The Ungodly God Among Us
So much, yet for so little.
In 1979, something incredible happened.
By pure circumstance, BMW found itself left with a supercar no-one wanted. The car in question was the BMW M1 -- a mid-engined, no-nonsense, six-cylinder in-line sculpture of perfection. Obviously, BMW couldn't just put the car in the history books and forget all about it. No, it deserved to shine. So, what did they do?
Introducing the BMW ProCar Series.
There's no introduction needed. Everybody knows about it. Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet head-to-head for the checkered flag, with a whole squadron of identical M1's sniffing up their asses. It was exciting as it was heaven-like!
The adrenaline from each prevailing race left everybody -- including their grandmothers -- on the very edge of their seats. It was illegal no to.
Unfortunately, however, while the ProCar Championship clearly became a fan favorite among the millions upon millions of people who watched it, it only lasted for two short seasons. When dismantled, BMW turned their attention to Formula One. Leaving the M1's completely obsolete.
And this is where Alfa Romeo comes in.
While the german manufacturer desperately wanted to get into F1, Alfa Romeo desperately wanted to get out. Having returned after a 28-year absence, only to be screwed in the ground by poor racing results and the shift from naturally aspirated monsters to smaller, uncontrollable turbo units, left the flamboyant company treading water for the three seasons it competed in. When the three seasons were finally completed, Alfa Romeo packed their bags, left the keys underneath the carpet, and shut its doors. The company would remain as an engine supplier to the tiny amateur Osella outfit until 1987.
In 1983, Brabham's BMW-powered BT52 turned up on the grid. And let's just say, it was something rather different! In fact, it was so radical and successful that, amazingly, it motivated Alfa Romeo to take a different approach on their engine-creation malarky, and caused them construct a replacement for their appalling 890T engine. Thus, the innovative twin turbo 415/85T four cylinder-banger was born.
Producing just shy of 850 bhp, Alfa Romeo had (finally) created something promising. Unfortunately, though, the factory team had already been dissolved. Looking to be doing yet another cock-up, Alfa Romeo turned to French team Ligier, a small F1 team which was just about to loose its engine deal with Renault. It seemed to be a perfect fit and the Alfa Romeo-powered Ligier was ready for the upcoming 1986 F1 season.
Did the car race?
No. And things only got worse, I'm afraid.
Following the tragic death of Elio de Angelis in a testing accident coupled with spiraling costs sealed the deal for the FIA to not only abandon the plans to decrease displacement, but to kill the turbo engines completely.
After a dwindling period where Alfa Romeo saw itself being under the realm of Fiat, with Ligier driver René Arnoux making some very 'unkind' statements in the press about the company, the engine deal between Alfa and Ligier was finally broken off.
It was revealed that the dramatic break with Ligier was exacerbated by fact that Alfa Romeo had already designed and built an engine based on the 3.5L naturally aspirated engine formula which would take over completely in 1989. And although this wasn't taken as a particularly good thing in the aftermath, during the early design stages of this new engine, engineer Pino d’Agostino came up with a decision that would change the F1 landscape forever.
Unsatisfied with the V8's lack of power and the sheer weight of a V12, d’Agostino went on to create a radically different V-10 layout -- a perfect in-betweener regarding performance, fuel efficiency and compactness. With this invention, Pino d’Agostino had unknowingly shaped the future of Formula One.
Chief engineer Gianni Tonti testing the so-called V1035 engine.
The engine in itself was perfect. But there was no F1 team to lend it to, as the botched marriage with Ligier caused the V1035 to become orphaned.
What were they going to do?
Well, their knight in shining armor would arrive in 1987... in the shape of the FIA.
Looking back at the BMW ProCar Series and the sheer volume of its success, the governing body realized that what they really needed was to create a second support class to the pinnacle of motorsport (F1). A class reminiscent to that of the BMW ProCar Series. They also wanted to bring back the monstrous Group 5 vehicles from the late 1970’s -- a mad breed of silhouette racers clad in bodywork resembling ordinary road cars. And thus, the Production Car Championship was teased to the public. And along with it, Alfa Romeo's chance to make their multi-million lire investment something other than a complete joke.
Alfa Romeo saw the opportunity and jumped onboard. They acquired a controlling interest in Motor Racing Developments, the company behind the Brabham Formula One team, and set to work.
They took a 164 saloon, looked at its exterior and interior panels, and threw them all away. Shortly after they'd called for the garbage truck, they set out developing a carbon fiber monocoque chassis that would rest on suspension borrowed from the Group C prototypes of that era, placed the 3.5L V10-engine smack dab in the middle, and called it a day.
What they'd come up with was, to put it mildly...
605 bhp. 12,100 rpm. 373 Nm. 750 kg.
If those aren't the most beautiful numbers your lips have ever uttered, I don't know what is. And speaking of having no fathoming, the car leaves little to no traces of the demon inside from the outside. Its majestic ability to look incredibly pedestrian while containing those numbers is what makes this thing so special. No massive splitters. No giant intakes. No stupidly large wheels. No wheel arches. Just the elegance of Alfa's flagship model.
Naturally, the birth of the 164 ProCar caused quite a stir in the media. With Italian F1-veteran and former driver for Alfa Corse, Ricardo Patrese, the car became an instant hit with the tifosi. And why wouldn't it? The car looked stellar, sounded biblical and above all, it was a true Alfa.
Oh, and one more thing. It was faster than a F1 car. During the few short laps the car was tested, Patrese gave his all down Monza’s endless pit straight, leading to a recorded top speed of 350 kph (217 mph). By comparison, Ayrton Senna’s McLaren MP4/4 could only manage 309 kph (192 mph).
This car was not to be reckoned with. And everyone knew that. For the very first time since 1951, one of Alfa Romeo's F1-related projects found itself in a positive light.
Alfa had done it! After countless failures, they'd done it! At last, the Italian manufacturer had delivered upon its promises and come out on-top. Everything should from now-on be perfect, right?
FIA’s plans turned out to be an empty shell. Due to no other manufacturer considering jumping onboard, the Production Car Championship never got further than being just a concept. The ProCar program was quietly cancelled, leaving Alfa Romeo, once again, in the turd. They decided to ditch the 164 ProCar project and turned to the promising Production Car Championship to avoid losing yet another investment.
For the third time in a row the Italians had lost a ton of time, manpower and money to a pipe dream. But, passionate and tenacious as they were, they refused to give up just yet. The V1035 engine was dusted off for one last try, which resulted in the SE 048SP Group C Prototype.
But that's for another time.