I recently went back to the Toyota Megaweb History Garage, which Jim Klein and I visited last year, and saw a number of cars that were not there last time around – including quite a few foreign ones. This made for a nice break from the non-stop JDM-fest I’ve made you endure for so long. So here’s to you, Mrs Robinson, the first of three or four posts on pure classic cars, starting with the sumptuous Duetto. Coo coo ka-choo.
The eternal Alfa Spider, produced for three decades, ended up looking like a bit of a joke. It’s easy to forget how beautiful it was in the beginning, back when it was driven by Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. I was born over a decade after that film came out, but the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack was a perennial favourite on the family turntable. Sometime in my teens, I watched the movie. It was the mid-‘90s by then and Hoffman really looked different. Just like the Alfa, really.
These early Spiders are nicknamed osso di seppia (cuttlefish bone) by Alfisti because of the rear end’s flat, rounded shape. Said rear end became the focus of pretty much all “facelifts” inflicted on the Spider, starting with the literal cephalopodectomy that was the coda tronca (truncated tail) of MY 1970. Old squid-butt here only lasted from 1966 through to 1969, making this version all the more interesting.
It seems that, esthetics aside, the rounded derriere was not as aerodynamically efficient as the later straight-cut ones. Big curvy butts are just not as quick as small square ones. Who’d have thunk it. This tail sure looks a lot better though.
By contrast, the front end changed a bit less dramatically, though this car is missing its Plexiglas headlamp covers. It is hard to improve on this classic sports car nose. There was a lot more rubber and plastic by the third aerodinamica series (1983-89), of course, so again this early version is all the better for it. And they’re the rarest of the breed, too. From 1966 to 1994, PininFarina built just over 124,000 Alfa Spiders, but only about 13,500 of these were of the cuttlefish variety.
The osso di seppia was available in three versions. The 1600 “Duetto” was the first to arrive in 1966. It was followed by the 1750 “Veloce” in 1967 and the 1300 “Junior” in 1968. Our feature car, being a Duetto, has Alfa’s legendary 1570cc DOHC 4-cyl. with twin Weber carburetors producing 109hp and mated to a 5-speed gearbox. I wish I could have captured the interior better, alas the light was not very cooperative.
The Duetto name was only used officially for the first year. It was selected by Alfa Romeo through a public competition, but the name, albeit spelled differently, was already owned and used by the confectionary company Ferrero, so it had to be dropped. It did stick to the car though (as sugary products are wont to do) and the Alfa Spider was often referred to as “Duetto” on the Continent, even those of the later generations.
As far as folk music Duettos (Duetti?) are concerned, Simon & Garfunkel reached a much wider audience in 1966 when, unbeknownst to them, one of their songs was “electrified” by their producer, who had applied the same formula with Bob Dylan with great success. Cue stratospheric launch into music stardom, followed by a call from film director Mike Nichols and the making of one of Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hit songs, which was never actually recorded (or even fully finished) by the time the movie came out in December 1967. Paul Simon discusses this in above clip, from a 1970 interview. I love how completely random this whole story is.
This second clip has that famous song overlaid on some excerpts of the movie. This is really not a great-sounding clip due to the movie dialogue being mixed too high, but it does have the merit of showing quite a lot of the Alfa’s scenes.
The Duetto’s distinctive design was also the product of a bit of randomness. The starting point was the Superflow series of PininFarina show cars, the first of which dated back to 1956 on a 6C 3000 racing chassis. This culminated in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS Spider Aerodinamica seen above, which was seen at the 1961 Turin Motor Show (and also had a coupé variant). Aldo Brovarone is credited as the main designer behind these specials and the final Duetto design. For more details on the birth of the Alfa Spider, I’d recommend reading Paul’s authoritative post on the matter.
Some PF designs of the early ‘60s had a similar rounded rear – some Ferraris, especially – but contemporary observers must have thought the Aerodinamica was just another show car. It did take five long years to translate the Giulietta 101-based Aerodinamica into the Giulia 105-based production version. So the Spider, which would go on to be produced for nigh on 30 years, was in styling development for a decade. I don’t know why it took so long to get going, but it’s true that the car would not have looked out of place in the early ‘60s. And when it finally did make it to the showroom floor, Kamm tails were becoming all the rage, so the design had to be altered a lot sooner than expected.
The osso di seppia is a cul-de-sac in terms of automotive design, I guess. But it played a starring role in one of the better movies of the late ‘60s, with one of the greatest songs of that blessed era used to portray one of these beautiful cars running out of petrol. And as I’m running low on things to write here, so let’s just roll credits.
COAL: 1985 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce – Ciao, Baby!, by Jim Klein
Curbside Classic: 1987 & 1988 Alfa Romeo Spiders – A Cluster Of Spiders, by Joseph Dennis
In-Motion Classic: 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider Quadrifoglio Verde – Alfa-Bits, by Joseph Dennis