Chasing A Definition Of Perfection With An Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider
Photography by Armando Musotto
I strongly believe that there are true myths in the automotive panorama, stereotypes that have deep foundations and bring forth continual proof in their favor. Every car has its own peculiarities, some are beloved things we might call “quirks,” while others may be less charming, like a tendency to prematurely spin rod bearings.
You will remember some cars for exaggerated power and incredible success in motorsport, others for their spectacular liveries, others for memories simply because you grew up down the street from one, and fell in love when you were too young to know better.
I love racing cars to the moon, but there are more than enough street cars that I find myself following on an owl’s head pivot when they pass in the opposite lane. A racing car will thrill you in a unique way that gets at something primal in our being, but the car that I will talk about today excites in a different way, something a bit more grounded but still from another planet in comparison to most of the road’s populace.
In my previous visit to Alessio, in his cave of wonders, between the ruins of a Giulietta full of rust and an Alfasud covered by a geologic layer of dust, my eyes fell on a model that I had been looking at the shape of for a long time under its dusty blue canvas—an immediately familiar shape, recognizable from every side.
Perfectly designed and set in a flowing line, with sweet and seductive features, like a woman in the flower of her youth as someone like me might say. We are talking about the Alfa Romeo Duetto, or Spider, with the Kamm-style, truncated tail, a protagonist of summer for many Italian boys looking for company. And if I saw a beautiful woman driving this beautiful car? Too much!
Can we consider a car with more than 40 years to be modern? Can we consider current a car that does not respect the current motoring standards? Well, Duettos and the like are, right now, today, a very popular means toward rewinding time. The point is, it’s not really important when we start calling a car a classic or not, and even though this one surely is, that doesn’t mean its only fans are those that are also quite classic themselves. Young dudes like Alessio are the living proof of this, in my opinion. An old-fashioned but hip owner, able to appreciate these cars while giving them a contemporary purpose.
The original Alfa Romeo Duetto is probably one of the most popular projects of the duo of Pininfarina and Alfa Romeo, a balance between elegance and humility, effortlessly graceful but never something you’d call contrived. To add to the beauty of the form is the fact that the poet Leonardo Sinisgalli gave the car its name in a competition organized by Alfa Romeo’s then-president Giuseppe Luraghi, no stranger to beautiful words himself.
Only the first 190 copies can use the name Duetto though, due to a harsh legal dispute caused by the name of a snack (yes, a snack!), whose producer claimed the right to use the “Duetto” exclusively. So, the denomination was eliminated and the car became simply the Spider after the first series, but the Duetto name remained in the common language as a synonym for Spider to many, as it had already sent down some deep roots.
The Duetto was born in a flourishing period for Alfa Romeo that, conscious of the successes of the previous models, decided to invest in a convertible car, a spider, that would be affordable and friendly enough to unite the tastes and budgets of customers across a wider spectrum, and to give a follow-up to the Giulia GTC, which had remained at the concept stage. The creation of the Duetto, this marvel of all-Italian design, is due in large part to the design work of Franco Martinengo and Aldo Bovarone, who started from a Pininfarina project from the 1960s called the Superflow and drew what would become the Duetto based on that concept. It was Battista Pininfarina in the end, who sanctioned the masterpiece of the form and developed the final version.
The first Duettos leave the Grugliasco factories in 1966, marking the beginning of a multiple-decade-long era of popularity for the little Alfa drop-top. 28 years of production, in fact, separate the first from the fourth series, and I don’t want to hide the fact that I would like to see it again in a newer version, in an era in which Alfa Romeo re-proposes its significant production models. I think the Duetto is a perfect choice for modern day Alfa Romeo to re-imagine; a car for a young public, perhaps more in synch with the pleasures of summertimes when the roof stays down for months on end.
Let’s get back to Alessio’s garage, which feels enough like a daydream already. The cover hid the forms of the car well, but not fully, and in something you might call a blur, all of a sudden I find myself hanging out of the trunk of a moving vehicle as this gorgeous machine gives chase. Among the rows of freshly picked olive trees and the light that filters through a nearby pine forest, it’s hard to imagine a better place to be.
The Duetto is agile and moves well between the narrow country roads, and its 128bhp provide the right amount of fun thrust to get around, but its the beaches of San Teodoro that we’re going for photos today, a setting that can do justice to this beautiful sculpture my camera’s aimed at.
I strongly believe, and I will be happy to be criticized for this opinion, that this car is not special for its speed or agility or performance, but that the Duetto will be remembered so fondly for so many years to come for the pleasure of owning it. For owning something that isn’t perfect, but almost. For owning something that makes you realize that nothing really is perfect, and that we must work with what we have and make the best of it—that’s as close as we’ll get to the ideal life, and surely cars like this one have a part to play both as we make our way toward that life, and if we ever get so lucky to reach it. These are the kind of thoughts that go through my head when the wind is going through my hair in the passenger seat of my friend’s Duetto, and that right there is hard to beat. Perhaps we’ve already arrived.