Me L’ero Persa

Bella Macchina

Image: classiccarcatalogue

How could such a design exist without my prior knowledge? I almost felt anger, frustration certainly; emotions usually tethered to unassuming teenagers surfaced upon first setting eyes on such a machine. To exist and spin its intricate web so enigmatically, after so many years we can only dream as to what may have been had circumstances played out more beneficially. 

At a time when the United States unveiled the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and Britain, the Riley Pathfinder, the industry as a whole was in the midst of unleashing a plethora of postwar conformity. Alfa Romeo were undisputed Formula One kings but financial matters began to alter their gaze. The Biscione needed to adapt from small scale, handmade vehicles for the wealthy to that of a mass producer, while allowing for lucrative Sports and GT prototypes to continue, especially if cost saving adaptations could be made.

Utilising the highly credible 1900 saloon as a base, lead engineers Orazio Satta, along with Giuseppe Busso worked their magic, increasing the displacement closer to the class limiting 2,000 cc level. Breathing through two side draft carburettors with double chokes, the 1,997 cc unit produced 138bhp at a not insubstantial 6,500rpm. The car’s unitary body featured independent front suspension, whereas beneath the rear was suspended a De Dion axle with Watts link. Drum brakes all round, with rears inboard, reducing unsprung weight. A success story with a curtailed ending, not for production.


Being frank, little of this really matters – the equation here pertains to matters of lust.

In order to build this most pulchritudinous automobile I’ve never seen in the metal, Portello turned to Bertone, handing the project to Franco Scaglione and team. A tubular frame, itself hardly ill-favoured to those with even a modicum of fabrication skills, would become dressed in its light aluminium body. 

Well before the days of DTW, since childhood even, my dream car design (with added sex appeal)[1] had been the W198 Mercedes 300SL. Even my football fanatic and non-car enthusiast brother knows of the Gullwing. Sonniere au passageyet the ever lustrous German reigns no more. How has this hitherto unknown and unprepossessing Italian gained such a hold?

Novelty, to these eyes at least, certainly plays a part. Three quarter viewing angles are generally regarded as the ones to define, or render ambiguous any vehicle. As seen on screen, the eye reveals the bonnet’s glorious curves. With that low, oval grille presenting merely a hint of the Biscione to the slatted drum rake air intakes and those teardrop headlight covers. The minute indicators – almost a beauty spot – allowing the eyes to momentarily pause before casting over that central bonnet rib and tracing those graceful bonnet shut lines. 


Being carefree to actual aerodynamic properties, the ridge emanating atop the front wheel arch offers up an image of immense speed while standing stock still. And from this viewpoint, the muscular haunch remains distinct. Elevating the platform allows the genteel dome to envelop, that haunch now a fin, those wire wheels, shod in surprisingly generous rubber simply ache to gyrate, again at speed.

Lingering ten or so feet above, that tubular section beneath the door – not an issue per se – from up here, nothing more than a penstock. Lowering one’s view and observing the car squarely in profile, a puissance, by-element of the structure that whilst not conforming to obvious beauty, enhances the whole for being there.

When unleashed upon, say the Mille Miglia, the car could top 200Kmh; the speed could be halved for all I would care, while my grin would double upon seeing this drive by. How can malleable sheet metal create such emotion? How can a race of otherwise warmongering and over-controlling mammals learn to create such delicacy, such beauty? 

And we’ve yet to reach the rear!

That the Sportiva’s front end demanded the eyes to scan its curves, its rear is a place to linger. The gently tapering, chrome surrounded rear window alone worth more words than this article is restricted to. Include with that the fuel filler cap: mille parole[3]. One aches when considering the skills, time and devotion to this solitary item. Why, even the rear lamps are succinctly lovely. The boot may not be able to store a spare negligée but no consequence: such a rump merits extensive immersion, preferably sans time limit. A long drink within the auspices of a comfy chair could certainly do it (some) justice.


Perching almost as an afterthought, the monochrome badge that manages to shine with championship winning status. Then, one frisson of jewellery – the Sportiva name. Scripted in italic gold, elegant, understated and perfect.

Interior pictures appear few and far between. Your author noticing slight changes from a standard 1900 to the Sportiva along with the steering wheel, now a disappointingly plain wooden type with almost featureless three spokes. More pertinently, right hand drive. Could it be this car was once headed for this sceptered isle? Doubtful, this detail could merely be an Italian quirk[3]. As for my questions, they remain. Maybe I’m in need of lie down.

The everyday 1900 and its cousins are themselves hardly unprepossessing. This version however contains more than sheer sex appeal. As time wears ever on, it is probably more appropriate to simply admire without any unravelling attempts.

Image: fabwheelsdigest

All this of course from a fellow who remains rather taken by the W198, while openly admitting to having his eyes and ideas opened toward automotive design from reading and contributing to this website. Include within selected individuals, one of whom, Matteo Licata, has a splendid seven minute video concerning the Sportiva, seen here.

I hear the car now resides in the manufacturer’s Arese museum, the car only allowed out to play at larger, more prestigious events. And for such luminaries as the bass player from Coldplay. Money talks…

Italian for I Have Missed Out.

[1] Not that I knew about such things, aged seven.

[2] Italian for a thousand words.

[3] Lancia built many RHD cars for the Italian market, often seen as a mark of prestige and distinction. A certain E. Ferrari once failed in having an Aurelia B20 built with the wheel on the left.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

24 thoughts on “Me L’ero Persa”

  1. This particular Sportiva 2000 is of grat historical importance to Alfa Romeo.
    For many years it sat in a corner of the development department covered in dust and forgotten.

    During the early definition phase of the Alfetta (the road car, not the 158/9 racer) project Alfa made experiments with a couple of modified 1750 GTVs in search of the best rear suspension.
    One 1750 had an improved version of the existing rigid axle, one a double wishbone setup like the SZ racers with driveshafts as upper suspension links, Jaguar-style, another one a full blown double wishbone design. Everybody was happy with the last one except Consalvo Sanesi, who didn’t like what he tried. Then somebody remembered the old Sportiva with its DeDion suspension and the car was quickly cleaned, put on new tyres and made ready to drive.
    The rest is history. Sanesi liked the DeDion suspension and wanted it for the new road car. His opinion had so much weight that Satta Puliga and others gave in and the tragic maldecision was made to fit the Alfetta with a rear suspension of a design that’s surprisingly similar to that of this Sportiva.

  2. Your note on the car being RHD – this was not uncommon on Italian sports cars at that time, even for cars destined to remain in Italy. I have no idea as to how true this reason is, but I did read that it allowed for easier placement of the car on narrow mountain roads.

    Regardless, it’s a lovely looking piece of art masquerading as a motor vehicle.

    1. RHD was certainly still standard practice until relatively recently in Switzerland for coaches operating on narrow mountain roads to enable the driver to see exactly how close to the edge his wheels were. But quite why the Italians chose RHD for their cars prior to and for a short while after WW2 I am not at all sure – though I did once hear the suggestion was that it facilitated kerb-crawling. Which of course I thought was totally un-called for.

  3. Good morning Andrew. Chacun à son goût, of course, but I’m afraid this Alfa doesn’t really float my boat. The sharp horizontal creases on the flat(ish) bodysides seem to be at odds with the voluptuous curvature elsewhere, and what’s going on with those bulbous sills (not seen on the cars in the first two photos)? There are some lovely details, such as the bodywork around the rear lights, which is masterfully executed.

    Weirdly, the Alfa put me in mind of this, the TVR Taimar:

    Sorry! 😁

    1. This bulbous sill is only on one side.
      If I remember correctly, I read in some book that due to the low ground clearance, the exhaust had to be routed around the cockpit.

    2. The Taimar derived from the original TVR Grantura, and I saw the connection as well. No doubt the designer was aware of this Alfa, as were Jaguar designers (the E-Type coupe has more than a hint of the Alfa Disco Volante coupe as well).

    3. If you don’t like the sportiva, how about a corto gara

      or a sprint Pininfarina

    1. Goid morning, Richard. That’s taking taciturn to extremes. Typo, or you being enigmatic? 😁

  4. The W198 looks nice on centre-lock wheels, but you lose interest once you’ve seen the SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe ( I know the interior is impractical..)

  5. In all this design criticism, one must not forget that the Sportiva was primarily designed for sports use. Aesthetic reasons came second.
    As Dave’s pictures show, there were harmonious alternatives for the road vehicles.

    The housings of the rear lights probably had more aerodynamic reasons. (They are certainly artfully executed).

    1. The number of available bodystyles for the 1900 spring was amazing.
      There was a coupé from every well known carrozziere and sometimes they made only a couple of hundred of them – and you got numerous one-offs (or twooffs) like the Bertone Sportiva
      Touring superleggera




      Touring corto gara (SWB for sports usage)

    2. I think I prefer the Corto Gara, although all of these are beautiful in their own way. The Sportiva that Andrew fell in love with is gorgeous as well, but I’m not sure I’m as smitten as he is.

    3. I’d also take the corto gara.
      The Zagato is Zagato-ugly and the Ghia looks as if it came from Raymond Loewy with a bit of Cyril Eyner and is simply too American for an Alfa.

    4. I do appreciate the oddball-factor of the Zagato and Ghia versions, but they’re not what I’d choose.

      I have the oddest experience when I see the Pininfarina: it’s beautiful, but also a little… generic. It could be a Lancia or anything else, which feels a faintly sacrilegious thing to be thinking. A little mad as well, because it really is very beautiful (to me anyway).

  6. This italian beauty reminds me most to the Ferrari 275 GTB, one of many fantastic cars from Maranello.
    And like the Ferrari 275, it has a more butch look than many other italian beauties of this era.

  7. I see some Lamborghini 350 GTV in the bonnet, and a lot of B.A.T in the backlight. Well, go figure.

    So I was rifling through the Scaglione files and spotted this:

    That sneaky time traveller snatched the greenhouse straight off the Panther Solo! (The rest is obviously copied from a Mazda Cosmo that passed through a wormhole).

  8. Thanks to JTC for supplying the following pictures showing a Saurer Motor bus from 1961. The bodywork is by Carrosserie Gangloff of Bern; 5.8 litre supercharged 4-cyl diesel engine at the rear driving through a manual 4-speed constant mesh gearbox with pre-select overdrive on all gears (all controlled by an air-operated clutch pedal) to a 2-speed back axle. The brakes are air-assisted hydraulic with the addition of an exhaust brake.

    What a graceful looking machine! But does the tilting steering wheel look safe? It must be, though. It’s lasted quite a while.

    Thanks too for the comments and pictures above. What a diverse and again, graceful range on offer.

    Daniel; bringing TVR into the equation…i see your point but until i see the new apple of my eye in the metal, it’s the Sportiva all the way for me. But that’s just my personal opinion. Isn’t DTW such a refreshing place for healthy discourse regarding such matters?

  9. There was another Alfa coupe that ended up not going ahead a little later, based on the Alfa 6. Project 119

    Vaguely Espada-ish but considering Alfa was still making the Montreal as well, the decision to concentrate on the Guigiaro GTV was a good one.

  10. Beautiful Alfa. Saw it some seven years ago at the Alfa Romeo museum in Arese. Really enjoyed that visit, not just for the obvious reason of being surrounded by all kinds of wonderful Alfas, but because the museum, a stylish and ample building in itself, is located off the beaten path for regular tourists, so it was quiet and not at all crowded.

    Great read too, Andrew!

  11. Concerning the bump-out for the exhaust system; There is an old saying about attempts to hide mistakes; the attempt always looks worse than just making the mistake look as if it was planned that way.

    In my unprofessional opinion as a petrolhead who has spent his life collecting rare cars, both beautiful and ugly*, had the designer worked with the engineer to add an exhaust pipe exit hole in the lower front wing, and another hole in the rear wing for the exhaust to re-enter the body shell, plus the exposed exhaust pipe chromed, with a chrome heat shield on top, then people would know it’s where the exhaust needed to be placed. It could have represented the exposed exhausts of pre-WW2 grand touring cars. As it exists in these photos, it’s simply an ungainly bump, reminiscent of a running board gone bad.

    Other than that bump, the car is beautiful.

    * Beautiful and/or ugly cars I’ve owned include Alfa-Romeo 6C2500 coupe & Tatra T2-603, and 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible & 1950 Studebaker Starlight Coupe. Which are beautiful and which are ugly? That’s for each person to decide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: