For those who regard style, finesse and balanced performance as the true measure of a car, and for whom history and pedigree are important, few marques shine like Alfa Romeo. Celebrating its 110th year, the Milanese automaker is older than most, having survived two World Wars, financial and fuel crises and a spate of owners, the most recent being Stellantis. But most Alfa lovers—and who isn’t?—are optimistic about the marque’s future under a new corporate umbrella that encompasses 14 automotive brands, including Fiat, Maserati, Dodge and Citroen.
Probably more so than any other marque in the Stellantis stable, Alfa Romeo is the one whose design legacy has had the greatest influence, independent of its broad accomplishments in engineering and motorsports. Fiat 500s and Pandas have impacted the landscape in greater numbers; Maserati’s original Ghibli remains a high watermark of automotive beauty, and Jeep’s indefatigable role in World War II makes it one of the most important vehicles ever made. But as a style leader, Alfa Romeo has, from the beginning, led the charge.
Part of that comes down to the fact that, prior to the 1950s, Alfa Romeo was a luxury carmaker whose chassis were dressed by the finest coachbuilders in Italy. And so, the sheer variety of prewar Alfas is staggering, and most are staggeringly beautiful. Ushering in series production from the mid-1950s was the Giulietta (Tipo 101 and 750) in coupe, spider and sedan form, as well as numerous specials. Throughout the company’s history, Alfa Romeo has shown the world that great design can be expressed as eloquently in a modest city car as it can in a concept-car masterpiece.
There is no shortage of seductive Alfa Romeos. The company’s affiliation with Italian carrozzerie goes back to the beginning, comprising a who’s who of coachbuilders and individual designers whose indelible marks resonate as loudly today as they did when their creations were new. A few were Franco Scaglione at Bertone, Pinin Farina, Ercole Spada at Zagato and Carrozzeria Touring’s Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni. A look at the A+ designs through the decades makes it difficult to single out just a handful.
We recently spent an hour in a virtual presentation by Alessandro Maccolini, head of design for Alfa Romeo, who noted that the marque’s identity comes from its unique front face, and the “tri-lobo” grille that flanks a triangular center with horizontal spears to either side. An Alfa Romeo’s shape is characterized by ideal proportions, and must have timeless style that engages onlookers long into the future.
Certainly, the sight of a Duetto (think The Graduate) brings smiles today just as the first one did in 1966. According to Maccolini, the two principal reasons customers buy new Alfa Romeos are for their exterior styling and engine performance. Customers “want ‘something else,’” he explained. Asked which are his favorites of all, he acknowledged it was “not easy.” Ultimately, it came down to the 33 Stradale, “which represents the perfect proportions of the human body,” then the Duetto Spider, and finally, a 21st century tribute to Centro Stile, the Alfa Romeo 8C. A review of the following proves that an Alfa Romeo will never be mistaken for any other car.
The Aerodinamica prototype was a radical concept in 1914. Its novel design was based on an Alfa 40-60 HP, a road and race car made between 1913 and 1922 by the company that would eventually become Alfa Romeo. In an age when most cars more resembled square buildings with wagon wheels attached, the Aerodinamica featured a teardrop form in an attempt to cheat the wind, and was designed by Marco Ricotti of Carrozzeria Castagna, the Italian coachbuilder that created bodies for Alfa Romeo before World War II. The egg-shaped oddity was capable of reaching a top speed of 86 mph with an inline-four engine that developed a healthy-for-the-day 70 hp.
8C 2900 B Lungo
Of all the prewar Alfa Romeos, the 8C 2900 remains the most sought-after by collectors, and for good reason. Its straight-eight engine was a marvel, designed by Vittorio Jano for racing—and winning. Built from 1931 to 1939, the 8C was made in 2.3-, 2.6- and 2.9-liter versions. The engine saw duty in monoposto racers, sports racers, road cars and even a bi-motor racer that had an engine in the front and the rear.
This 1938 8C 2900 B Lungo, owned by the Alfa Romeo Museum, features twin superchargers and was bodied by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, whose examples are considered to be among the most elegant and perfect Alfa Romeos ever made. A 1937 8C 2900 B with body by Carrozzeria Touring, owned by David Sydorick, took Best of Show at Pebble Beach in 2018.
1900 C52 Disco Volante
If Carrozzeria Touring seems to be commanding center stage, it’s because its designs for Alfa Romeo were simply unparalleled. The 1900 C52 Disco Volante (Italian for “flying saucer”) from 1952 was perfection. Originally designed to compete in sports racing, it was constructed around a tubular space frame and developed in the wind tunnel to achieve low drag in crosswinds.
Power came from Alfa’s tried-and-true 1.9-liter inline-four engine. The car remained largely an experiment, and three were ultimately made, of which a single example was converted into a coupe. Two more examples of the spider were eventually built, each powered by a six-cylinder 3.5-liter. The original 2.0-liter spider and coupe are in the Alfa Romeo Museum today.
Alfa Romeo entered the age of series-production in 1954 with a range of convertibles, coupes and sedans, of which the attractive Giulietta Spider is probably the most loved. Designed by Pinin Farina, it has a sensational aesthetic that made the German and British competition of the day look almost antique by comparison.
The Giulietta Sprint was the companion to the line, a 2+2 coupe designed by Franco Sacaglione of Bertone. One of the brilliant artist’s more understated designs, it has endured the test of time and is a true connoisseur’s Alfa Romeo. Eventually, engines grew in displacement from 1.3 to 1.6 liters, and minor restyling kept things fresh through 1965.
Giulia 1600 Sprint Speciale
The Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600 Sprint Speciale was presented at the Turin Motor Show in 1957, with production beginning in 1959. The jewellike sports car was an exceptional invention by Franco Scaglione—once again—during his time with Bertone. It’s easy to see a bit of the Disco Volante in its design, and maybe, with a little imagination, the unequalled B.A.T. 5, 7 and 9 Alfas designed by Scaglione a few years before.
If it’s not the most delectable Alfa Romeo of its era, it certainly comes close. The first 101 examples were the “low nose” specification, satisfying the 100-car requirement needed to homologate the model in FIA motorsport regulations. A total of 1,366 Giulietta Sprint Speciale and 1,400 Giulia Sprint Speciale models were produced through 1963.
While the 1960 Giulietta SZ Coda Tronca (Italian for “cut-off trunk”) wore a Zagato body and was a little terror on the track, its successor, the Giulia TZ2 from 1963, was a full-fledged aerodynamic exercise by Zagato’s Ercole Spada that was as strikingly beautiful as it was aerodynamic. TZ, which stands for Tubulare Zagato, was an advance over the Coda Tronca concept, incorporating a rear end called a Kamm tail, after the German auto designer and aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm. Cars like Ferrari’s 250 GTO and Porsche’s 904 employed similar solutions, but none matched the aesthetic perfection of the Alfa Giulia TZ2.
Giulia Sprint GTA
The brilliant design of the 1963 Giulia GT was penned by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro for Bertone. The first step-nosed designs evolved into the design that soldiered on until 1976 with the 2000 GTV. Remarkably, the successor to the Giulietta Sprint preserved the proportions and refinement of Scaglione’s design, but modernized it in every way.
In contrast to boxy sport coupes of its era, like the BMW 2002 and Datsun 510, the GTV was an elegant Italian masterpiece. The Giulia Sprint GTA (shown) was derived from the road-going model to become a capable—and highly collectible—race car in its class.
Duetto Spider 1600
Who doesn’t love the 1966 Duetto Spider 1600? In the film The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman chased his future bride in a red one, forever cementing the cigar-shaped spider in the public’s consciousness. Throughout its various guises, at least until 1994, the tiny convertible carried the Alfa flag. But the banner wasn’t bold enough to triumph in an era where power and gristle trumped elegance and class.
The last Duetto was a beauty, and well worth considering as a hidden gem among more modern collector classics. None of them, however, was as pure and elemental as the original design, which remains one of the quintessential expressions of Italy’s most carefree automotive epoch. One for the ages? Absolutely.
Tipo 33 Stradale
The Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale (Italian for “road-going”) was constructed entirely by hand and was powered by Alfa’s 2.0-liter V-8 engine, tuned for competition and mounted midship. Hypothetical arguments can be imagined among Alfisti, positing which is the greatest and most beautiful Alfa Romeo ever made. The likely outcome is the agreement that the 33 Stradale, designed by Franco Scaglione, is that car. Whether it’s the most beautiful car made in the second half of the 20th century and beyond is up for debate, although it’s definitely high on a very short list.
The Stradale itself was short, and light, and—at 39 inches, a tortuous one inch lower than Ford’s GT40. That such a diminutive vehicle should command such attention today is testament to its designer. Only 12 examples were made from 1967 to 1969. It’s important to remember that the Stradale was built to perform. One of the first true supercars, it achieved a top speed of 162 mph.
The Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car, built on a Stradale 33 chassis, was designed by Marcello Gandini and unveiled at the 1968 Paris Motor Show. His designs for Bertone clients during this fertile period amounted to some of the most creative output in automotive history. His landmark production cars included the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, accompanied by even more far-afield concepts like the gullwing-door Lamborghini Marzal and Lancia Stratus Zero.
The Alfa Romeo project afforded an opportunity to explore the wicked wedge even further. The Carabo name is derived from a family of ground beetles called Carabidae, some of which are colored a brilliant metallic green, with striking orange edges on the hindwing covers of some exotic species—just in case you were wondering.
An amusing moniker for a beautiful concept car, the Iguana was designed in 1969 by Giorgetto Giugiaro, under the aegis of his recently founded firm, Italdesign. It was one of the great designer’s first independent creations, following his wild, three-seat Bizzarrini Manta from 1968. Like the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, the Iguana was powered by a 2.0-liter V-8 engine, mounted midship, and its bodywork was finished in a symphony of silver and raw metal.
References to the designer’s past creations, like the De Tomaso Mangusta, are evident in the Iguana. Few car designers have pushed limits as did Giugiaro, testament to a creative fission that boiled over, inspiring him to create one great car after another for well over a decade. The silvery reptile currently resides at the Alfa Romeo Museum.
It took some time for Alfa Romeo to create another masterpiece. The 8C Competizione is just that, unveiled as a concept in 2003 and built from 2007 to 2009. The seductive 8C was a limited-production car designed by Wolfgang Egger at Centro Stile that ushered in a new age of performance and style for Alfa Romeo.
The model was powered by a 4.7-liter Ferrari-Maserati V-8 engine, and the body was a study in carbon fiber. Only 500 examples were made. A Spider followed through 2010, with another 500 units, though in the eye of purists, it was not nearly as beautiful as the coupe.