In the Anglo Saxon world, a green four-leaf clover should call up images of Irish luck (except for their abuse by the English), but by a fourfold twist of fate, this legendary symbol is identified with some of Alfa Romeo’s highest performing Italian models going back to June of 1923.
The origin of this symbol is unknown, but the Italian automaker now owned by Fiat claims an association with the flag that was on the airplanes of the 10th Caproni Bomber Squadron during World War One. The so-called quadrifoglio today is part of the Italian Air Force’s coat of arms, and Alfa bombastically claims it represents – big yawn – the “pursuit of excellence applied to competition,” which allegedly has been “transferred to its production vehicles,” especially high performance models of the 1960s-1980s.
Such marketing hyperventilation aside, some facts are verifiable. The first Alfa Romeo car festooned with the quadrifoglio verde on the hood was Ugo Sivocci’s ‘RL’ long before there was a Japanese car industry, let alone Acura. He won the 14th running of the Targa Florio in 1923. He won after 432 kilometers of the Madonìe Circuit (four laps of 108 km each) at an average of 59.040 km/h, a speed that was fast at the time.
Since then, all of Alfa’s racing cars had the emblem as well as a production Alfa Romeos from the 1960s onwards. Drivers of the Alfa Romeo team almost 100 years ago – including Enzo Ferrari, Antonio Ascari and Giulio Ramponi – adopted the lucky quadrifoglio verde for other races as well.
The quadrifoglio verde was in marked contrast to the dark red color of Brilli Peri’s ‘P2’ when he won the first “World Car Racing Championship” at Monza in 1925, the first of the five world titles that Alfa Romeo won. At the end of the 1920s, the ‘quadrifoglio verde distinguished the Alfa Romeos built by the parent company from the Alfa Romeos with the prancing horse, managed by the Scuderia Ferrari, on the racetrack.
In 1950 and 1951, Giuseppe “Nino” Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio drove the Alfa Romeo 158 and 159 – the celebrated “Alfettas” – to victory in the first two Formula 1 World Championships. Then, in the 1960s, the quadrifoglio verde was the symbol of the ready-to-race versions of the Giulia, the TI Super, and then sat beside the blue Autodelta triangle for a number of decades, from the GTA to the 33 and up to the two World Championships of the 33 TT 12″(1975) and the 33 SC 12 (1977).
Alfa Romeo’s racing carried on in the 1980s: after it returned to F1 in 1980, the successes in racing for touring cars were repeated (GTV 6 2.5) up to the victory in the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Mesterschaft) with the 155 V6 Ti in 1993 and a long series of wins by the 156 Superturismo (1998-2004).
Sadly, for U.S. enthusiasts Alfa’s return to the U.S. is delayed. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has apologized to an organization called One Voice for his quip last January at the North American International Auto Show where he said Alfa Romeo models when re-introduced into North America should have Italian engines. Journalists present laughed it off as being typical of the straight talking executive who uses humor, including self-deprecating humor, to make his points. (Read AutoInformed on Marchionne Apologizes for Being Irreverent)
The alleged slight in the pressure group’s point of view was how the irreverent Marchionne phrased the product development issue that was holding up Alfa Romeo’s return to the U.S. “I won’t put an American engine into that car. With all due respect to my American friends, it needs to be a wop engine,” Marchionne said.
However, I will bet the quadrifoglio Verde will reappear stateside soon.