Journal: Driven by Design: Alfa Romeo Duetto

Driven by Design: Alfa Romeo Duetto

By Yoav Gilad
May 14, 2014
8 comments

(This article is part of the Driven by Design series.)

Photography below by Afshin Behnia and Saam Gabbay for Petrolicious

In spite of its humble, utilitarian roots the masterful designers at Pininfarina managed to massage the Alfa Romeo Duetto into a pretty, eternal design. If you’ve ever seen one drive past then you know that its silhouette is a pure ‘speed-form’; it’s a rolling, directional sculpture, like a hurtling raindrop.

But “how hard is it to create a beautiful, quick-looking form?” you ask, Homer. It’s actually not difficult at all. Until you consider that your design has to carry people, their luggage, and keep everyone safe while cruising over hills at speeds reserved for celestial bodies. Even that isn’t so hard when you begin with a clean slate. The Alfa Romeo Duetto, or Spider as it was later named, however, was based on Alfa’s four-seat 105 coupe that began as a shortened Giulia sedan floorpan.

And this is immediately obvious when you look at the Duetto’s proportions. The bulk of the visual mass exists around the rear wheel. It’s effective for communicating rear-wheel drive (which it was), but it’s atypical for a front-engined roadster because you want the form to speak to the power up front. Additionally, it lacks the Bertone-designed GTV’s long hood, short deck look because the trunk area is about the same size as the hood’s (as it’s only a two-seater based on a four-seater chassis).

It could also be argued that the Duetto’s stance is a little tall. Again, you have the Giulia sedan’s long wheelbase to blame. It’s hard to hide that length when the body is so lithe.

So why is the Duetto so pretty? This is where Pininfarina’s designers’ mastery enters the equation. Realizing that the proportions were difficult at best, the designers massaged the form and surfacing to emphasize their directional qualities. That meant tapering the trunk so that in profile it appears to end in a point and adding the sheetmetal graphic that begins in the front wheel-well and seems to mimic the car’s form as it ends (it actually doesn’t: while the back seems to end in a point there is actually a slanted vertical surface below the bumper).

That body-side cutout also reinforces the body’s gesture. The detailing, as one would expect, is sparse but tasteful. Surely, the obstacles that Mr. Battista Pininfarina and Mr. Franco Martinengo overcame were great in creating the Duetto. This ability to fool the eye and to pull beauty from such a strange proportion makes them masters, but sadly their masterpiece was dishonored in subsequent versions.

The coda-tronca (kamm-back) that made its way onto the Spider ruined the cut-out side graphic that had so effectively hidden the car’s proportions. And the ugly bumpers, mandated by federal laws, not only lengthened the overhangs but also got rid of the visual point on the front. Further adding insult to injury, the plastic cladding that was sacrilegiously festooned on the car added visual weight relegating the car to a bloated cartoonish version of its former self.

That it always sold well is a tribute to its sporty nature and a function of relatively flat cost creep. But one must never confuse later versions for the creative genius behind the first Duetto. Its beauty is truly enhanced by the designers’ knowledge required to make it thus and its modest roots.

Join the Conversation
Related

Leave a Reply

Rod McNae
Rod McNae

I have owned my 67′ Duetto since 1991. I have been fortunate to have enjoyed many blissful days behind the wheel driving this beautiful car. The only disappointment I have suffered during the ensuing years is the failure of Mrs. Robinson (a likeness would do) to appear and ask for a ride.

Louis Emelina
Louis Emelina

While it doesn’t have the traditional “roadster proportions” (long bonnet, short tail, seats almost above the rear wheels), it still looks very clean. Somehow, the untraditional roadster lines don’t matter: the few lines it has make it subtle, especially in less shouty colours than red (silver or dark blue, for instance). It’s design simplicity is what makes it stand out from the crowd of other roadsters of the time. It didn’t look like anything else in its day, and it still looks different than anything on the road today. To me, the Alfa Spider is like an average looking girl… Read more »

Jono51
Jono51

As I recall, the Duetto was a controversial design when it first appeared and I was among those who didn’t really take to it. Over the years it has grown on me, but I still think of it as a great example of the Italian genius for creating objects that are more stylish than beautiful. And I still prefer the previous Giulia Spider.

Casa Luna
Casa Luna

Clássicos, simplesmente um dos melhores designs de todos os tempos 60´s

André Borges
André Borges

Belíssimo design. De 1950 a 1970 foram criados os mais bonitos automóveis!

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle

You know out of all the great Alfa Romeo cars this is one that i personal seem to over look sometimes but im glad to see get some attention. It may not have the long hood/short rear deck proportions that we all know and love but I just dont think it matters with this car. The design is just very clean and simple plus I love that boattail style rear end. This car is a like a pretty women who walks by you and you just have to turn to get a second look.

JB21
JB21

While I maintain that Duetto is the most romantic car ever made (not because of the movie. It just is, in my mind), I respectfully disagree with your assessment of later version. The earlier Kamm tail models were, I dare say, better proportioned than the boat tail, not necessarily prettier, just as a different design interpretation. The reason Duetto looks like what it is, is due to the fact that it was engineered and designed through imagination and not by numbers, and the reason the design lasted so long is even through years of reincarnations, Spider fundamentally maintained that purity… Read more »

Peter Hughes
Peter Hughes

I have to agree with JB, and I too respectfully disagree with petrolicious on this. The ‘EARLY’ Kamm tails are as good, if not prettier than the original Duettos IMO…and the Duetto is a pretty car. It’s not just the cut off rear that gives the later cars more aggression or better proportions, it’s other subtle improvements like the heavier raked windscreen and more tumblehome on the side glass, Lovely flush door handles didn’t hurt either. It was a proportion that looked less awkward than the earlier cars. Throw in the fabulous “70’s Showcar” interior and the 1970 facelift was… Read more »