While the Stelvio might be Alfa Romeo’s first SUV, it isn’t the company’s first 4×4 vehicle. The company built a Jeep lookalike – the 1900 M – in the early 1950s.
A butch little military Jeep is not the sort of thing that you tend to associate with the Alfa Romeo brand, but the Italian manufacturer did indeed built a military 4×4 in the 1950s. The vehicle, officially called the 1900 M, but quickly nicknamed the Matta (which means ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’), was developed and built for the Italian Defence Force from 1952 to 1954. In that time, Alfa produced around 2 000 of these vehicles for military use (designated as the AR 51), and 150 for civilian use (the AR 52). The project was abandoned in ’54 because the Matta was too mechanically complex for a vehicle of its kind, which also made it pricey to produce. The Italian military instead opted for the simpler Fiat Campagnola.
The 4×4 was powered by a 1 884cc four-cylinder in-line engine with an aluminium cylinder head and a cast iron block. The power plant delivered 48kW of power and 123Nm of torque. Top speed was pegged at 105km/h. The Matta also had a 4×4 system, and a four-speed gearbox with low-range gearing. Its wheelbase was 2 200mm, and it weighed 1 250kg.
With so few of these Alfa Romeos having been built in the first place, there aren’t that many running around these days. Consequently, good examples have become coveted collector’s items among hardcore Alfa fans. We found a 1953 model being sold in the United States for $58 000 (R780 000). While in reasonably good condition, its canvas top had been lost, and a rear seat had also gone missing. A couple of engine oil leaks are mentioned, but since this is an old Alfa Romeo, these are unlikely to raise eyebrows.
There is no doubt that the 1900 M is a great 4×4 to add to your Alfa collection, but R780 000 is an awful lot of money. You could almost buy a Stelvio for that.
ALFA ROMEO 1900 M
Manufacturer Alfa Romeo
Internal designation AR 51 & AR 52
Years produced 1952–1954
Engine 1 884cc four-cylinder in-line DOHC
Power 48kW @ 4 400r/min
Torque 123Nm @ 2 500r/min
Top speed 105km/h
Transmission Four-speed gearbox
Ground clearance 205mm
Wheelbase 2 200mm