The Private Collection

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1952 Alfa Romeo 1900 M AR 51 Matta

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Part of our private collection

In 1951, the Italian Military was in need of a light reconnaissance vehicle for their troops to drive both on and off-road. At the time, Alfa Romeo was busy winning Formula 1 World Championships but was tapped by the Italian Ministry of Defense to help design and build a vehicle, able to explore some of the most remote parts of the world. The project was given to the legendary Alfa Romeo engineer Giuseppe Busso. Known for building brilliant race and road car engines, Busso set to work designing a vehicle that would be both durable and capable-all in just 10 months.

The Astura made its debut at the 1931 Paris Motor Show alongside the V4-powered Artena, with which it shared its chassis design. The model was produced in four series, with the final variant offered from 1937 to 1939 featuring a 3,475mm-wheelbase platform chassis instead of the third seriesu2019 choice of two shorter-wheelbase box-section frames. Coachwork was supplied in a range of configurations by various European carrozzerie.

Starting with a Land Rover 80, Busso began experimenting with alternative technical solutions to solve the numerous issues he had with the truck. The first thing he worked on was an independent front suspension to allow for greater articulation on rough roads while also making it more comfortable to drive on the street. As usual for Busso, the most advanced piece of the vehicle was the engine. Motivated by a 1.9-Liter Inline-4, the motor featured dual overhead cams with 2 valves per cylinder and an aluminum cylinder head on a cast iron block. Also, a dry sump lubrication system was integrated to allow the vehicle to lean up to 50 degrees without the engine experiencing oil starvation. These technical advancements made the AR51 far more capable than its contemporary off-road vehicles but also far more costly to produce.

Upon the car’s introduction, it was given the nickname “Matta” meaning crazy or mad which was coined by engineer Antonio Alessio. After watching a prototype drive up and down the steps of the Basilica of Assisi during a presentation to the public, he expressed “…this is Matta”. When the Matta went into production in 1952, the Italian Military took it on numerous successful raids to many unexplored parts of the world. Led by Count Bonzi, Mattas led the charge to open a 7000km route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in South America as well as a trip to the North Pole. A Matta even went on to compete and win in the 1952 Mille Miglia in a class reserved for military vehicles!

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Vehicle Highlights

  • Sophisticated dual overhead cam engine
  • Independent front suspension for superior off-road capability
  • Very tough and reliable military-spec vehicle
  • Built by Alfa Romeo at the request of the Italian Ministry of Defense
  • 1 of 2075 built, with fewer than 100 in proper functioning condition today

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