The glory days of the sports saloon and smoking occurred around the late 60s to early 70s. At this time Alfa Romeo produced a car for the determined driver who also enjoyed a rush of nicotine…
The Alfa Romeo 2000 berlina shown here comes with all that is necessary in a performance saloon. In addition to the five-speed gearbox (when Fords and Opels made do with four), rear-wheel drive, independent suspension and a 1,962 cc four-cylinder engine (132 bhp) the 2000 had a very-well placed and sensibly-sized flip-top ashtray for the driver and front-passenger. The rear-passengers could use bottom-hinged ashtrays placed in the lower part of the doors. This, as we have seen, is probably one of two optimum locations for the rear passengers’ ashtrays, the other being behind the console between the front seats (where there is usually room for a large receptacle). The rear ashtray of the 2000 has a thoughtfully wrought tab on which to extinguish cigarettes. It might suit cigarillos and cheroots but not a larger cigar – a half corona at a stretch.
I have not had a chance in more than 2 point five decades to sit in such a car. Since then my judgement and perceptual capacities have improved somewhat. Features became apparent to me now that I did not see back then. I can report that in the 2000 we find an interesting example of a car which is very compact but which feels remarkably comfortable: this is noteworthy. Period reviews and modern classic magazines justifiably praise the 2000 for its performance and road-holding. It falls to DTW to add to the body of wisdom concerning this vehicle by saying that the 2000 does not sacrifice comfort for compactness.
You can have a comfortable (very comfortable) car without adding centimetres all around the passengers. If that sounds counterintuitive, an analogy might be that of a good office chair. It holds one in place and thus allows one to relax in a comfortable position. The rear of the 2000 has two snug seats and a smashing rear-armrest which includes an oddments store (this surprised me – how modern). What this means is that the car is not bulky (which is bad for performance) but is a pleasure to sit in (which is more than can be said for two-seater roadsters).
Up front you find a rather lovely, deeply dished steering wheel, a gear-stick well out of the way of the ashtray and three sensibly-placed pedals. As in the rear, the seat has a supportive and appealing construction. To charm one’s visual sense, there is wood veneer, chromed-bezels and very high quality plastic trim. Taking a look upwards I noticed how well-tailored the a-pillar, b-pillar and c-pillar were, all neatly abutting the taut headliner. Charming one’s ears is the sound of the doors fitting precisely into their frames as they shut.
A while back we had a look at a rather different version of the 60s “shoe-box” style, the Silver Shadow. Bertone’s 1967 design for Alfa Romeo (which is very similar to the 1971-1976 2000 shown here) also cleaves to this theme and demonstrates how versatile the basic format is while offering plenty of room for expression. Whereas the Silver Shadow has richly radiused edges, the 2000 draws more from the spirit of the best of Modernist architecture: sheer, crisp, reserved.
While the individual details are kept to a minimum, those that are there are working very hard, economically deployed. The bonnet has a subtle inflection over the wheel; there is a bevelled surface or chamfer running from the lamps to the tail; another one is carved over the gutter and the grille sits neatly inside an oblong formed from the rational junction of the wings, bonnet and valence. The rear wheel arch has a flat top that is defined by another subtle crease that shoots forward to the top of the front wheel. This kind of design is easily misidentified as boring: actually it’s lovingly finessed. I consider this a masterwork of industrial design.
An interesting exercise is to compare this with the Camry we discussed recently. If I could say more precisely why the Afla’s design hits the right note and the Camry doesn’t I’d be a lot wiser than I am now.