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Chapter 18: ALFA ROMEO Giulietta Spider

Photo and Words by Tommaso Bertotti

The 50s and the economic boom. The 50s and the Dolce Vita. The 50s and Alfa Romeo. Carlo drives his spider with nimbleness on this early summer evening, in the woods of Superga. The red Alfa Romeo is almost 60 years old, she shows them with pride: she knows that very few modern cars (none?) will ever be able to stand up compared to her in terms of style and elegance. She’s a Giulietta Spider. Her story starts from afar.

The roadster version of the Giulietta began to take shape in the mid-1950s, in the wake of Sprint’s commercial success. Max Hoffman, Alfa Romeo importer for the USA, asks insistently for a convertible version. Knowing the potential of the US market, he is committed to buy a few hundred of them immediately. Hoffman has a gift for these kind of operations, and alfa romeo executives give to the project the green light. We are in 1954, there are no survey panels or whatsoever for chosing the design of a car, so the task to shape the Giulietta Spider will be a competition between the Bertone and Pininfarina, an all-Turin coach-makers derby. The first offers a sporty style, the second remains in the wake of tradition, inspired by the very recent Lancia Aurelia B24. The lines imagined by Pinin’s company impress the Americans and are chosen.

At the end of 1955 Giulietta makes her debut at the Paris Motor Show as what today we call a concept, and in 1956 the production of the definitive design starts. Under the front bonnet there is the famous Bialbero 1.3l, longitudinally mounted. The traction is rear. The four in-line cylinders, obviously fed by carburettors, deliver 65 horsepower (90 on the Veloce version). The front suspensions are independent, while at the rear there is a rigid axle.

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Carlo’s Spider left the Alfa Romeo plants in 1960 colored in Celeste, before dressing the classic Rosso Alfa which she shows today. She is a second series (introduced in 1959), a stylistic and performance refinement of the car presented a few years earlier: re-designed headlights to comply with the new road rules, revised and more functional interiors (steering wheel and object carrier in the first place), a wheelbase stretched of 5cm that determines the appearance of the two deflectors (previously absent), and finally a new exhaust manifold that brings the power of the standard version to 80 hp.

Driving with this Lady, with her low weight and sincere steering is a fulfilling experience. The gearbox is surprisingly precise and the engine power allows you to have fun, always paying attention to the brakes: if this car looks modern in many respects, she is not for the brakes, which are drums on all four wheels. The braking power is not that high, and intense use results in a fast decay of the stopping capacity, much more than with a disc system.

But it’s 2020, and it’s certainly not for absolute performance that this car should be in every enthusiast’s garage. The soft and elegant lines of the body shaped by the Pininfarina’s masters, the unmistakable sound of the engine designed by Ingegner Busso, the wind in the hair in this long sunset, the carefree aura of La Dolce Vita. These are very good reasons.

the Soulful Driver

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