Transitory Twins – 1986 Alfa Romeo Vivace

Alfa Romeo really ought to have made these lovely Pininfarina concepts – well maybe not…

Pininfarina Vivace Coupe. Image: oldconceptcars
Pininfarina Vivace Coupe. Image: oldconceptcars

By the mid-1980s, Italy’s Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale had run out of the two crucial components necessary for their ongoing custody of Alfa Romeo: patience and money. Having come bitingly close to selling the ailing motor company to Ford in 1985, Fiat swooped in and made the Italian government agency a far more palatable offer, both financially and politically. With the storied marque now a part of the sprawling Fiat empire, carrozzeria Pininfarina were quick to see the potential, and for the 1986 Turin show, prepared twin concepts for a new coupé and spider derivative, called Vivace.

Of course, by then Pininfarina were already at work on the styling for the ‘Tipo Quattro’-inspired 164 berlina, overseen by Enrico Fumia. While uncredited, it’s likely he was also responsible for the Vivace twins, especially as he is said to have completed the initial styling proposal for what became the Tipo 916 GTV/Spider models in 1987, eventually appearing in 1994.

While there is little stylistic commonality between them, the Vivace concepts both referenced the previous styling motifs of (Alfa styling chief) Ermanno Cressoni, while at the same time prefiguring the forthcoming 164. So in some ways Vivace marks a transition from Cressoni to Fumia – a shift from stark modernist angularity to a more classical, softer formality.

Image: wheelsage
Image: wheelsage

Vivace was well received and there was a clamour for Alfa Romeo to productionise them. However, with an ageing range of saloons, steadying Alfa’s listing vessel was of greater import to Turin management, to say nothing of Fiat’s inability to successfully leverage the marques they already had.

I recall being very taken with Vivace thirty years ago and to be fair, the concepts – (especially the coupé) – haven’t really aged that badly in the interim. Given that the Alfasud Sprint model was forced to soldier on into 1989, the idea of Vivace forming the basis of a more up to date replacement seemed a very tantalising prospect in 1986. To be honest however, I prefer Fumia’s Tipo 916 twins. It’s just a shame they took so long to arrive.

Image: carstyling.ru
Image: carstyling.ru

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Transitory Twins – 1986 Alfa Romeo Vivace”

  1. Both Cressoni’s and Fumia’s legacies are difficult to assess in a coherent fashion.

    Cressoni is still held in high regard by industry insiders, and yet his output when in charge of Alfa’s stylistic fortunes was far from brilliant. I feel like I’d need to gain an awful lot more insight, before I could consider myself in a position to make truly educated guesses.

    Fumia, on the other hand, is the typical case of a man with two great ideas in him – which is an awful lot more than most people can claim (myself included), but once he was done with his strongly geometric style (Alfas), there was only the Lancia Y to come, which took the blunt graphics of Fumia’s Alfas and added ’90s swoopiness. The less he employed graphical elements, the less successful his designs became.

    Like this Ferrari F90 he penned on behalf of Pininfarina:

    Back on topic, I’d have liked to see the Vivace on the road, not just because it really does appear to be a bit of an amalgamation of Cressoni’s and Fumia’s work. The slightly proud scudetto and the almost Gandiniesque kink above the rear wheel add just the right amount of drama not to make it appear like some generic late ’80s aero flight of fancy.

    1. I suppose I need to go in to bat for the F90, then. Contemporary supercars typically do nothing for me at all, but I nevertheless quite like the F90 for successfully forging its own style while also harking back to the more outrageous Italian concepts of the 1970s. It’s certainly dated far better than something like the XJ220. I agree it is not his finest work, but I admire it nevertheless.

      I suppose I will admit to being an unabashed Fumia fan. The gestation of the Vivace is interesting in that it clearly prefigures not just the 164, but the GTV and Spider too – all acknowledged Fumia designs. Yet among all the designs that Fumia claims credit for on his own website (http://www.fumiadesign.com), the Vivace is not one of them. Nevertheless, while I can see the ‘two great ideas’ thinking, I also wonder if Fumia was in the limelight long enough to develop more than that, given that the Y was his last major realised production design. To be fair, I do also wonder about the positive influence on Fumia of being set within a creative environment that presumably harboured significant talent, like Pininfarina’s or Fiat’s studios. I think his initial Lybra mockups have dated extremely well, for example, yet something like the QQ Sport is a dismal effort at best to thematically reinterpret the Y. So perhaps there is something in the idea that he has constantly been trying to replay the ‘greatest hits’ record, and it is getting rather scratched by now.

    2. Cressoni certainly appeared to hold a lot of sway within Portello during the IRI-era and to be fair, some of the work he oversaw was quite good. I didn’t much care for his Tipo 156 concept I featured here about a year ago, although I’ve seen photos of subsequent styling proposals which improved on it noticeably. However, in my view, Fumia’s 164 was the right choice from a stylistic perspective.

      I’m a little ambivalent about Fumia’s later work. That Ferrari concept isn’t terrible but I can’t say it really says Ferrari to me and while some of the Lybra proposals he oversaw were quite nice (and very Lancia), the production version did absolutely nothing for me visually.

      In many ways, Vivace had all the fashionably generic mid-80s styling features present and correct and is therefore very much of its time, yet there was enough there for it to lend some fascination, even now. Nevertheless, the cars that did see production were better, and you can’t always make that claim, can you?

    3. This is probably worth a post in itself, but it’s my understanding that Fumia was not responsible for the final look of the production Lybra. It is definitely true that the Lybra was delayed by at least 12-18 months for emergency surgery by Mike Robinson to the front and rear styling, although it was limited by the fact that much of the body tooling had already been commissioned. Quite why this was necessary, I have never been sure – supposedly it was initiated by a rebellion against the initial production-spec Lybra by dissatisfied dealers, but if the production version looked anything like Fumia’s initial sketches, those changes were an unequivocal mistake.

  2. Thanks for reminding me of these. I can see where the 164 and GTV emerged from, both the better for the maturation. Notice the way the rear lamps *don’t* reach around to the body sides and the flat panels and uniform radii. They are also bigger radii than other 80s cars.
    The a-pillar/mirror on the coupe isn’t a success and luckily went nowhere. At this stage the grille had become a big badge.
    After taking almost everything out between the silhouette and assembly methods there was only one way to go and it led to the 156.

  3. I read not so long ago that the person now leading Alfa disowned the 164 as having been one of those not worthy of the badge (Alfa Romeo – not 164, I guess). This upset me as I’ve always really liked the 164. Like this concept, there was a real lightness and leanness to the styling from which the new Giulia could still benefit. I always find it bad form when current management disses what went before – especially when time and fashion has yet had chance to judge today’s efforts.

    1. Harald Wester’s comments were misguided and misplaced – not good traits for a brand CEO to be displaying. Let’s face it, if one wanted to highlight where Alfa Romeo had got it wrong in the past, examples litter the marque back catalogue long before you get to the 164 – not to mention some time after. Anyway, the 164 was perhaps the most credible car Alfa Romeo produced since the Alfasud in that it was modern, attractive and class-leading. It was also reasonably durable, which was quite unusual and remains a car held with some affection by aficionados, so it nice of Wester to slap them in the face.

      Perhaps what he intended was to say was that the 164 marked a point when Alfa went down the shared platform route and adopted front wheel drive. But even this is wrong. It is predated by the Alfasud/33 series – (fwd) and the unspeakable Arna project – fwd/platform sharing. These throwaway comments of course presuppose that Alfa did all this for the sheer loving hell of it. They had no money and Fiat offered a lifeline. As did Nissan in the ’80s.

      Never mind, I’m sure it won’t be an error of judgement made by the good Mr. Tripp Hardcrotch in his stead…

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