Five world titles, the first two Formula 1 championships in history, 11 Mille Miglia, 10 Targa Florio, hundreds of other triumphs in the Sport and Tourism categories: Alfa Romeo’s sporting history on the road and on the track is well known. What is less well known is another page in this history, the one it wrote on water. In fact, the technologies and innovations developed by Alfa Romeo were also used in motorboating, a sport as exciting as car racing and capable of enthralling the public. From the 1920s to the 1980s, Alfa Romeo was among the absolute protagonists in this field as well. Aeronautical and automobile engines were adapted for marine use, both production and racing, derived not only from the legendary Alfette during and after their automotive careers, but also from the Giulietta, Giulia GTA, Montreal, 2600 and others. Among records and world, European and Italian titles in the various classes, Alfa Romeo won on the water almost as much as on the track and on the road.
In the year of the brand’s 110th anniversary, the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese pays tribute to this less known chapter in history with an exhibition entitled «Cavalli Marini» (Sea Horses), a quotation from an article published on the journal Quadrifoglio in 1973. The exhibition, which will remain open from 17 October 2020 to 21 February 2021, is an extraordinary opportunity to discover the ‘other life’ of the Biscione’s engines, from competitions to public transport, from military vehicles to the motor trawlers used after the Second World War to supply the corporate canteens.
Records and more
A brand historically bound to the world of racing, Alfa Romeo has a rich list of achievements to show also in motorboating. 9 of the 10 vessels on display in this exhibition (the tenth is a pleasure boat) alone can boast as many as 11 world records, 6 world championships, 7 European championships and 9 Italian championships, and 5 Coni gold medals. The exhibition traces the history of all the types of engines that prevailed in motorboating: from the legendary Alfetta to the various declinations of the twin shaft, up until the Montreal and the Tipo 33.
The “three lives” of the Alfetta
In the field of motorboating, the engines, which were adapted for marine use, were often yielded exclusively for temporary use and managed on the racing fields directly by the Alfa Romeo racing department. This was the case, for instance, of the Alfetta engines. Thus, the exhibition is the occasion for a historic comeback : the encounter between Arno II – a streamlined monohull built by Picchiotti shipyards in Viareggio in 1946 and specifically restored, after 70 years, for this exhibition – and the engine that powered it at the time, originally conceived for the Alfetta 158. An engine which, when it brought Alfa Romeo its first Formula 1 victory in history in 1950, had already won three world championships on the water, conquered an Italian title, broken the world speed record and much more, with Achille Castoldi as driver.
Precisely Castoldi had obtained the exclusive use of the 158 engine in motorboat competitions since 1938. And, in 1943, he was the one who saved some of the Alfettas by hiding them on his farm in Abbategrasso, sheltered from the bombings and war requisitions.
The Arno II racer was even captained by Achille Varzi, who was able to climb onto the podium of the Luino Cup in 1948. In late 1949, when the revolutionary ‘three points’ were introduced, the Arno II was put to rest, without engine, and never used again. But the engine certainly did not retire: in its road version it won the first two titles in Formula 1 history, in 1950 with Nino Farina and then in 1951 with Juan Manuel Fangio.
When, the following year, Alfra Romeo retired from F1, a new, extraordinary adventure was lying in wait for the Alfetta engine. Laura 1°, Moschettiere, Tamiri, Laura 3° – the latter even powered by two Alfetta engines connected in line – wrote memorable pages in sports history, with aces like Mario Verga, Ezio Selva and Castoldi himself, who accumulated racing victories as well as speed records.
Parade of World Champions
The exhibition also includes other vessels with an impressive track record: the Loustic 2, an LV-1300 class inboard-racer built by the Celli shipyard in Venice and powered by the 1300 cc engine of the Giulietta AR530. In 1964, it won three world titles in the 5, 10 and 15 mile races in its class.
Then there is the Molinari-Alfa Romeo 2500, the only existing vehicle of its kind, which won the world title in 1966. Built for the motorboat driver from the Agusta Fortunato Libanori team, its bodywork is made in aeronautical aluminium alloy produced by the Agusta Helicopters department. As a tribute to the collaboration with this sector, the tail flaunts the colours of Alitalia’s airliners.
And then, the hull “Dalla Pietà – Alfa Romeo” which won 3 European and two Italian titles in the European Runabouts / Inboard sport category between 1968 and 1970. A unique example, it was built for Luigi Raineri, a famous tuner of Alfa Romeo marine racing engines.
Also on display is “Molivio – Alfa Romeo GTA”, captained by Leopoldo Casanova, driver and recordman of inboard vessels powered by Alfa Romeo Autodelta engines: between 1968 and 1972, he won one European title, 4 Italian titles, and broke the world speed record four times in 3 different classes.
The “Celli” from 1970 is the first of the 4 2500 racers powered by the Montreal-Autodelta marine engine. It was steered by Antonio Pietrobelli, a famous driver and winner for more than 10 years of Italian, European and world titles in track races.
The series of racing motorboats is completed by a racer built by the Lucini shipyards in Como for Franco Cantando, winner of the R3 world record in 1974 and world champion the following year. Finally, there is the “Popoli-Alfa Romeo” from the Alfa Romeo Museum Collection. With this hull and Type 33 engine, which had been taken to two and a half litres by Autodelta, Leopoldo Casanova set the world speed record in the KC 500 KG class, which remains unbeaten to date, at an average speed of 225,145 km/h.
From explosive punts to Venetian boats and pleasure boats
The history written by Alfa Romeo on water is not only made up of races and records, but includes much more. Bearing witness to the use of the Biscione’s engines in the field of tourism is the “Glauco”, an extremely rare traditional Vidoli di Stresa pleasure monohull from 1932, exceptionally powered by an equally rare 6C 1750 engine. It was the typical tourism boat for the wealthy families of the time and comes from the collection of the Lariana Boat Museum.
The victories, the challenges, but also the history of Venice’s vaporetti powered by Alfa Romeo, or of the infamous “explosive punts” used during the Second World War are told in the exhibition by means of unique scale models, historical images and a rich collection of objects and documents.
The exhibition, which boasts the generous participation of some of the most important international collections and of the Museo Barca Lariana – Lake Como International Museum of Vintage Boats, and is sponsored by the Federazione Italiana Motonautica-Coni, can be visited during the Museum’s opening days and hours (Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm). The cost is included in the entrance ticket.