With the reveal of Alfa Romeo’s new crossover only weeks away, we look back at a few they made earlier.
Alfa Romeo has confirmed it will reveal the forthcoming Stelvio crossover/SUV at this November’s Los Angeles motor show. It’s a highly significant reveal for FCA’s mainstream ‘premium offering’ since it will be the key to the commercial fate of the Alfa renaissance. Failure will not be an option. We’re likely to hear a good deal about how this will be the fabled Milanese marque’s first stab at a production SUV, but while that may be accurate in a literal sense, it won’t be Alfa Romeo’s first off-roader.
That would be Alfa Romeo’s 1900 M – commonly dubbed ‘Matta‘ – for reasons that were never particularly clear. A Latin flavoured Willys Jeep, the only ‘mad’ thing about it was the fact that it was created and engineered by a company more associated with sporting machinery. But then, Lancia also got their jollies making commercial vehicles, so take your pick. Manufactured from 1952 to 1954, the 1900 M was dubbed AR51 or AR52 depending on specification – AR not denoting Alfa Romeo in this instance, but Autovettura da Ricognizione or ‘reconnaissance vehicle’. Powered by Portello’s 1.9 litre DOHC engine, it developed a slothful 65 bhp and a terminal velocity of 65 mph, which was probably plenty.
The second example isn’t all that mad either, but perhaps a little eccentric looking. I don’t pretend to know a tremendous amount about the 1984 Alfa Romeo Z33 Tempo Libero to be frank, I just stumbled upon a photo and was rather taken by it. From what I can gather it was based on the 4×4 version of the Tipo 905 Alfa 33 hatchback. Shown as a concept at the 1984 Geneva motor show, it’s difficult to know if the ‘Free Time’ was viewed as a serious proposal or just a bit of harmless fun to amuse the locals. Credited to carrozzeria Zagato, the styling nevertheless has the stamp of Cressoni all over it, looking for all the world like a 116-series Giuiletta in Gore-Tex and hiking boots. It’s not without appeal and the Giulietta inspired styling does give it the requisite visual toughness. However the combination of stepped roofline and odd side glass graphics does tend to play less than flattering tricks with the visuals.
There appear to be a number of other proposals made under the ‘Matta 2’ moniker – mostly aimed at military applications – including the Tipo 146/148 from a similar period shown above, which in civilian form looked like the Matra Rancho’s rangier looking younger brother. One could imagine these vehicles appealing in Alpine regions where decent ground clearance and all weather traction is a requisite, but in reality, the standard 33 in 4×4 form probably did the job a deal more cheaply. What all these share is a strictly utilitarian mindset, which isn’t likely to be something the forthcoming Stelvio will be offering when it goes on sale at some point in the coming year.
An awful lot has changed in the intervening decades. During the 1950’s Alfa Romeo were ‘matta’ to be producing an offroader. Now they would be mad not to.