Obsessions #4 – Alfa Romeo Montreal
Author: 14 July 15:31
This one goes way back, too. Yup, there does seem to be a slight theme of big-engined 2+2s developing here, but who can blame anyone for being seduced by such a beguiling, out of type creation?
By "out of type" I mean that the Montreal is the most unAlfa of all the Alfas ever. And that perhaps is what appeals more than anything when you measure it against the marque's consistently brilliant, but slightly "obvious choice" output. Even without the intoxicating yet fragile V8, the Bertone styling sets it apart from the GTVs that we all lust after so much, enjoy driving so much, but somehow don't get around to buying because, even if they are not quite on every corner, in inverted snobbery terms they rank with an MGB or an E-type.
Nothing wrong with any of those cars, of course, and I would have any in a heartbeat, but if part of the joy of your car is standing out (not in a spivvy, overly flash way), or owning something that sets you apart from the herd, then very little will do that better than a Montreal.
This is a car that through those futuristic, still youthful Gandini lines will entrance even non enthusiasts who, thanks to the slender sub-4000 production run of from the start of the 1970s to 1977, will have absolutely no idea what it is. I genuinely think that if this shape was launched today, not one would bat an eyelid or dare to utter the word "retro".
I will admit to being a bit cheeky in the past (well evil might be a better word) scorning its looks and comparing it to a Celica GT when a former colleague raved about them. Evil and childish, as it turns out, because I did this solely to try and put him off so he would leave them all to me. Sorry Rich.
Mind you, everyone knew my caustic dismissals were hogwash because my computer screensaver in those days was a massively crossed up Montreal on the Classic Adelaide rally in Australia. Writing this piece prompted me to look it out, but, several computers, a few buildings and probably 10 different desks further on in life, I was devastated to discover I couldn't find it anymore.
A couple of years after I passed up a car (pre-auction, for which it was carrying a £10k guide price) for a mere £7 grand. I was younger, poorer (not than now, but than I was a few years after this incident) and a conversation with Tom Hardiment, then of Garage on the Green in London, somehow put me off. I think it centred around engine bills. Back then, you could have had a minter for £15k. Better to hold out for that I reckoned.
Having £15k and finding the right car never did coincide, but even now, these cars are astonishing good value, and well under £30k will secure you something very special indeed – still with all the cognoscenti cachet and, the uppermost and downermost side of Montreal ownership: respect from the classic community for being brave enough to own one.
In that sense you can file it with the Citroën SM (another obsession of mine and one that is a natural bedfellow for the Alfa) and for a similar reason: the engine. The Alfa's Spica fuel-injected 2593cc unit – driving through a ZF five-speeder – has a monumental Achilles' Heel.
It may offer tantalising tunes bludgeoning its way from 0-60mph in seven seconds before topping out at a theoretical 140mph, but those stats are as of nothing if you are stranded by the roadside thanks to a small ball-bearing letting go and eventually lunching the engine.
The little problem with the Montreal you see is this ball bearing supports the shaft that drives the water pump impeller. In fact that is not the problem, the problem is that all too often it doesn't support it. This is in part due to the fact that the idler shaft in question – chain-driven off the crank – also carries the sprockets that drive the camshaft chains. You can see where this is going, so I will stop before its gets too gory. Suffice to say, one small ball bearing giving out, as it rather too regularly did, led to frequent and costly engine dilemmas that plagued the Montreal throughout its life.
Despite that, this car (served by an excellent website here http://www.alfamontreal.info/ if you want to know more, Bruce Taylor in print and on-line being the guru of these cars and from whom I have paraphrased the techie bit above) is as close to a Tipo 33 Stradale that any of us mere mortals will every get.
I know also that I share this obsession with a couple of senior figures in the car world, which I consider a sort of peer validation for my own wonky thinking. One of these people is none other than Joanne Marshall, senior PR bod at Ferrari. In Maranello.
In fact, when I visited last year, this incurable classic fiend (originally from the west country, but who basically camped out in Italy until they gave her a job) had just finally bought her own Montreal after decades of promising herself one. She enthused and I enthused, in fact we enthused together - boring all and sundry around us - on the subject of Montreals for the best part of a day.
Hers was just having a couple of final little things sorted in Milan before she took delivery. I was sorry to have missed it, but asked about it every time I had occasion to contact her thereafter. And every time it was the same story, until I stopped asking for the sake of her sanity and my own.
For all I know, Joanne probably still hasn't got her hands on her Montreal, and maybe that means it's a good thing that I never got one either.
Fiat's young boss steers a tough course
John Elkann aims to delicately balance Italian passion and corporate pragmatism
Automotive News | November 26, 2012 - 12:01 am EST
TURIN, Italy -- Whenever Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne appears in public, TV crews jostle to beam his words around the globe. Amid the push and shove it's easy to miss the tall, curly-headed young man who often looks on from the sidelines.
He's John Elkann. And he's Marchionne's boss.
The 36-year-old scion of Italy's powerful Agnelli clan became vice chairman of Fiat -- founded and still controlled by his family -- just under a decade ago, and chairman in 2010. For years, his was the saga of a shy, awkward young heir thrust prematurely into corporate leadership by family tragedy. No more.
Now Elkann is taking the key role in answering the question that faces his family's company: Is what's good for Italy really good for Fiat anymore?
The question evokes the famous statement -- "I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa" -- by Charles "Engine Charlie" Wilson, then the president of GM, 60 years ago.
Nobody is calling Elkann "Engine Johnnie." But many thought Fiat had outgrown Italy in 2009 when it snapped up a controlling stake in Chrysler and left Elkann to wrestle with the politically potent question of how closely the family company, long the symbol of corporate Italy, should remain tied to the troubled economy of its home country.
Elkann's answer came on Oct. 30, when Fiat announced it would increase its investments by almost 50 percent -- to a total of 16 billion to 18 billion euros, or about $20 billion to $23 billion -- in the next few years. That includes billions to retool its five underused Italian factories and to push its Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands, with venerable names but checkered reputations, into direct conflict with Germany's formidable luxury-car troika of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
If Alfa Romeo and Maserati succeed, they'll reduce Fiat's heavy reliance on commoditized small cars in Italy and southern Europe, ground zero for the continental crisis. But if they fail, the consequences will be harsh.
Europe's mass-market brands, not just Fiat but also Ford, Peugeot and Opel, are reeling from Europe's slumping car market and each will lose $1 billion or more this year. Ford and Peugeot have announced plant closings to trim losses, in sharp contrast to Fiat. In short, the new moves amount to Elkann's boldest and riskiest bet on the future of Fiat and the Agnelli fortune.
People who know Elkann well say he can afford to indulge any sentimental ties to Italy because he has already diversified his family's investment portfolio of $9.5 billion away from Italy and from cars.
Elkann has not commented on the move, and declined to be interviewed for this story.
So far he is leaving the explaining to Marchionne, in keeping with their respective characters. The two men, in daily contact, are a study in contrasts. Elkann is tall, blond and soft-spoken, given to awkward silences during conversations. Marchionne, 60, is rumpled, dark and tart-tongued, reveling in his superstar reputation for pulling Fiat from the brink of bankruptcy eight years ago.
Marchionne engineered Fiat's takeover of Chrysler after the U.S. company's 2009 bankruptcy, and has led a Fiat product revival. Fiat executives say the old American quip about the brand's quality -- "Fix It Again, Tony" -- has given way to a new play on Fiat's initials, "Fine Innovation And Technology."
But the source of Marchionne's power is Elkann, who helped pluck the CEO from Swiss-based, Agnelli-owned SGS to run Fiat in 2004. SGS provides global inspection and certification services.
Elkann controls Fiat through a layer-cake structure of family companies. The first is Exor, a Milan-listed holding company that in turn is controlled by an unlisted limited partnership called Giovanni Agnelli e C., which is the forum for family decision making.
All 90 family shareholders meet once a year. But in a structure designed to avoid family fights, Elkann holds the largest number of partnership shares and thus makes final decisions.
He was born in New York in 1976 to Margherita Agnelli, daughter of family patriarch Gianni, and Alain Elkann, a journalist from a prominent French Jewish family. His parents split when he was 5 and his mother remarried and started a new family. By the time Elkann was 14 he had five new siblings, in addition to the two from his mother's first marriage.
Elkann lived in Britain and Brazil before attending high school in Paris. (He speaks four languages.) His limited boyhood experience of Turin was summer visits to his grandparents, who lived in a hilltop villa. In 1994 he enrolled in Turin Polytechnic, eschewing his grandparents' elegant home to live in a dormitory room with a shower but no private toilet.
"It was a good sign of accepting an almost military attitude of effort," says a former Fiat manager, who asked not to be named. "He showed he could adapt."
Two years later Elkann went to the British Midlands to work at a Fiat-owned headlight plant, staying with an English couple who had no idea their lodger was an Agnelli heir. Elkann usually ate dinner from a tray in front of the TV, sitting next to the family dog.
In December 1997 Elkann's cousin, Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, who was being groomed to run Fiat, died of cancer. Elkann was named to Fiat's board and designated, at age 22, as heir to the controlling stake. Other company-family traumas followed. In 2002 Fiat nearly went bust. In 2003 Gianni Agnelli died, followed by Elkann's great-uncle Umberto Agnelli in 2004.
A few years later Elkann's younger brother, Lapo, nearly died of a drug overdose, and lost his marketing post at Fiat. Then in 2007 their mother sued John over her inheritance, sparking a three-year courtroom and family battle. He and his mother see each other rarely.
"It was very difficult for John," one sympathetic member of the Agnelli clan recalls. "He learned not to trust people."
Fiat Chairman John Elkann stands with Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. Although Marchionne often receives the public’s attention, his power comes from Elkann, who helped pluck the CEO from another Agnelliowned company to run Fiat in 2004.
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
When he inherited Fiat, Elkann got much more than a company. Just as GM and Ford have shaped America, Fiat's history is tightly entwined with Italy's transformation from a poor agricultural nation to a top industrial power.
Elkann's stewardship has been complicated by the Agnellis' prominent social role as Italian capitalism's "first family." This heritage means that shrinking car sales create a problem that goes beyond mere numbers. Fiat expects to lose $890 million in Europe this year, while profits -- $364 million in the third quarter -- have been propped up by a resurgent Chrysler. But some Italians have seen the company's recent lack of investment in new models as treasonous.
That may be why Fiat recently added a sixth Italian factory to build Maserati models for export. Elkann and Marchionne have repeatedly said the company does not intend to close its Italian factories, though it has long idled five around the country, drawing the ire of union leaders, politicians, car dealers, parts suppliers and even the government.
Elkann meets regularly with Prime Minister Mario Monti, an old family friend who has been on Fiat's board. At a Sept. 22 meeting Elkann and his CEO complained about the obstacles faced by companies doing business in Italy, said a person briefed on the meeting.
"The meeting persuaded the government that it needed to improve the ability of companies to export out of Italy," the person said, referring to possible tax cuts for exporters.
But business leaders such as Diego Della Valle, chairman of shoe and leather goods-maker Tod's, and Florence's ambitious mayor, Matteo Renzi, increasingly paint the family as the uncaring face of Italy's old guard.
"The Agnelli family should open its wallet and invest," Della Valle said on a TV talk show in September. "Otherwise it should go back to doing what it does best: great skiing, great sailing. Go back to playing golf and leave Italy's problems to serious people."
Marchionne has taken most of the heat for Fiat's decisions, but some people say Elkann needs to speak up more.
"They give the impression they don't care," said a Milan banker. "Either he quickly corrects this attitude or the criticism will get worse."
The real challenge for Elkann is how to diversify the Agnelli family's investment portfolio. He is making progress.
Ten years ago, when Elkann's grandfather died, the bulk of the company's investments were in Italy and France. By last year, one third of revenue came from North America, 38 percent from Europe and 29 percent from the rest of the world.
The company owns 69.3 percent of New York-based real estate company Cushman & Wakefield, a controlling stake in Turin's Juventus soccer team, 17.4 percent in Milan-based Banca Leonardo, 18.7 percent of French paper-maker Sequana and 4.7 percent of British news magazine The Economist. Cars account for just 20 percent of revenue.
But many still see Exor as simply the owner of an Italian automaker.
"There is still a noticeable mismatch in perception of where our shares happen to be listed and where our businesses actually generate their revenues and profits," Elkann pointed out in Exor's letter to shareholders this year.
Exor has a BBB+ Standard & Poor's credit rating and about $954 million to spend. But Elkann is a cautious investor, the family member said, in part because he saw Fiat lose money through bad investment decisions a dozen years ago.
A spinoff of Ferrari from Fiat would increase the value of Exor, analysts say. But Elkann shows little inclination to sell Ferrari or Alfa Romeo. Another solution would be to merge Fiat with Chrysler, which would increase its value, but might mean moving the group's corporate headquarters out of Italy. Elkann is ready to do this if it is good for the company, people who know him say, though it would spark an uproar in Italy.
He has also said he would dilute the family's control of Fiat -- something the Peugeot family has been unwilling to do with their company.
Elkann lives in Turin but spends half his time traveling, mostly in the United States, where he visits New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. He chats with Bill Ford, Henry Ford's great-grandson and executive chairman of Ford Motor. The relationship between the Agnellis and the Fords goes back to the start of the 20th century, when Giovanni Agnelli, Fiat's founder, traveled to Detroit to meet Henry. Gianni Agnelli kept a photo on his desk of Giovanni with Henry Ford.
"John is very thoughtful, and I think he is wise beyond his years," said Byron Trott, founder of BDT Capital in Chicago, which invests in and advises large family-controlled companies, including Exor. "People comment about how young he is, but frankly he is a visionary on a global scale and can stand with any experienced businessman on any topic."
While many of his U.S. contacts stem from his grandfather, Elkann has built his own network in China, where he met Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao last year. He also attends meetings of the International Business Leaders' Advisory Council in Shanghai.
In Turin, Elkann sits in an office opposite Marchionne's in a building next to the Renzo Piano-designed renovation of a factory. He has sold the family villa in downtown Turin where Exor used to have its offices.
He has a black-and-white photo of his ancestors on his desk, photos of his children scattered about, and modern art hanging on the walls. In a corner is a model of Mephistopheles, a barrel-shaped red Fiat that broke the world speed record in 1924.
He spends his free time with his wife, Lavinia Borromeo, a former model from one of Italy's oldest aristocratic families, and their three children, Leone, Oceano and Vita. Earlier this year, Elkann and his wife drove a vintage Fiat through the Italian peninsula in the historic Mille Miglia road rally, sending Twitter messages and photos along the way.
The mix of history and modernity is obvious in other ways. On a 2008 trek with Lavinia in Bhutan, John was given a fabric neck cord by a monk who said it would help keep him safe. He wears it around his neck all the time. When he briefly lost it on a Miami-New York sailing race this year, he and the entire crew were worried until he found it again.
With his big bets on the future of Fiat and the family fortune, he might need it.
John Elkann, the 36-year-old scion of Italy's Agnelli clan, controls Fiat through a layer-cake structure of family companies.
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
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How a merger made a Dart
First test of synergy shows Chrysler, Fiat can listen, collaborate
Automotive News | May 14, 2012 - 12:01 am EST
As the first child of the 2009 marriage between Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group, the 2013 Dodge Dart contains the DNA of both of its parent automakers.
The Dart's look -- its distinctive nose and Dodge Charger-inspired tail, its rakish hood, sophisticated electronics and even its bland doors -- is all Chrysler.
But peek under its skin at what drives the Dart and holds it together and Fiat's contributions to Chrysler's coming line of compact and mid-sized vehicles steal the show.
After decades of questionable corporate and product-specific tie-ups between Chrysler and other automakers -- Mitsubishi, American Motors and especially the prickly relationship with Daimler -- engineers at the Pentastar say they're finally in a marriage built to last.
"I've been here since 1983, and I've lived through quite a number" of partnerships, says Mark Chernoby, Chrysler's head of engineering. "Right out of the chute, this was probably the first team we've worked with where we started right away listening to each other and learning from each other."
That collaboration begins paying dividends this month as dealers begin to order Dodge Darts. With a base price of $16,790 and a top trim-level price of $23,290, both including shipping, the Dart uses savings from its shared Fiat platform and co-developed technology to give Chrysler a larger, more powerful and technologically advanced compact sedan at a lower price than its competitors. The base Chevy Cruze, for example, is $17,595, and the base Toyota Corolla is $16,890.
The Dodge Dart’s skeletal structure comes from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The Dart, Chernoby says, grew from collaboration among Fiat and Chrysler engineers.
Some of Fiat's contributions are big and easy to spot.
-- The Dart's platform, known as CUSW, is a slightly larger version of the platform that underlies the current Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Before that, the Giulietta platform had been used on the Fiat Bravo and later on the Lancia Delta.
-- The fuel-efficient 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine -- optional on all but the R/T trim levels and producing 160 hp and 184 pounds-feet of torque -- is the same engine that powers the North American version of the Fiat 500 Abarth.
-- Chrysler is using a Fiat-sourced six-speed manual transmission as the Dart's standard gearbox, and an optional six-speed dual dry clutch transmission from Fiat will be available on some models this year.
Others are less visible yet just as important.
-- The Dart has a weight-saving aluminum front suspension crossmember that was made using a high-pressure casting method common in Europe but not used before in North America. Fiat brought this process to Chrysler's Etobicoke Casting Plant outside Toronto.
-- Chrysler and Fiat engineers together designed the Dart's front-end module -- engineers said it was the component that took the longest to design and perfect -- to increase safety during a frontal impact.
-- The Dart has Chrysler's first use of electric power steering in a rack-mounted design. It's a component sourced from ZF Friedrichshafen AG, but its weight-saving inclusion in the Dart came through Fiat and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The Dart's 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine was designed by Fiat but is assembled by Chrysler. The Dart's safety protection (blue) came from Alfa Romeo.
In 2009, when Fiat agreed to take control of Chrysler after the latter's bankruptcy, it did so in part because the two car companies had little product or market overlap. Fiat was a European specialist in small, fuel-efficient cars and engine technologies, but it had almost no large noncommercial vehicles or presence in North America. Chrysler had a portfolio filled with large cars, pickups and SUVs, but no fuel-efficient small cars and almost no presence outside its home continent.
Alone, neither was likely to survive for long, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne reasoned. But together, the two automakers looked like a two-piece jigsaw puzzle with one piece in each of Marchionne's hands.
Fiat came to the party with advanced technology and market-tested, flexible platforms that would allow Chrysler to make money on small and mid-sized vehicles that could be brought to market in less than three years. Chrysler, in turn, brought a global powerhouse in its Jeep brand and the market experience to show Fiat how to attract consumers in North America and similar markets.
Including the Dart and beyond, Fiat has brought other advances as well, such as its MultiAir variable valve timing technology to boost engine performance and lower emissions.
Fiat also brought its World Class Manufacturing system to Chrysler's plants. The system seeks to eliminate waste from the manufacturing process, including worker injuries, and uses regular audits to express a plant's efficiency. The audits cover plant output, worker and plant safety, product quality, plant waste and job interactions.
The collaboration between Chrysler and Fiat is also responsible for the rebadged Chrysler brand vehicles that are sold in Europe under the Lancia brand with few changes and the rebadged Dodge Journey being sold overseas as the Fiat Freemont.
Mike Merlo, the Dart's chief engineer, said the relationship between Fiat and Chrysler engineers on their first joint project allowed them both to learn.
"It was a very collaborative effort, starting with this platform and working its way into the rest of the product," Merlo said.
There was a point, in the development process, he said, "where there was a handoff, and the Dodge team then took it from there, about a year ago, to the final form."
As the first of what promises to be at least eight vehicles that will share the CUSW platform, the Dart embodies the heart of Marchionne's plan to build vehicles in North America cheaply and profitably.
Merlo said the CUSW platform "is designed to be both longer and shorter than the Dart, so it will be able to carry all of our C- and D-segment vehicles in the future." That spreads the platform development costs across a huge number of vehicles and generates additional savings from being able to share many components among vehicles.
Some of those next vehicles are already out in testing, including the successor to the Jeep Liberty that will be built at Chrysler's Toledo (Ohio) North Assembly plant and a Chrysler 100 hatchback that will join the Dart on the line in Belvidere, Ill. Both of those vehicles are expected in 2013.
From the start, Chrysler's experience with Fiat was strikingly different from its previous tie-ups, especially the failed "merger of equals" with Daimler AG.
Under Daimler, Chrysler's use of its parent company's technology was limited in part to protect the luster of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
"You had such brand separation at the start of the merger that we couldn't share a lug nut with Mercedes for the first two years, so what's the point of merging?" recalled Gary Dilts, who retired as Chrysler's head of U.S. sales in 2006. "It was basically a merger of balance sheets and nothing else."
Dilts said Daimler's attitude toward sharing components began to change with the arrival at Chrysler of Daimler executives Dieter Zetsche and Wolfgang Bernhard. He pointed to the hot-selling Jeep Grand Cherokee, which shares components with the Mercedes M class, as evidence of what could have been.
"The speed of motion at Daimler is very controlled and very rigid compared to what it was at Chrysler," Dilts said. "The wonder of the Jeep Grand Cherokee largely came from Mercedes. It just took too long to get there."
The failed merger with Daimler left its mark on those at Chrysler who lived through it.
At a February 2010 speech to the Economic Club in Chicago, Chrysler design chief Ralph Gilles said that his counterparts at Fiat were "very sympathetic" toward Chrysler. Fiat was then just a few years removed from its own financial near-death experience. During the same speech, Gilles told the audience that, to really discuss what had happened to Chrysler under Daimler "would take hours of time, a couch, and a psychiatrist."
Fiat introduced to Chrysler a high-pressure aluminum casting process that allowed engineers to cut several pounds from the Dart's front suspension.
Unlike the experience with Daimler, Chernoby said that after Chrysler came out of bankruptcy in June 2009, Chrysler and Fiat immediately began melding the way the two develop automobiles.
"We knew one of the things we had to do was to maximize speed of cooperation. We compared and contrasted the ways we did business on each side of the water," Chernoby said. Both sides shed some of their own practices and adopted others from across the Atlantic.
Chrysler picked up a practice from Fiat of having a chief engineer for each model, instead of having an individual who would oversee development of several products simultaneously. Fiat emulated Chrysler's practice of including manufacturing and purchasing early on in the product development process and hiring program managers who assist in getting key goals accomplished on time.
Rebecca Lindland, an IHS Automotive analyst, said Chrysler's speed to market with the Dart, which will appear in showrooms before the third anniversary of Chrysler's emergence from bankruptcy, shows what Chrysler and Fiat can do together.
"The fact that they were able to bring [the Dart] to market in the short amount of time that they did -- and I thought that it was pretty good -- shows the capability and advantages that this alliance is able to create," Lindland said.
She agreed with Chernoby that Chrysler's alliance with Fiat is proving to be a much more natural fit than its previous tie-up with Daimler.
Lindland said: "Daimler and Chrysler was like caviar and peanut butter, and Fiat and Chrysler are like peanut butter and jelly."
Rate of exchange
What Chrysler got from Fiat
-- Small-displacement engine technology
-- Common platforms such as the CUSW
-- Model-specific chief engineers
-- Ready access to global markets
What Fiat got from Chrysler
-- Rebadged Chryslers for Lancia
-- Program managers
-- Access to North America
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta, left, morphed into the Dodge Dart through the work of Mark Chernoby, center, Chrysler's head of engineering, and colleagues Matt Liddane, left, and Mike Merlo.
Photo credit: GREG HORVATH
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By Design: Alfa Romeo Giulia Super
Alfa's Fabulous Flying Four-door Phone Booth.
From the March, 2011 issue of Automobile Magazine
By Robert Cumberford
Photography by Courtesy of Alfa Romeo Automobile, Henry Dekuyper
Yes, it's tall, narrow, boxy, and not particularly nicely detailed, but it was an enormously successful and influential design. When the Alfa Romeo Giulia body shape was introduced in 1962, the only cars in production with lower aerodynamic drag were the Porsche 356 coupe and the Citroën DS four-door, as listed by Britain's MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in a little technical paper on aerodynamics. Maybe Panhard's 24 CT was better. But not by much.
As Alfa Romeo's second mainstream unit-body car, the Giulia benefited from everything the company learned from the Giulietta, which moved Alfa Romeo into volume manufacturing in the 1950s. The Giulia's structure was really stiff, despite the car's low, 2200-pound-plus weight. The 1570-cc engine did a fine job, and in the Super version with two Weber twin-choke carburetors it made 112 hp, enough for a top speed of 109 mph.
Obviously, the roof is rather flat and parallel to the ground, not at all like the raindrops cited as perfect low-drag shapes, but notice the huge radius in plan view for the bottom of the windshield and the rounded cuff at that base, and then imagine the path of a single air molecule striking the glass. Whether it goes upward or sideways, it will have diverged a minimum amount from its longitudinal path. This was a very clever design, in that it offered excellent interior accommodation, solid if not elegant appearance, and outstanding performance.
Alfa Romeo, then a government-owned entity, had a deal with la Régie Nationale des Usines Renault, also government-owned, to assemble Renault Dauphines and R4s. The French tie-up gave the Italians a lot of experience with cheap and simple body construction. The Tipo 103 with a front-wheel-drive, 896-cc mechanical package developed between 1959 and 1961 was a vague equivalent to the Renault R8. Its styling was a mix of Renault and Alfa themes, leading to the bigger, more luxurious Giulia in 1962. Europeans loved American practice in those years, and almost all builders adopted column-mounted gear shifts-even Aston Martin-and Giulias so equipped had bench seats so that six (small) people could fit in the car.
I picked up my Giulia Super at the factory in Milan in 1965. Of all the sedans I've ever owned, it remains my favorite. An airline strike in 1966 compelled me to use the Giulia for many illegally fast trips between New York and South Carolina, running at 100 mph on newly opened Interstate highways. We were never stopped because it was evident in those pre-radar days that a block-shaped gray four-door could not be speeding. The Giulia was the perfect stealth car, whatever the subterfuge.
"Alfa Romeo? That's a sports car!" said my insurance agent.
"No, no. It's a four-door sedan."
"Well, does it have four on the floor?" he asked.
"No, absolutely not," I replied.
It was fun, it was safe. It was a winner.
1. The generous radius sweeping up from the hood, which slopes down to the front, reduces pressure build-up at the base of the windshield. The Giulia may look like a telephone booth, but it is very clever and very efficient.
2. Notice how the sides flow into the front with a large radius, again offering minimal disturbance for the air flowing past the body.
3. Most Giulias had these perforated steel wheels with dog-dish hubcaps. They looked so good that few bothered to change them.
4. A body feature all but gone from cars today, these opening quarter windows are very practical and agreeable for assuring adequate ventilation without buffeting.
5. Not much brightwork on the side, just the door handles, window trims, and this simple stainless steel strip.
6. The glass area in the Giulia is enormous, letting the gray and black interiors still feel luminous. Visibility for the driver and passengers was superb.
7. Extending the roof past the backlight reduces drag and provides a slight sunshade for rear passengers.
8. The Giulia was perhaps the first car to use a high, flat rear deck as an aerodynamic element (as well as give an efficient and practical rectilinear luggage compartment).
9. The entire rear façade is simple and rectangular. A rounded rib on the entire perimeter stiffens the structure without adding weight.
10. The generous curve of the windshield fairs into the body side for excellent penetration without excessive turbulence.
11. This panel is held in place by the wiper shafts and lifts off for easy access to the wiper motor and linkages, an obvious link to French practice acquired when Alfa assembled Renaults in its Milan factory.
12. The four headlamps were of standard sizes, making it easy to substitute required sealed-beam units in the U.S. Manyowners changed back to Italian high beams.
13. There's nothing elegant or imaginative to these pure rectangular lamps, very much a product of an engineering department "meet the performance specifications and basta" attitude.
14. The beautiful Alfa grille owes as much to Carrozzeria Touring as to Alfa's own designers. It is used modestly but elegantly here.
15. Ah, the purity of Alfa before Fiat got it in 1986. . . look at the ribs on the wide sump, used as a cooling element as well as a lubricant reservoir.
16. This badge is owner-added, not standard for the well-balanced front end design.
17. Notice how the indented areas on the roof and waistline reduce total frontal area and channel air cleanly down thesides. Seems insignificant, but the results are there.
18. Instrument cluster is highly legible and gives a very sporting feel to the rather plain interior.
19. A black plastic rim is not luxurious, but the wheel is quite beautiful, very much in the Alfa GT tradition, and the plastic is very high quality.
20. Giulia Supers have a floor shift, which is much better than the five-speed column shift used on all Giulia sedans up to 1964. 21. The toggle switch array is a knee-breaker, but it looks cool and is easy to use.
22. Bottom-hinged pedals are a clear indication of age in a car that was conceived almost fifty years ago.
23. The ignition switch to the left of the steering column is strange for most people, but perhaps not to Porsche drivers.
Alfa's Fabulous Flying Four-door Phone Booth.
From the March, 2011 issue of Automobile Magazine
By Robert Cumberford
Photography by Courtesy of Alfa Romeo Automobile, Henry Dekuyper