Most people consider Alfa Romeo's "Golden Era" as something far away in the mists of time, like fifty or sixty years ago. But it all depends on how you define a "Golden Era" in the first place.
If what makes Alfa Romeo's "Golden Years" is a complete range of competitive models selling in record numbers and an active and successful presence in motorsport... Well, I'd say the late 1990s and early 2000s deserve consideration as Alfa's finest hour.
And a special 156, belonging to the prestigious "Scuderia Del Portello," is one hell of a throwback to those great days. It is an Alfa Romeo 156 "Super Production" racer, the last factory-supported Alfa to race in the legendary Nurburgring 24h, back in 2003.
Super Production was a short-lived category that tried to strike a middle ground between the basic Group N and the full-fat Super Touring class to reduce costs and complexity. It's worth mentioning at this point that the "Scuderia Del Portello" actually won the Italian Super Production championship in 2001.
One look at the roll cage inside this 156 is enough to dispel any doubts that this is a proper race machine, built with first-rate components supplied by Alfa Corse/N-Technology. This structure goes far beyond mere crash safety, and it's designed to become a genuine structural member, multiplying the torsional rigidity of the base bodyshell.
may look remarkably like the usual two liters Twin Spark 16v we know and love, yet this bad boy actually produces around 215/220 HP
Inside, the dash top is pretty much the only element left from the road-going 156, and I have to say the gear lever mechanism looks like a beautiful mechanical sculpture in itself. It was supplied by the Italian company Bacci, renowned for its racing transmissions since the 1970s. The same company supplied the 5-speed gearbox's internals, which uses unsynchronized straight-cut gears. However, it's not a sequential gearbox, as it retains the usual h-pattern for gear selection.
The gearing currently installed allows a top speed of about 210 Km/h, similar to the road car and plenty enough for most circuits.
Under the hood, two elements immediately caught my attention: the massive strut brace connecting the suspension turrets and the super-touring style cold air intake. The engine, built by the well-known Italian racing outfit Autotecnica, may look remarkably like the usual two liters Twin Spark 16v we know and love, yet this bad boy actually produces around 215/220 HP in this configuration. I wish we could fire it up and hear it sing, but I guess the neighbors wouldn't have been happy about that!
The Scuderia's staff mentioned that this 156 should have been one of three built for a racing program in Japan. However, that plan was eventually canceled, and this 156 was then explicitly prepared for the Nurburgring 24 Hours and shipped to the legendary Nordschleife after testing at Alfa's Balocco proving ground.
This 156's endurance racing heritage is evident in a few details, like the light on the front doors to illuminate the car's number during the night and the long-range fuel cell that fills up through this double intake on the right-hand side.
Unfortunately, the 2003 edition of the classic endurance race wasn't a lucky one for the Scuderia, as a racing incident forced this 156 to retire about 20 hours into the race. However, this beautiful 156 is now in beautiful condition and ready to race in the hands of its future owner...