According to Alfa Romeo, its iconic 33 Stradale represents the "pinnacle of sensuality". Indeed, no Most Beautiful Cars list would be complete without the curvy red machine. But what is its history?
Headlights for “eyes”, the front grille for a “mouth”, the front for its “face” – and, of course, the car its “body”, with “shoulders” and “hips” traced by the wheel arches. These descriptors are still used today. But how did they come about, and why?
The first cars were literally “horseless carriages”, with no specific embellishments. As car design evolved, various “coachbuilders” became prominent, particularly from the 1930s onwards. They beat the sheet metal into shape by hand, directly onto a wooden frame, creating genuinely unique models with rounded, sensual lines. As industrial production evolved, the designs tended to simplify, if only because the pressing equipment of the time couldn’t stamp out such voluptuous forms.
At one point, in the late 1960s, the two stylistic inspirations noticeably diverged. The difference between those curvy cars with hips and faces and what was considered to be the “car of tomorrow” is easily seen in the differences between the 33 Stradale and Carabo – two Alfa Romeo models developed from the same technical base.
Drawing on the same platform
The 33 Stradale and the Carabo could not look more different. One all nerves and sinews, like an athlete in the midst of competition; the other, all straight lines and angles, aimed at grasping the essence of mobility and pushing it forward into the future. So much more than two interpretations, these are two different worlds.
The shared technical basis of these two cars was the culmination of 50 years’ of racing experience at Alfa Romeo. Ingenuity, advanced materials, and styling that marries technological innovation and creativity: these are the ingredients of the Tipo 33’s design.
The desire to compete
All this stems from the desire to compete. In 1964, Giuseppe Luraghi – the then president of Alfa Romeo – felt it was time for an official return to motorsport. To re-establish the racing team, he acquired Autodelta, an Udine company that was already a privileged partner in the production of the TZ. Along with Autodelta, Carlo Chiti – who worked at Portello from 1952 to 1957 – also returned to Alfa Romeo, taking on the role of head of the official works racing team.
In the same year, the 33 project began. Luraghi asked his team for a car that could compete in the most popular form of motorsport at the time: the World Sportscar Championship and the time trials were at the height of public and media attention.
In the mid-1960s, Autodelta relocated to Settimo Milanese – closer to the Alfa Romeo plant, but most of all to the Balocco test track.
The first Tipo 33 frame designed by Alfa Romeo arrived at the Autodelta workshops in 1965. It featured an asymmetrical "H" tubular structure, made of aluminum alloy, with integral fuel tanks. A magnesium structure supported the front suspension, radiators, steering, and pedals while the engine and gearbox was mid-mounted longitudinally in the rear. The fiberglass bodywork limited the total mass of the car to 600 kg – the minimum regulatory weight. Once again, lightness was Alfa Romeo's secret weapon.
Victory in the 1975 and 1977 World Championship for Makes
Short development timescales were unrealistic for such an ambitious (and innovative) project. Almost two years would pass before the 33 was ready to race. For the first tests, the car adopted the TZ2’s 1,570 cm³ four-cylinder engine; in the meantime, a completely new engine two-litre V8 was developed, producing 230 hp at its debut.
The first 33 to race was immediately nicknamed “Periscopica”, for the air intake that popped out above the roll bar submarine-style. The time trial at Fléron, near Liège in Belgium, was chosen for its debut with Autodelta’s chief tester, Teodoro Zeccoli behind the wheel. After years of meticulous preparation, the 33 entered the world of competitive motorsport on March 12, 1967. It was immediately victorious and would go on to win some of the most prestigious races and the 1975 and 1977 World Championship for Makes. The 33 truly was a dominant motorsport force.
The Florentine aristocrat who wanted to be a designer
When Alfa Romeo decided to produce the 33 in very small numbers for private individuals, it needed a new look to bring its sporty character to the roads. The project was entrusted to Franco Scaglione.
Born in Florence into an aristocratic family, Scaglione studied aeronautical engineering until he was conscripted into the army. He then set off for the Libyan front and was taken prisoner in Tobruk. He returned to Italy in late 1946. Determined not to resume his studies, he chose to become a car designer: first with Pinin Farina, then with Bertone, and later working freelance.
Scaglione put all his technical expertise and creative daring into the design of the 33 Stradale, resulting in a masterpiece where innovation in style blends with the quest for aerodynamics and functionality.
The 33 Stradale
The bonnet of the 33 Stradale opens fully to improve access to the mechanical components. For the first time on a “street-legal” car, its “dihedral” doors allowed easier access to the low-slung sportscar that was no more than one meter high. The only differences from the track version was the extension of the wheelbase by 10 centimeters, and a steel frame rather than an aluminum one. The engine was the same as the Tipo 33, made entirely of aluminum and magnesium alloys, with indirect mechanical injection and dry-sump lubrication. With twin overhead cams per bank, two valves per cylinder and dual ignition, its 230 hp mean the lightweight Alfa could reach a maximum speed of 260 km/h, with a zero to 100 km/h time of 5.5 seconds.
The premiere event in Monza
The car was officially launched at the 1967 Turin Motor Show, but had been unveiled a few weeks earlier to an enthusiastic audience of experts. On September 10, 1967, the Italian Grand Prix – the ninth round of the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship – was held in Monza. That GP went down in history for Jim Clark's epic comeback against Jack Brabham – and for the debut of one of the most beautiful sports cars ever made.
At launch, the 33 Stradale was the most expensive sports car on the market, then selling for almost 10 million Italian lire, compared to 6-7 million for its most prestigious rivals. Only 12 cars were produced with Scaglione bodywork. Its buyers were making the investment of their lives: they are virtually priceless today.