Journal: Driven by Design: Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale

Driven by Design: Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale

By Yoav Gilad
September 28, 2014

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

Photography by Afshin Behina for Petrolicious

It is impossible to consider the Alfa Romeo Giulia (and Giulietta, whose appearance is the same) Sprint Speciale without mentioning Bertone’s BAT cars of the 1950s. Designed by Mr. Franco Scaglione as aerodynamic test vehicles, the Berlinetta Aerodinamica Technica 5, 7, and 9, were masterpieces of aerodynamic design—the BAT 7 somehow achieved a coefficient of drag of 0.19! But besides improving on the science of aerodynamics, the BAT cars also helped yield the Sprint Speciale.

The BATs were debuted every year from 1953 through ’55 at the Torino Auto Show to an amazed crowd. So it was fitting that the first prototype for the Sprint Speciale debuted there in 1957. While the production version took another two years it was clearly influenced by the more production-aimed BAT 9. And while the BAT series was fantastic, almost like fantasy-sketches in appearance, they were successful in one place where the Sprint Speciale failed. One of a few failures, in fact.

Proportionally, the Sprint Speciale has a traditional front-engine rear-wheel drive layout, as it should. Although, much like the Jaguar E-type it suffers a bit from very long overhangs (on the Jaguar they’re more successful however, as they’re rounded which gives them less visual mass). But the Alfa’s overhangs are squared off with a fairly blunt nose (much like Alfa’s earlier C52 ‘Disco Volante’) and Kamm-tail that helps to accentuate the overhangs, visually shrinking the car’s wheelbase.

Now, Scaglione’s BATs had fairly tight greenhouses in terms of tumble-home and height. But to say that they were tight would be a dramatic understatement. They more closely resemble modern cars in terms of the canopies’ packages than cars from the early 1950s. And while it might have been a bit claustrophobic, in appearance they were very successful. This is where the Sprint Speciale fails. Or succeeds depending on your perspective.

It has a light, tall, airy greenhouse that has great outward visibility. It also looks a bit tall and, coupled with the Alfa’s visually short wheelbase, a bit ungainly.

The stance is also a bit awkward because of those long overhangs combined with its skinny tires tucked into the body due to the body’s sectional curvature. The surfacing is obviously very organic and like most Italian cars of the era, masterful. But some of the surfaces at the rear are also a bit odd. If you consider it in profile, the Sprint Speciale suffers from a heavy-appearing rear. The first reason for this is that the bottom of the car, as you follow the line towards the back, accelerates up much more slowly than the top of the fender accelerates down giving the appearance of an Art Deco-era streamliner with a thoroughly modern front end. For a counterpoint consider the Jaguar XK-E once more. On the Jag, the bottom of the car rises to meet the shoulder at the back of the car rather than vice versa, lending it a fast, light feeling. Secondly, the center-line of the headlights is higher than the tail lights. It’s actually higher than any part of the back.

You can tell that Bertone tried to alleviate this by mounting the rear bumper in line with the scallop surrounding the front wheel-well and higher than the front bumper. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the job done.

Regardless, the most impressive surfaces on the Sprint Speciale are the windshield and backlight. They’re so well integrated into the form of the roof and trunk (and almost the hood too) that it’s easy to understand how the car achieves such a low coefficient of drag (0.28). And styling aside, that is what this Alfa is all about.

Detailing is perfectly balanced, with badges breaking up the large front fenders along with the turn indicators. Accordingly, most brightwork is appropriately limited to the grille and tail. But the two most interesting details relate to the Sprint Speciale’s design brief. First, the clear, plastic wind deflector protruding from the back of the hood was necessary to channel air over the wipers (to keep them front lifting at higher speeds). And second is the door pull that was molded into the rear quarter panel to avoid adding an external pull (which would no doubt hurt the aerodynamics a bit and might increase weight).

There is no question that the Alfa Giulia Sprint Speciale is indeed special. It is indubitably an event wherever it goes. It has presence and looks like the flying saucer (Disco Volante) that may have inspired it. But it sacrificed too much for aerodynamics, namely its rear-end. I’d love to know how much raising the rear would have affected lift and drag.

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Peter LukáčJacopoFrancisco Yantornodavid wardPeter Sente Recent comment authors
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Peter Lukáč
Peter Lukáč

One of best looking cars!

Jacopo Villa
Jacopo Villa

Great article. But what I think you did not mentioned is that most of the aerodynamics came from the hot rodded Giulietta Sprint and Sprint Zagato that were racing in the period with privateers backed by official Alfa Romeo support. If you consider the time where it was presented, the SS had many features inspired by the competitive, light and aerodynamic efficient aluminum bodywork (instead of steel of the regular Sprint) of the Zagato version, introduced for the first time with the Giulietta of the Leto di Priolo brothers. Busso and Satta Puliga and the technical direction of Alfa was… Read more »

David Ward

Wow I love reading up on the SS, I am at the moment halfway through restoring one for myself.
I just love the way they look and if the ss is anything like my 101 Giulia Spider to drive I will be truly happy

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Madonna Mia ! Che bela machina ! The only bad thing about featuring this or any of the truly great Classic Alfa Romeo’s is that it provides a constant and painful reminder of how low Alfa Romeo has sunk over the last two decades . Now to a number being nothing more than rebadged and re-bodied FIATs , Maserati’s , Suzuki SX4’s and now worse .. KTM/ Dallara X-bows tarted up in Alfa Romeo party dresses

How the mighty have fallen . And what a glorious past they once had

Peter Sente
Peter Sente

I believe you are putting it rather strongly. Actually the worst cases of so-called rebadging happened before the Fiat era, e.g. the Dauphine Alfa Romeo, or the Arna. I agree that current Alfa’s are not as glorious as their illustrious forefathers, and there is a lot of parts sharing going on. But those parts (like platforms) are also heavily modified so they become unique to their respective Alfa Romeo models. Having grown up in AR’s Fiat era, and having driven several of these cars (as well as owning one), it is my opinion that compared to other cars in their… Read more »

Francisco Yantorno
Francisco Yantorno

You got IT WRONG. Learn from Peter, he’s making you a favor.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle

I was looking for the fold lines and staples because this might as well be a centerfold

Vintage Son
Vintage Son

Yeah, can we get a higher res version of that Driven by Design picture? That’s great, but not enough pixels!