Alfa Romeo Sports Cars

The Alfa Romeo Guilietta was the sports car that put this Italian automaker on the map. See more Alfa Romeo images.

Italy’s ALFA (Anomina Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili) was five years old when industrialist Nicolo Romeo took control in 1915. Within a few years, Alfa Romeo was a dominant power in European auto racing and a respected builder of fast, touring and sports cars that brimmed with competition-proven technology.

Alfa Romeos dominated the toughest races in pre-war Europe, including the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia. Alfa Romeo was also a force on the Grand Prix circuit, forerunner of today’s Formula 1 racing. Enzo Ferrari launched his career as an Alfa race driver and was its racing team manager in the 1930s.


In this article, you will discover how Alfa emerged from World War II to create rakish, high-priced sporting automobiles that attracted such figures as Hollywood’s Rita Hayworth and Egypt’s King Farouk. Alfa reached out to a broader audience in the 1950s with the 1900 series of four-cylinder models. These spawned the sports car that put Alfa on the mainstream map, the Giulietta series. The Giulietta was succeeded in 1966 by the lovely Duetto -- the little Alfa roadster found stardom as Dustin Hoffman’s ride in the 1967 film, “The Graduate.”

We'll get started on the next page by exploring one of the first post-war cars made by Alfa Romeo -- the 6C 2500.

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Looking more French than Italian, this Farina-bodied two-seat cabriolet was one of four body types offered in the postwar Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 series.

The Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 was one of the first postwar models produced by this classic Italian manufacturer during the years 1947 to 1952. By 1947, Alfa Romeo had dug out from the rubble left by the Allied bombing of its factory in Portello, a suburb of Milan, and resumed civilian car production with the Tipo 6C 2500. This dohc six-cylinder design was essentially an evolution of the prewar 6C 2500, which was built as a Turismo (five-passenger sedan), Sport, and Super Sport in 1939-43.

Called Freccia d’Oro, meaning Golden Arrow, the new series included a five-passenger berlina (sedan), two-place coupe and cabriolet, and four-seat convertible. These were the last Alfa Romeos built with separate frame and body, and the marque’s last coachbuilt cars, with bodies supplied by Touring, Pinin Farina, Stabilimenti Farina, and Boneschi.

These cars were typical of contemporary Alfa Romeo engineering practice in having parallel-trailing-arm front suspension, previously seen on Alfa and Auto Union Grand Prix cars and later to be familiar on the Volkswagen Beetle, Porsche 356, and various Aston Martins. Springing was by coils. The independent rear suspension was by swing axles with longitudinal torsion bars.

Shock absorbers were tubular-hydraulic all around, and brakes were of the drum type. The rugged frame holding all this together was of channel section, with a sturdy X-member. A four-speed synchromesh transmission was controlled by a shift lever on the steering column. Interestingly, all Freccia d’Oros were built with right-hand drive.

Under the hood were six inline pistons working in a cast-iron block which had its crankshaft carried in seven main bearings. The cast-aluminum cylinder head supported two camshafts operating one inlet and one exhaust valve per cylinder; combustion chambers were hemispherical. Drive for the camshafts was by chain from the front of the crankshaft to a sprocket just below the camshafts, which in turn rotated the shafts via spur gears.

Carburetion varied from a single Solex instrument on the Turismo to three sidedraft Webers on the Sport and Super Sport. Horsepower naturally varied too: 87 bhp at 4600 rpm for the Turismo; the Sport had 95 bhp (at the same revs) from 1939-1946 but only 90 from 1947 to 1952; the Super Sport offered 110 bhp at 4800 rpm, the SS Corsa 125 at 4800. A special version, the Competizione (1946-50) packed 145 bhp at 5500 rpm.

These Alfa Romeo 6C 2500s weren’t great cars, as they were rather large and ponderous, but they were milestones in the genesis of postwar car design. American enthusiasts saw them pictured in early issues of magazines like Road & Track and Speed Age, as well as The Autocar and The Motor from England. With bodywork by the cream of Italy’s carrozzeria, they were beautiful cars, so much cleaner and more refined than the ones we saw on the streets of our own hometowns.

And when we found technical specifications or underhood photos, we also discovered that their engines had twin overhead camshafts -- quite exotic for the day, at least in America. The only domestic cars powered by this type of engine were Indianapolis racers and, on a smaller scale, the dirt-track midgets of Frank Kurtis. There was also the dohc Duesenberg straight eight of the Thirties, but how many Yanks had actually seen one of those?

The combination of a racing-type twincam engine within all those lovely Latin lines was real dream stuff to a generation of budding U.S. car enthusiasts. Few Alfa Romeo 6C 2500s found their way to the U.S, but they helped generate much of America’s postwar enthusiasm for Italian cars.

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Twincam engines were an Alfa tradition by the mid-Fifties.
Twincam engines were an Alfa tradition by the mid-Fifties.

The 1900 was not only Alfa Romeo’s first new postwar design but the first Alfa with unit construction. Berlina (sedan) bodies were produced at the factory, but various coupe and cabriolet styles were offered by Ghia, Boano, Farina, Vignale, Castagna, and Bertone, with the majority produced by Carrozzeria Touring. Though all-new, the Alfa Romeo 1900 retained some of Alfa’s traditional engineering philosophy, particularly in its twincam four-cylinder engine and the 4-speed all-synchromesh transmission of the last 6C 2500.

Initially, the Alfa Romeo 1900 engine had a bore and stroke of 82.55 × 88 mm giving 1884-cc displacement, hence the model designation. For 1953-58, dimensions grew to 84.5 × 88 mm for a total 1975 cc, a bit oversize but still called a 1900. Unlike the 2500 six, the 1900’s dual overhead camshafts were totally chain driven. There were numerous other detail changes, but basic construction was preserved, with cast-iron block and cast-aluminum head.

The Alfa Romeo 1900’s drive was taken through a single-disc clutch and the 4-speed transmission to a live rear axle. The 2500’s swing axles were abandoned because the 1900 was to be a much higher-volume model, reasonably priced for an Alfa, and the live axle was more appropriate to assembly-line production.

Rear axle positioning was by a single lower trailing arm on each side and a triangulated link between floorpan and the top of the differential case, an arrangement that persists at Alfa -- albeit with variations -- to this day. Front suspension was also new, still independent but with upper and lower transverse A-arms and anti-roll bar. Coil springs and tubular shock absorbers were used all around, and brakes were aluminum drums with cast-iron liners.

In addition to being the marque’s first series-produced car, the Alfa Romeo 1900 broke new ground for Alfa in its left-hand drive. This did not reflect any company foot-dragging. Quite simply, Alfa Romeo had primarily built competition-oriented automobiles prior to 1950, and most two-seat racing cars had the steering wheel on the right. It’s still true today. There are two reasons for it. First, most closed-circuit road races are run in a clockwise direction, so positioning the wheel on the right is advantageous because it puts the driver on the inside of most turns. It also places him on the “pit side” of the car for faster entry, exit, and easier conversing with the team manager during pit stops.

A surprising number of Italian coachbuilders exhibited their artistry on the Alfa 1900 chassis -- witness this clean-lined coupe by Castagna circa 1954.
A surprising number of Italian coachbuilders exhibited their artistry on the Alfa 1900 chassis -- witness this clean-lined coupe by Castagna circa 1954.

The Alfa Romeo 1900 was not conceived as a competition car, but in May 1950, Piero Taruffi and Felice Bonetto drove stock single-carb berlinas to 5th and 9th overall in the first running of the Carrera Panamericana (Mexican Road Race). These 90-horsepower Alfas, which the factory rated at only 93 mph flat out, averaged 77.8 and 76.5 mph, respectively, for the 2178 miles covered in the race from Ciudad Juarez on the U.S. border to EI Ocotal on the Guatemala border.

After the berlina arrived as the company’s bread-and-butter production model, Alfa Romeo 1900-series chassis and floorpan assemblies duly went out to the coachbuilders for lighter, more exotic bodywork. These coachbuilt styles seemed to be made mostly of aluminum (sedan bodies were steel) and this, plus somewhat trimmer overall size, made the coupe and cabriolet considerably lighter than the sedans.

A berlina Super appeared in 1953 with a slightly larger engine. Rated horsepower was unchanged, but the added displacement made the powerplant slightly more flexible. The Sprint, offered as a Touring-bodied coupe and Farina cabriolet, arrived in 1951 with 100 bhp at 5500 rpm. This was raised to 115 for the Super Sprint of 1954, when displacement was raised to 1975 cc.

Mention should be made of three very special 1953-54 show cars on the 1900 SS chassis. These were built by Carrozzeria Nuccio Bertone under the designation Berlina Aerodinamica Technica (aerodynamic sedan study) or B.A.T. This project spawned numerous ideas committed to many renderings and sketches, but only three cars -- B.A.T. 5, B.A.T. 7, and B.A.T. 9 -- were actually built. All still exist, by the way, in the U.S.

The B.A.T. series was an interesting experiment in automotive aerodynamics, characterized by rounded front ends designed for minimal air disturbance and smooth bodywork swept back to wildly exaggerated tailfins. They were the ultimate show-stoppers in their day and beautifully executed, but of no real value as transportation. Visibility was poor, crash protection nil, creature comforts marginal. Yet they were some of the most exciting designs to come from any coachbuilder, let alone on a fairly ordinary production chassis.

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Alfa Romeo retained two of the nine Disco Volantes built. Both can be seen at the company’s Milan museum. Here, the original racing prototype. “Flying saucer” nickname is obvious from the squat, shapely body lines.

The Alfo Romeo Disco Volante reminded some observers of a UFO. These sports cars certainly seemed like something from outer space and were even meant to fly -- on the race tracks of Europe.

Though Alfa had pinned its early postwar hopes on the 1900 series of 1950, it also planned a line of larger, deluxe touring cars powered by a new 2995-cc six -- basically the 1900 four with two extra cylinders, the same 82.5-mm bore and a longer 92-mm stroke (versus 88 mm).

This senior line never materialized (though Alfa would get around to a six, the 2600 series, in 1962), but the firm needed an image boost (the 1900 sedan was far from lovely), so it decided to build a batch of 3.0-liter engines for a group of lightweight racers based on the 1900 chassis (modified via Alfin-type brakes with four extra-wide leading shoes). Thanks to their unusually smooth, aerodynamic bodywork, these cars were soon dubbed Disco Volante by factory hands, and the name stuck.

Perhaps hedging its bets, Alfa also built three four-cylinder Discos (officially, Tipo C52), with a 1900 engine bored out to 85 mm and 1997 cc. (The larger-capacity cars were designated 6C 3000CM, for six-cylinder 3000-cc Cortemaggiore.)

Both versions were slated to contest the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours, but no Alfa Romeo Disco Volante raced until the following year’s Mille Miglia, when one four and three sixes were entered, the latter with an enlarged 3576-cc engine (bore and stroke: 88 × 98 mm). Despite broken steering towards the end, the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio drove a six-cylinder coupe to second behind a 4.1-liter Ferrari, the only Disco Volante to finish.

Alas, Alfa’s image-polisher would score only one other triumph: the 1953 Supercortemaggiore at Merano, which Fangio won outright in a 3.0-liter roadster. In between were non-finishes at Le Mans and Spa and withdrawal of the entire team before the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers.

The story would have ended right there had Alfa not sold off all but the original prototype and Fangio’s Supercortemaggiore car (still on display in the company’s Milan museum). Exact numbers are hard to come by, but nine Alfa Romeo Disco Volantes were apparently built: three C52s and six CMs. It’s believed the former comprised two spiders and one coupe, the latter two spiders and four coupes. It’s their fate that still fascinates enthusiasts today.

Soon after the Disco Volantes were retired, one coupe was purchased by Joakim Bonnier, then Alfa’s Swedish distributor, who had it fitted with a new roadster body by Zagato. This car eventually found its way to America, where Rodger Ward (later to win the Indy 500) and Bruce Kessler raced it for owner Shelly Spindel. A fourth car, rebodied by Carrozzeria Boano, was sold in 1955 to Argentine dictator Juan Peron. A fifth Disco Volante, with Ghia coachwork, seems to have disappeared, and it’s still equally hard to determine what happened to a sixth car.

Fangio gave the Disco its only race win with this coupe in the 1953 Supercortemaggiore.

The remaining Alfa Romeo Disco Volante was destined for all the glory, its six-cylinder chassis (the one originally developed for the proposed senior line) becoming the foundation for a series of stunning aerodynamic exercises by Pinin Farina. The first, dubbed "Superflow,” was a rounded, low-slung coupe with sharp tailfins, a glassy “bubbletop” with gullwing-type upper doors, and semi-open front wheels (portions of the fender tops were cut away, replaced by clear plastic).

This was naturally followed by “Superflow II,” a somewhat more conventional version. Its main innovation was plastic fins that appeared to be body color from outside but were transparent when viewed from inside, so as not to hinder driver vision astern. Next came a roadster of the same general style but with large faired-in headrests and no fins. Common to all three (built between 1956 and ‘59) was the longitudinal, concave bodyside sculpturing that PF would apply to the production Giulia Duetto of 1967 (still around today as the 2000 Spider Veloce).

The final effort was yet another smooth bubbletop coupe, this time with twin transparent roof sections (one above each seat) that slid back on rails for open-air motoring, an early expression of the T-top idea. The tail was similar to that of the previous roadster and, again, predictive of the Duetto’s. First seen at the 1960 Geneva Show, this Disco Volante ended up on a used-car lot in Denver only a year later but was rescued.

Like the Bertone B.A.T. Alfas, the Disco Volantes remain interesting commentaries on 1950s thinking about aerodynamics. They wouldn’t be the last wild-looking Alfa one-offs, but they were surprisingly practical. Too bad that none saw series production, but let’s hope that Alfa can still manage similar dreams in the future. Would you believe an Alfa UFO?

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The Farina roadster was a late Alfa Romeo Giulietta, produced in the late 50s and early 60s.

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.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Farina roadster had little low-end torque, but could rev up t 8,000 rpm.

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.

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Alfa Romeo 2600s weren’t sold in the U.S. due to high prices but found favor among Alfisti in Britain,hence this righthand-drive Touring roadster. Both looked likegrownup Giulias,which was probably deliberate.

By 1958, the 1900 was the “senior” Alfa Romeo and in need of an update. Its successor arrived that year as the Alfa Romeo 2000 (internal designation: Series 102), with new bodywork wrapped around what was basically the Alfa Romeo 1900 engine and running gear. First out were a berlina, designed and built by the factory, and a dashing spider with bodywork by Carrozzeria Touring. A Sprint coupe designed by Bertone completed the range in 1960.

All three, but particularly the spider, bore a family resemblance to contemporary Alfa Romeo Giuliettas. The Sprint was a harbinger of the Alfa Romeo 2600 and Giulia Sprint models to come, having a notchback 2 + 2 body with minimal A- and C-pillars and an almost non-existent B-pillar. The result was a very light, airy greenhouse with lots of glass area. But though these were the best-looking production Alfas yet and extremely comfortable touring cars, their weight and relatively low power made them slower than the Alfa Romeo Giuliettas and less fun to drive.

The Alfa Romeo 2000’s dohc four-cylinder engine was essentially the same as the second-series 1900 unit, with cast-iron block, aluminum head, and 1975 cc from an 84.5-mm bore and 88-mm stroke. The Berlina engine, with a single downdraft Solex carburetor, produced 105 horsepower at 5300 rpm, while the Sprint and Spider versions put out 115 bhp at 5900 via twin Solex sidedraft instruments.

If a bit on the conservative side, the Alfa Romeo 2000 Sprint and Spider reflected the best of then-current Italian styling. Mechanically, they were obviously products of racing experience, with their twincam engines, large Alfin brakes, well-developed suspension, and quick, positive steering. But at 2640 pounds for the Sprint and 2596 for the Spider, neither had the sort of power-to-weight ratio for the sparkling performance expected from a firm like Alfa Romeo.

Only a little over 7000 of the Alfa Romeo 2000-series cars were built through 1962. The Spider accounted for almost half (outpacing even the sedan), though it was built for the full five years versus only three for the Sprint.

In an effort to regain the model spread lost by concentrating so heavily on its Giulietta/Giulia series, Alfa Romeo gave its senior 2000 line a new six-cylinder engine in 1962. Typically Alfa, it had chain-driven double overhead camshafts, cast-iron block, and aluminum head, but was developed more from the smaller Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Though physically longer than the 2.0-liter four, the 2.5 six fit into the engine compartment with surprising ease, suggesting that Alfa engineers may well have had this move in mind when they created the Alfa Romeo 2000 four years earlier. Bore and stroke measured 83 × 79.6 mm, making this Alfa’s first oversquare engine.

The Tipo 161 and 162 prototype racing cars of 1939 and 1941 had “square” engines (62 mm bore and stroke), but most Alfa power units had been long-stroke designs. With actual displacement of 2584 cc, the new six was rated at 145 horsepower at 5900 rpm.

Bodywork for the Alfa Romeo 2600 was identical with the 2000 series except for minor trim changes. The factory-built berlina (sedan), Bertone Sprint coupe, and Touring Spider were later joined by a striking Zagato coupe with a jutting, rounded nose.

A view from under the hood of the Alfa Romeo 2600 Touring roadster.

With its punchier new engine and consequently superior power-to-weight ratio, the Alfa Romeo 2600 series was more entertaining than the 2000 and more commercially successful, though not by much. The big problem was that an Alfa Romeo Giulietta cost about half as much, yet was twice as much fun to drive.

Still, the large Alfas were excellent cross-country cruisers: quiet, comfortable, relatively roomy, and with traditional Alfa Romeo handling that always made the driver feel secure on any road. Unfortunately, high weight meant they had to struggle to reach cruising speed.

Both Alfa Romeo 2600 and Giulia arrived with four-wheel disc brakes, something new for Alfa. In addition to being safer, they were a real advantage in competition or sport driving, frequently enabling the Alfas to win through better braking when they couldn’t do it by superior speed. Stamped-steel disc wheels were still standard, as on all postwar production Alfas.

For unknown reasons, Borrani center-lock knock-off wire wheels, so common on other Italian sports and GT cars, were not offered as standard Alfa equipment. Still, the cars didn’t suffer visually, and the disc wheels were certainly cheaper and easier to maintain.

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The Alfa Romeo Giulia -- follow-up to the beloved Giulietta -- was the controversially styled Duetto Spider. When it bowed for 1966, critics dismissed its tapered nose and tail and deep bodyside trough as trifles. But over time, these elements came to identify a classic design from the house of Pininfarina.

In 1966, Road & Track found the Alfo Romeo Giulia “a contrived design with meaningless styling gimmicks.” In 1989, however, the magazine saw “pure beauty and refined aesthetic detail.”

Don’t fault Road & Track; hardly anyone praised Alfa Romeo’s follow-up to the beloved Giulietta Spider during its production run. Even the factory reacted by eventually squaring up the distinctive pointed tail. But time has vindicated the Giulia Duetto Spider, the final design credited to Battista Pininfarina himself. Its front and rear symmetry, alluring headlamp covers, and bold bodyside trough is the stuff of automotive art.

Alfa had carried the original Giulietta Spider styling into the succeeding generation of small coupes, sedans, and convertibles. This family debuted for 1962 and was called the Giulia Series, another Romeo and Juliet reference. When finally the next Spider was unveiled in 1966, Alfa fans recognized styling cues from Pininfarina show cars going back a decade. Officially, this was the Giulia Spider 1600, but Alfa held a name-the-car-contest. The winner, one Guidobaldo Trionfi, riffed on the two-cam, two-seat, two-carburetor motif and came up with Duetto.

It was more refined than the Giulietta Spider, heavier and with a longer wheelbase. It retained a solid rear axle but got four-wheel disc brakes. Underhood was the 1.6-liter four that bowed in the Giulia but now with standard twin Webers and a five-speed gearbox.

The interior of the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Emissions rules kept Alfa from the U.S. market in 1968, but the roundtail roadster returned for ’69 with a fuel-injected 1977cc enlargement of the 1600. Alfa tabbed this the 1750, recalling its famous prewar cars. Purists insist the 1750 is not a true Duetto; more-generous Alfisti say the tapered tail qualifies it as one. These cars had 132 hp, did 0-60 in 9.9 seconds, and hit 114 mph. U.S. smog laws shut out the ’70 Spider, and when it returned for ’71, it had a squared rump and no claim to the Duetto name. The core of Pininfarina’s brilliant original design survived, however, until 1993, when Alfa at last retired the Spider.

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This is the Expo ’67 Bertone prototype that led to the production Montreal. Aft door quarter windows were eliminated and changes made to nose, tail, beltline height, and rear wheelarches.

The Alfa Romeo Montreal was revealed to the world at Canada’s Expo ‘67, held in Montreal and often mistakenly referred to as the Montreal World’s Fair. The Italian firm had been asked to develop a car to represent the automobile industry, and rose to the occasion in magnificent fashion, albeit with the design help of Carrozzeria Bertone.

Named Montreal in honor of its venue, the show car was based on the 105-series Alfa Romeo Giulia chassis, but Bertone’s fastback coupe body featured a column of large air slots behind each door that suggested a mid-engine configuration. It was reported at the show that while the display car was a one-of-a-kind prototype, it had been designed with possible production in mind.

A production version was eventually shown, though not until 1970. Appearance was little altered, but a major change had occurred in the motive power. Nestled under the hood up front was a new 2593-cc four-cam, aluminum-block V-8 with Spica mechanical fuel injection. Producing 200 DIN (230 SAE) horsepower at 6500 rpm, it was, in fact, nothing less than a detuned version of Alfa’s T33 racing engine. At 2830 pounds, the Alfa Romeo Montreal weighed about 470 pounds more than the Giulia 2000 GTV, its closest stablemate. That gave it a power-to-weight ratio of just 12.1 lbs/bhp (SAE) while the lighter Giulia 2000 came in at about 20 lbs/bhp.

Like the show car, the production Alfa Romeo Montreal used the Giulia suspension, which meant lower A-arms and upper transverse and trailing links at the front, and a live rear axle with lower trailing arms and an upper T-bar from chassis to differential case for lateral location. Wheelbase was the same as that of the Giugiaro-designed 105/115-series Sprint coupe, while overall length was some four inches less.

Despite its conventional front-engine/rear-drive layout, the production Alfa Romeo Montreal retained the show car’s distinctive C-pillar slots for cockpit ventilation. These conferred a unique if somewhat busy look, as did the front, which had three separate openings: a central one shaped like the traditional Alfa Romeo shield, and one on each side that surrounded the quad headlights. The lights themselves were partly hidden behind slatted grilles reaching up into the nose.

Any Alfa Romeo owner, particularly one familiar with the Giulias, would feel right at home in the Montreal, noting how many items were the same in both cars. Unfortunately, minor instruments are difficult to read quickly, clustered under the large speedometer and tach in twin pods. In typical Italian fashion, the steering wheel is raked forward more than most American or British drivers are used to and want. This had led to nasty comments from automotive journalists over the years about Italians being built like apes, with long arms and short legs.

This misconception reflects a lack of knowledge about the Italian driving style. One of this book’s authors was fortunate in being able to take a ride around Alfa’s test track in an Alfa Romeo Montreal with one of the company’s best drivers at the wheel. He sat, with the seat well back, in a relaxed position, gripping the lower rim of the wheel gently. Shuffling the wheel between right and left hand as we went round the track at a blistering pace, he never once raised either hand above the lower third of the wheel, so there was no need for the wheel to be in a more vertical position.

By contrast, American, British, and German drivers typically hold the wheel with hands at the nine-and-three-o’clock or ten-and-two positions, so a near-vertical wheel is almost mandatory for best control. Judging by our ride with the Alfa tester, Italian enthusiasts do it differently, and the wheel position of their cars suits them perfectly.

Another thing we learned during that drive was the high degree to which Alfa Romeo had developed its live-rear-axle setup. A car with the Alfa Romeo Montreal’s performance potential -- 130+ mph -- would seem to demand independent rear suspension or, at the very least, De Dion linkage, but at no time during our spirited run did we sense the need for anything more than this well-controlled live axle. Of course, that was in early 1971. There’s been a lot of engineering progress since then, and all-independent suspension is now more or less the sports-car norm.

As for the Alfa Romeo Montreal, it’s difficult to figure why Alfa even bothered. It received virtually no promotion or advertising and little development (the car was never certified for U.S. sale), so demand was meager and the car short-lived. There wasn’t even a direct replacement. Alfa’s financial and managerial problems of the day largely account for all this, but it’s still sad.

In the end, the Alfa Romeo Montreal was nothing more than a sideline -- a high-buck GT aimed at the likes of Porsche’s 911 and the Mercedes SL, quickly discarded as unprofitable. Today it stands as a rare and singular Alfa Romeo, and something to celebrate.

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The 1986 U.S. GTV-6 shows few basic styling differences from the predecessor Alfetta GT.
The 1986 U.S. GTV-6 shows few basic styling differences from the predecessor Alfetta GT.

When the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTV was dropped from production in 1974, Alfa introduced the Alfetta GT fastback coupe to replace it. Virtually everything was new. Only the dohc four-cylinder engine with Spica fuel injection was retained.

The Alfetta’s independent front suspension was similar to the GTV’s, but had longitudinal torsion bars in place of coil springs. Drive was carried to a 5-speed transmission in unit with the differential to form a rear transaxle that was part of a De Dion assembly with coil springs. Brakes were disc all around, with the rears moved inboard to reduce unsprung weight.

The Alfetta GT came to the U.S. in 1975 with the 1962-cc engine, but was offered in Europe with a choice of 1.6-, 1.8-, and 2.0-liter engines. The designation became GTV in 1976, then changed to Sprint Veloce in 1978.

All shared the same fastback coupe body, again by Bertone. While roomier than previous Alfa coupes, it wasn’t noted as an aesthetic success. It also wasn’t quite large enough to provide practical transportation for four, and wasn’t sleek enough to be either a true GT or sports car. And though it looked like it should have had a hatchback, it didn’t. However, these models were the best-handling Alfas to date, partly because of excellent suspension geometry and partly because of the near-equal fore/aft weight distribution conferred by the rear transaxle.

In 1981, this car took on a new image and a new powerplant to become the Alfa Romeo GTV-6. Exterior sheetmetal and appearance remained much as before, but structure, suspension, brakes, transaxle, wheels, and tires were all upgraded to cope with a bigger and more potent engine. It turned out to be a sterling new 60-degree V-6, with a single overhead camshaft on each bank, driven by toothed belt, plus Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection (specified for both the American and European versions).

Inclined valves above hemispherical chambers were retained, but were now actuated by a rather complicated arrangement. The camshafts were directly over the intake valves, but worked the exhaust valves via tappets, transverse pushrods, and rocker arms. Displacement was 2492 cc from a bore of 88 mm and a stroke of 68.3 mm, a far cry from Alfa’s long-stroke engines of old. Rated horsepower was 154 (SAE) at 5500 rpm with 152 lbs-ft torque at 3200 rpm, enough to propel the 2840-pound GTV-6 from 0 to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 125 mph.

A view under the hood of the Alfa Romeo GTV-6.
A view under the hood of the Alfa Romeo GTV-6.

The interior wasn’t overlooked either. A tilt wheel, leather upholstery, higher-grade carpeting, and standard air conditioning all made the driver feel good, even if they didn’t contribute to performance. Even more welcome was a new dashboard with all instruments placed directly in front of the driver, eliminating the odd arrangement of previous models in which the speedometer and minor gauges were inconveniently placed in the center of the dash.

The shift mechanism to the rear-mounted transmission was thought to be somewhat soft and rubbery. Complaints were voiced about the twin-disc clutch being grabby, though it never slipped. But these are things that could be changed through development, and were.

The best part of the Alfa Romeo GTV-6 was its excellent balance and overall handling. Critics and Alfa loyalists alike wondered why this suspension couldn’t be put under the Spider. It could, of course, but Alfa management didn’t want to go any further with their convertible.

Whether the Alfa Romeo GTV-6 will be replaced is uncertain in the wake of Alfa Romeo’s takeover by Fiat in 1987. If we’re lucky, the new owners will replace this spirited but aesthetically awkward coupe with something truly modern -- dare we say futuristic? -- and that should be well worth waiting for.

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