The T33 S Was A Road-Borne Racer

There is no such thing as a hyperbolic adjective when writing about the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale. What other word besides “stunning” could fittingly describe its delicate, beautiful lines? How can the elegant complexity of its engineering be conveyed without the use of “exquisite”? “Audacious” seems the only fitting word to explain a purebred racecar with license plates, whose short list of accommodations for street use were so minimal, so impractical as to exclude the fitting of locking doors or even side-view mirrors. “Innovative”, “timeless”, and “mind-numbingly gorgeous” round off this list of grossly inadequate descriptives—like with all great pieces of art the emotions elicited are simply beyond the limitations of human language. If we were face-to-face merely blowing air through our teeth and making weird facial expressions, that would say everything, but since that’s not an option, I’ll try to do it justice with this keyboard.

Launched in very early 1968, the Tipo 33 Stradale was a road-going version of Alfa’s 33 sports racing prototype, one of the firm’s all-time great racecars. Underneath its curvaceous aluminum hips was a mid-mounted V8 displacing only two liters, a tiny package in which quad cams, a dry sump, four ignition coils and 16 spark plugs were fitted. Revving to an operatic 10,000 RPM and capable of roughly 240 HP, it easily eclipsed the 100 HP/liter threshold without the use of forced induction—a figure still celebrated in new engines nearly half a century later.

Only 18 were made during a 16 month-long production period, all entirely by hand. No two examples were identical, with dozens of unique differences on each car reflecting the Stradale’s bespoke nature; for example, placement, size, shape and number of bodywork vents varied, some cars had two wipers while others made do with one, and early cars were built with dual headlights in contrast to the later single-lamp configuration. Five cars were even fitted with individual throttle bodies, the exact specification of which was distinct to the car fitted. Priced at 9,750,000 lire at a time when a brand-new Miura sold for roughly two million less and a middle-class Italian may bring home 300,000 lire annually, the Stradale was pure unobtanium to all but the wealthiest enthusiasts.

Though only 13 inches in diameter, the Stradale’s wheels were eight and nine inches wide, front-to-rear. With a six-speed and 1,500 lb. curb weight, the T33 S took a scant 5 seconds or so to reach 60 MPH, unbelievable for a car of its era. Dihedral or “Butterfly” doors were the first fitted to a street-bound machine, pre-dating the McLaren F1 by two-and-a-half decades.

Built using the Superleggera method, its hand-beaten body panels were placed over a tubular aluminum substructure on which double-wishbone front and trailing arm rear suspensions were used. Because of its incredibly rarity and pricelessness, very few T33 S road tests exist, though from what I gather it drove just like you’d expect a street-registered racecar to—with quick and accurate steering, fantastic brakes and a handling immediacy born of slack-less, rose-jointed suspension components.

Of the 18 built, most were delivered to customers, one was withheld by Alfa for their museum, and six were delivered to Pininfarina, Bertone, and Italdesign to be used as foundations for some of the most outrageous concept cars the world has ever seen.

There’s a recurring dream of mine where I’m driving one through the beautiful vineyard outskirts of Modena in fall, a cool, fragrant breeze wafting through the sliding Perspex windows. The narrow country roads canopied with trees shedding their yellowing leaves which litter the asphalt beneath, forming colorful, rustling vortices in the wake of the yowling, miniature V8’s exhaust, a mecha-organic ballet visible in widescreen through a rear-view mirror vibrating in sympathy with the rising and falling of revs. Realizing that unattainable dream is one of my life’s great motivations, and it keeps me going through the roughest of times. Just seeing one in person someday will do.