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1951: Alfa Romeo 159

by

Antonio Eiras

Despite the absolute dominion of the Alfetta in the inaugural season of the World Drivers’ Championship, winning the first three places, there was an obvious crescendo of competitivity of the cars of Scuderia Ferrari. In response to this threat, Gioachino Colombo, newcomer to Alfa Romeo from the opposing team, developed an extreme version of 158.

In this new model the boost pressure of the compressor was increased and the small eight cylinders’ 1.5 liter engine reached the remarkable power of 420 PS at 9,600 rpm. This increase in the power level was, however, at the cost of an astronomic fuel consumption, which triggered an increase in size of the fuel tank and the use of an additional deposit placed in the engine compartment!

 

As a consequence of the inevitable increase in weight, the chassis had to be strengthened and for the more requested rear suspension, was adopted a rigid axle in Pont de Dion.

 

The new Alfa Romeo, dubbed by some 159, had, like his predecessor, a brilliant debut win with Nino Farina in the last Grand Prix of 1950, held at the Italian circuit of Monza.

 

The winning streak continued to the Milan based Team, in the early next year with the same team of drivers to ensure the triumphs in the first three races of the Championship. Thus, Fangio won the inaugural event, the G. P. of Switzerland, raced around Bern, Farina imposed in Spa, in the Belgium GP and Fangio shared the triumph in the GP of France, at the Reims circuit, with teammate Fagioli.

 

This season, and contrary to what happened in the previous, started with a well prepared Scuderia Ferrari which entered their 375 models with 4.5 liter aspirated engines, far more moderate in fuel consumption than the Alfetta. In each of the first three races of the Championship their drivers fought for victory, which eventually happened in the British GP, raced at the Silverstone circuit, on July 15, with the Argentine Froilán Gonzalez to take advantage of the lower consumption of his car to ensure the first win of the prancing horse Team on a round of the World Championship. Thrilled with the victory over the rival of Milan, Enzo Ferrari said, figuratively, that had killed her mother.

 

Strong with the first win, Ferrari Team would add another victory in the next Grand Prix, raced at the Nürburgring circuit, in Germany, at the hands of their leader, the Italian Alberto Ascari.

 

The Alfetta seemed to have reached its limit, with the drivers complaining of a chassis that fleeted under the too much weight. In a last effort to regain the lost competitiveness, Colombo reinforced the chassis and Alfa Romeo presented itself at the Italian GP with the 159M (the Maggiorata) model, that the Team considered to be the true 159. The additional increase in boost pressure allowed the engine to reach the power of 425CV at 9,300 rpm!

The Italian raced confirmed, however, the rise of Ferrari Team, with the victory of Ascari and the failure of rivals from Alfa Romeo in his attempt to counter the rising rival from Maranello.

 

The decision of the World Championship drivers took place in Pedralbes street circuit, designed in the Catalan city of Barcelona, in Spain. A clumsy choice of tires of a small diameter would prove fatal for Ferrari and allowed Fangio's victory in the race and championship.

 

This triumph was the swan song for the Alfa 159. Indeed, Alfa Romeo decided to withdraw from the competition at the end of the season and put a glorious end to the Alfetta fabulous career, in which over seven seasons got 37 wins.

According to him, Gioachino Colombo had a rear mid-engine project for the original Alfa Romeo 158, inspirited in the Auto Union Grand Prix, drawn by the fertile mind of Professor Ferdinand Porsche. The strong opposition of Enzo Ferrari, who claimed that the chariot was pulled and not pushed by the cows, made him abandon the project.

The Alfetta resulted thus in a very elegant and conventional design, which met a slender, smooth body to the best technology of its time. Proved to be, according to the drivers who immortalized it, easy to take to the limit and extremely effective. We cannot, however, help thinking, too, that it was the result of a lost opportunity of moving on a decade in motor sport technology.

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