Once upon a time, two huge “Alfa Romeo – Milano” signs close to the Eur district identified the building which, from 1936 to the early 1990s, was the Biscione's one and only office in Rome: the Branch. Today that building belongs to Roma 3 University, and there's hardly any trace of the almost 60 years of Italian history that went by among its walls.
It all started in 1933, when Alfa Romeo became a controlled of State-owned IRI. Two years later the company was militarized and converted to the production of plane engines and army trucks to support Italy's campaigns in Spain and Ethiopia. In the same period, Alfa Romeo purchased a big plot of land in Rome and built a new branch for the servicing of cars, busses and trucks (especially the army's 350 and 500 lorries), but it was not uncommon to meet fascist party officials at the wheel of their bright red Alfas.
On September 1943, Rome was occupied by the Germans who set up their headquarters there. The Branch worked exclusively for them to prepare Luftwaffe planes and Alfa Romeo RA 1000 RC.41 engines for Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters.
When the German forces retreated north, not only did they take with them engines and lorries but also the skilled personnel of the Branch. “We were deported to the fascist internment camp of Tavernelle, near Perugia. Luckily, we took advantage of the guards' distraction and managed to escape”, remembers Osvaldo Giuliani, with Alfa Romeo from 1942 to 1987, a true veteran of the Branch.
In June 1944, Rome was finally freed but there was no rest for the Branch: English troops took control of the facility to repair the vehicles of the allied forces and the lorries of the Italian army.
Recovery and Racing
After the end of World War II Alfa began to manufacture series-produced cars (like the 1900 and the Giulietta) and Rome became a strategic base.
The Branch supported the entire production of the Milanese car maker (automobiles, industrial vehicles and engines, bus, spare parts, boat engines) and serviced all the vehicles that made up the fleets of Italian Ministries and law enforcement agencies. During Alfa's official racing season (from the end of World War II to the mid 1950s), the Branch also prepared the 1900s for local drivers who competed in the International Touring category, serviced all Alfas stopping in Rome during the 1000 Miglia (including Sanesi's and Fangio's), and upgraded the engines of the 1900 police cars (the so-called “Panthers”) with specially designed camshafts whose technical drawings were jealously kept in a safe.
The “Roman” drivers of the Branch, Sergio Bettoja, Giuseppe Musso (brother of famous Ferrari driver Luigi) and Guido Cestelli Guidi, won many regional and national titles with their 1900 Tis and Ti Supers, including Targa Florio and 1000 Miglia races. In 1955, Guidi became Italian Champion in the Touring 2000 class.
The New Branch
In preparation for the launch of the Giulia, in 1961 the Branch was extended based on a project by Emilio Isotta Fraschini, descendant of the famous car makers, who created a state-of-the-art facility: the bigger garage was equipped with machine tools and car lifts, a new body shop department and a generous spare-part stock. Outside, there was a large depot area for new vehicles and, in 1970, the “Electronic Diagnostics” department was added. In the 1970s, during the dark period of political terrorism called “anni di piombo” (the years of lead), the Branch also prepared armoured Alfetta 2.0s to protect the most prominent politicians, and it wasn't unusual to spot on its premises Alfa's racing cars (like the new Giulia TZs, the 33TT12s and F1 racers) awaiting delivery or engaged in promotional activities. The most prestigious Alfas of the Museum of Arese were also showcased on a rotating basis at the customer entrance. At the time, owning an Alfa was a privilege and quite a few successful football players, entrepreneurs and singers paid frequent visits to the Branch, not to mention the son of an Italian President whose powerful Alfetta was serviced by the engineers of the racing department specially dispatched from Settimo Milanese to take care of his car. From the mid 1970s till 1986 when IRI sold the company to FIAT, the Branch shared Alfa's slow agony.
After the Lingotto took over, in the early 1990s the personnel of the Branch were temporarily relocated to other Fiat Group facilities in Rome to allow renovation works. Unfortunately, they never came back: Fiat suddenly changed its mind and sold the property to Roma 3 University. From 2001, what used to be the Branch is home to the faculty of Literature and Philosophy: the garage now houses classrooms and a big library, the 1960 addition contains offices and meeting rooms, and the wide round hall on the first floor, the ex reception area, is now a Great Hall with 500 seats. Today, no trace is left of the past and of the sixty years of hard work Alfa Romeo's men carried out there. A small token (something as simple as a plate or a picture) would have been enough to commemorate a piece of Italian history definitely worth remembering.
30 August 2013
40ies after 2nd World War: Washing area (Picture L.Giuliani collection)