With Alfa Romeo’s 110th birthday coming on June 24th, the company is rolling out images and archive material that looks back on a storied history. There’s a lot of it, so much so that we decided to break it up into several articles that take a closer look at the individual eras and themes. First up in our own celebration of Alfa Romeo history is the evolution of the badge. As the headline suggests, yes, that’s a serpent eating a man.
Alfa Logo (1910-1915) The official origin story goes back to company’s first days in 1910, when Alfa was spelled in capital letters as an acronym for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (Lombard Automobile Factory, Public Company). According to Alfa Romeo’s press materials:
Romano Cattaneo, one of A.L.F.A.’s designers, was in Piazza Castello waiting for tram number 14. While looking at the iconic Filarete Tower, Cattaneo’s eye was caught by the “Biscione Visconteo,” the coat of arms of the Visconti family, which had dominated medieval Milan. [Colleague and engineer Giuseppe] Merosi liked the idea and after developing different versions, the two friends decided that the most convincing one showed the Biscione dragon on one side and the emblem of the City of Milan, a red cross on a white background, on the other.
There are several theories on where the Visconti serpent/dragon comes from, as we wrote back in 2008:
The symbol appeared on the shield of the Arab leader Voluce, killed by a member of the Visconti family during the crusades. Another holds that the serpent represents a dragon, Tarantasio, which had its lair in a lake that surrounded Milano in the Middle Ages. The dragon had a nasty habit of eating children and cattle, until a Visconti finally had the courage to dispatch it.
The two symbols are bordered in blue, with “ALFA” and “MILANO” at the top and bottom with a some fancy rope in between, which are Savoy knots in tribute to the lineage of the Italian royal family. The original logo was updated in 1913 by changing the lettering to white with a gold surround plus subtle alterations to the knots and serpent.
Alfa Romeo Logo (1918-1925) In 1915, Nicola Romeo took control of the company and added his name to the badge, turning A.L.F.A. into Alfa along the way.
Alfa Romeo Logo (1925-1945) 1925 marked the first World Manufacturer’s Championship for Grand Prix racing, and Alfa-Romeo won the trophy along with victories in the Belgian and Italian Grand Prix. To commemorate the occasion, a laurel wreath was added around the logo until 1945.
Alfa Romeo Logo (1946-1950) World War II left behind a tattered Italy, and the company that made Alfa Romeo logos had a factory in ruins. In the immediate post-war era, Alfa Romeo went to a simpler two-color logo. Because it was short-lived and few cars were made during this period, this is one of the rarest iterations of the badge.
Alfa Romeo Logo (1950-1960) By 1950, mass production resumed and the badge was once again multi-color, with a relatively thinner representation of the laurel wreath. That lasted until 1960, when Alfa Romeo switched from metal to plastic for the emblems. Continuing an ongoing simplification of the design, the scales disappeared from the serpent.
Alfa Romeo Logo (1960-1972) Alfa Romeo opened a factory in Naples in 1971 to build the Alfasud, and thus dropped Milano off the badge along with the hyphen in “Alfa-Romeo” in 1972. In this version the man (or child) being devoured is colored red, making it easy for someone unaware of the logo’s origin to think the serpent is spitting fire or has a three-pronged tongue. The extra twist in the serpent’s body has also disappeared.
Alfa Romeo Logo (1972-1982)
Alfa Romeo Logo (1982-2014) In 1982 the badge was updated one more time, with the lettering and accents changed to gold and the laurel wreath gone.
Alfa Romeo Logo (2015-Current) The last update came in 2015, with the launch of the new Giulia. Like many modern brand logos, the latest is an exercise in minimalism. The border between the Milan and Viconti halves is gone. The serpent takes up more real estate but is chunkier- with two fewer coils to its shape. The crown is now a line with three dots above it, and the background is monochrome with a mesh-like pattern. Even in simplified form, however, Alfa Romeo still shows the the upper torso of that ill-fated human in the dragon’s mouth, a grisly image no other automaker can match.