The very first car to wear the "Alfa Romeo" name tag is touring Australia to celebrate the 100th birthday of Alfa Romeo and it will be seen on the race track, at the Australian Grand Prix, in leading museums and amongst Australia’s Italian community in the coming months. 

The Alfa Romeo G1, which is owned by the Australian Alfa Romeo importer, is the only one in the world and marks a highly significant point in the company’s unique history when the company was taken over by Nicola Romeo and the company that had, until this point known as A.L.F.A (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) became Alfa Romeo.

The Alfa Romeo G1 started its birthday year in the National Motor Museum in South Australia, but, as an Alfa Romeo, it has to see a race track and its appearances will start next weekend (13-14 March 2010) in Victoria when it appears at the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Australia annual event at Phillip Island. The following weekend (19-21 March) the G1 will be back at Phillip Island for the Classic Festival of Speed. Alfa Romeo is the ‘Marque of Honour’ at this year’s event and the Alfa G1 will be part of a unique historic display of Alfa Romeo’s finest racing and road cars.

On Wednesday 24 March the Alfa Romeo G1 will join more than 120 classic cars on display in Argyle Square, Carlton from 09.00 to 15.00. At the end of the display the cars will leave as a group and drive in a parade to Albert Park. At the Qantas F1 Australian Grand Prix, the Alfa Romeo G1 will be one of 43 classic and historic Italian racing and road-going cars that will be on display in a marquee celebrating 100 years of Alfa Romeo and it will join a much more select group of cars that will take part in events on the track during the Grand Prix weekend. In between these events in Victoria, the Alfa Romeo G1 will be on display at Zagame Alfa Romeo in King Street, West Melbourne amongst its latest descendents, the Alfa Romeo Mito, 147, 159, Brera and Spider. Following the Victorian leg of its Australian 100th Anniversary Tour, the Alfa Romeo G1 will be attending events and will be on display in New South Wales and Queensland later in the year and it will be centerpiece of celebrations on 24 June, the 100th Anniversary of the founding of ALFA.

Designed by Giuseppe Merosi, the Alfa Romeo G1 was in production from 1921 to 1923 and its single most important innovation was its new 6.3 litre six cylinder engine which produced 52 kW and gave the G1 a 138 kmh top speed. Although designed as an Italian rival for Rolls Royce, it was also used in motorsport, winning the Coppa de Garda. But it was launched into difficult economic period of rising fuel prices and its 6.3 litre engine also proved to handicap, limiting sales to just 52 examples, but it provided the basis for its successor, the ALFA Romeo RL, which won races and sold 2640 units.

The history of the last remaining Alfa Romeo G1 is as colourful as the company that give birth it. Chassis 6018 was imported new into Australia in 1921 and was sold, for £850, to a Queensland businessman who, soon afterwards, was declared bankrupt. Since he had seen his crash coming, he hid the car to keep it out of the hands of his creditors. Then, three years on, he had the misfortune to die and the G1 remained hidden for 25 years, apparently holding up one corner of a shed in the Queensland outback. Then it was discovered by a couple of young jackaroos who decided it would make a fine ‘paddock bomb’ for rounding up cattle, chasing kangaroos and all the stuff that blokes do on farms.  Eventually they managed to hit a tree and the damaged car was towed back to the farm where it was used to power a water pump.  With its massive torque at low engine speed, it was ideal for the job and the work ensured that the engine remained in excellent condition even if the rest of the car was brutalised.

In 1964 it was retired from pump duty and rescued by Alfa Romeo enthusiasts. The following year the car was bought by Ross Flewell-Smith who, against the advice of some experts who thought the car unrestorable, began to rebuild it, an exercise that took ten years.  In this Herculean task he was helped by the fact that he discovered a second G1, a wreck, which supplied many of the parts that were missing. Most of the body was missing and, after experimenting with various styles, Flewell-Smith took advice from Luigi Fusi who was then curator of Alfa Romeo’s museum. Flewell-Sinith’s rebuild was good enough to win the 1977 Queensland Vintage Car Concours and to win the 1978 Australian Mile Miglia memorial run.  In an historic race at Lakeside it was clocked at 86 mph, remarkable performance for a 1921 car, so remarkable, in fact, it was black-flagged for being so quick!

In 1995, Flewell-Smith sold this car he had nicknamed ‘Milly’ from the ‘Milan’ on the engine black, to Julian Sterling who commissioned a restoration to his own exacting standards. All worn parts were replaced with specially-made components built regardless of cost. New tyres were supplied by Michelin, made from the original 1920s moulds, costing $6,000 for the set. The restoration was undertaken up to a standard, not down to a price, and the work was described in the 1998 edition of the Classic Car Yearbook as ‘breathtaking’.

Following a rationalisation of Julian Sterling’s car collection, the car was bought by Neville Crichton, the governing director of the new Australian Alfa Romeo importer, Ateco Automotive Pty Ltd. Following his purchase of the Alfa Romeo G1, Neville Crichton undertook a full restoration of the G1 to return it to full running order. The quality of this restoration was rewarded in 2005 when the car was entered under stewardship of Australia’s leading classic car journalist, David Berthon, in the World’s most important classic car event, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elgance and the Third in Class Trophy, beating more than 60 classic Alfa Romeos from around the world, including seven cars entered by Alfa Romeo’s own museum. Following his success in classic car events in Australia and the USA with the G1, David Berthon will be campaigning the car during its 2010 100th Anniversary tour. When it is not taking part in classic car events and museum displays, the Alfa Romeo G1 is on display at Ateco’s new headquarters in the Sydney suburb of Waterloo.

© 2010 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed