Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo story is one of both greatness and mediocrity. Though well known to Americans decades ago for its sporty and stylish cars, declining sales eventually led the company to stop importing cars to the United States.

Now, however, Alfa Romeo is set to return stateside for 2014.

Alfa Romeo's history actually started with some French lineage, having initially been founded by French entrepreneur Alexandre Darracq who used Italian investors for capital and based the company in Milan, Italy. Initially debuting as Societa Anonima Italiana Darracq, the company struggled through its first few years. By 1910 a new company debuted under the new name ALFA, which stood for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili. These early Alfas quickly earned a reputation for leading-edge engineering and design, key attributes confirmed by many motor racing victories.

Neapolitan Nicola Romeo took over the company in 1915 and his name was subsequently added to the carmaker's brand. Throughout the 1920s, '30s and '40s, Alfa Romeo produced a number of desirable racing, sports and grand touring automobiles. Enzo Ferrari was a racecar driver for Alfa during the '20s before switching to managing Alfa's race team. He left the company in 1937 and ultimately founded his own sports car company in the mid-'40s. As far as Alfa, the company nearly went broke and was taken over by the government in the early 1930s.

Highlights of that era include the P3, the 8C 2300 and the various 6C models throughout those years. Apart from a production interruption in the mid-'40s due to World War II, this pace continued through the 1950s and '60s, with highlights from these decades being the Giulietta, Giulia and Spider Duetto. The latter, a two-seat roadster that continued into the '90s with minimal changes, gained fame in the states via The Graduate movie that bowed in 1967 and starred a young Dustin Hoffman who drove the sleek sports car. Some two decades later, a less expensive, de-contented version of the Spider called the Graduate was sold alongside the Spider.

The 1970s, '80s and '90s, however were not nearly as glorious in the U.S. Although Alfa Romeo was still turning out stylish sports and grand touring cars such as the Spider, spirited GTV (and later GTV6) sport coupe and luxurious 164 sedan, questionable quality control and iffy reliability doomed sales for the company here. Fiat took over the company in 1986 but that didn't help much. Consequently, Alfa Romeo withdrew from the U.S. market in 1995, though the company was certainly still alive and mostly well in Europe.

Things have improved greatly since then, and a fortified Alfa Romeo briefly reappeared in the states in 2008. That year, 84 examples of its limited-production (just 500 total), Maserati V8-powered 8C sports car were made available. As quickly as it had returned, it disappeared again. However, Alfa is set to return to the states for 2014, this time with more than 84 cars to sell to U.S. fans. This more tangible comeback will happen in grand fashion, as it will herald the arrival of the new 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C, a small, midengine sports car. Incredibly light curb weight (about 2,000 pounds), combined with a feisty, 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a well-balanced chassis all but guarantee thrilling performance. Production of the $70,000-plus road burner will initially be limited to just 1,200 for the U.S. market.

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