The Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta (Italian for ‘Little Alfa’) is considered to be one of the most successful racing cars of all time. The 158, and the succeeding 159, won 47 of the 54 Grand Prix entered between them.
The Alfa Romeo 158/159 won 10 Formula One Grand Prix between 1950 and 1951
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The 158 was originally developed for the voiturette (French for ‘small car’) in 1937, acting as a junior category to the Grand Prix’s around this era.
Alfa Romeo used a 1.5 litre superchargered straight-8 engine, which is referenced in the car’s name.
Gioacchino Colombo was given the main responsibility for the engineering in Modena, Italy, helping it to produce 200bhp @ 7,500rpm.
Development was postponed due to the outbreak of World War II. However, in 1946, this resumed and the power output was increased to 254bhp.
Juan Manuel Fangio was once quoted by Italian magazine Quattroruote, stating the 159 was “the most beautiful car I’d ever driven”
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A year later, the car was eligable for the new Formula One catergory, leading to further engine development and produce over 300bhp.
The 158’s were entered in the inaugral Formula One World Championship in 1950, with Italians Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farnia and Luigi Fagioli alongside Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio as the team’s full time drivers.
Of the six races Alfa entered that year – they didn’t enter the Indianapolis 500 race – Farina and Fangio won three races apiece. However, the Italian fourth place in Belgium was enough to make him Formula One’s first World Champion.
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For 1951, the car was updated as the 159 and given a new rear suspension in addition a De-Dion axle to replaced the old swing axle.
On top of this, the engine produced approximately 420bhp @ 9,600rpm, which had a major effect on the car’s fuel consumption.
Despite this, Alfa Romeo won four races, with Farina winning in Belgium, whilst Fangio took the chequered flag at the Swiss, French (win shared with Fagioli) and Spanish Grand Prix to win his first of five world titles.
Marc Gené (left) and Antonio Labato with Juan Manuel Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 159.
Image Source: Alfa Romeo España (YouTube)
At the end of the season, the team pulled out of Formula One as they were unable to recieve government assistance in order to help maintain costs; Alfa Romeo wouldn’t return until 1979. The car’s final victory took place at the Merano Grand Prix, Italy, in 1953.