Model history: Shortly after World War Two was over, Alfa Romeo realised the world had changed considerably, and that they had to change accordingly to have a chance of surviving. There no longer was a sufficient demand for the high performance and above all expensive six and eight cylinders Alfa Romeo proudly produced in the 1930s. A new, more affordable car was needed to appeal to a broader audience. To bridge the gap until the new '1900 Berlina' was ready, the Italian manufacturer continued to offer the opulent 6C 2500 for a few more years.
Well aware of the company's excellent reputation, Alfa's head engineer Orazio Satta ensured that the more affordable car was not a step backwards, but in fact a major step forward. Doing away with the traditional separate body and chassis configuration, they developed a unitary construction with the body doubling as a chassis and carrying all the mechanicals. This made mass production a lot easier and did not hamper the performance or handling of the car. It did however took away the ability for custom coach-builders to work their magic on the new Alfa.
Although sporting only four cylinders, the new 1884 cc engine was also not a departure from the Alfa Romeo tradition. Like its predecessors the new engine featured dual overhead camshafts. Despite its modest size, the free revving engine produced 90 bhp, matching the performance of the considerably larger six cylinder engines in the 6C 2500. The new engine was mated to a four speed gearbox, operated by a steering-column mounted lever. The compact power-plant was installed longitudinally in the chassis and drove the rear wheels.
Knowing that this design would be used for the entire production run, the Alfa Romeo designers spent many hours in the wind tunnel to perfect the 1900's shape. The result was an understated and elegant design. Two years in the making, the Alfa Romeo 1900 Berlina debuted in 1950. The first 'modern' Alfa could carry six passengers and was an immediate hit. Between 1950 and 1954 over 7400 examples of the 'basic' version were produced, making it the best selling model up to that date for the Milanese company.
For a moment it looked like Alfa Romeo had gone all sensible, but in 1951 they introduced the more powerful TI and the shorter Super versions. These were constructed in a way that they could easily be modified by coach-builders like Touring, Pinin Farina and Ghia. The bodies fitted ranged from luxurious two seaters to spartan racing cars, which proved very successful in the popular two litre racing class. In 1954, the range was revitalised with the introduction of a slightly larger and even more powerful engine. The ultimate version was the Super Sprint, which packed a 115 bhp engine.
It is safe to say that Alfa Romeo's timely switch of policy to appeal to a broader audience has ensured the company's survival. Alfa Romeo's old rivals Talbot Lago and Delahaye did not readjust and neither made it through the difficult 1950s. The 1900 was not only instrumental in Alfa's survival, it also formed the basis for some of the era's finest and extravagant designs. These ranged from the elegant Touring and Pinin Farina Coupes, to the race winning Zagato Coupes, to Bertone's three BATs.
Featured is an early TI chassis equipped with a special Pinin Farina built body. There were plans to do a limited production run, but the only one or two were ever built. Owned by an Italian collector with a keen interest in one-off Italian coachwork, it is seen here at the 2007 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este.