On a recent trip to Europe, last November I visited Alfa Romeos Historical Museum on the site of the old Arise Assembly Plant. Completed in 1960, the factory was responsible for the production of Alfa’s most legendary cars of the post war era. Inexorably linked to the Arese plant is the story of legendary engineer Giuseppe Busso who designed virtually all the cars that kept the factory humming for over forty years. It is for this reason that I was shocked to discover that not even a postage stamp had been dedicated to him in the recently refurbished Historical Museum.
Born in Turin in 1913, Busso studied engineering at Turin Polytechnic. His first job was at FIAT’s Aviation Engine Department but he would soon move to experimental railway engines. Then in January 1939, he was recruited by Alfa Romeo’s head of special projects, Wilfredo Ricart. To his great honor, Busso’s work from these early years at Alfa would become lecture material at his alma mater in Turin.
Soon after the war Busso received a job offer from former head of Alfa Romeo’s Grand Prix Racing arm, Enzo Ferrari. The latter was struggling to launch his second start up since leaving Alfa Romeo before the war. While producing machine tools to finance his fledgling race car company, Enzo had entrusted the design of his first V12 engine to Gioacchino Colombo. Unwilling to join Ferrari full time which would have entailed a substantial pay cut, Colombo designed the diminutive V12 in his spare time. Nevertheless, he recommended Ferrari hire Giuseppe Busso to oversee the 125 S project.
Busso and his assistant Aurelio Lampedi arrived in Maranello at the end of 1946 and began work on the Ferrari 125 S. With it’s tiny 1497 cc engine generating all of 72 bhp at 5600 rpm it took the racing world by storm winning the 1947 Mille Miglia. Without Giuseppe Busso to oversee the project and put Colombo’s genius into practice Ferrari may have been but a flash in the pan.
By the end of the year however, Colombo’s moonlighting was discovered by Alfa Romeo’s chief of design, Orazio Satta Puglia who fired him in the spot. By now Ferrari was able to take him on full-time and soon afterwards Busso returned to the mothership at Satta Puglia’s behest.
Put in charge of all mechanical design, Busso was instrumental in Alfa Romeo’s transformation from a producer of low volume sports and luxury cars to a mass production powerhouse. The 1900 was the first of a line of masterpieces animated by a double overhead cam aluminum jewel of an engine born of Busso’s experience with aircraft engines at FIAT. Highly advanced for its time it could be found in everything from the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante show car to the “Matta” military jeep designed for the Italian army. By the mid eighties when it was nearing the end of its lifespan it had grown to 2000cc with twin spark plugs per cylinder.
But Giuseppe Busso still had one last and maybe his greatest trick up his sleeve. In the early 1970’s Alfa ventured upmarket once again with the development of the Alfa 6. It was graced with a V6 Engine smooth as silk and rev - happy while emitting sounds so symphonic that it was dubbed “Arese’s Violin” by aficionados. Produced from 1979 to 2006, the engine survived the FIAT takeover in 1986 and kept the Arese plant humming for almost three decades until on January 1 2006 when the last one was installed the storied plant closed. Busso retired from Alfa Romeo in 1977 but saw his greatest creation through to the end. He died on January 6 2006.