The Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT embodies the values all Milanese cars have since striven for in their purest form.
What exactly doth an Alfa make?
It’s a curious question to ask in the context of a brand that has as rich a heritage and as devoted a following as Alfa Romeo Automobili S.p.A..
The answers to this query invariably vary, depending on who one asks. To a recent CEO of the company, it was rear-wheel drive. Which means cars as expressive, as creative and as pleasing overall as the Alfasud or 164 saloon are not proper Alfas, yet rather rather strange concoctions, such as the 6 and 90 transaxle models, are. To others, only an engine created by Milanese engineers constitutes the Cuore Sportivo of a genuine Alfa - meaning the all-new Giulia saloon of 2015 can wave any chances of being accepted in the club of veri Alfisti goodbye.
Whereas it’s easy to conclude which car acted as the nadir of the brand (that’d be the Arna, obviously), it’s rather difficult to assess which one car encapsulates the Alfa spirit.
Alfas have been cheap, expensive, good and bad, attractive and ugly, successful and hopeless. The ultimate Alfa ought therefore to combine a number of qualities, rather than excel at a single one. It should combine good looks with drivability. And, if one focusses on the brand’s post-war history, relative affordability. Which leaves one with little choice but Alfa’s 105 series, which pretty much defined the Milanese values succeeding models strived to emulate.
The 105’s most popular version was, of course, the Giulia berlina, while the Pininfarina-designed Spider derivative certainly became the most famous. But no other variant stands for Alfa Romeo as a whole in as poignant a fashion as the 105 GT and GTV coupés.
By 1963, Alfa Romeo had thoroughly transformed itself. Formerly a purveyor of rarefied motor cars for the aristocratic elite, and - solamente in Italia! - a state-owned one at that, Alfa had turned itself into a sophisticated mass-market manufacturer after the war in less than two decades. The men driving this sea change were company director, Giuseppe Luraghi, engineer, Orazio Satta Pugila, and - last, but not least - the Turinese carrozzerie of Pininfarina and Bertone.
Alfa’s drastic reorientation was both driven and greatly aided by the increasing affluence of great parts of post-war Europe. In Italy, relative political stability, a historically enterprising entrepreneurship thriving yet again and a Marshall Plan-driven increase in demand resulted in a miracolo economico that overshadowed even West Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder. Among the greatest beneficiaries of this boom was a nascent upper middle class, which could already boast property, a television set and a fridge, and was now looking elsewhere for desirable consumer products.
Alfas were ideal cars for these upper middle classes, in Italy and elsewhere. Dashing, without being too ostentatious or impractical. Smart, but not overbearingly complex. And very Italian, which was rather compelling in itself at a time when Herbert from Dinslaken or Geoffrey from Reading had had their first taste of espresso and Lambrusco. An appreciation of finer Continental European goods certainly acted as a social signifier as well, particularly as less discerning visitors to Italy would crawl along the Autostrada in their cumbersome VW Beetles and use scissors to cut their spaghetti. With an Alfa in the garage, chances were that there was no cuckoo clock to be found on one’s living room wall.
Of course, any Giulia derivative would have been just fine to this second generation of non-aristocratic Alfisti. Yet, rather than the characterful, but slightly awkward Giulia berlina or the easygoing Duetto spider, it’s the GT version that epitomises the virtues of the scudetto in their purest form.
A practical four-seat coupé, the GT features almost all the qualities the berlina can offer, but in a considerably more attractive shape. Yet it isn’t as removed from everyday necessities as the solely hedonistic Duetto, either.
Which isn’t to say that the GT is some kind of half-baked compromise - far from it. Penned by a very young Giorgetto Giugiaro, as he was getting into his stride at Bertone (hence its nickname in Germany, where it’s still simply known as ‘der Bertone’), the 105 GT borrowed heavily from the bigger Alfa 2600 Sprint, which had been Giugiaro’s début design. But thanks to its tighter proportions and pared back, much improved detailing, the smaller GT actually trumped the Sprint in all aesthetic regards.
Giugiaro and Alfa Romeo obviously share quite a bit of history, as the master stylist also had a hand in the styling of the Alfetta GTV, Alfasud (Sprint), 159, Brera and - if recent rumours are to be believed - 156 models. But even in this company of some exceptionally accomplished designs, the sheer balance and perfect stance of the 105 GT remain unsurpassed.
But it’s not just the in-house competition that’s single-handedly trounced by Giugiaro’s GT, but other brand’s executions of similar concepts, as well. One needs to look no further than BMW’s revered 02 range of sporting two-door saloons to realise quite what an exceptional achievement the Alfa constitutes: whereas the BMW sports a tippy-toe stance and a greenhouse of enormous proportions that rely on the car’s reputation to exude some sense of panache, the Alfa’s squat-yet-athletic appearance - what with its delicately sloping silhouette, wide track and crisp overhangs - conveys considerable verve that doesn’t require a single look at its badging.
Despite its origin country’s reputation, the 105 GT hardly comes across as some brittle botch job either, inside or out. In typically Italian fashion, the stylists may have chosen to disregard the area below the Alfa’s dashboard, but that is the only area where corners appear to have been cut. Yet neither the Jaeger instruments, the running boards, the stalks, as well as the light units nor the chrome decoration betray any of the austerity, the cheapness that would later on plague Italian offerings for upper middle motoring and paved the way for the Teutonic sole reign. If Alfa had stuck more closely to the 105 GT’s recipe, it appears unlikely that the brand’s fate would have been quite as compromised.
The Giulia range, as well as the 1960s in general, were formative for Alfa Romeo. Both marked the completion and epitome of Alfa’s post-war renewal, which ended with the opening of the company’s Arese factory. What came afterwards was far from ignoble, but would inevitably fail to live up to the 105’s standards in one way or another, eventually resulting in the closing down of the Stabilimento di Arese in 2005.
It's said that every motor enthusiast has within their breast, a 'Cuore Sportivo. To know its pulse rate, one only needs to listen to - and behold - the 105 GT. It still sets the beat.
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