Too Pretty To Race

We owe the existence of the gorgeous Giulietta Sprint Speciale to the racing career it never actually got.

alfa-romeo-giulietta-sprint-speciale-1
From 1960, the slightly restyled Giulietta SS was marketed as a GranTurismo (wheelsage.org)

From the moment the Giulietta Sprint was unveiled in 1954, it was clear that its technical specification made it a phenomenal contender for class wins in both circuit and road racing.

Alfa Romeo knew this well, and in 1956 the Sprint Veloce was born: power from the 1290cc twin-cam four was up to 90HP, while bonnet and doors (which got Perspex sliding windows) were aluminium instead of steel. Nevertheless, Portello was considering a Giulietta variant aimed even more explicitly towards motor racing, based on the short-wheelbase platform made for the Giulietta Spider.

The success of the Sprint made Nuccio Bertone a trusted partner of Alfa Romeo, so it was up to his designer, Franco Scaglione, to come up with a new design.

Scaglione went for a swoopy, elongated teardrop shape that was a compendium of his previous experimentation with aerodynamics. The drooping nose and teardrop-shaped cabin came from the famous BAT cars and Abarth 1500, while the truncated tail followed Dr. Kamm’s theories.

Experimentation on the Autostrada between Turin and Milan vindicated Scaglione’s work, as the shape of the soon-to-be-called Sprint Speciale allowed it to reach an impressive 200Km/h: all was well. Until it wasn’t. Unbeknown to either Alfa or Bertone, a formidable contender to the Sprint Speciale was taking shape in Zagato’s workshop. By accident, literally.

The well-known Leto Di Priolo brothers destroyed their Giulietta Sprint in a crash while competing in the ’56 Mille Miglia, and tasked Zagato to build a new body for it. The new car was built from a steel tubular chassis clothed in aluminium panels, resulting in a 135 Kg weight saving that gave it a significant edge over its competitors.

As a result, racers soon went to Zagato instead of buying the new Sprint Speciale, which, after the first 101 cars made, was modified into a GT car, more at home on the Riviera than the track. The success of the Giulietta Sprint Zagato convinced Alfa Romeo to offer it as an officially-sanctioned model by 1960. Moreover, Zagato became the “go-to” supplier for Alfa Romeo racing car bodies, much to Bertone’s dismay.

The Giulietta SZ by Zagato became an officially sanctioned Alfa model by 1960 (FCA EMEA Press)

The relative “failure” of the Sprint Speciale is often cited as a reason the relationship between Bertone and Scaglione went sour, leading Scaglione to leave in 1959, replaced by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro.

The Sprint Speciale’s design is perhaps the closest Franco Scaglione ever got to translate the aerodynamic experimentation made on the three BAT cars to series production. Its striking shape, dictated by the pursuit of speed, stemmed from Scaglione’s knowledge of the work of the pioneer aerodynamicist Paul Jaray, yet it’s as far from pure functionalism as it can get. It blends science and art into an irresistible kinetic sculpture.

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The Giulietta Sprint Speciale remained in production until 1966, albeit renamed “Giulia” from 1962, when it received its 1570cc engine. Its highly distinctive design meant it always remained a niche proposition: 1366 Giulietta SS and around 1400 Giulia SS were made, now coveted collector’s cars.

I’ve made a video about the Giulietta SS on YouTube too…

Author: Matteo Licata

I've been obsessed with cars for as long as I can remember, and I started drawing them the very moment I could hold a pencil in my hand. Being born in 1980s Turin, it wasn't long before I realized there were people actually drawing cars for a living: I remember I had a Giugiaro Design school diary, sometime in the late 80s, and every month there was a glossy picture of some of his concept cars: Aspid, Asgard, Capsula, Machimoto... From then on, my path was set: I was going to be a "car designer", come hell or high water, and have now been living the dream for about ten years. I've so far published two books about cars, with more to come. Find out more at roadster-life.com

19 thoughts on “Too Pretty To Race”

  1. The purest form of this wonderful shape is the Prototipo now in the Lopresto collection, without the Alfa Romeo shield and ornaments. Scaglione himself said that at the presentation of the Speciale, a man told him that he (Scaglione) didn’t was a designer of cars, but a creator of women’s bodies, and he was very happy about that metaphor. He was only concerned about the colour, he preferred a blue, which was better to show the surfaces than the classic red.

  2. It’s gorgeous. No wonder it is coveted.

    But the Zagato is perhaps even lovlier. Imagine the days, when customers had two beautiful and desirable Alfa Romeo coupes to choose from!

    1. It’s not even so long ago when they had two coupes targeted quite exactly at the same market segment: GT and Brera. Of course, the ‘beautiful and desirable’ attributes can be debated here.

      From the two ones covered here, I also tend to prefer the Zagato, mainly because it doesn’t have the unfavourably long overhangs of the Bertone counterpart.

    2. The father for a former schoolmate ran a bodyshop specialised in aluminium repairs. They always had interesting cars from customers from all over the world. The personal favourite of the shop owner were old Alfas of which he had nearly thirty, most of them racers like Giulia TZ but also a couple of Zagato Giuliettas of which only three had been made in this particular configuration. He always said “there are only three of those cars – this one, this one and the third is in Madras, but it’s only a question of time until I get it, too”. One day he showed me the newest addition to his collection: “three of these cars, this one this one and that one!”

    3. I agree, Jacomo. The Bertone design is lovely, but it slightly overwhelms its wheelbase (like the Brera, in this regard). The Zagato design is just so pretty and, unusually for its designer, not polarising:

      It reminds me of the early 911 or original Alpine A110, although neither is quite so delicate.

    4. Having only ever seen the Sprint Speciale Prototipo in the metal, I must state that I didn’t mind that car’s wheel base, in the sense that I found it more ‘charismatic’ à la the E-type’s track width than downright odd. Speaking of which, it’s glaringly obvious that the Sprint Speciale served as inspiration to Sir Billy on numerous occasions, what with the E-type’s rear haunch and the XJ’s rear aspect.

      As with most pre-Spada Zagatos, I find the original SZ somewhat uncouth. The bulbous forms aren’t my cup of tea either, so stylistically, I consider the SS in an altogether different league.

    1. Er…why?

      He is somewhat beige, overall, and the jacket and trousers are rather too similar in colour without being a match (ignoring the jacket’s pattern, of course). Is that it?

      Natty driving gloves, though.

    2. Yes, the principle with separates is that the legs and jackets should be noticeably different or else fully matching. The gloves are quite smart. But perhaps a person who needs to use gloves would have chosen less formal clothes. I am thinking of Fox in the Day of the Jackal – shirt and cravat?

      R

    3. Aha. Not only is DTW a treasure trove of automotive knowledge, but an invaluable source of sartorial expertise as well! (I really must revisit my thumbnail photo to ensure that I’ve not inadvertantly committed any fashion faux-pas therein.)

      String backed driving gloves puts me in mind of the great Stirling Moss, who advertised them back in the 1960’s, if I recall correctly. It also reminds me of another famous wearer, TV personality Alan Partridge. Here he is promoting his inimitable style, from about 2 minutes 50 seconds in the video below:

      Enjoy!

    4. Ah, I remember that. Rebecca Front plays the fashion designer. She is a very good actress. Patrick Marber went on to become a playwrite. That show had a lot of talented performers.

    5. You forgot to namecheck Armando Iannucci, who may be the English speaking world’s premier comedic genius.

  3. One wonders why these cars needed the best part of a foot of ground clearance. Virtually half a wheel/tire diameter of empty space in that first photo. Really unusual to my eye. Is there some principle of aerodynamics that was once known but has somehow been forgotten? Was this the special theory mentioned in the article? Not to mention the extra interior room that was free for the asking in the vertical dimension, but unutilized. These things make a modern Velar look like a wimp in the rock-crawling department. But a contemporary 1960 Austin Healey 3000 would ground on an errant broom, so even BMC knew that a low centre of gravity was helpful on road.

    It’s interesting that the Giulia Sprint styling is consonant with the old-fashioned stance, so that it is only modern man who notices the strangeness of a dainty ballet dancer always on tiptoes. Not suitable for racing and the Zagato really not much better. No wonder Chapman noticed these small things though, and low cars definitely corner better due to the lower centre of gravity.

    Early Mustangs like Steve McQueen’s 1968 Bullitt had 8 inches or so of ground clearance. I used to watch street Mustangs at hill climbs in the late ’60s and they were perched up on tip toes all right:

    On the other hand, going to a Trans Am race in ’68 showed that Penske/Donahue certainly made more groundhugging Camaros for track work since physics is ever present, and the Mustangs and Javelins followed suit.

    https://www.hotrod.com/articles/historic-trans-am-1968-ford-mustang-enjoys-life-vintage-racer/#010-bittle-hinchcliff-ross-1968-ford-mustang-owner

    Not a fan of raised cars myself. The Trans Am look in North America led to lower cars, because the look became popular for custom modders. The more I stare at the subject Giulia, the stranger it looks to me, sorry to say.

    1. There is something (to my eyes at least) quite wrong with the ride height of the Giulietta SS shown above. Notwithstanding the angle from which the image was taken, the car in question has a notably raised ride height, which is either a consequence of suspension settings being altered upon restoration or larger diameter road wheels perhaps being fitted. What it isn’t is representative of how the car most likely left the factory – unless Alfa Romeo were really ahead of the curve by offering a ‘Cross-Active’ version.

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