At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Nicola Romeo - car maker

Engineer used profits from military trucks to launch famous marque


Nicola Romeo bought the car manufacturer Alfa of Milan in 1915
Nicola Romeo bought the car manufacturer
Alfa of Milan in 1915
Nicola Romeo, the entrepreneur and engineer who founded Alfa Romeo cars, was born on this day in 1876 in Sant’Antimo, a town in Campania just outside Naples.

The company, which became one of the most famous names in the Italian car industry, was launched after Romeo purchased the Milan automobile manufacturer ALFA - Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili.

After making substantial profits from building military trucks in the company’s Portello plant during the First World War, in peacetime Romeo switched his attention to making cars. The first Alfa Romeo came off the production line in 1921.

The cars made a major impact in motor racing, mainly thanks to the astuteness of Romeo in hiring the the up-and-coming Enzo Ferrari to run his racing team, and the Fiat engineer Vittorio Jano to build his cars.  Away from the track, the Alfa Romeo name sat on the front rank of the luxury car market.

Romeo’s parents, originally from an area known as Lucania that is now part of the Basilicata region, were not wealthy but Nicola was able to attend what was then Naples Polytechnic – now the Federico II University – to study engineering.

Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of an Alfa during his driving days in 1920
Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of an Alfa
during his driving days in 1920
He left Italy to work abroad at first, obtaining a second degree Рin electrical engineering Рin Li̬ge, Belgium. In 1911 he returned to Italy and set up his first company, manufacturing machines and equipment for the mining industry.

With success in that market, Romeo was keen to expand. He acquired a majority stake in Alfa in 1915, taking full ownership three years later.

As Italy entered the First World War, Italy had a desperate need for military hardware and Romeo converted and enlarged his new factory specifically to meet this demand. Munitions, aircraft engines and other components, compressors, and generators based on the company's existing car engines were produced.

It made a great deal of money for Romeo, who in the post-war years invested his profits in buying locomotive and railway carriage plants in Saronno – north-west of Milan – Rome and Naples.

He did not consider car production at first but the Portello factory had come with 105 cars awaiting completion and in 1919 he decided that, subject to certain modifications, he was happy to finish the building of these vehicles. In 1920, he rebranded the company Alfa Romeo.  The first car to carry the new badge was the 1921 Torpedo 20-30 HP.

Romeo wanted his company to rival Fiat and was particularly astute in recognising talented individuals who would take the brand forward and establish Alfa Romeo's long-term credibility.

Antonio Ascari won the first Grand Prix world title driving the Vittorio Jano-designed Alfa Romeo P2
Antonio Ascari won the first Grand Prix world title
driving the Vittorio Jano-designed Alfa Romeo P2
He retained Alfa’s chief engineer, the talented Giuseppe Merosi, and encouraged a youthful Enzo Ferrari to join the company, soon putting him in charge of his new works racing team and its star drivers Antonio Ascari, Giuseppe Campari and Ugo Sivocci.

When Merosi left to take up a position in France, Romeo pulled off a major coup, sending Ferrari to cajole the Fiat engineer Vittorio Jano to jump ship. The Jano-designed engines propelled Alfa Romeo to the pinnacle of success in motor racing, his P2 car winning the four-race series for the first Grand Prix world championship in 1925.

Jano's first production car, the 6C 1500, was launched in 1927, but Romeo’s personal role in Alfa Romeo ended in 1928.

Some bad investments following the collapse of its major investor, the Banca Italiana di Sconto, had left the company close to going bust.  Under boardroom pressure to quit, Romeo at first accepted a figurehead role as president but then decided to sever his links altogether.

Married to Angelina Valadin, a Portuguese opera singer and pianist, he was the father of seven children. He died in 1938 at his home in Magreglio, a village overlooking Lake Como, at the age of 62.

An Alfa Romeo 20-30 at the Alfa Romeo museum at Arese, about 15km north-west of Milan
An Alfa Romeo 20-30 at the Alfa Romeo museum at
Arese, about 15km north-west of Milan
Luckily for the company, it was kept in business initially by the Italian government after Mussolini decided to promote Alfa Romeo as an Italian national emblem and used it to build bespoke cars for the wealthy, the sleek 2900B being a prime example.

After the Second World War, Alfa Romeo continued its success on the racing circuit, too, with Giuseppe Farina and the Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio winning the first two Formula One world titles, in 1950 and 1951, driving the famous Alfetta 158/159.

The marque’s iconic status was further strengthened in the 1960s when both the Italian state police and the quasi-military Carabinieri stocked their fleets with Alfa Romeo cars.

The Church of Madonna del Ghisallo at Mareglio
The Church of Madonna del Ghisallo at Magreglio
Travel tip:

Magreglio, where Romeo was living at the time of his death, is a village perched on a hill overlooking the south-eastern fork of Lake Como, is famous for its association with cycling, thanks to the nearby Ghisallo hill, which has been long established on the route of the Giro di Lombardia cycle race and has often featured in the Giro d’Italia. The Madonna del Ghisallo was adopted in 1949 as the patron saint of cycling and the church of the same name now contains a small museum dedicated to competitive cycling and an eternal flame burns for cyclists who have died in competition.

Expedia's top hotels in Magreglio

Travel tip:

Almost 70 years after his death and on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of his birth, Naples dedicated a street to the memory of Nicola Romeo, called Via Nicola Romeo, which can be found in the Lauro district of the city, above Mergellina and not far from the Stadio San Paolo, home of Napoli football club.

Let TripAdvisor help you select a Naples hotel

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