Curbside Classic: 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta (101) Sprint Coupé – Long Tall Glass Of Rosso

It was a warm June day when I saw this refreshing Giulietta at the gingko-lined avenue in Jingu Gaien. It was impossible to pass up, like an oasis in the desert. A tree-lined desert. OK, that was a lousy attempt at a metaphor, but you get the gist: Alfa beautiful, Alfa red, Alfa shiny. That Giulietta attracted me to it like a magnet, leaving a trail of Pavlovian saliva behind. Not only was the car superb, but the photographic conditions were optimal. I found myself whispering “Eeexcellent,” à la Monty Burns.

There are so many occasions when a terrific CC is a pain in the neck to immortalize that one gets to really appreciate times like these: near perfect lighting, all angles accessible, no worry about the owner having a fit (they come here to show off their cars, after all) – this is a CC hunter’s Nirvana.

The red cherry on top of the Alfa rosso dish: I caught the car again last month on the same street and talked to the owner. Really, the universe was trying to tell me something – possibly that I needed to write up this gorgeous car for the world to admire it.

Having a second bit at the (candy) apple (red) is not unheard of with CC hunting, but car owners are not always present to ask about their pride and joy. And if they are, this being Japan, they tend to only speak Japanese. Fortunately, the Giulietta’s owner spoke very good English.

And here’s what I learned from this gentleman: he has owned the car for over 20 years, but it was being restored for most of that time. He found it in Japan in a rather advanced state of disrepair and patiently went about finding the bits that were broken or missing.

His goal was to make it as close to stock as possible. This included sourcing these sublime hubcaps, which are identical to the ones used on the Giulietta saloon – but are now extremely difficult to find in this condition. He had to go to Italy to buy them.

All I could say to that was that it was sure worth it. This Giulietta looks like a million bucks – or a billion yen, or a trillion lire. The owner told me he used to drive an Aston Martin DB2 (!) and a Lancia Aurelia B24 (!!), but that the Alfa is much easier to live with than those other cars. A connoisseur, to be sure.

And someone who obviously loves the look of the mid-‘50s European sports cars – a time when Italian styling had pretty much conquered the rest of the continent, including England, and before Detroit’s excesses started affecting global automotive esthetic trends.

Though it is a 1960 model, this Bertone-built Sprint is almost identical to the very first Giulietta coupé that was presented to the world back in March 1954 at the Turin Motor Show. Uncharacteristically, the sporty coupé was the launch product, pre-dating the introduction of the Giulietta four-door saloon by a year. Alfa Romeo were behind schedule for the saloon’s body and pulled together an all-star team, involving Mario Boano, Nuccio Bertone, Giovanni Michelotti, Franco Scaglione and even a very young Giogetto Giugiaro, to rush the Giulietta coupé into pre-production.

The Turin Show prototypes featured a very avant-garde rear hatch, but Bertone never managed to find a way to address the leak issues evident on the prototypes, so this was hastily abandoned. The fastback rear end remained as was, but the Giulietta could have been the first (red) hot hatch!

Peeking inside, one cannot help but be struck by the upholstery. Red piping, really? Well, yes, actually. That’s what the seats would have looked like back when the car came out the Alfa factory in Milan, where the Bertone-made body shell was mated to the drivetrain and everything else.

Early series 1 (a.k.a Tipo 750) coupés were usually fitted with a column gear change, which remained the standard for the Sprint until the series 2 (Tipo 101) in 1958. At that point, the Giulietta was given a slight facelift and the Sprint was given the same trim as the Veloce (minus the Veloce’s lightweight body and twin-carb 90hp engine) to simplify production, which by then had evolved from its hand-made beginnings to become quasi industrial.

The Giulietta Sprint had an 80hp version of Alfa’s sumptuous 1.3 litre twin cam 4-cyl. and kept it like that until 1962, when it switched to the Tipo 105 Giulia platform. The same body was used, but now the Giulia’s 1.6 litre engine was available (though the 1.3 version remained for a bit), lasting until 1964. By that time, the Sprint looked pretty old-fashioned, with its high beltline, tall grille and tiny fins, but Bertone already had the answer with the GTV.

Bertone made around 24,000 Giulietta Sprint bodies between 1954 and 1962, plus 3000-odd of the similar-looking Sprint Veloces. That’s about 10,000 more than the PininFarina drop-top, which may have become the poster child of the Giulietta breed, but was apparently not quite as popular. Naturally, the four-door berlina was the real breadwinner (over 125,000 made), but I bet there are fewer of those around now than the glamorous Sprint and Spider. Life is unfair like that.

Much as I like the Giulietta saloon though, it’s undeniable that the Bertone Sprint and the PF Spider, along with the ultra-rare Zagato berlinettas, are stellar examples of Italian coachbuilding’s golden era and of Alfa Romeo’s metamorphosis into a mass-production carmaker with a distinctly sporty edge. And in part because of that, the Alfa rosso paintwork befits these cars like no other Biscione-branded model before or since.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta (101) Spider PininFarina – Stepping Into The Modern Age, by T87

In-Motion Outtake: 1959-1966 Alfa Romeo Giulietta/Giulia Sprint Speciale – They Drive On The Wrong Side In Japan As Well, by Jim Klein

In Motion Outtake. 1959-65 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider., by Don Andreina

Engine History: Alfa Romeo Twin Cam Four – A Pioneer, And As Beautiful As The Cars It Powered, by PN