You probably know that quadrifoglio means four-leaf clover, and that when said good-luck charm appears on the flanks of an Alfa Romeo, it recalls the brand’s motorsports heritage and portends dynamic brilliance. But did you know Alfa refers to its trademark three-element grille design as a “trefoil,” which essentially means three-leaf clover? Let’s take a historic look back at what is probably the next most iconic grille after BMW‘s twin kidneys.
1947 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Freccia D’Oro
The classic trefoil design featuring the central three-sided shield as we know it today first appeared on the newly designed postwar 6C 2500 cars that integrated the front fenders with the grille surround. Cars like the Freccia D’Oro (“golden arrow”) expressed the three “leaves” as a vertical shield flanked by two horizontal grilles.
1950 Alfa Romeo 1900 Berlinetta
With the advent of unibody construction that incorporated the front of the car as part of the structure, a common face became applicable across numerous body styles. This was especially true of the 1900 series, which Alfa endeavored to design in such a way as to allow coachbuilders to construct special variants. For example, Touring built the sporty 1900 Sprint coupe, Pinin Farina built an elegant cabriolet and coupe, and Zagato built a series of SSZ Coupes—most of which shared the same general trefoil façade. On these, the horizontal elements look a bit like a moustache.
1954 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint
Pictured at the top of the post, this car features the vertical “Scudetto” flanked by much larger and toothier horizontal grilles that give the car’s face the appearance of grimacing.
1962 Alfa Romeo Giulia
These light, compact, powerful compact four-door executive cars were lauded in their day for dynamic brilliance. Extensive wind-tunnel tuning gave this boxy-looking car an impressive 0.34 drag coefficient, which was quite low for the era. In this iteration, the Scudetto is simply set in a horizontal grille, kind of stretching the whole trefoil concept.
1966 Alfa Romeo Spider Duetto
Here the trefoil “graduated” to a low, sleek design comprised of a chrome scudetto flanked by horizontal bumper openings in one of its most beautiful and iconic iterations.
1972 Alfa Romeo Alfetta
Named for the winning Type 158/159 racing cars that snagged the first two Formula 1 titles in 1950 and 1951, this Type 116 sedan and fastback coupe featured a front engine, rear transaxle powertrain and a tubular deDion rear axle setup that was praised for its even weight distribution and low polar moment of inertia. Here again, the scudetto takes prominence and there’s not much in the way of a true trefoil in evidence.
1987 Alfa Romeo 164
This Italo-Scandinavian collaboration saw a common vehicle architecture, dubbed Type Four, serving duty under completely unique skins as a Saab 9000, Fiat Chroma, Lancia Thema, and the Alfa Romeo 164. Wedgy design language yielded an impressive 0.30 drag coefficient, and the trefoil grille paid some homage to the early 6C 2500 with horizontal elements nearly the same size as the scudetto.
1997 Alfa Romeo 156
A much more rounded aesthetic cast the trefoil as a truly focal element of the car’s design, with the shield and horizontal grilles initiating character lines that flowed up the hood and into the main bodywork.
Virtually all engine breathing and cooling happens via the trefoil elements on the Maserati-derived Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. The scudetto shield forms the dominant focal point of the entire face, establishing the hood shut lines.
Today the central shield still dominates and identifies the modern Alfa Romeo, with a bold diamond-mesh grille pattern in all three openings, which still handle all the cooling and breathing needs. In an era when mainstream car buyers struggle to distinguish many mainstream brands, Alfa Romeo’s trefoil face and certainly its sporting Quadrifoglio models certainly help its expressive vehicles stand out from the crowd. Hopefully this will keep Alfa Romeo “in clover” for years to come.