The introduction of Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta, in 1954, has to rank as one of the most curious in automotive history. Plans had been underway for some time to create a smaller companion for the 1900, with a berlina (sedan) being the first order of business. Unfortunately, Alfa was, as ever, short on development money, so a plan was conceived to sell securities that would carry the going rate, in Italy, for this type of investment. As an added inducement, it was announced that a drawing would be held among the shareholders; those with the winning numbers would receive a new Alfa Romeo Giulietta. It worked, and the needed capital was raised.
But again unfortunately, Alfa was new to volume production and its problems, and development of the new Giulietta fell further and further behind schedule. Mechanical components were being made, but there was still no sign of a finished, saleable car. The lucky numbers were finally announced, company officials hoping this would ease the tension, but it only angered the winners, who wanted their prizes right away. Once the press started calling the scheme a scandal, government-owned Alfa knew it had to do something -- fast.
That something turned out to be a contract with Nuccio Bertone Carrozzeria for a small run of 2 + 2 Giulietta-based Sprint coupes, with the first to be ready for the Turin show in the spring of 1954. That it was ready, and displayed, is a triumph over intrigue, egos, poor planning, and ordinary glitches that seem to plague any new design. Alfa initially ordered only a few hundred bodies from Bertone, to satisfy the winners of the drawing, then upped it to 1000, and finally 6000, when it realized that the Alfa Romeo Giulietta was a hit.
The mainstay, a factory-designed berlina, quickly followed the Sprint into production. By mid-1955, a two-seat spider version had been designed and was being built by Pinin Farina. Sprint had now become synonymous with coupe at Alfa, while Spider (Ferrari and Porsche spelled it Spyder) was an open car, usually a roadster but, in this case, one with roll-up windows. (These terms often confuse historians and enthusiasts, alike, especially as the 1900 Sprint had been both a coupe and cabriolet.) Despite their different architects, all three body styles shared a family resemblance and continued the mechanical design philosophy of the superseded 1900.
At 1290 cc, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta’s twincam four was smaller and less powerful than the 1900, having 80 horsepower at 6300 rpm. Still, the Giulietta Sprint was good for 102.5 mph, and because it was lighter (1936 pounds) and much more maneuverable, it was faster over a given circuit than the 1900.
Only a single engine tune was offered at first, but 1956 brought 90-bhp Veloce versions of all three models, with claimed top speeds of up to 111.8 mph. Their extra horsepower was achieved by a change in cam timing, higher compression (from 8.5 to 9.1:1), substituting twin Weber carburetors for the single Solex, and adding steel-tube exhaust headers.
Like the 1900, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta employed unit construction. Its suspension components were new, but geometry was much the same: unequal-length A-arms in front and a live rear axle on single low-mount trailing arms, with further location provided by a triangulated link attached to the top of the differential; coil springs were used all around. Brakes, large-diameter Alfin drums, were carried over from the 1900.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta continued through 1965, but gained 1570 cc Giulia running mates beginning in 1962. After that, only the Giulias were sent to America, though the Alfa Romeo Giuliettas continued for another three years in Europe.
Though the 1900 had been the first mass-market Alfa, it was the Alfa Romeo Giulietta that really established the marque in the minds of many enthusiasts, particularly Americans. It was the Giulietta that legendary import-car impresario Max Hoffman chose to sell when he became Alfa Romeo’s U.S. distributor.
The Alfa Romeo Giuliettas were handsome, great fun to drive, and had enough technical interest to satisfy the most critical of enthusiast drivers. They didn’t have independent rear suspension like a Porsche, but neither did Ferrari, Aston Martin, or Maserati in those days. Yet that was really all they gave away, and that didn’t seem to make much difference except in the most extreme situations. The handling of these cars was so nimble and predictable that it took a real idiot to get one off the road.
Besides the three standard models, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta series included two special-body offerings: the curvy 1957-62 Sprint Speciale by Bertone and the Sprint Zagato (SZ) of 1959-61, named for that coachbuilder. With engines tuned to 115 bhp at 6500 rpm, both cars were good for about 124 mph.