Motoring: Why Alfa stuck out a tongue: Stephen Wood investigates the Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone's curious extras

You find all the usual things in the boot of an Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone: spare wheel, jack, wheelbrace, a few tools. But you find other things, too, included in the price of pounds 13,990. There are four black steel plates, about 8in long, bent into a U-section 2.5in deep, accompanied by two smaller plates and some nuts and bolts. The handbook tells you neither what they are for, nor where to fit them.

The car's bodywork also offers some unusual extras. Otherwise identical to the basic 1.8-litre 155, the Silverstone has a little black tongue sticking out underneath the front bumper and a wing sitting 4in above the back of the boot lid.

These add-ons are not fitted to save people who like to adorn their cars with 'go-faster' bits the trouble of doing the work themselves. And they certainly do not make the car go faster: in fact, they make the Silverstone marginally the slowest Alfa Romeo 155 you can buy. But they were not fitted for the benefit of the customer. The adjustable black tongue, the rear wing and the metal plates in the boot (which fit on to the wing and push it an extra 4in up in the airflow) are there to help Alfa Romeo win the British Touring Car Championship. Or at least, they were.

On television, the BTCC looks like a sport of thrills and spills. But these are short, dramatic interludes in what is essentially a game of chess played by lawyers and spies. The rules are intended to create a racing series for cars based on showroom models, with minimal changes to the bodywork - except, of course, for the addition of slogans, logos and splashes of colour. Rules, however, are there to be bent; and with the Silverstone, Alfa Romeo bent them backwards.

To have a car approved for the BTCC races (a process called 'homologation' ) manufacturers must produce a written specification for their racing version, and prove that 2,500 road-going cars of a similar specification have been built and are for sale to the public. Alfa Romeo's homologation papers for the Silverstone specified that the aerodynamic devices were adjustable: the rear wing could be raised or lowered, and the black tongue could be moved forwards or backwards.

The closing date for homologation was, appropriately, 1 April. Up to and including that date, Alfa Romeo's racer only appeared in public with the rear wing in the low position. On 2 April, for the first practice of the season, at Thruxton, out came the plates, up went the wing, off went the car: Gabriele Tarquini, Alfa Romeo's lead driver, was fastest and won the race - as he did the next four rounds of the BTCC series. On 16 April, the road-going Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone (with those same plates inside the boot) went on sale to the public.

Alfa Romeo's rivals in the BTCC were dismayed. One accused the Italian team of 'taking the piss'; but another, the Ford driver Paul Radisich, admitted that 'rules are rules - and if you can get away with it, you do'. Alfa Romeo got away with it until the rules were changed. First the RAC, which controls the British series, decided that 'parts supplied with a car but not fitted to it do not form part of the completed car', so the wing plates were outlawed. Alfa Romeo obediently lowered its rear wing. Then, in late May, the RAC decided that the tongue, known as a 'splitter', was also illegal.

Ford's Team Mondeo made the complaints against Alfa Romeo. To back up its second case, it bought a road-going 155 Silverstone, which it offered in evidence. The RAC agreed that the moveable splitter had been approved; but the 21 rivets supplied to attach it in position were separate parts - like the wing plates. The splitter was legal, the rivets were not. This time, Alfa Romeo did not withdraw its splitter. It withdrew from the BTCC.

Only Alfa Romeo knows exactly how effective the aerodynamic devices are. But the splitter, ostensibly designed to divert cooling air to the brakes, also smooths the airflow underneath the car, sucking it down on to the ground; and the further it protrudes, the better. Similarly, the rear wing, which forces the rear of the car down, is more effective when lifted up into 'clean' air, away from the turbulence caused by the car's bodywork - although the cars continued to win without the raised wing.

The effectiveness of the splitter will be easier to judge this weekend, when the 155 Silverstones will race, at Silverstone, in the British Grand Prix meeting. The international body for motor sport, the FIA, became involved in the dispute last month; and on 9 June it resolved the issue by deciding that the splitter was legal, but no longer is. Tomorrow, the Alfa Romeos, back in (and leading) the BTCC series, will race without splitters; paradoxically, mid-season homologation allows the BMW and Renault cars to appear with wings for the first time.

If you were to visit an Alfa Romeo dealership this weekend, however, you would still find the steel plates and nuts and bolts in the boot of the road-going version of the 155 Silverstone. The handbook would not tell you what they are for, nor where to fit them. But it's all a bit academic now, anyway.

(Photographs omitted)

John Terry puts Chelsea ahead
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatreFish in the Dark has already generated a record $14.5m in advance ticket sales
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
The dress can be seen in different colours
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

    £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

    Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

    Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

    £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003