The Project

Alfa Romeo's small car projects before the birth of the Alfasud

Tipo 13-61Many people believe that the Alfasud was the first Alfa Romeo below the today called "middle class" cars.
But already in 1952 the so called "Project 13-61" would have nearly been realised. Alfa Romeo planned to build a 750 cm³-vehicle. That time those cheap kind of vehicles were very popular in Italy. Giuseppe Busso, the engineer in charge designed a water-cooled engine with two cylinders in line, which was actually half of a Giulietta engine (at at time when the Giulietta and its 1300 cm³ engine were still in development). The Tipo 13-61 was intended to have a transverse mounted engine and front inboard disc brakes. The project was never realised, because Alfa Romeo considered the production costs to be too high to be competitive. The second and last try to design a small Alfa Romeo before the Alfasud was launched was the Tipo 103.
To achieve a bigger market share in the fast growing small-car-segment they planned a car below the Giulietta.
Tipo 103

The Tipo 103 engine

In 1960 a first prototype was completed. It had a 1000 cm³ four-cylinder inline engine in the classical Alfa Romeo layout with a Tipo 103"Bialbero"(DOHC) head  which was mounted transversely in front of the front-axle. The car was equipped with a four-speed gearbox and front-wheel-drive. With its 52 hp at 5500 rpm it was able to run 130 kph. According to Luigi Fusi, the well known  Alfa Romeo-chronicler, three engines were built. The four-door body was designed to be relatively roomy and anticipated the design of the Giulia, in whose favour the project was suspended. The blue prototype and several design-and aerodynamic -studies have found their way into the into the Museo Storico at Arese, Italy. Regarding the Renault 8, one can see that it takes up the design of Tipo 103. In thetime when Tipo 103 was under construction Alfa Romeo and Renault were co-operateing. Alfa built the Dauphine and R4 which were destinated to be sold on the Italian market.
 

The Alfasud Project

Seven years later chief-executive Giuseppe Luraghi reflected again about the possibility to build a smaller car in order to get a larger piece out of the fast-growing car sales volume.
Actually the Tipo 13-61 and Tipo 103 were condemned to be suspended because of a gentlemen-agreement between Fiat and Alfa Romeo. It said that Alfa Romeo would not develop any small cars below the Giulietta / Giulia range to assure that Fiat would not get any Italian competition in this segment. On the other hand Fiat promised not to build any sportive cars or larger sportive sedans.

After Giuseppe Luraghi had decided to build a small Alfa Romeo, things went on very quickly. He arrived to convince the government of Italy to give financial support. But the government insisted on the fact that the new car had to be produced in the poor South of Italy to stop the emigration of young people who did not see any chance to survive there. People who wanted to be successful had to move to the richer and industrially more developped North of Italy. Therefore the new car could not be produced anywhere in Milan or its surrounding area. Quickly Alfa Romeo now opted for the old Alfa Romeo Avio plant in Pomigliano d'Arco near Naples. On this old Alfa CrashtestRomeo property they began to plan a completely new plant for the now called Alfasud project. The former airport of Alfa Romeo Avio was replaced by a test-track. 240 hectares and 300 billion Lire were placed at Alfa Romeo's disposal. Another 60 billion Lire were thought to be needed for the development of the car. 6 % were directly made available by the government, further 44 % should follow later.

For Italian circumstances, the planning now got on very quickly. Alfa Romeo had to select 16.000 workers out of 130.000 applicants who wanted to work in the new factory. But the South-Italian workers were not qualified enough to cope with the new technologies so that Alfa Romeo had to convince North-Italian workers to move to Pomigliano d'Arco. The subcontractors also had to adapt to the new situation. Before Alfasud, they were used to send their products only to the North of Italy.
At the same time the Fiat executives got furious about Alfasud. They saw a break of the agreement in the Alfasud project and therefore tried to stop Alfasud using every means possible. Fiat suspected Alfa Romeo of theft of documents, even Fiat employees and workers were suspected of treason. In addition Fiat also tried to delay the production of the Alfasud by alarming the almighty Italian unions governors. There were times, where it seemed that there were more people against than for Alfasud. But in the end the project could not be stopped, especially since Fiat also had broken the existing gentlemen-agreement by introducing the Fiat Dino and 130 series.

The conflict was even enforced by the winning over of Rudolf Hruska, who was - from the beginning on - the engineer in charge of the whole project. With him 27 specialists partly recruited from Fiat but also from Alfa Romeo in Arese entered in the hot phase of the project .

Planning very precisely, Hruska could - completely  unexpected - keep the costs of the project below the expected 300 billion Lire. With 276 billion Lire he kept the expenses about 10 % below the expected amount. During the whole time he was even able to show every little progress in the building of the plant and the car to the Italian officials who controled the finances.

In the end, it took four years instead of the planned 48 months. In fact this is not a very long period of time to develop a completely new and technically path-breaking car (think of the Citroën DS-story).
 

The Fathers of the Alfasud

Everything began at Hruska's bureau in Milan, where only two people worked with him. After the quickly finished planning stage moreFirst Styling Renderings people of Hruska's trust joined the project.
The former Autodelta and Porsche-employee Domenico Chirico was responsible for the suspension and became project manager. Giorgetto Giugaro, who had founded Ital-Design a short time ago, joined the team, after Carlo Felice Anderloni (the former Touring boss) advised Rudolf Hruska to make Giugaro responsible for the design of the car. Aldo Mantovani became the man in charge for the engineering, assisted by Carlo Chiti (the former head of Autodelta), Carlo Bossaglia developed the engine, Ingeniere Agazzano (coachwork) and Federico Hoffmann (construction of the suspension) completed the team.
Only two handicaps for the planning had to be considered: Alfa Romeo wanted to have a cheap and easily maintainable car with the character of a typical Alfa Romeo. So the engineers started to design a completely new type of Alfa Romeo. Most of the traditional characteristics were thrown over board. To improve fuel consumption an aerodynamically well developped body was of high importance. This lead to the flat-four engine which allowed to design a very deep-set bonnet. To get a roomy interior, they chosed front-wheel-drive. The fuel tank which was usually placed under the boot had to move, too. It was now placed under the rear seats -  an important feature which by the way improved the crash-safety. Today this important feature can be found in nearly every car. This is one of the indicators which shows that the Alfasud was ahead of its time.

The Problems

At the end of 1967 the engine-developed was finished. The 10th of July 1968 was the first day when it ran on a test block. The body-bodydevelopment was finished in September and Rudolf Hruska could make the first test-drive at the first of November. At the same time, the contruction workers in Pomigliano d'Arco were still levelling the ground.
Shortly afterwards, the first test-vehicles left Italy to be tested in all possible conditions from arctic cold to African heat. After a lot of difficulties (like the very important harvest of tomatos, the usual Italian problems with the unions and strikes of construction workers who wanted to be employed in the new plant) that slowed down the advance of the levelling process of the new plant, the 29th of April 1968 became the day when the laying of the foundation stone in Pomigliano d' Arco could be celebrated.

The Alfasud became the sensation of the 1971 Turin Car Exposition, but with the beginning of the production of the first cars on th efirst of April 1972 the problems seemed to begin at all. Strikes, malice and delays stopped the production again and again, then the quality of the car was a sheer catastrophe - as a result of the South-Italian work mentality. Productivity was even worse. Alfa Romeo had planned to produce 500 cars a day. Later on this number should be at 1000 cars a day. But production numbers never reached these numbers. At the beginning of the Alfasud production only 70 cars a day were made. When the ti was launched, 78000 four-door Alfasuds had left Pomigliano d' Arco although 175000 had been planned.

Due to the very bad quality of the Alfasud's bodywork, the good reputation of Alfa Romeo began to suffer. Every Alfasud which was delivered to its new owner made it worse. The great problem of these days were cars which rusted in an unbelievabley short time. People now also started to project the situation on all other Alfa Romeo models, which had in fact the same quality as the German BMWs. At this time also BMWs and other companies had serious problems with the very bad quality of the used steel.

Alfasud on a testtrackMeanwhile Rudolf Hruska's job became the hell on earth, the production was interrupted by many strikes. One time, a paintshop-worker refused to continue to spray primer, because of sanitary concerns. He refused to be exchanged by another worker. So the still unpainted bodies had to stand outside of the production line in a stream of salty wind coming from the near sea and began to rust before they got their first coat of paint. At the end there had been more than 700 strikes which stopped the production. To stop the rust-problems, the engineers now tried to fill all box-sections of the Alfasud with a special synthetic foam. The result was even more disastrous - after a certain time water entered into the structure of the foam. The foam became a kind of sponge and rust was pre-programmed.
A German Alfa Romeo dealer reported about one Alfasud which, when it rolled of the transporter, lost its windscreen because a seam welding had rusted away. Windscreens were one of the most serious problems of the first Alfasuds. It was planned to bond the screen to the body. But italian workers could not deliever the accuracy needed for that kind of work. So the only solution was to do it the old way by putting the windscreen in an usual rubber seal. Sarcastic people would call it luck, that Rudolf Hruska had planned the use of thicker sheets of metal than necessary because the South-Italian workers did not have the skills to work with thinner sheets at the beginning. To learn from his mistakes Hruska knocked down 14 comparable cars. But a change of the situation seemed impossible. Trying to work economically now Alfa Romeo had to buy cheaper recycled steel of Russian production. At that time nobody could deliver an effective anti-rust protection. Customers also complained about squeaking and broken plastic panels in the interior of the vehicle. At the beginning the production of the Alfasud, suitable methods for the production and processing were still not sufficiently developed.

When the production of the Alfasud ended in 1984, one could say that the Alfasud was a commercial disaster for both, the government which had to pay about 25 EUR for every sold car and for Alfa Romeo.

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Last Update: November,12th 2006    Created: January 2000

© Layout and Text by Tim Rauen.