Under the Lancia banner, the Fiat Group was one of the first big companies to embrace the Group C class. Although very quick, the Abarth developed, Ferrari powered Lancia LC2 was not able to successfully challenge the Porsches when it counted. Drastic rule changes that came into effect in 1990 inspired the Italian conglomerate to consider a return to sports car racing.
Lancia was fully committed to the World Rally Championship and needless to say Ferrari's complete focus was on Formula 1. This left Alfa Romeo; the latest addition to the Fiat Group. The Milanese manufacturer had last scored international success when the Tipo 33 Group 6 prototype was driven to Sportscar World Championship twice in the 1970s.
Development of the new Group C car's chassis was again entrusted to Abarth. In charge of the design of the 'SE 048SP' was Giuseppe Petrotta, who had just joined Abarth from Osella. The result of his work was a very conventionally shaped prototype with front mounted radiators and covered rear wheels. The Alfa Romeo corporate image was represented by an outline of the familiar grille fitted around the badge on the very tip of the nose.
The most significant change in the regulations was the switch to 3.5 litre, naturally aspirated engines. This effectively was an adaptation of the contemporary Formula 1 engine regulations. Alfa Romeo had a suitable V10 available that was originally developed for the 164 Procar built in the late 1980s. Actually the very first V10 engine built for the 3.5 litre formula, the 'Tipo 1035' produced in excess of 600 bhp.
The little official information that is available on the car insist that the car used the V10 engine. Pictures of SE 048SP with the engine cover removed tell a different story. The completed machine sports a V12, which was most likely supplied by Ferrari. This would make sense as the Ferrari engine was much newer and still actively used. It distinguished itself by the use of five valves per cylinder.
Although at least one car was built, the Alfa Romeo Group C car never left the development phase. It is suggested that the SE 048SP was built sometime in 1990 as it does not feature the more complicated rear wings that were widely used during the 1991 season. There had apparently been talks with Gianpiero Moretti of the Momo Corproration to run the car but nothing came of it and the project was abandoned.
Shrouded in many mysteries, the stillborn racer is currently on display in Alfa Romeo's Museo Storico. It does show signs of usage, so the SE 048SP did see some on-track action. In the Summer of the 2010, the general public will get a rare opportunity to admire the car as it will be brought from Milan to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed, where Alfa Romeo's centenary is celebrated.
I first became aware of this car due to an article in (I think) Auto Italia. It's good to see someone dig it up and publish some descent pics. The car probably wouldn't have been competitive against the Mercedes, Toyotas, and especially the Peugeots, but it would've been nice to see Alfa competing at a high level. Pity...