The name Alfa Romeo has an interesting beginning and has nothing to do with ‘Alpha’, the first letter of the Greek alphabet or indeed the doomed lover Romeo from the Shakespeare play. The first word is from A.L.F.A, standing for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili which, when translated from the original Italian, means Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company, Lombardy being the area of Italy where the cars were first manufactured, more specifically in the home of Italian motor car construction, Milan. It is odd to think that if the company had been English and had tried to work out a name from the title, we would be talking about LAFPC, which doesn’t trip off the tongue half so well. The ‘Romeo’ part is simply the surname of one of the early owners of the company, Nicola Romeo. The other owners were Ugo Stella and Alexandre Darracq, so to take the name options further, we could all be lusting after a classic car from LAFPC Stella, which doesn’t really have the same ring to it somehow!
Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson!
Even if you are not a film buff, you will almost certainly have seen The Graduate as it seems to be on some channel or another most days. The iconic 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman, Katherine Ross and Anne Bancroft features an Alfa Romeo Spider and the plot almost hinges on a well-known but happily tolerated glitch of almost all Spiders ever made – the non-functioning fuel gauge. As Dustin Hoffman is racing to Katherine Ross’s wedding, to prevent her making a horrible mistake, his car inevitably runs out of petrol and so he . . . let’s not spoil it for the few who haven’t seen the film, but it is pretty exciting! Because of the success of the film, an Alfa Graduate was released in the USA in the Eighties and sold very well.
Baddies only need apply
It hasn’t harmed the image of Alfa Romeo at all that if you count the appearances of one of their cars on screen, you will find that they are almost always driven by the bad guy or at least someone at odds with the hero. Dustin Hoffman and the various incarnations of James Bond aside, the list of baddies driving Alfas is long and is headed perhaps by one of the most enigmatic of the cinematic criminals, the unnamed Edward Fox character in Day of the Jackal who steals, repaints and crashes an Alfa Romeo Guilietta Spider. Michael Corleone, The Godfather, drives an Alfa Romeo 6C which is blown up – along with his wife. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith’s anti-hero, drives a bright red Alfa Romeo 126 Sportswagon in Ripley’s Game – in this incarnation he is played by John Malkovitch (rather more convincing than Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley which features no Alfas at all). An Alfa Romeo Alfetta sedan is even used as a getaway vehicle in the 1982 film The Soldier. Despite the fact that these cars are driven by people who not many would want to emulate, they still simply ooze speed and style and these films have all been good publicity for the brand.
You don’t even have to spell it properly – it’s still iconic
Dan Brown’s proof reader made a fairly major mistake when checking Angels and Demons. Whatever you may think of Mr Brown’s storytelling skills, it isn’t really acceptable for a car at the centre of the action to be called an Alpha Romeo throughout! Still, we all know what he means! When a marque has been in existence for over a hundred years and is the dream car of any petrol head, what’s a few letters between friends?