Alfa's Triple Whammy
Three cars based on the 33 Stradale, each by a different design genius. Concepts were never cooler than these. Words Massimo Delbò Photography Max Serra Estate
Italy in the late 1960s was a magical place. The economic boom was peaking and everyone had the freedom to express themselves. Money was flowing and the car world benefited greatly from the increased purchasing power of the middle class. Alfa Romeo was at a post-war high, its superb range of production cars setting the standard for handling and driving pleasure. In sportscar racing, its 33s were conquering everything in both the two-litre and the three- litre classes. Turin, meanwhile, was the capital of the Italian car world. Not only because it was home to Fiat, which had 60% share of its home market, but also because of the coachbuilders that flourished there. The carrozzerie were the symbol of Italian car culture around the world; even today, a look around any classic car show is an instant reminder of how prolific and important they were.
The coachbuilders were creating new styles, experimenting with new concepts and coming up with designs that car manufacturers eagerly put into production to sell in their thousands. In Turin, traditionally quite a conservative city, a new wave of designs and designers was rising thanks to what British journalist Richard Sutton has described as ‘the results of the magic air of the 1937 winter evenings in Northern Italy’. Amazingly, the three ‘bad boys’ of Italian automotive design, each of whom would establish himself in the following decades as one of the best car designers of the century, were almost exactly the same age.
Leonardo Fioravanti was the eldest and came from furthest away, having been born in Milan on 31 January 1938. Giorgio (always known as Giorgetto) Giugiaro was born in Garessio on 7 August that year in the Cuneo area, less than 100km from Turin. The youngest, by a few days, was Marcello Gandini, born in Turin on 26 August 1938. All were by then working for the firms that would help them make their names and whose style they would help shape: Fioravanti at Pininfarina, Giugiaro setting up Italdesign having just left Bertone, Gandini the new broom at Bertone. Their work is the magic you see here.
MEANWHILE, THE ‘old world’ of car design was captained by Franco Scaglione, who was born in Florence in 1916 but who had worked and lived in Turin for many years. This revered Italian aerodynamic specialist, father of theBerlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT) prototypes created for Carrozzeria Bertone in the 1950s, was by then a freelance car designer.
At the same time Giuseppe Luraghi, chief executive of Alfa Romeo, decided that his company needed a road-legal image-builder. He soon realised that Autodelta, the firm’s racing wing which was run by engineer Carlo Chiti, was the place to start.
The design brief he sent to Autodelta made his idea clear: ‘The new sports car has to be based on the 33 chassis, and it has to use the same middle-rear-positioned mechanicals.’ The target was similarly underlined: ‘What I expect,’ wrote Luraghi, ‘is that the road-legal car keeps 65% of the racing car, performance included.’
Carlo Chiti knew Franco Scaglione and, on 16 December 1966, Scaglione wrote to Chiti to accept the job of creating the new road car, which would be dubbed 33 Stradale. At Chiti’s insistence the project was based at Autodelta, just outside Milan, with Scaglione commuting every day from home.
‘It was one of my biggest mistakes ever,’ recalls Scaglione in his memoirs, ‘because nobody in Autodelta had the technical competence to assist me in creating a body. What’s more, they were racing mechanics so the people assigned to me often had to return to their racing duties. Many times I had to switch from being the project leader to being a blue-collar worker, welding and shaping
directly with my hands what I needed, in a working space that was not equipped to manufacture a car body.’
Later than intended, the road-car prototype was shown to Luraghi and approved for final manufacture. It was based on the 33 race-car chassis stretched by 10cm and fitted with simplified suspension, built without the complex magnesium (or ‘Elektron’) upper struts. The production cars were to be manufactured at Carrozzeria Marazzi, located in Caronno Pertusella near Alfa Romeo’s HQ.
‘HERE LAY THE biggest mistake in the whole 33 road-car project,’ says Fabio Morlacchi, an Alfa Romeo historian with a soft spot for this period, who grew up when both his parents were working at Alfa Romeo. ‘Marazzi was not structured for doing the job. It lacked the experience and knowledge to work the light alloy material requested for this car.’
So, why did Carrozzeria Marazzi win the tender for the 33 Stradale? ‘Even though it was part of the public company IRI, Alfa Romeo was tightly managed,’ Morlacchi says, ‘and when it invited tenders for a job, it was usually the cheapest contractor who won the work. Marazzi could have been the cheapest and, maybe, somebody in Alfa Romeo thought that its proximity to the firm could help gain time for production.
‘Anyway,’ Morlacchi continues, ‘Scaglione ended up working 100% of his time on this project, often teaching and showing the Marazzi people how to do the work. We know that every single one of the 11 cars built there, plus of course the original Autodelta prototype, has been personally touched by Scaglione. This is great from the point of view of a collector or a historian but it was not so great for Mr Scaglione himself, who was hired for this project on an all-inclusive contract.
‘For him, every extra hour spent on the cars was a gift to the customer and, when doing so, he had to forget his responsibilities towards his other customers. In a letter to Chiti and Luraghi, Scaglione wrote that by the end of the project, his revenue per hour was far below the earnings of a blue-collar worker.’
Disgruntled as he became, though, Scaglione couldn’t help wielding his wizardry. His 33
‘the 33 stradale turned out to be the world’s priciest sports carStradale emerged as one of the most stunning, most beautiful cars ever built. It had the body of a perfect athlete, functional muscle clothed in a close-fitting suit. Its launch at the November 1967 Turin motor show left the world speechless.
Not only did it look amazing, it also met Luraghi’s request for performance. It weighed just 700kg, and at Alfa Romeo’s Balocco test track it reached 260km/h (162mph) at 9000rpm. The only problem was its price: the 33 Stradale turned out to be the most expensive sports car in the world.HALF A CENTURY later, Morlacchi reflects on the Stradale saga. ‘Today, Gippo Salvetti is a grey-haired Alfa Romeo collector,’ he says, ‘but he well remembers spending time as a teenager drooling in front of the 33 Stradale in the Achilli Motors showroom on Milan’s Corso Sempione. It was still there, in the early 1970s, unsold. Very few could afford it.’
That was not the only difficulty in selling the 33 Stradale. In the very early 1970s, the coachbuilders that were using the 33’s rolling chassis as a base were launching show cars with the squared shapes of the future. The rounded 1960s, which you might call the Miura years, had given way to the sharp-edged 1970s and a Countach look. So not only was the 33 Stradale starting to look dated, but Alfa Romeo had exacerbated the problem by asking coachbuilders to create show cars that were based on it – which helped to kill the potential market for its standard car.
We don’t know how the idea of giving a rolling chassis to each of the three most important Italian coachbuilders of the period arose,’ adds Morlacchi, ‘but I consider it very unlikely that Alfa Romeo paid for anything beyond providing the rolling chassis. We don’t even know if Alfa Romeo management decided at the start to give away the three chassis or, after seeing the success of the first one, they decided to offer the same opportunity to the other two. Or maybe the other coachbuilders asked for it.’
IT’S OCTOBER 1968. At the Paris show, the first of the three 33 Stradale-based showcars is launched. The Carabo, based on chassis 105.33.750.33109 and penned by Marcello Gandini for Carrozzeria Bertone, is thesymbol of the era’s style revolution. The Carabo Bertone is extreme in every way, but all its ideas will enter production in the years to come. It is one of Gandini’s masterpieces; it will soon influence the Stratos Zero prototype and the Lamborghini Countach, its most obvious heirs. It is amazingly low, just 99cm to its roof, withscissor-opening doors. All the glass, including the wide, flat windscreen, is thermo-reflective with a golden tint – a new technology from Belgian glassmaker Giaverbel that’s being used for the first time on a car. The gold reflections of those surfaces, combined with the pearlescent green-gold paint of the body panels and the matt cast-iron grey of ‘technical’ parts such as the air intakes and exits, inspired its name.
In the Italian language, which has no neutral gender and renders cars female, Il Carabo is determinedly male. The name derives from the multi-coloured Carabus Auratus beetle, its green-gold iridescence and the way it displays its wings when about to fly, as the Carabo does with its doors.
Now it’s the turn of Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti to show his interpretation of the 33. He does this at the October 1969 Paris show with the 33 Coupé Pininfarina, based on chassis 105.33.750.35107. His car has unusual origins: it’s an adaptation of the previous year’s Ferrari 250 P5 show car, intended for racing but ‘killed’ by new rules for the Sports Car Championship.
Alfa Romeo’s Luraghi was friendly enough with Enzo Ferrari to ask if he would agree to having Pininfarina shape a new creation for Alfa based on the P5, and Ferrari agreed. There are small modifications, mostly in the front lights’ arrangement and in the side and rear air exits, but the main volumes have remained the same. It has the perfect curved shapes of a 1960s racing car, and is wonderful to look at even if its shapes are dated for 1969.
And the third 33 show car? Italdesign’s Iguana, based on chassis 105.33.750.35107, is revealed at the November 1969 Turin show. It’s the tallest of the three at 105cm, and you can see how Giugiaro has gone beyond the concept of a show car as a fantastic object. This is a car that could be put into production.
Giugiaro, too, has moved to the 1970s with a squared-off shape. He has added load-bearing structures in steel, which add more strength than the original racing chassis could provide, and has left them visible. They are part of the design, as is the S-shaped waistline, which emphasises the low profile of the nose and tail. The Iguana also has a huge glass area, creating a wonderful sense of light in the cockpit.
PININFARINA’S CAR is the only one to show off Alfa Romeo’s engine, which is strange given the 90o V8’s beauty and nobility. This may be why it’s also the only one that still has its original V8 today and not a Spica-injected motor from a Montreal. ‘Even if we don’t know which engines were used on the chassis given to the coachbuilders, it is easy to assume that they were the 33’s 2.0-litre V8 with twin-spark ignition,’ says the manager of FCA Heritage’s Alfa Romeo Classiche Collection, Stefano Agazzi. ‘What we do know is that today both the Carabo and the Iguana have a Montreal 2.6 engine, the Tipo 564 that is closely derived from the 33 unit.
‘We don’t know when these swaps were made, but they were probably done at the same time because the Carabo’s engine number is 00564.0172 and the Iguana’s is 00564.0174. We know that at Alfa Romeo nothing went to waste, and it is logical to suppose that two valuable racing engines caged inside static show cars, which might be needed for racing cars or for spares, could have been seen as wasteful.’
In total, 18 examples of the 33 Stradale chassis were built. The prototype, now in the Alfa Romeo Museum, is slightly different from the 11 used in the standard Stradale as assembled by Marazzi; while the remaining six, also now at the Alfa Romeo Museum, were given to coachbuilders to create show cars. That means close to half the total production is of one-offs but the 11 standard Stradales by Scaglione are still thought by many to be among the most beautiful cars ever built. Whichever way you look at it, that is magical. End
THANKS TO Stefano Agazzi at the Alfa Romeo Museum, and historian Fabio Morlacchi.