I quite enjoy vans. And with the recent introduction of European-style vans in North America, it's possibly less surprising to hear that Alfa Romeo had an early history spent building commercial vehicles.
It made great business sense—Europe was still rebuilding after the Second World War—so companies like Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Citroën, Alfa Romeo, DAF, Volvo, Fiat, and others all had at least a utility vehicle or two up their sleeves over the next few decades.
And, in typical Alfa Romeo fashion, their crack at the market featured a strange engineering approach: front-drive with a choice of engines: a twin-cam four-cylinder inline four as you'd get in the much-loved Giulietta (and launched at the same motor show!) or a two-cylinder, supercharged…diesel engine (!!!)
Technically, this vehicle was called the Alfa Romeo Romeo…until only recently upstaged as the worst name ever by the Ferrari La Ferrari.
Really, it was the Alfa Romeo T10 "Autotutto." Autotutto means "all purpose," so like the origins of Jeep, the Alfa van had a suitable name. You should also know that between 1954 and 1966, there were three Romeos—Romeo, Romeo 2, and Romeo 3. All were of the T10 variant.
What makes information on them so hard to digest is that the models also enjoyed heavy coachbuilding support. Metalmaking firms produced many bodies on the basic platform—a VW-like multi-window'd versions, school buses, ambulances, drop-side trucks, hearses, mobile cranes, etc.
Much of why I wanted to write about the Romeo is because of the incredible romeoregister.com. A fantastic read, it seems to be a great source for information on these vehicles.
Describing the appeal of the vans, the register says, "Maybe it is the concept of a van powered by a twin cam motor, or the advanced design concept–compare the Romeo with the then current equivalent offerings of Ford or Austin."
Design was rather interesting. Besides the Alfa Romeo styling cues—and those front suicide doors—it looked much like a normal van. But its front-drive platform allowed Italy's talented coachbuilders to easily modify them without many mechanical changes, and allowed for a very low load height: two things rear-engined vans from VW and Chevrolet (the Corvair Greenbriar) couldn't match.
Here's two sad Romeo facts: First, romeoregister.com says there are only an estimated 30-100 examples left of the original 23,000-strong production run between 1954-1966. Typical classic car issues concerning rust, combined with their heavily-used nature as utility vehicles, conspired to send most of them to an early grave.
Second, according to alfastop.co.uk, there are no surviving diesel versions. Even though the engine was apparently quite terrible, it'd be like waking up and realizing that every single copy of Battlefield Earth had been wiped from the planet.
Even though it's crap, we should at least keep one.
Alfa Romeo still continued to build vans, though. The F12/A12 and F11/A11 models were produced from 1967-1983. A version was even rebadged as the Nissan Trade—and built in Spain, of all places—one of the most obscure rebadging examples I've heard of.
Wait a second, could Alfa Romeo have really built wackier vans than the French?
But that's a story for another day.
Sources / Recommended reading
- Alfa Romeo A10 "Autotutto": romeoregister.com, alfastop.co.uk, BW Garage, Vintage Italian newsreel, Wikipedia, IMDB
- Classic Alfa Romeo models: Wikipedia, alfastop.co.uk
- Alfa Romeo F12/A12 and F11/A11: YouTube
- Alfa Romeo commercial vehicles: trucksplanet.com
- Volkswagen Type-2: Wikipedia
- Chevrolet Corvair Greenbriar: Wikipedia
- Battlesfield Earth: Rotten Tomatoes