From Fellini’s 8½, Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, François Truffaut’s L’homme qui aimait les femmes, Joseph Mankiewicz’s La Comtesse aux pieds nues, to Antonioni’s Eclipse, Alfa Romeo has long enjoyed a love story with the so-called “7th art,” cinema.
It almost feels like the setting of an Italian criminal story of the late ’70s when I land on a gloomy winter morning, with Raffaella Quaquaro, head of press of The Historical Alfa Romeo Museum waiting for me at the Milan airport. She’s standing beside her like-new red Alfetta, which is a shock of color in the mist. It’s dawn.
We drive through the Po Valley’s typical flat and vaporous landscape before arriving at the Alfa Romeo factory, where the museum is located. It’s only at the last turning point that the huge red Alfa Romeo logo pops out of the grey.
Raffaella explains that the museum, which recently celebrated its 105th anniversary, reopened to the public in June 2015 after several years of closure—and it has already been nominated one of the ten most beautiful Italian car museums. For good reason: it’s home to significant pieces of Alfa Romeo’s collection, which has been growing since the ’60s. It was inaugurated in 1976, and open to visitors by reservation only.
It’s much different now: as part of Alfa Romeo’s global relaunch plan, the Museum in Arese—a symbolic location for the company’s history—has been identified as the fulcrum of the brand’s rebirth.
The display exhibits 69 models which most marked not just the development of the brand, but the very history of the automobile itself. From the very first A.L.F.A. car—the 24 HP—to the legendary Mille Miglia winners such as the 6C 1750 Gran Sport driven by Tazio Nuvolari. Other notable cars include an 8C by Touring, the Gran Premio 159 “Alfetta 159” driven by Juan Manuel Fangio, and many beautiful examples of the company’s more mundane models. Giuliettas, its ’50s cars, and the fearsome 33TT12 sports racing car all feature prominently.
The very essence of the brand has been condensed and displayed into three principles: “Timeline”, which represents industrial continuity; “Beauty”, which teams style with design; and “Speed”, referring to technology and light weight. Each principle is given its own floor.
You’re able to watch films in the cinema section, with screenings of some of the great movies where Alfa Romeos are featured.
One of the most exciting part for those who love greasy hands is the workshop—not accessible to public—where some very unique models are being restored. I had the chance to observe old sketches and breath the unmistakable air of a garage that has seen some of the most amazing people and cars walking through its hallways.
Today, it’s my lucky day: the museum is hosting the annual Registro Italiano Alfa Romeo reunion, giving me a very interesting walk though time just in the parking lot.
The museum itself is the original one, and its architecture is one of the reasons why it has kept this timeless sensation. It reminds me of Antonioni’s Eclipse, or Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, with its industrial retro-futuristic feeling. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a drive test racetrack, a café, a bookshop, and a 4D theater where you can do some racing games.
While leaving the museum, the last vision in my mind is a fabulous vanilla-colored 1977 Montreal, half covered by fog in the parking lot—a sight I won’t soon forget.