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70 years of his first Formula 1 World Championship

Initially developed, at the initiative of Enzo Ferrari, by the engineer Goacchino Colombo in 1937 to compete in the voiturette mode, the Alfetta


Initially developed, at the initiative of Enzo Ferrari, by the engineer Goacchino Colombo in 1937 to compete in the voiturette mode, the Alfetta came out of its hiding places in the Postwar period, winning several Grand Prix, taking the first steps to become a legend of the F1.

It was 1951. At the Pedralbes circuit in Barcelona, Juan Manuel Fangio He was crossing the finish line of the first Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, beating his compatriot José Froilán González and winning his first World Championship of the specialty, in a tough fight with the Ferraris.

A feat with which his legend began and which he achieved at the controls of a no less mythical car: the Alfetta 159 from the Alfa Romeo team.

This car, which with its 158 and 159 versions imposed its law in the first two F1 World Cups, should not have been there.

In fact, it was developed between 1937 and 1938 thinking about the racing of “voiturettes”, a modality comparable to the current Formula 2. To contest the Grand Prix there were already the Alfa Romeo Type 308, 312 and 316, which embodied three ways of understanding the rules.

However, the 1938 Alfetta was a jewel of technology. The 8-cylinder in-line engine with a single-stage compressor and three-body carburettor was designed by Gioacchino Colombo, head of the design department, who craved a powerful engine, with instant and absolutely reliable acceleration.

A double overhead camshaft powered the timing. The use of light alloys, such as Elektron magnesium for the block and chrome-nickel steel for the crankshaft, reduced the weight of the engine to just 165 kg.

The change was mounted at the rear, forming a block with the differential. It is the famous ‘transaxle’ scheme, which took up less space and provided optimal weight distribution between the two axles – a solution that the brand later used on series production vehicles as well.

The Second World War broke the thread of research and halted the evolution of Alfa Romeo automobiles, but the technical solutions envisioned by the project were sophisticated enough to be valid in the post-war period and, in some cases, up to the today.

During the war, the Alpha 158s were hidden in garages and barns in rural Italy, to prevent the German occupation forces from taking them from the Portello factory and changing their red paint to silver.

Shortly after the end of the war, the Alfetta 158s were brought back to the Portello factory, restored and carefully prepared for racing again. And they won again immediately… and in the Grand Prix category.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950 was the first of the seven races that made up the first FIA Formula 1 World Championship and the Alfetta 158s monopolized the podium.

In that first season, the trio formed by Juan Manuel Fangio, Farina and Fagioli won all the Grand Prix they contested, getting on the podium twelve times and achieving five fastest laps.

On September 3, 1950, at the Monza Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo tested the technical solutions of the Alfetta 159, developed to take part in the following year’s Championship. The new Alfetta debuted with a victory. At the wheel was Nino Farina, who thus became the first Formula 1 World Champion.

The 158’s combination of speed, maneuverability and reliability made it the ultimate exponent of automotive technology of the day.

In the year of his birth (1938), he had a 1.5-liter engine with a 185-horsepower compressor. A few years after the war, the compressor was converted to double stage and the engine reached 275 hp and later 350 (at 8,600 rpm) in 1950. Thanks to its extreme lightness, its power-to-weight ratio was only 2 kg. / CV, a figure that rivals that of current supercars.

By 1951, after 17 years of development, the Alfetta’s extraordinary engine had reached its full potential. However, during the F1 season, the technicians once again managed to get extra power and reach the 450hp milestone. Thanks to this final effort (and some extraordinarily talented pilots), the 159 triumphed in the Swiss, Belgian, French and Spanish GPs, with eleven podiums and a fastest lap in the seven races held, closing a legendary career with a flourish. .