Alfa 156: From the 1900 to the Alfa 156 - Press Releases - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles EMEA Press

Alfa 156: From the 1900 to the Alfa 156

Alfa 156: Reinvention of the sports saloon
Alfa 156: Accessories
Alfa 156: Comfort
Alfa 156: Construction process
Alfa 156: Design
Alfa 156: Equipment and trim
Alfa 156: From the 1900 to the Alfa 156
Alfa 156: Materials
Alfa 156: Safety
Alfa 156: The colour range
Alfa 156: The engines
Alfa 156: The gearboxes
Alfa 156: The suspension
Alfa 156: Wheels and steering

Family name: Alfa Romeo; first name: 156; date of birth: 1997. It all checks out. Yet there is something odd about the shape of this new car. At first glance it looks like a car designed before the advent of the computer. Those clean lines are distinctly out of the ordinary. That taut, compact body seems to portray a temperament that is both powerful and aristocratic, a manner that is distinctly 'Old World'!

It was in 1950 that Alfa Romeo invented the sports saloon in the form of the 1900. Until then Alfa's reputation, along with innumerable titles and trophies, had been won on the race track. In 1950 Italy's roads were occupied by imposing Fiat 1400s, solemn 1100s and 1500s, the occasional aristocratic Aurelia, hordes of Topolinos and by an army of Vespas and Lambrettas. When it exploded onto that scene, the Alfa Romeo 1900 represented something very new and very different. This lightweight (the first Alfa car to feature a monocoque body) heralded the look of the Giulietta in many ways. A four-door saloon, it was roomy enough to seat five plus a small child who could sit on the front bench seat now that the gear lever had been relocated onto the steering column. So definitely a family car, but one equipped with an 1884 cm3 four-cylinder-in-line engine that delivered 90 bhp and could zoom to 150 km/h, a figure that rose to 180 on the TI version, and to an impressive 190 on the 1900 Super and Supersprint.
These were the years following the war which saw the building of Europe, and the political scene was dominated by men like De Gasperi, Adenauer and Schuman. It was a period of great contrasts, troubled by strikes, devaluation, the Cold War and the Korean War, but the world could still dream in front of a film by Rita Hayworth, or a song by Frank Sinatra. The new Alfa Romeo immediately became a status symbol; owners included Italy's President Luigi Einaudi and James Dean, the young actor who had come to represent postwar America's dissatisfied youth.
And of course the Alfa Romeo 1900 won races too: the Tour de France, the Targa Florio, the Stella Alpina, the Coupe des Alpes. But this time the Official Alfa Romeo Team drivers encountered amateur rivals; elegant young gentlemen with a passion for sports cars. 'The family car that wins races', as the slogan put it, introduced a whole new concept into automotive history: the performance saloon for everyday use, a car whose exquisitely clean-cut lines inspired all the great body makers (Zagato, Pininfarina, Viotti, Boano and Touring) to give it their own personal slant. And a car of equal quality in its finish and the materials used, including the Super version's exquisite and costly upholstery cloth. This car was also a star in what we now call active safety: indeed in roadholding and braking the 1900 out-performed all other saloons and many of the sports cars on sale at the time.

That technological and styling heritage was to be passed down to the Giulietta in the second half of the Fifties. With its short wheelbase, harmonious line and cutting edge mechanicals (light alloy engine, belt-driven TOHC timing) the Giulietta came out in 1954 in its Sprint Version by Bertone. The saloon version came out a year later at the 37th Turin Motor Show. With 1290 cm3, 53 bhp, and a 140 km/h top speed there was simply nothing to match it in its class and motorists voted for it with their cheque books. For a decade or more the Giulietta in its Sprint, Saloon or Spider Version, remained the Queen of All Hearts, raising Alfa Romeo's output from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in the process. It was in February 1961 that Giulietta Number 100,000 rolled off the Portello assembly lines; that same year Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel in space.
It has to be said it was less the Giulietta's really rather modest engine power and size that have earned it a place in the sports car hall of fame, than its ability to interpret the spirit of the times with its clean-cut, attractive lines, which like those of today's Alfa 156, have a distinctly coupé look about them. Plus of course, its cutting-edge mechanicals, speed and roadholding. Remember that these were the Boom Years in a country that was just discovering television. As the public trembled for the little Russian dog Laika in orbit around the Earth, looked with concern at the invasion of Hungary and was moved when Grace Kelly married Rainier of Monaco, Alfa Romeo decided that the Giulietta was the car to earn it a wider audience. It is no coincidence, of course, that the number of cars on Italian roads rose from 577,000 to over 2,000,000 between 1950-59.

The true heir of the tradition established by the Alfa 1900 did not arrive on the scene until 1962, the year of 'Love me do', the Beatles first hit record. That was the Giulia TI 'The Car Designed by the Wind'. The Giulia's styling was revolutionary: dropped nose framed by twin headlights, bonnet shaped for negative lift, windscreen raked like a fighter plane's; but most impressively its cut-off tail. And under the skin, a 4-cylinder 1570 cm3 engine that unleashed 92 bhp.
About the Giulia 1900 Sprint that came out in 1963, the American magazine 'Car and Driver' was to write: "Few cars can rival the 1600 Alfa for driver satisfaction. Driving it you get the impression of a much more powerful engine than you know it's got. Fatigue is absolutely imperceptible. Driving this car is pure entertainment".
Those were the salient features of a car that had the roomy, easily accessed passenger compartment, the capacious boot, the meticulous finish of a top class saloon combined with an unexpectedly sporty temperament. The Giulia Super 1600 of 1965 featured body-hugging padded seats, a facia with a stylish chrome trim underlining the doors, and stainless steel bumpers. And under all that glamour, even more power and torque (98 bhp and 13.3 kgm respectively).

The 1750 that came out in 1968 was named after a famous Alfa Romeo of the Thirties. Its launch coincided with the first hint of the protest movement triggered by the May events in France, as the first student demonstrations and the skirmishes of Italy's own 'Hot Autumn' introduced a period of profound social conflict and huge cultural change.
The new model was well received. More sleekly up-to-the minute in line and bigger than the Giulia, the 1750 was powered by a 1779 cm3 engine that gave it a top speed of 180 km/h in fifth. The fuel supply was by two horizontal twin carburettors on European versions, though a fuel injection system was adopted on versions for the U.S. market. Other major changes were introduced at the Turin Motor Show in following year: split cross-over braking circuit, hydraulic clutch, iodine headlights, top-mounted pedal box, fuel filter with dynamic air intake and recessed steering wheel.
Despite its evident similarity to the Giulia saloon, the 1750 flaunted its own distinctive design and engineering features. For one thing the suspension had been subjected to a radical, albeit discreet overhaul for improved handling and even greater driving pleasure. And while the body was hardly any bigger, the cabin was very much roomier and the boot exceptionally capacious. A true sports saloon, big-hearted in performance, luxurious in trim, the 1750 featured delightfully distinctive styling by Bertone, its unique personality expressed in the harmonious facia-steering-wheel-instrument-panel complex and its elegant cloth upholstery.
It was only a short step from the 1750 to the 2000. Not just chronologically, though only three years had passed, but also because the newcomer was really a natural evolution of the 1750. A few styling details were changed; new lighting clusters and new wheels (now without hub caps); new steering wheel boss and gear knob. Most importantly, the car offered bigger engines (1962 cm3) delivering extra power (132 bhp) and a higher top speed (190 km/h).

The Seventies, the years of the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the era of the Oil Shocks in Europe and also the period when the introduction of VAT created higher car tax. By that time Italy had around 12,000,000 cars on its roads, one per every 4.5 people. These were hard times for motor manufacturers too, but against all the gloom and doom, one car was a spectacular success. It was an Alfa Romeo and it was called the Alfetta.
Launched in May 1972, the Alfetta immediately became the automotive symbol of a tormented decade. It was driven by politicians and policemen, by entrepreneurs and professionals and by any motorist who wanted style combined with sporty performance. The Alfetta sold and sold throughout the Seventies, surviving two Oil Shocks, the 1974 Recession and the 20% devaluation of the lira in 1976. Even the escalating price of petrol didn't stop it.
Given the situation, there was something almost miraculous about a triumph that was wholly attributable to the excellence of a design which successfully blended appealingly raunchy looks with a powerful engine, sophisticated mechanicals and superlative build quality.
Yet again the name was taken from a famous Alfa Romeo of the past. The original Alfetta had been the Grand Prix F1 car of 1951. That was the car that achieved a record speed of 320 km/h on the Pescara racing circuit; the car which won Juan Manuel Fangio the world title that same year. Image-wise the connection could hardly have been bettered and certainly made it easier to promote the new model. Of course the name wasn't all that the two Alfettas had in common. From its celebrated predecessor, twice champion of the world, the saloon of the Seventies also inherited the sort of sophisticated mechanicals hitherto reserved for racing models. De Dion rear suspension and a clutch-gearbox-differential assembly shifted to the rear. That gave the drive wheels extra grip, thereby adding to the pleasure of a genuinely sporty ride, as well as improving weight distribution and reducing the volume of unsprung weight (the brakes were set close to the diff).
The front suspension also represented an innovation: this was the first Alfa Romeo car to adopt flexible torsion bar elements on the front axle along with a rack and pinion steering system with adjustable column.
The engine was Alfa Romeo's tried and tested four-cylinder twin-cam 1.8 that developed 122 bhp for a top speed of 180 km/h powering a car that weighed 1,060 kg, measured 4.28 metres in length and with a 2.51 m wheelbase.
The Alfetta also offered attractive styling, carefully designed to combine a compact shape with a truly roomy cabin and a boot that held over half a cubic metre of luggage.
In 1975 Alfa Romeo added a new 1.6 litre version to the range that developed 109 bhp and was identifiable from the front by its two single headlights. Then came the Alfetta 1.8, beneficiary of a face-lift that included a bigger Alfa shield on the front and new trim, including a redesigned facia.
By contrast the Alfa 2.0, which came out two years later in 1977, the year that the rings around Uranus were discovered, and the Orient Express made its last journey from Paris to Istanbul, was very different indeed. The redesigned front section was 10 cm longer, the new headlights rectangular. Also new were the radiator grille, bumpers, tail lights and interior trim. The new facia was more angular (the 2000 L that came out in 1978 even got a burr walnut veneer); seats and door panels were upholstered in luxury cloth; steering wheel, seat shape and instruments all got a new look.
The extra cylinder capacity did not increase the power output but enhanced driveability, making the Alfetta one of the best balanced cars in its class.

Alfa 75
The Eighties: the days of a new wave of international terrorism and the Gulf War, but also of dialogue between Reagan and Gorbachev and nuclear disarmament.
Alfa Romeo celebrated its 75th birthday by giving that number to the new model it launched in May 1985.
The styling of the Alfa 75 reiterated the wedge-shaped line of the Giulietta, with a few aerodynamic changes. The interior was particularly well appointed and included a height-adjustable steering wheel, diagnostic unit, digital clock, electronic rev counter and heat absorbent windows. The engine was a classic 4-cylinder twin cam unit, available initially in 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 formats, followed later by the 2.5 and 2.0 Turbodiesel.
The 2.0i made its debut two years later, at the Geneva Motor Show, the first mass produced car to adopt a technology that had previously only been used on racing cars, Twin Spark electronic ignition with 2 spark plugs per cylinder, which optimised combustion, improving engine performance and curbing emissions. And the variable valve timing system patented by Alfa boosted torque to 21 kgm, and power from 128 to 148 bhp.
A new front spoiler, a rear spoiler and side skirts enhanced the already good aerodynamic efficiency, making the Alfa 75 even sportier.

In 1992 the Alfa 75 was replaced by the 155. More conservative Alfa enthusiasts: was surprised to note that following the example of the Alfa flagship, the Alfa 164, the new saloon, also abandoned the traditional rear wheel drive in favour of front-wheel drive. It was feared that the car's sporty temperament would suffer, but in fact, as the numerous wins in the Touring Car Championship and the prestigious success in the German DTM Championship in 1993 have shown, the Alfa 155's personality remains faithful to the best Alfa tradition, with the advantage of a new easier, more intuitive drive. Even the De Dion rear axle was replaced, by a modern independent suspension system.
The styling of the Alfa 155 recalled that of the Giulietta, but the edges were more rounded, in line with a growing trend.
The engines were twin cam, twin spark units with a capacity of 1995 cm3, and for the first time 1773 cm3, both featuring variable valve timing. They gave a top speed of 205 km/h.
The subsequent evolutions of the Alfa 155 reflected a real concentrate of technology. The 2.0i was launched in 1995 with a new engine that combined Twin Spark technology, 16 valves (4 per cylinder) and variable valve timing: a new 'heart' with outstanding advantages in terms of performance (155 bhp for a top speed of 208 km/h, and a peak torque of 19 kgm at 4000 rpm).
The styling also evolved. The new Alfa 155 range was even more aggressive, with a chrome plated shield, 26 mm wider track, and the option of a rear spoiler and five-spoke sports wheels with low profile tyres.