small cubic capacity engine (2-cylinder, 496 cc.), and later become a 4-cylinder of 896 cc.

The prototype of the 103 – the only known Alfa North with front-wheel drive ever produced (6 years before Mini) – weighted 720 Kilos, reached 139 km/h and ran the Km from standstill in 41,2 seconds! Not bad for a… “louse” that could have given a few headaches to the competitors, Fiat in particular!

But funding for equipment never arrived…

There were many economic difficulties also to fabricate Giulietta in sufficient numbers. To solve this lack of economic resources, the Alfa’s managers had launched a public subscription with IRI mortgage bonds, including a monthly lottery with for a prize a new Giulietta every month among investors; beside this – after a join-venture with Renault – at Alfa began the assembly line of the Dauphine-Alfa Romeo under license.

F3 (ITA e ENG) Alfa 103

Then, as now, the financial aspects were decisive, and the revolutionary 103 was shelved, to be exhumed 20 years later, when Alfasud needed to be designed.

I wonder if producing a really small utility car, Alfa would debase that extraordinary image of its premium sports brand well known in the world? I wonder if economic resources coming from thousands of additional sales of a small car would have allowed a more rapid industrialization at the expense of other national brands?

The new 169 – conceived after 60 years – will have a different fate?

Maurizio Sala

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  1. Giacomo says:

    Very interesting article indeed! In my opinion a small model placed under the Giulietta could have been not appropriate for the Alfa Romeo rank. In the 50’s it was an high-grade automaker and I don’t know how the customers could have accepted a city car. Especially if you consider the big competition with Fiat that was already focused on small cars.

    I think that the 169 could be an important model for the brand future but only if it will be built following the mechanical layout of the classic rear-wheel drive Alfa Romeo. I think that Alfa Romeo should have a wide range of models exactly like in the Giulietta or Alfetta era, all of them with a great handling and high-performance engines. Because Alfa Romeo is basically a sports car automaker!

  2. Nalin Saxena says:

    I think its a question of survival that is forcing companies like Alfa Romeo to build a small utilitarian car which can bring home volumes.

    As you rightly said that Alfa Romeo has that premium sporty image and this is what they want to capitalize with this top to bottom approach. I think it will help them initially but yes going forward it will dilute their brand image. Exclusivity is a key attribute which is associated with brands like Alfa Romeo and with such utilitarian cars, it (exclusivity) will be gone.

    But as I said, its a question of survival. With this never ending current global economic slowdown and low consumer sentiments, I will not be surprised to see more and more companies opting for this approach. There has been a decline in preference towards bigger & expensive cars in Western world and it will not be long that the demand for these larger & premium cars will loose steam in developing nations like mine.

    Unfortunate though, but this is the future in my opinion.

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