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A Brief History of the Alfa Romeo 1900
(Reprinted, with minor editing, from Alfa Romeo by Peter Hull & Roy Slater, 1982.)

     In May 1950, a new Alfa Romeo model was shown to a privileged few at Turin, but its public debut was made at Paris in October of that year. This was an 1884cc, four-cylinder saloon with combined body and chassis. In many ways, this car, designed under the direction of Orazio Satta, was a substantial breakaway from Alfa Romeo tradition. It was the first Alfa Romeo to be put into series production on a new assembly line, and from this time high standard mass production really started at Portello. Other breaks with tradition were the use of a chain-driven twin overhead camshaft engine with only four cylinders, the suspension of the car and the adoption of left-hand steering, though right-hand steering was made available. The cylinder dimensions were 82.55 x 88mm (1,884cc), and the chain-driven camshafts operated valves whose clearances were adjusted by the traditional method used on all previous OHC Alfa Romeos.

     With a single Solex carburettor the engine output was 90 bhp at 4,800rpm, but for an extra £57 it was possible to have a Weber double-choke carburettor with a special manifold, and this gave 93bhp at 5,400rpm with a 7.5:1 compression ratio. Both front and rear suspensions systems were new for a production Alfa Romeo. At the front, double wishbones and flexible coil springs were employed with firmly set Girling telescopic dampers. At the rear, swing axles were abandoned and a light solid axle was suspended on coil springs with telescopic dampers. Originally this axle was located by light alloy radius arms with a transverse Panhard rod, but it was found there was a certain amount of wheel patter when cornering fast. A new layout was then introduced comprising location by two tubular steel radius arms and two short diagonal arms meeting at a central pivot above the differential housing to give a parallelogram effect. This improved the road holding considerably.

     For family saloons these cars, which weighed 22.6cwt, had a remarkable performance in the early Fifties. The 90 bhp version was capable of over 90mph, whilst the 93bhp car did over 105mph with a maximum of 75mph in third and 50mph in second gear. Average fuel consumption was 22-24mpg. Acceleration was in the order of 0-60mph in 17.1 seconds, standing quarter-mile in 20.6 seconds. As with the preceding 6C2500s, a column shift was utilised, but there was a cheap-looking handbrake of the pull-out umbrella handle variety. In view of its basic price of over £1,300 the car was somewhat spartan inside with a tiny dashboard cubby-hole and no pockets inside the doors. The Girling brakes needed fairly heavy pedal pressure, and the car was distinctly noisy so far as the engine valve gear was concerned, though wind roar was noticeably absent. The handling and performance, however, were in the best sporting tradition and unique at the time in a roomy family saloon.

     Satta had also designed a six cylinder 3-litre car to succeed the 6C 2500, but it was decided to produce the four cylinder 1900 instead. There are several similarities between the two cars however, the front suspension being the same, but the 6C 3000 had independent rear suspension, though with transverse rather than the longitudinal torsion bars of the 6C 2500.

     In his book Alfissimo (Osprey, 1979), which is an in-depth study of Alfa Romeos with vertical four cylinder engines from the 1900 to the 'new' Giulietta of the late Seventies, David Owen mentions the difficulties in getting Italian outside components for the 1900, and says that its 82.55mm bore was chosen to accept Hepolite pistons from England. This prompts the reflection that this course of action might have been an even better bet ten years later when 82.55mm pistons were being fitted in England in their hundreds of thousands to Ford Consuls and Zephyrs! Henry Wessells recalls that in the U.S.A., Borg and Beck clutch parts for the 1900 were interchangeable with Kaiser parts from his local supplier. Although the 2955cc 6C 3000 prototype's engine had a longer stroke, 92mm, than the 1900's, in many ways the 1900 was a four cylinder version of it. Similarities included the fitting of 14mm plugs, 38mm inlet and 34mm exhaust valves, light alloy head with 90 degree valve angle, and the same 82.55mm bore with cast iron block and crankcase. As we have seen, the engine of the 6C 3000 justified itself in enlarged form in the 6C 3000M competition cars, which were also referred to under the name Disco Volante.

     The higher-performance version of the 1900, known as the 1900 TI — 'Turismo Internazionale' —appeared in 1951. With the compression ratio increased from 7.5 to 7.75 to 1, inlet valves increased in size from 38mm to 41 mm and exhaust from 34mm to 36.5 mm plus a double choke Weber 40 DCA 3 downdraught carburettor the output went up to l00 bhp at 5,500rpm and maximum speed from 93mph to 105mph. Similar figures were achieved with two Solex 40 PII carburettors. The 1900 T.I. did exceptionally well in competition, including a good overall result and a 1-2-3-4-5 class win in the 1954 Mexican road race. Good though these cars were, they never received the acclaim which was given to a brand new Alfa Romeo which appeared for the first time in 1954 — the now famous Giulietta, also designed under the direction of Orazio Satta.

     It was this engine in cars with a shorter wheelbase, 8ft-2ins (2.50 metres), which produced the 1900C Sprint, and gave much scope to the specialist coachbuilders. The 1900 was, in fact, the last Alfa Romeo chassis to be available to these specialists, who welded their bodies onto the platforms supplied. Later design studies on Type 33 and special Giulia chassis were not intended for sale. The best-known coachbuilders were Touring, who built the well-known Superleggera coupes, and Zagato, whose efforts were more spartan and light and thus more suitable for sports car races such as the Inter-Europa series, where the 1900's principal rivals were the 2-litre V8 Fiats, including 5-speed SIATA versions of same.

     Other coachbuilders who made open and closed coupes were Stabilamente Farina (whose 'Victoria' was presumably named after the light, low, four-wheeled horsedrawn carriage for two), Pinin Farina, Boano (who made the 'Primavera' monocoque saloon), Boneschi, with the 'Astral', a futuristic drophead, Castagna, Ghia and Ghia-Aigle. Many of these designs were enhanced by Borrani wire wheels. Some of the coupes were capable of 112mph.

     The final flowering of the 1900 was the Super series, of which the Berlina, or saloon, and the 1900C Super Sprint were produced from 1953 to 1958, and the TI Super saloon from 1953 to 1955. The Super series were mainly distinguished by the fact that the engine bore was increased from 82.55mm to 84.5mm, which had the effect of increasing the capacity from 1884cc to 1975cc.   

     The standard saloon with the bigger engine and a Weber 40 DCF 5 carburettor using the same compression ratio of 7.5 to 1 as its 1884cc predecessor was able to produce its 90bhp at 4,800rpm instead of 5,200rpm. The TI saloon, with its compression ratio increased to 8 to 1 and two Solex 40PII carburettors gave 115bhp, and its engine was also fitted to the 1900C chassis. The 1900 Super now reached l00 mph, the 1900 TI Super 112mph and the 1900C Super Sprint 118mph. The latter had an axle ratio of 3.73 to 1 and a 5-speed gearbox with top an overdrive, but the other two still had the standard 4.1 to 1 axle ratio and 4-speed box.

     An interesting variation to the engine took place from the spring of 1955 when two silent chains drove the camshafts instead of a single chain, the direction of rotation of the camshafts being changed. This also changed the firing order from 1,3,4,2 to 1,2,4,3.

     Once seen, never forgotten, might be applied to the three BATs.  BAT 5 was created on the 1900 Sprint chassis, while BATs 7 & 9 were on the Super Sprint chassis. “BAT” stood for Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (saloon aerodynamic technology) and the bodies were the work Bertone. BAT 5 appeared in 1953 and BAT 7 was on the Bertone stand at the Turin show in 1954. BAT 9 was almost restrained in comparison, and was the last produced (until the Geneva salon of 2008!). They were an attempt to combine reduced drag and aerodynamic stability. On BAT 5 and 7, the latter was achieved by curved fins to exert downward pressure and keep the back wheels on the road as well as giving directional stability. The BAT cars had two radiator cores receiving air from separate intakes, with offtake ducts extending past the front wheels to the low pressure area just forward of the front door pillars. At the back the exhaust was used as an air extractor from the rear wheel arches. On BAT 7 the screen lay back at an angle of 70 degrees from the vertical and in plan view the passenger compartment was of teardrop shape with the front screen an arc on a radius of no less than 33 inches. In contrast to BAT5, the sculpting of the rear fins of BAT7 gave the impression that Henry Moore had been finally called in as a consultant. All three cars exist to this day, and in 2020 were sold as a collection-of-3 to an unnamed buyer.

     In 1958, a stretched glass-partition limousine version of the 1900 Super was made, and there was also a four-seater, open military staff car with much the same lines as the standard saloon.

     In contrast to the latter two models, a 1900 version of the Jeep® was produced in reasonably large numbers, over 2,000, between 1951 and 1953 and known as the 1900M. This had optional 4-wheel drive, selected by means of a lever. Axle ratios front and rear were 4.1 to 1. For normal driving there was a 4-speed gearbox without synchromesh, but there were only two speeds when in 4-wheel drive. The back axle had a limited slip differential for conditions of poor traction and was suspended on semi-elliptic springs, whilst the front axle had independent swing axles suspended on longitudinal torsion bars. The wheelbase was 7ft-2ins (2.20 metres) and the track was narrower than standard by almost an inch, whilst the weight came to 24.5cwt (1250kg).

     The engine had a reduced compression ratio of 7 to 1 and produced 65bhp at 4,400rpm. There was dry sump lubrication to allow for operation on steep slopes, with the oil tank on the right-hand side of the engine compartment and holding over twice as much as the normal 1900 wet sump. The handbrake worked on the transmission — in the best Merosi tradition! The steering gear was worm and nut instead of the usual worm and roller, and the steering wheel was on the left. Maximum speed was 65mph.

     In 1951, Fiat also brought out a similar rival 4-wheel drive vehicle called the 'Campagnola' and in his book Fiat (B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1974) Michael Sedgwick says the Italian Army selected the 'Campagnola' in preference to Alfa Romeo's 1900M. However, we know that the Army ordered 2,000 1900Ms. In the 1952 Mille Miglia, a 1900M won the special category for military vehicles, no doubt largely due to the fact that it produced 65 bhp from its twincam 1884cc engine, in contrast to the 'Campagnola's' 53bhp from its pushrod 1901 cc engine. Another 150 or so 1900Ms were produced for civilian use in agriculture, as fire fighting machines, snow ploughs, etc. In contrast to the small production 1900M, the no doubt less expensive 'Campagnola' was in production until 1972 and some 38,000 were made. Neither of these Italian vehicles, however, can begin to rival the British Land Rover for production figures, as well over a million Land Rovers have been made since 1948.


Another viewpoint on Alfa history appeared in 2020 in the German financial website Handelsblatt.

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