A Matta of Precedence

With the reveal of Alfa Romeo’s new crossover only weeks away, we look back at a few they made earlier.

Image: autocar
Mad for road? Alfa’s forthcoming Stelvio. Image: autocar

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.

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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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “A Matta of Precedence”

  1. Thanks for showing these cars, Eóin. I didn’t know any of them. I don’t know how the Stelvio will turn out, but I’m already quite certain I’d prefer any of the ones shown here to it.

    The Z33 looks a bit like a blown-up Fiat Panda to me. Especially the door, A-Pillar and bonnet region.

  2. I’d never seen the Z33 before either and like Simon I see lots of Panda and also Uno. I did see the Matta before though. Petrolicious did an article about it when they found one for sale on the west coast of the U.S. Like yours it was an interesting article and I think the (barely used) Matta was going for north of $30k.

  3. Things would be different if the Tempo Libra had been made. They had 4×4 drive available. Speaking of which, the 4WD Alfa 33 should have been more succesful than it was. Again, one for the Alps and Scandinavia?

    1. As a matter of fact, to my remembrance the 4WD 33 was not uncommon around here. It might have been the option for those who found the (already well established) Panda 4×4 a bit too small or frugal.

  4. Somewhere in my archives, I have a small newsbite circa 1985, detailing an SUV proposal that Alfa had in the works for the Italian military, with a civilian Range Rover-like derivative also planned. It was never built because at that stage, Alfa was waiting for the military to place an order for it so it could proceed with the project; the military, meanwhile, was waiting for Alfa to come up with something for it to evaluate. Catch, er, 33?

    Speaking of which, the 33 must surely be rare-to-unique in having two entirely separate 4×4 systems for one model line? The Sportwagon’s Subaru-derived system is completely unrelated to that of the later P4…

    1. Thanks – I didn’t know any of that. Was the 33 4wd among the first 4wd variants of a standard car? Then they dropped the ball and left it to Audi to vacuum up the sales and market leadership.

    1. Thanks for that YRFT, Interesting – from this image Stelvio really looks like a slightly taller Giulia hatchback – which I suppose it is really.

  5. Wonder whether production versions of the AR146/148 and Z33 Tempo Libero would feature the VM Motori diesel engine, obviously a Boxer diesel was out of the question by that point though then again the Matra Rancho never featured the XUD diesel.

    How many other radical or potentially world changing Alfa Romeo projects are there that the world at large does not know about?

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