Storie Alfa Romeo: episode 9
Brian Joss – The 8C Competizione: a laboratory for the future founded in Alfa Romeo’s roots.
It was created in the face of the automotive industry’s preparation for the new millennium and it became the banner around which Alfa Romeo would redefine its identity and values – a stylistic and technical point of departure for future product planning.
In early 2006, Sergio Marchionne gave the signal to produce of a “concept car” that had created so much excitement at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Wolfgang Egger’s Alfa Romeo Centro Stile and company design facilities redefined the original design in just eight months. Presented in its definitive version at the Paris Motor Show, the 8C collected 1,400 orders from all over the world in a few weeks, and the 500 numbered cars were all sold before being built.
The Essence of Alfa Romeo: the story of the 8C Competizione begins with its name. “8C” refers to the eight-cylinder cars designed by Vittorio Jano in the 1930s that won races all over the world, including four consecutive victories at Le Mans and three at the Mille Miglia. “Competizione” was the name of the 6C 2500 that Juan Manuel Fangio drove in the 1950 Mille Miglia.
Created to recapture the essence of Alfa Romeo, the 8C paid tribute to technical themes that formed the basis of the brand since inception.
Attributes such as lightness, enhanced by the use of aluminum, titanium, carbon, and composite materials. Qualities such as balanced weight distribution courtesy of a rear-mounted transaxle and longitudinal front engine. Characteristics such as driving precision and handling, further refined by double wishbone suspension all round.
The 8C boasted a fabulous 4.7-litre V8 delivering 450 HP but, above all, it marked a return to the rear transaxle gearbox, a feature missing from Alfa road cars since the early 1990s. The result was a car with optimal power-to-weight ratio, able to accelerate to 100 km/h in just 4.2 seconds.
A homage to the history of car design: and then there was the small matter of style. “It’s called 8C, and I think it’s simply the most beautiful car ever built”: this was how BBC “Top Gear” presenter, Jeremy Clarkson described it. The curvaceous bonnet exuded power and presence. Its profile was soft yet sinuous. A horizontal line gave a dynamic side profile, joining the muscular rear haunches, while the rear window line was typically GT, tapering towards the truncated tail.
It combined styling influences from a number of key Alfa Romeos of the past in a beautiful whole. Its “eyes” came from the 33 Stradale, slightly higher than the bonnet line; its rear recalled ’61 Giulietta SZ, the first “truncated tail” in motoring history; and the circular rear lights are a tribute to the Giulia TZ. The 8C blended so much of Alfa Romeo’s past in an up-to-the minute design, as though the Alfa Romeo Centro Stile was paying tribute to a whole era of car design.
Creativity and science: from the 1930s, designers and coachbuilders had become fascinated with aerodynamics as the key to making their racing cars more competitive. The first step was to smoothly incorporate external elements, such as mudguards and headlights, within the bodywork profile.
Then they developed increasingly softer, more connected and streamlined shapes.
This was a challenge to stimulate the imaginations of great designers – convinced, naturally, that everything that is beautiful must also be efficient. Unleashing their creativity and skills, they built some of the most beautiful and successful cars ever made. And many of them were Alfa Romeo models.
The 8C Competizione was inspired by cars from that period, celebrating them through the boldness of its volumes, its clean lines, and its cheeky focus on distinctive brand features from the past.
The Alfa Romeo trilobo: the front view of an Alfa Romeo is unmistakable:
the central shield and the two horizontal air intakes on either side are instantly recognisable. This combination (perhaps the most famous “face” in the world of motorcars) is called the “trilobo”, and was identified in the 1930s.
Before then, there was little space for style: a car’s front-end consisted of a radiator flanked by headlights, and (sometimes) protected by a grate from the gravel on the road. But as soon as shapes began to soften, the Alfa Romeo shield appeared – and when it became too small to cool increasingly powerful engines, the two lateral air intakes made their debut, which enthusiasts immediately renamed “the mustache”.
The trilobo, previously modest, was officially adopted as a brand symbol starting with the 6C 2500 Freccia d’Oro. Like all symbols, it evolved over time, reflecting tastes and fashions – but always remained unique and unmistakable. It was sinuous and imposing on the 1900, thinner on Giulietta.
It was aerodynamic and tense on Giulia, angular and almost perfectly equilateral in the 1970s and 80s. It was minimalist and stylised in the 1990s, but with the 156 and 8C it returned to its natural leading role, which it has since maintained in all subsequent models.
The legacy of the 8C Competizione: the 8C Competizione combined the most classic principles of Alfa Romeo style and became a natural inspiration for all later models, even large scale production models such as MiTo and Giulietta. But the 8C also had a close relative: a “younger sister”, the 4C, a compact technological and sensual supercar – clearly related to the 8C, but without having to bear the burden of being a limited edition.
With the 4C, Alfa Romeo returned to the compact sportscar market by offering cutting-edge materials and technological solutions, combined with maximum lightness and extraordinary dynamic qualities.
The 4C: the Alfa Romeo designers decided not to maximise power, but instead keep the weight down: just over 1,000 kg ready for the road and a power-to-weight ratio of 259 HP per ton. Two values that guaranteed maximum agility and thrilling performance.
Polyester and fiberglass elements were also used, to achieve the desired lightness But the most innovative component was the cradle-like carbon fibre monocoque made with technology derived from Formula 1. The material, composed of unidirectional fibers, was pre-impregnated with a special resin before being subjected to a process known as “cooking”: with this treatment, the cradle could be made in a single piece, without assembly, and was able to perfectly perform its structural tasks despite a weight of only 65 kg.
The 4C engine was also ultra-light: a 1750 cc four-cylinder engine made entirely of aluminum, generating up to 240 HP of power. To ensure optimal weight distribution, it was mid-mounted transversely in the rear while the gearbox used a double dry clutch system.
Its suspension was equally sporty: double wishbones with coil-overs mounted directly to the monocoque at the front and an evolution of the classic MacPherson system at the rear.
The 4C achieved top speeds of over 255 km/h with astonishing acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds.
CAPTION: Sign of things to come: the Alfa 6c 2500 Supersport