GALLERY: The Alfa Romeo 33/2 Coupé Speciale Pininfarina And An Alternate Vision Of The 1970s
Photography by Kevin Van Campenhout
33/2 Coupé Speciale generously provided by Museo Storico Alfa Romeo
At the 1967 Paris Motor Show, the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale debuted to a crowd that we can only assume had a collective moment of weakened knees and slackened jaws. Franco Scaglione’s visionary design remains one of the most beautiful pieces of art to ever be called an automobile, but the following decade would see sports car designers cast away the car’s convex gracefulness for an entirely different design paradigm, one characterized by angular lines and flat planes—the wedge cars. And Alfa Romeo played a central role in this industry shift.
In the wake of the Stradale’s reveal, Alfa all but immediately asked the figurative question, “What’s next?” To answer it, the manufacturer sent four unused Stradale chassis to some of the leading Italian coachbuilders (which in the 1960s, were basically synonymous with the world’s best), and let them express their visions of the future atop them. Italdesign came up with the Iguana by Giorgetto Giugiaro, Bertone begat the Carabo designed by the future Countach designer Marcello Gandini, and Pininfarina built three concepts: Paolo Martin’s P33 Roadster and Cuneo, and Leonardo Fioravanti’s 33/2 Coupé Speciale, the Day-Glo yellow specimen featured in this gallery.
All but the Coupé Speciale proved to be portents of the future. These designs made radical use of straight lines, acute angles, and there was hardly a radius to be found outside of their wheel wells. Two years after the Carabo, Gandini designed another wedge masterpiece, the Stratos Zero concept, and then synthesized his ideas from these creations into production form with the Lamborghini Countach, and the rest became history. But what if the wedges didn’t replace the curvaceous status quo of the 1960s? In an alternate timeline, Fioravanti’s Coupé Speciale could have been the template for the next (or, arguably, first) generation of supercars in the 1970s.
If you’re looking at this complexly scalloped and pontooned design and seeing aesthetic echoes of Ferrari’s sports prototypes from the same era, that’s because it was adapted from another Pininfarina concept car, the Ferrari 250 P5. As the story goes, Enzo likened the design to the kind of pill that goes into a human’s exhaust pipe, and so the design study wasn’t taken any further. How you could look at the P5 and think such a thing is perplexing, but as with many of the paraphrased quotes and hearsay stories about the Drake, the truth is probably lost to time. For whatever reason, the design didn’t receive further development as a prancing horse, though the clear cover over the engine bay would become a hallmark of Ferrari designs to come.
Back in the late ’60s, Pininfarina seemed to think the P5 design still had a place in the future, seeing as they modified the body shell to fit on one of the Stradale chassis provided by Alfa Romeo. The kind of cool but mostly gimmicky bar of headlights on the front end was reworked into the more traditionally pretty nose that you see here, and in the rear of the car the slats were removed and replaced in a similar fashion, culminating in a concept that looked much closer to being production ready. Besides the overall shape, specific features retained from the Ferrari version included the rear glass canopy and gullwing doors, allowing access to the leather-lined interior and a pair of tartan plaid seats with their headrests mounted on the firewall of the V8 behind the cockpit.
The one-off car lives in the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo in Arese these days, where these photos were made possible thanks to the friendly curators of the priceless collection. The section of the museum dedicated to the history of the road and race Tipo 33s is our favorite to visit, but it’s even more special when one of these cars can be wheeled into the courtyard to be admired without having one’s attention pulled in a dozen other directions.
Out in the open, the Coupé Speciale presents a strong argument against the wedge cars that effectively stunted its school of design. We love the Countach and (most of) what that car inspired, but if this Alfa is anything to judge by, the alternative would have been every bit as interesting to look at. It’s not just another curvy machine from the 1960s. There is plenty of avant garde in its aesthetic to separate it from the production cars of its time, and it manages to incorporate its own brand of literal edginess without sacrificing curves or overall coherence. Just look at the front fenders and wheel arches as an example: the upper portion is all but the definition of a pontoon, while the wheel well makes use of nearly vertical lines to break up the teardrop shape housing the magnesium rolling gear. And in the P3/4-esque rear end, the belt line rises at an angle that’s reinforced by the straight edge of the upper rear wheel well into a dramatically horizontal Kamm-style rear end with a distinct ledge above the car’s horizontal-heavy trapezoidal bum.
Fashion, whether applied to clothes or industrial goods like cars, needs to pivot away from its current trajectory at times in order to stay relevant. It requires disruption and divergence in order to make progress (or more cynically, in order to sell the new stuff), but these shifts don’t exclude returns to the more distant past. What was once new becomes old and might later become in vogue all over again under the “retro” label. With the overabundance of unpainted carbon fiber canards, wings, diffusers, and the other aerodynamic accoutrement of the highest performing modern cars, It’s hard to imagine a direct return to the Coupé Speciale’s design that wouldn’t compromise performance, but as with any masterful piece of artwork, it will continue to inspire, in one medium or another.