Estate of Arese – 1986 Alfa Romeo 75 Sportwagon

Missing Links and lost causes – in search of Alfa Romeo’s elusive estate.

1986 Alfa 75 Sportwagon. Image:
1986 Alfa 75 Sportwagon. Image:

The recent announcement by Alfa Romeo’s Harald Wester that the Italian manufacturer has no plans to introduce an estate version of its latest Giulia saloon was hardly a shock, given that the forthcoming Stelvio crossover will henceforth fulfil that role, being to all intents and purposes a jacked up Giulia hatch. As we know, the European market for upmarket estate cars is shrinking to the crossover contagion and what is left of it is dominated by the German hegemonic trio and Volvo, so it probably makes little sense now for FCA to throw good money after bad.

For a company not particularly associated with wagons, Alfa Romeo estates have been around in surprisingly fecund variety at various times since the company’s post-war redirection into the mass market. A number of Giulietta and Giulia wagons were built in the ’50s and ’60s, but none in serious volume nor by Alfa themselves. The first official Alfa Romeo estate car was the Neapolitan 1975 Alfasud Giardinetta.

In 1978, Moretti produced a speculative Giulietta wagon which didn’t see production. 1983 saw the Pininfarina designed and built 33 Sportwagon. Interestingly, an unlovely estate version of the contemporary Alfa 90 was produced in 1985 by carrozzeria Marazzi. Depending on who you speak to, either one or two were made. Despite also being reputedly considered for production by Alfa management, it came to nothing.

However, best known and certainly best loved of Alfa’s estates was the comely 156 Sportwagon of 2000, which was succeeded by the equally handsome 159 in 2004.

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The missing link in this tale however is the 75 Sportwagon, revealed at Geneva in the spring of 1986. Created under Ermanno Cressoni at centro stile and produced by Rayton Fissore, it was intended to enter production as a fully fledged 75 variant for the 1987 model year.

The conversion to estate car was a thorough one, necessitating considerable body in white changes. Most noticeable being the removal of the pronounced kink at the rear three quarters, the Sportwagen featuring a more linear shoulder and waistline – more akin to that of its 33 stablemate. Additionally, the ugly plastic strakes were removed from the base of the side glass, giving the car a less cluttered look. Alterations were made to the roof gutters and one assumes, a good deal of structural work was required to allow for the rear hatch to open to bumper level.

Overall then, it was a cleaner, neater conversion of an awkward looking car and if it lost a little of the berlina’s character, it benefited from being a good deal more harmonious.

However Fiat Auto’s takeover of Alfa Romeo later that year saw the project being cancelled with apparently a mere seven examples built. Despite the 75 being more sporting in character, with Alfa now twinned with Lancia, it’s possible the announcement of the Pininfarina designed and built Thema estate the same year was deemed sufficient. Politics too could have played a factor, but perhaps more likely, the business case for the 75 Sportwagon simply didn’t stack up.

The remaining Sportwagen prototypes were retained as service tenders at the Arese factory – two of which it seems have been preserved for Alfa’s museum. While hardly a tragedy, it’s increasingly likely we’ve seen the last of the Alfa Romeo estate car. By the time FCA get their fingers out to produce a large saloon to complement the Giulia – (projections are for 2020, although cynics may feel the necessity to add to that) – the market for such cars is likely to have contracted too far.

But while the storied Milanese marque cannot be said to have been synonymous with the format, could an argument be made for them to have put the ‘sport’ into Sportwagon?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Estate of Arese – 1986 Alfa Romeo 75 Sportwagon”

  1. Great shame. Yet to see or ride in a new Giulia myself, but it’s apparently quite roomy, so it would make a good estate car. And I am a big fan of sporty estates – truly, a car for every occasion. Unfortunately, it seems the clods and their SUVs have won.

    1. I have to second that. I guess a Giluia estate would make an elegant car, why will we have to see a clumsy SUV/CUV? Sure Alfa is not associated with the estate format in the first place, but it’s not Jeep, either.

    2. I couldn’t agree more jacomo.

      I am of the opinon that in certain examples, the ‘estate’ variant outshines its saloon sibling. I would cite the Audi S6/RS6 as a prime example, obviously the RS2 was only officially available as the avant. Although I have seen photos of a saloon variant, not actually 100% sure on whether it was a quattro gmbh commission?

      Another that springs to mind is the 1999 Saab 9-5 Aero, I always considered the estate much easier on the eye than the saloon. Obviously that all ended with the introduction of the bespectacled iteration in 2006?

      Also, lets not forget to pay homage to the 1977 Mercedes-Benz W123T!!!

  2. I do have one design question though…

    Why did the designers of the production 75 saloon decide that it was acceptable on some derivatives to have the exhaust pipe exiting not quite centre, but also not clearly to one side? To me, it stinks of afterthought….am I too uncouth to appreciate??

    1. The BMW E28 suffered from that very same issue. Was it a trait of late 1970’s exhaust technology?

    2. I do wonder if it had anything to do with fuel tank position or rear suspension design which necessitated such an arrangement. Lately designers and production engineers work more closely and of course, aesthetic concerns are given more weight these days as well. Of course it could as easily have been none of these things, more pure wilfulness on Alfa and BMW’s part.

    3. The exhaust configuration you describe is that of the 4-cyl variants, which had the fuel tank under the trunk floor; the muffler occupied the only remaining space between the fuel tank the spare tire (i.e. there wasn’t any room left for an S-bend in the tailpipe as on the 6-cyl variants).

  3. I always quite liked the slightly off centre exhaust on the E28. I believe that the 156 sports wagon was so carefully styled to look well it’s load capacity was actually less than the saloon model. I think the cla shooting brake is the same when compared to its saloon counterpart.

    1. Eh… the 156 SW having less space than the saloon is a classic lazy journalistic trope. Maybe the quoted capacity is nominally less by a marginal amount, but that number only refers to the area under the parcel shelf. The saloon also lacks a folding rear seat. In the real world, the SW is massively more usable.

      I like the 156 SW a lot, but never quite as much as the saloon, and it took me ages to work out why. It boils down to the treatment of the trailing edge of the character line. On the sedan, it sweeps around into the chamfers on the tail-lamps:

      On the SW, the lamps sit a touch higher, so the potential for that option is voided and you end up with the treatment of the character line looking somehow unfinished:

      It also throws the proportions off by the barest amount, but by enough – on the sedan, the doorhandle is located absolutely in the middle of the fade-in/fade-out. The extra visual emphasis on the rear of the SW is just enough to disrupt the aesthetics. For most cars, it would not be noticeable, but I think the original iteration of the 156 is basically perfect, so such things are. While I think the 156 is generally a superior design to the 159, the latter’s SW shape is a more coherent design than its predecessor – it is the preferable variant in that range, whereas the sedan is the ideal 156.

      Where was I? Oh, right, the 75 SW. I like it a good deal – it has aged significantly better than the sedan, and ditching the plastic trim helps tremendously to bring out the design’s underlying qualities. This, on the other hand, is arguably less successful:

    2. In fairness I read that about 15 years ago when the car was launched and it sprang to mind when I read the piece. I wasn’t such a big fan of this car so maybe I was letting my prejudice get the better of me. I had never seen the 75sw and agree with you on that one!

  4. That’s the first time I’ve noticed the nature of the difference between the 156 saloon and estate. That the difference is as it is suggests someone considered the estate very carefully during its development. Even if it didn’t quite work out, it displays attention to detail of a high order. I’d call it the mistake of a smart person; not that I think the wagon is actually bad.
    There was a 75 with no plastic trim strips. I must see if I can find a photo.

  5. Sanjay – we should certainly pay homage to the W123 T-wagen. The first passenger car in 16 years to come from the Borgward works under temporarily occupation by Daimler AG.

    Back to the 75 Sportwagen. In 1986 a mid-size premium wagon was a bold departure into uncharted territory. Audi sold a B1 80 wagon, only in top GL spec in Britain, but I am led to understand that it was never offered in the home market which was still riddled with Kombisnobbismus.

    For the rest, as far as I can work out the BMW E30 Touring arrived in late ’87, the Audi 80 B4 Avant in 1991, and the Mercedes Benz W202 C-Klasse as late as 1996.

    The genesis of the E30 wagon is one of my favourite car industry stories:

    I defy anyone not to enjoy this, or see BMW in a different light.

  6. No mention of the coachbuilt Alfetta wagons? (I forget who the coachbuilder in question was, or how many they made, but somewhere I have a photo of one parked in an employee parking lot in front of the engineering building in Arese in 2004; I seem to recall that it utilized Fiat Uno taillights, maybe the whole hatch was a widened Uno item.)

  7. My feeling is that exhausts are better off-centre. Humans tend to look for similarities among things. A central exhaust provokes unappetising associations. An off-centre or asymmetrical position avoids resembling anything much though it may lead to the addition of a second exhaust for visual balance.

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