Since it's St.Patrick's Day, everything everywhere is awash in green and, if it isn't there's the looming threat of a brutal pinching. Like pinch-the-enamel-off-your-teeth pinching. Which is why today is the perfect day to bring up a question I've long wondered about: what's with Alfas and four-leaf clovers?
Based on the crude, stereotypical thinking that makes me believe anything with a clover on it has to be Irish, you'd think the Alfa badge for their racing and fast cars would be that cartoon, mustachio'd chef from all those pizza boxes. He's fast, right? Of course, that's idiot-thinking. The Alfa shamrock doesn't have anything to do with Ireland, but it has everything to do with luck.
The Quadrifoglio — the Italian name for a four-leaf clover, and further proof that almost any Italian word sounds like a fast, lovely sports car I can't afford — has been used by Alfa since way back in 1923. The first person to put a shamrock on an Alfa was works race driver Ugo Sivocci.
Sivocci was a talented driver, but always seemed to come in second and never quite caught the breaks he needed to push him that little bit extra. His problem wasn't with his cars or his skill, it had more to do with getting the shaft from that eternal asshole, Chance. And the only way to get on the good side of chance is with a little bit of luck. Which is where the clover comes in.
Sivocci, knowing the long-established luck-granting properties of four-leaf clovers (among the highest of all the plants in the leguminous family Fabaceae), decided to paint a white square with a four-leaf clover on the grille of his car for the Targa Florio race.
That painted foliage paid off: Sivocci came in first, and that clover became Alfa's new racing team symbol because, hey, it works. And, in a kid's-campout-ghost-story twist, the symbol proved its power in a macabre way a few months later when Sivocci was killed practicing for the Italian GP at Monza in an Alfa P1. Due to time constraints, Sivocci didn't get to paint the clover on the car, and the tragedy cemented Alfa's superstitious commitment to the clover.
Subsequent clovers were painted on a triangle instead of a square to commemorate Sivocci — I'm not exactly sure why, except for maybe to show a missing point, turning the square into a triangle? Regardless, the white triangle has been the clover's preferred (but not exclusive) home ever since.
So there you go — Alfa's signifier of fast cars isn't some secret pledge of Irishness — it's good, old-fashioned superstition. I just hope it works against rust, too.