Romeo & Giulietta
There is no Shakespeream romance: the Italian collector Corrado Lopresto owns 11 Alfa Romeo Giuliettas...and every single one is historically important. Here he shares the secrets of this unique collection with Massimo Delbo.
Back in 1920, engineer Nicola Romeo added his surname to the company he’d just purchased – Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – and created Alfa Romeo. But more than three decades passed before a group of Alfa Romeo
technicians gathered in Paris – according to some at a bistro with a musician; others say that they were at a party with a Russian poet – and it was said: ‘So many Romeos, yet notevenaGiulietta...’Andhistorywaswritten. Only a year later, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint was introduced at the Turin motor show, in April 1954.
Unusually, the first version was not a sedan but the coupé, designed by Franco Scaglione and manufactured at the Bertone plant in Grugliasco. The sedan – which would become
the backbone of the range – arrived a year later, its Turin launch delayed for technical reasons. Its new all-alloy 1.3-litre twin-cam engine, today a legend itself, roared a little too loudly for a sedan, so the technicians worked hard to soften its character a little, which was otherwise appreciated in the coupé.
The Giulietta’s internal project number of 750 suggests its origins as a city car, but Fiat’s 600 saw it grow to fill a slot beneath the Alfa 1900. It was the masterpiece of engineer Giuseppe Busso, under the guidance of Orazio Satta Puliga and Rudolf Hruska, and it developed in an extremely forward-thinking way, diversifying from the coupé Sprint and the sedan, via the Spider (by Pinin Farina) from 1955, and the ‘racing’ SZ by Zagato from 1960, the Sprint Speciale by Bertone from 1957 and the Giardinetta station wagon by Carrozzeria Colli. Every Italian tuner and
coachbuilder wanted to work their magic on it and the result was that, for a decade, the Giulietta was the most highly regarded car in the country.
Today it is highly prized by collectors, not least the Italian architect and aficionado Corrado Lopresto, who owns 11 (as well as chassis no 1 of the 1980s Quadrifoglio Oro, and the Geneva show car of the current production model). ‘When I was a teenager, there was a family friend who owned a Giulietta Spider,’ he says. ‘I loved being driven around in it. When I started collecting cars, the first Giulietta I bought was the neglected Bertone Spider. Nobody wanted it, many questioned its originality but, when I got third in class at Pebble Beach against a 2.3, 2.9 and a 33, I understood that the Giulietta says something everywhere in the world.’
What follows is why.
When American importer Max Hoffman wanted a sporty, compact spider to sell in the US, Alfa Romeo approached Pinin Farina and Bertone. This car is Bertone’s proposal, with which it hoped to win the contract for manufacture – but it built only two; the other car was originally bought by Hoffman and today is in a Swiss collection. Chassis no 1 is amazingly compact and still looks modern: it’s a pure Franco Scaglione masterpiece, with its slim front section. Alfa Romeo management loved it, but preferred the Pinin Farina proposal, simply because it was easier to manufacture in series.
This car remained in Alfa Romeo ownership until 1957, when it was sold in the Modena area as nothing other than a used Giulietta. It was used by several different Italian owners until Lopresto bought it in 2000. ‘When I bought it, many friends laughed at me,’ he says.
‘Back then, only 19 years ago, a car like this was considered a rejected project, and only the production version appealed to collectors. When I began the restoration, I discovered how original it was: under several layers of paint, we found the original dual-colour combination and, under two different seat covers, we found the originals, still in almost perfect condition. I felt a shiver when I saw the unrefined welding, a trademark typical of many prototypes. When it was finished, I won my first trophy at Pebble Beach, third in class, in 2005. I can’t stop thinking how much this car taught me in terms of preservation.’
The Sprint Speciale project is linked directly to the iconic Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica cars designed by Franco Scaglione for Carrozzeria Bertone in 1953 and 1955. This car, with Commessa (purchase order) 8700, was designed by Scaglione and presented as a prototype based on chassis 00001 at the 1957 Turin Motor Show. It was christened Sprint Speciale but its forms were considered too extreme for production and were reviewed in a second prototype (chassis 00002) exhibited in 1958 at Geneva, plus a third and final one: these three cars are the only Sprint Speciales built with alloy bodies. Production of what was considered one of the most beautiful Alfa Romeos ever manufactured began in 1959.
In 1960, this car was sold as a normal SS, with a Certificato d’Origine dated 18 July 1960 and an official production date of 15 June 1960. In the mid-1980s it was sold in the USA and passed through several owners before it returned to Italy in 2010, bought by Corrado Lopresto. ‘It’s hardly necessary to explain the importance of this prototype,’ he says. ‘It’s the first concept of what became a trademark in
Alfa Romeo design, the only one representing the pure concept of Franco Scaglione and a direct descendant of the BAT series. Amazingly, this piece of history was widely driven and raced in the 1960s, but – luckily! – it was never crashed and, when we bought it, it was in need of a complete restoration, but mostly original.