Not far from the Gianicolo, one of Rome's most suggestive areas, for over 35 years there has been a very special Alfa Romeo garage: the one of Franco Angelini, a legendary name for Roman "alfisti".
To go and meet him I face the chaotic capitoline traffic: moving slowly along the Tiber embankment, the Tiber island, ancient sites full of history. I arrive in Trastevere, where the last genuine Romans are found, then up along the "Gianicolense". In the distance I spot a large Alfa Romeo sign: here I am.
I am greeted by a big, clean and tidy workshop, with a "perfume" of engines. By the entrance I notice the engine testing room. Then many Alfas. In the background I see the workbenches for the more sophisticated work. There are also some racing engines ready to be shipped overseas. Nearby, on an auto lift, I see a red and white Giulia GTA. One of those which in the Sixties contributed to establishing Angelini's reputation.
Here he comes. Cordially he leads me to his office where, surrounded by loads of photographs and trophies recalling the victories of his Alfas, the interview begins.
Angelini, how did your long experience with Alfa Romeos begin?
"I chose the Milan firm because of the experience accrued with motorcycles: Mondial, where I had worked, used to make twin-cam engines.
In those days the only equivalent in the automotive sector was Alfa Romeo, always on the cutting edge in the field of engines. In 1956 I started with the Giulietta TI to then continue with the Giulia TZ and Sprint GTA"..
The authoritative encyclopaedia "Milleruote" (ed. Quattroruote-DeAgostini 1973 - editor's note.) reads: "Angelini Franco.
Roman engine tuner, has distinguished himself, since 1962, for the tuning of Alfa Romeo race and touring cars". Angelini, how do you recall those days?
“Everything was home-made, with the exception of pistons and valves, for which we supplied drawings to the manufacturers.
For the heads, we used to modify those available at Alfa Romeo, supplied as “special spareparts”.
Some technical draughtsmen, graduates in engineering, helped me, designing what I prepared.
His activity developed also in the production of racing engines, almost all of Alfa Romeo derivation. Which were the most important engines?
“We made engines for F.2 and F.3 cars; for the Sport and Touring championships and also for rallies.
In 1972 for the GTA I made a 16 valve fuel injected engine in 1.3 and 2 litre versions. Then, in 1978, came the 16 valve head for GTA Gruppo 5 (category in which Angelini could unleash his imagination with fundamental interventions both on the mechanics and on the bodywork – editor’s note). and for the Sport 1300 and 1600 such as AMS and Chevron.
Furthermore, in 1980, for the F.2 I made a new 90° V6 2 litre engine, with 24 valves and dry sump”.
In the first half of the 1960s, Alfa Romeo founded Autodelta.
How was your relationship with the racing department of Settimo Milanese?
On the racetrack we were one against the other. Initially, the supplies of special Autodelta spare parts went on normally.
Then our relationship soured because of the rivalry on the circuit. I was then forced to make what I needed for the tuning on my own.
Nevertheless mine was the only licensed Autodelta garage in Italy, thanks to the support of Alfa Romeo’s chairman at the time, Giuseppe Luraghi.
At one point I was even invited to enter my cars in competitions under the Autodelta brand name –continues Angelini- but I did not accept.
In hindsight I can say this was the greatest mistake of my life!”
And of ingegner Chiti (the general manager of Autodelta at the time- editor's note) what can you tell me?
"With him I was always on good terms, at least formally.
He was a genius in mechanics and at the same time an egocentric: he followed personally the whole assemblying of cars, without delegating much responsibility to his collaborators.
If he could have, he would have built each car on his own!
Such an attitude often caused problems at Autodelta: in the F.1 team for example, every chief foreman was too dependant upon
And by not delegating sufficiently, he denied his men the autonomy and the responsibility which was granted to other winning teams"
Apart from GTAs which raced alongside with the official ones, you initiated many drivers, real young promises of Italian motorsports.
What can you tell us about that?
Autodelta used to select drivers through short test sessions on the racetrack, during which they all drove the same car.
This method could be bad for more emotional drivers or those who on that day were not at their best. I partly followed this criterion: I chose the drivers who at every lap consistently marked good times.
But the sessions were longer and less stressful.
For the races – continues Angelini – I gave my drivers the cars for free but at certain conditions: that they would follow the tuning in the workshop, carry out circuit tests and respect the cars when racing.
Ignazio Giunti, Luigi Rinaldi, Claudio Francisci are the most important names out of this selection.
Giunti then raced for both Alfa and Ferrari; Rinaldi became an Autodelta driver; Francisci, in F.1, competed on equal terms with the best drivers of that time, such as Niki Lauda and Ronnie Peterson”.
If I am not wrong your engineering activity extended to the speedboat racing field.
“Yes. For eight years we gave Giulio De Angelis, motor-boat champion (and father of Elio, famous F.1 driver, killed in an accident at the end of the 1980s – editor’s note), various engines: 1.6 and 2 litre four cylinders of GTA derivation.
And also a six cylinder deriving from the Alfa 2600 Sprint engine but with decreased cubic capacity due to limitations of the category.
With the “2600” we achieved some world speed records and won many European championships.
Our activity – says Angelini – also extended to the Trofeo Alfasud, the single-brand Alfa championship, held between 1976 and 1983.
And with Claudio Francisci’s Alfasud TI we were competitive right away.
We currently prepare the engines for the Alfa 156 of Scuderia del Portello taking part in the “Velocità Turismo” Italian championship.
In addition we carry out research that we experiment on current Alfa Romeo engines in our engine test room”.