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.
Classic Curbside Classic: 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce – A Work In Progress, For Four Decades, by PN
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
Funny how they presented that story as Dustin Hoffman was soo young, and Ann Bancroft was soo old, and in reality Ann was less than 6 years older than Dustin – she was 36 and he was about 30 when the film was made.
It never ceases to amaze that there were never more than 124k Spiders made in total (of which far less were and are ever on the roads of the world at one time), and yet they seem to be semi-ubiquitous with pretty much everyone being able to instantly recognize one and not particularly uncommon, or at least perceived that way. My eye certainly is drawn to every one that I even remotely see the tiniest part of in my peripheral vision (if even that), maybe I’m even just “knowing” there’s one somewhere behind me before I actually turn my head…
I think something happened to the R in the Alfa Romeo script on the trunk, the inclination would be to just mindlessly reach out and softly bend it back…at which point it would undoubtedly snap off and then you’d be panicked and standing in the middle of a museum with a chunk of a car’s badging in your hand. D’oh!
Yeah, the ubiquity if these cars seems borne out in pricing. I trade email comments on the Bring a Trailer prices of once-mundane cars with the friend from whom I bought my briefly owned ‘74 Spider in 1986. We’re always amazed by how much GTV’s fetch, yet back in the day we thought the Spider was more desirable. But the Spider’s presumably higher sales volume, at least in the US, no doubt also due to its longer life, seems to make it a ho-hum car in the used market.
I had a similar thought when I saw that badge, wishing I could virtually reach through the screen and straighten it out!
The cuttlebum is the only part of the dear thing that works properly, and it is is lovely, but pity it that it’s attached to a Rest-Of that isn’t. Not especially, anyway. The blind Aerodimamica is sweeter up front, but the shy wheels that are surely from some transversely-skinnier relative – under square arches on this curved car, no less – and the short doors and the sometimes-a-ute boot length all conspire to fall short. The whole gets many points, but certainly not all.
It’s a rare thing that Mark the Second is better, but, ironically enough, when the sweet bum was chopped and Kammed, the whole worked much more nicely.
But I still think Ann Bancroft was altogether nicer again.
Incidentally, it is remarkable that a man like Paul Simon could compose such sweet and tasteful tunes and yet appear on a classy show like Cavett’s and wear that hair in a public place.
Nevermind, I think he’s innocuously bald these days, and so, he’s like a graduated longbottom Duetto itself – as time went on, less turned out to be more.
This was one of the foreign sports cars that occasionally showed up on the roads of my childhood. I’d always stop and look because they seemed so exotic to me. I thought they were all lovely, but none of them ever swayed me from my devotion to the C2 Corvette.
Methinks this car is very nice
However thou dost insult it
By calling it ‘Old Squid-butt’.
At least next time consult it!
Great car and movie!
Do you think those engine sounds throughout the movie were from the Alfa though? I have my doubts, sounded like a bigger displacement engine piped in. ..
+1 it sounded like a V8 in the movie. I have noticed a lot of foreign films using American cars use stock engine sounds that are clearly from foreign cars, or sometimes even the horn, and I think that’s the reverse case with the graduate, Hollywood movie, Hollywood sound effects
Thanks, Matt! Glad it wasn’t just me!
This is probably my most favorite Pininfarina sports car design, it wasn’t recycled into 10 other cars and there isn’t a bad line or angle to be found, I even like both tail variations – until they gave it the silly rubber spoiler in the 80s.
Wayne’s World 2’s shot for shot parody of the end of The Graduate is where I remember it from more than the original, which I only saw 20 years later. I love the look of it with the Ferrari style 5 star wheels it had, which I’m fairly certain weren’t available until way later.
These early cars have a delicate character, however I prefer the last editions. Especially the tail lights and bumper. I’d consider buying one, but I haven’t recovered from my Jaguar inflicted injuries.
That’s not bad actually, certainly much better that the spoiled rear end that preceded it. If I had never seen the original cuttlebutt, I’d be quite happy with one of these.
I can’t say I agree, I do think the taillights are a huge improvement over the kamm tail versions, but the wraparound bumper covers and lower body cladding takes away the lower tumblehome, making the sides look boxy. It’s actually what I think hurts a lot of modern retro designs from looking as good as the cars they imitate as well.
The length of scalloped recess between the door and rear wheel-arch exceeds the length between the door and front wheel-arch, which sadly upsets the proportions – otherwise it is a delight. Those delicate tail lights are wonderful.
Imagine if Jaguar had grafted an efficient Kamm-tail onto the back of the E-Type – there would have been blue murder !
It’s a pity that scalloped recess doesn’t begin in front of the front wheel. As it is it kind of comes in from nowhere and seems a bit awkward, especially as it tapers off so beautifully. My eye keeps following the recess forward to where it isn’t – cue Chicago’s “Wishing You Were Here”.
The big movie goof in The Graduate is when you see Dustin Hoffman driving the car on the top deck of the Bay Bridge eastbound TOWARDS San Francisco, when he’s going to Berkeley to see Katherine Ross (Elaine) – which is in the opposite direction. SF Bay Area residents get that right away!
Call it artistic license because of the cinematography panning the view of San Francisco on the bridge.
It’s true that it’s a goof, but it can be overlooked since it’s such a magnificant shot of Hoffman exiting the tunnel darkness onto the bridge in the bright sunshine. In fact, it’s been suggested that Mike Nichols was showing a type of subliminal message that Hoffman was being “born” at that moment.
It’s also worth noting that the ‘Mrs. Robinson’ music for this scene was soundtrack-specific at a slightly different tempo and features just one line, and it’s a line that’s not even in the studio release version (“Stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson, God in Heaven smiles on those who pray”).
Still the best version visually, and always will be for me. But what did William Lyons think when he saw the 1961 show car, ahead of his E Type?