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Alfa Romeo Sportscars of the Past

4 July, 1998

In the eyes of classic car enthusiasts, Alfa Romeo sportscars have been the object of admiration since the Twenties.

Some of the most outstanding include:

6C 1750 Gran Sport (1930)

This is one of the most interesting of the many cars in the 6C 1750 'family', and the one that contributed most to the aura of racing Alfa Romeos in the Thirties. For enthusiasts, this assertive convertible with its aluminium bodywork by Zagato (other bodywork specialists such as Touring, Castagna and Garavini also built convertibles on the same mechanicals), remains first and foremost 'Nuvolari's car'.

It was with this car that the great driver from Mantua humbled his adversaries on the 1930 Mule Miglia, crossing the finishing line in front of three other works 1750 GSs in the race.

In response to requests from an 6lite group of Alfa fans, the 1750 Gran Turismo Compressore was derived directly from the 1750 Gran Sport; 159 were built in 1931-32, mostly with a metallic body by Alfa Romeo, but it too was the subject of styling exercises by major bodywork specialists of the time, including Touring, whose Spider version won first prize at the Villa d'Este Elegance competition in 1931.

2500 Super Sport Freccia d'Oro (1947)

Although its mechanical specification was designed before the war, this model, on which Alfa Romeo concentrated its manufacturing activities immediately after the Second World War, anticipated the period of intense innovation that Alfa was about to embark on.

Its straight-6, twin cam, 2443 cc, 105 bhp engine was combined with a four speed all synchro gearbox controlled by a lever on the steering column; and the advanced aerodynamic two-door body of the saloon version, built by Alfa itself, was welded to the chassis, paving the way for the successful stress-bearing structure of the future. Saloon versions of the 2500 Super Sport could seat five; three in the front and two in the rear.

The saloon is greatly admired by lovers of prestigious period cars, but it is the streamlined Coup6 and Cabriolet versions built on the chassis of the 2500 Super Sport by Pinin Farina, Touring and Boneschi, that are authentic Alfa sports cars, capable of reaching 100 mph with ease in their day, thanks to their lightweight bodies.

1900 Super Sprint Coupe (1954)

This streamlined 2+2 coupe derived from the saloon with which Alfa Romeo had undertaken mass production in 1950, was the first Alfa Romeo sportscar to be accessible to a larger public than the elite addressed hitherto by Alfa's Granturismo models.

Its 4-cylinder in-line engine had a capacity of only 1975 cc, but power was boosted to 115 bhp.

Styling received a strong imprint from the three-lobe front grille, compact, light-filled interior, and the' unusual up-turned trapezium rear window. The design 'borrowed' a number of successful elements from the previous 6C 2500 'Villa d'Este', also echoed in the Cabriolet by Pinin Farina, which appeared in the same period.

The outstanding performance of the 1900 Super Sprint was made possible by exceptionally light bodywork. This was designed by Touring using an exclusive 'Superlight' construction technique, based on the use of hand-beaten aluminium sheet, stapled to a frame of small steel pipes and tubes welded to the floorpan.

1900 Super Sprint Cabriolet (1954)

In 1951, when it commissioned Touring to design the Coup6, Alfa Romeo entrusted Pinin Farina with the task of creating a convertible version.

Pinin Farina's convertible, like Touring's coupe, reflected typical Alfa styling, with the three-lobe front grille, which Alfa had expressly asked the coachbuilders to retain, in consideration of the fact that both models would be marketed through the Alfa Romeo dealer network.

The development of this derivative of the 1900 caused considerable engineering problems, as it had for the Coup& The body could no longer be built on a frame, as it had been in the past, but on a steel floorpan - the 1900 saloon was the first Alfa with a stress-bearing body. It called for an enormous amount of engineering design work to create a suitable frame that was sufficiently stiff.

Two successive series of the 1900 Cabriolet were built up to 1958, with Sprint (1884 cc and 100 bhp engine) and Super Sprint (1975 cc, 115 bhp) mechanicals.

Giulietta Sprint Coupe (1954)

This 2+2 coupe, with body by Bertone, was immediately embraced by Italian and foreign enthusiasts; it marked a second fundamental step by Alfa Romeo, immediately after the launch of the 1900 SS, in its new strategy of producing sportscars accessible to a larger public. This strategy was underlined by the unusual decision to present the Coupe before the saloon from which it was derived, and in fact it made its public debut at the Turin Motor Show in April 1954, one year before the Giulietta.

Compact size, low running costs, a top speed of 100 mph, sophisticated suspension, and an extremely smooth gearchange - with lever positioned under the steering wheel until 1958; these were particular features of the Giulietta Sprint, which stayed in production until 1962, and is considered an ageless Alfa Romeo by devotees of the marque.

Giulietta Spider (1955)

Alfa Romeo commissioned both Bertone and Pinin Farina to make proposals for a convertible version of the Giulietta, which, like the Coupe, was given the go-ahead by Alfa

Romeo before the launch of the saloon, in order to compare the submissions of both designers. The project was of particular importance because it was awaited with great expectations not only by European markets, but also in the United States.

In the end, Pinin Farina won the day, presenting a prototype distinguished once again by outstanding balance and elegance.

The low, compact lines of the Giulietta Spider, which used the Sprint floorpan with a shorter wheelbase, provided the secret of its enormous international success, which was aided by comparison with technologically less advanced contemporary British sports cars, and with the Alfa's remarkable 100 mph performance that belied its relatively small engine (1290 cc, 80 bhp).

As a result, this fascinating Alfa Romeo soon became fashionable transport in exclusive circles, and its image was further enhanced by numerous racing victories.

Over 17,000 were built up to 1962, including the subsequent Veloce version, with power boosted to 90 bhp.

GT Junior (1966)

The appearance of this 4-seater coup6 in 1966, with its modern, elegant lines, aimed, as its name suggested, at younger customers, was further confirmation of Alfa Romeo's role as a specialist manufacturer of sportscars.

The bodywork of the GT Junior, designed by Bertone to be compact, streamlined and aerodynamic, echoed that of the more powerful Giulia Sprint GT created three years earlier, although in somewhat simplified form. It was constructed, together with the car's other components, in the new Arese factory at Milan, and not at the designer's bodywork premises like sportscars of the past.

In 1969, the GT Junior received a number of substantial improvements to its mechanical components, derived from the Giulia. It was powered by a revised version of the 1290 cc four cylinder twin cam engine, which now delivered 89 bhp. A version with much lighter bodywork, built for Group 2 Touring Car events, was prepared in 1967 by Autodelta, powered by a specially prepared 140 bhp engine.

Spider 1600 Duetto (1966)

This model resulted from a sophisticated styling project, the last undertaken by Battista Pinin Farina before his death. Elaborating on certain principles submitted a year previously in a Giulietta Spider Speciale Aerodynamica prototype, the great designer translated a number of original ideas into reality, such as the sloping, forward-reaching front, the plexiglass headlights, the deep slash in the sides, the lentiform shape and the strongly rounded rear end.

Based on the mechanicals of the earlier Giulia 1600 Spider, the new Alfa Romeo sports car - named Duetto as a result of a competition, but also known to enthusiasts by the nickname, Cuttlefish - was powered by a new version of the well-known 1570 cc twin cam unit producing 109 bhp.

With a personality and appeal undimmed by passing years, this inimitable Alfa Romeo was destined to have a long, successful life in markets all over the world, including North America where the renown it won as actor Dustin Hoffman's chosen transport in the film, The Graduate, caused it to be marketed there with the same name as the film.

Numerous versions were introduced, with only marginal alterations to the styling, and different engines became available, including a 1.3 litre unit that powered the Junior version.

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