Alfa Romeo Takes 1st Place in the Best Car Logos of All Time
For me, Alfa Romeo’s logo has to be the best of all time. I love everything that’s going on, the colour scheme, the fact it has a red cross next to a snake eating a man. It’s just cool, period.
“Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company” or Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili in Italian, (A.L.F.A. to us) was founded on 24th June 1910. A logo was chosen soon after that hasn’t changed much in the following 112 years. I was slightly bewildered and keen to find out why this Italian company had chosen to place a St. George’s flag next to a man eating snake. These answers were found, plus more revealing facts, in my extensive research of the history of the Alfa Romeo emblem.
One might assume the snake was an allegoric representation of the snaky move made by the business entrepreneurs who swept in to take over the failing French car maker Darracq. The group formed A.L.F.A and snapped up all of Darracq’s workshops in Italy and began work on their own car company.
Designer Romano Cattaneo came up with the idea for the logo whilst waiting for the number 14 tram. The tram stop was in the Piazza Castello in central Milan, across the road from the Filarete Tower. While looking at the iconic Tower, Cattaneo’s eye was caught by the “Biscione Visconteo”. This is the coat of arms of Milan and was the coat of arms of the Visconti family, the rulers of Milan in medieval times.
Biscione translated means “grass snake,” and the icon is association with Milan most probably from a bronzed serpent souvenir, which was brought to the city by Arnolf II of Arsago, from Constantinople. He served as the archbishop of Milan between 998 and 1018. Unsurprisingly, the red cross has nothing to do with St. George’s Cross – it actually represents Milan’s official flag. These striking elements have gone on to define all nine Alfa logos.
The first design of any logo is usually the simplest and most pure. It clearly shows the Biscione eating a human, believed to be a child or perhaps an Ottoman Turk or Moor. The snake is distinguished by the crown worn on its head, separating this official Milanese symbol from the snake on the Visconti family’s coat of arms. The words ALFA and MILANO are separated by “Savoy Knots,” a two figure-eight symbol of the royal House of Savoy, which unified Italy in 1861.
The banks holding A.L.F.A.’s debt at this time, when the first World War was erupting, entrusted the running of the A.L.F.A to Nicola Romeo, an entrepreneur from Naples. To help keep the company afloat, their Portello (ex-Darracq) factory created ammunition, compressors, and aircraft engines. When car production resumed, the company was renamed Alfa-Romeo, with the logo updated accordingly, designed with a more linear font.
Between the ends of both World Wars the logo evolved to display the traditional symbol set within a golden laurel-leaf crown. This change was to celebrate the Alfa P2’s victory in the first World Racing Car Championship. Antonio Ascari drove the A.L.F.A to victory in two of the four championship races – the European Grand Prix at Spa and Gastone Brilli-Peri and clinching the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, after the fatal crash of Ascari. In between, he also led the French Grand Prix at Montlhéry.
As the Italian monarchy fell, the Imperial knots were replaced with two wavy lines. More significantly, This revision was more significantly impacted by the wartime bombing that severely damaged the whole of the Italian industrial base, which included the supplier of Alfa’s multi-coloured logo badges. This meant that the design was greatly simplified and became easier to manufacture in two-tone gold on red. The golden laurel wreath frame was less elaborate and its smoother, fatter serpent featured fewer coils. The person the snake’s devouring had its position moved too. It was the most dramatic redesign in Alfa history, and it was also the briefest.
It was in 1950 that Giuseppe “Nino” Farina claimed the title in the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship. He drove to victory in the Alfa Romeo Tipo 158, aka “Alfetta.” The full-colour logo returned with a silver surround as part of the celebration. Alfa didn’t have to wait long before winning again, with Juan Manuel Fangio taking victory in 1951. He excelled in a Tipo 159 powered by a 1.5-litre, 425-hp supercharged straight-eight engine, enabling it to hit 190 mph. This came at a cost though, guzzling methanol at an alarming rate (1.2 mpg!) The following year Alfa withdrew from Formula 1, concentrating their time and effort on profitable mass-production cars like the 1900.
The design was simplified by removing the elaborate scale texture of the serpent’s body, the human’s musculature, and the blue surround’s wavy texture. These were all smoothed out, with the gold outline of the the cross and serpent more pronounced.
The wavy lines and the word “Milano” being dropped was of great significance in this redesign. It was a consequence in recognition of Alfa’s corporate expansion, at a time when their reach went beyond the Milan environs. This included a huge new plant in Pomigliano d’Arco, close to Naples, which was built to construct a new prototype test track at Balocco in the Piedmont region, and the new Alfasud compact.
To date this stands as Alfa’s longest-lived logo design, and you can see why.
This revision of the design continued the graphic simplification that had began with the previous design. Gone is the silver, laurel-wreath frame around the logo, and the typeface was changed to a simpler Futura font.
This final redesign came from the hands of Robilant Associati of Milan, who tweaks the font again and removes the division bar that separated the cross and the snake. This allowed the snake to expand and it features one less zigzag. This opens up more background space, most noticeably beneath the human, now no longer tight against the snake’s skin. The two former backgrounds changed from blue and white to a single silver textured field.
Which one of these 9 designs is your favourite? More importantly, which car logo do you think is the best of all time? Are you in agreement with my choice of the Alfa Romeo emblem, or am I way off? Share your thoughts here or on My Car Heaven’s social feeds.
I particularly like the emblem’s from 1947 to 1972, super cool.
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