Hot-Stepping Around Italy In A Modified Alfa Romeo GT Junior ‘Scalino’
Story and photography by Marco Annunziata
Nicholas De Rosa—his friends call him Nico—had his heart set on a very particular car. Along with the right color, his Alfa Romeo GT Junior in Giallo Ocra also had to be a Scalino—a step-nose. He first started his search for a Scalino (which translates to “step” in English) in the United States, but he was met with little luck in the process; most of the cars he spotted on the east coast were absolute basket cases with rust being just part of the laundry lists of issues the overpriced examples he found were fraught with, so he decided to look elsewhere.
After briefly searching in Italy, he came across the Instagram account of Ian Ellis, an Alfa Romeo restorer and specialist based in England. Shortly after following Ian’s account, Nico’s dream car appeared: the 1970 Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior pictured here.
He was in love. Then practicality set in. First: how to purchase a car from England? After some research online, Nico discovered that for a non-European national it was easier to purchase, insure, and customize a car in England than just about anywhere else in Europe.
Secondly, the vehicle was right-hand drive, which wouldn’t have been Nico’s preference: “I was originally looking to buy the car that Petrolicious’ own Shayan Bokaie eventually purchased,” he tells me. Small world. But, realizing that this was a rare example and an uncommon chance to buy a solid car in the spec he wanted, he committed.
Prior to its arrival in England, the Alfa was owned in South Africa, which meant it hadn’t been living in near-perpetual wetness despite what its steering wheel location might suggest. But while the Junior was in excellent condition at the time of purchase, Nico decided on some modifications all the same.
“I added the classic Alfa road race handling kit, along with their big brake kit. I then swapped out the 1750 motor that was in the car for a hot 2.0L, paired up with some Vintage Customs’ bespoke ceramic-coated headers. I also added the 4.10 ratio differential to make the car more suitable for highway driving.”
While Ellis had completed all of the original work, Nico went around to specialists from various areas in Italy to complete the work that remained to be done, like a re-torquing the head and replacing the brake and clutch master cylinders, along with the distributor. “And I’m currently having the top end rebuilt,” Nico adds.
So besides the the Scalino, what are Nico’s favorites from the marque? “I really don’t have one favorite Alfa Romeo, but I am a fan of the complete 105 range. Favorite car of all time though, that would have to be the Zagato Lancia Flaminia 2800 Super Sport 3C 196, absolutely.”
Unfortunately, Nico’s passion for the Italian automobiles doesn’t fully extend to the output of these brands today. “They are what they are. I don’t like modern cars but at least FCA is returning Alfa back to their roots in a lot of ways: rear wheel drive,50/50 weight distribution, snarling quirky monsters are much more than rebadged Fiats.”
Back to the sunny Scalino. Now ready for action, where is Nico headed with the car? There was only one destination in mind: Italia. “So I began in May this year, and after collecting the car in England I then took four days crossing France before heading to the Alps and over the pass of Mont Cenis.”
From there Nico’s Scalino traveled northward, towards the mountainous Aosta region of Italy where he planned to drive the Great St Bernard Pass.“It was closed when I got there, so I made a detour to Lassone to pick up some wine! I was also able to participate in La Classica vintage car show in Torino, but when the Saint Bernardo pass reopened after a week I was able to head back to enjoy it in the Alfa.”
From Torino he headed down the coast to Lerici in Liguria, then to Tuscany and the city of Pistoia, his base for the next 10 days of his Italian road trip. Excursions from Pistoia in the Scalino included Bologna and Modena. Afterwards, he made his way down Italy’s western Mediterranean coast to Castiglione della Pescaia, and from there south to Nettuno, near Rome.
“I stayed in Nettuno for three days with a couple friends who had just returned from riding their own grand tour: taking a Lambretta around the world!” he tells me.
Camping on the beach for three days at Gaeta and with a brief stop in Palinuro, Nico then drove the whole length of the famous Amalfi coast. Maybe the winding coastal roads prior had taken their toll though, as problems struck eventually: heading eastwards to Matera, the Scalino lost its brakes along the border of Campania and Basilicata.
“I was towed to Potenza, where I had to remain for two weeks,” Nico explains.
Once repaired, Nico made it to Praia a Mare in the Calabria region, the “toe” section of the boot of the Italian peninsula. Eastwards to Monopoli on the Adriatic coast, Nico then reached Ostuni and set about visiting the country’s “heel” section in the south. The Scalino took in Otranto, Lecce, before making its way back northwards along the Adriatic coastline towards Bari.
“After Bari, I camped for two nights on the coast at Termoli, then the city of Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region,” says Nico. “My next plan was to drive to Abruzzo, but the campsite was still closed after the terrible earthquake from last year, so instead I headed into the Umbria region.”
From Cascata delle Marmore in Umbria, Nico then reached the city of Perugia and the medieval hilltop village of Gubbio. From there the Italian tour concluded back in Pistoia. If you were like me and Googled a few of these places, the first few images alone should give you a good sense of the scenic element of this classic Italian road trip.
So after the extensive test of the car, is there anything about the Scalino that Nico would change? Doubtful. “This car is the epitome of perfection to me now that it’s been modified a little bit. I have zero need to change anything but the fluids now,” he says emphatically.
What’s next for the car and its driver? “If I was to export it somewhere, the whole process of exporting the car to the USA is fairly easy. There are multiple companies that handle everything. If you carry decent insurance they should be able to help you arrange transit,” explains Nico.
That said, he has other plans in mind. “After only being back in NYC for a month, I have quickly realized that this car belongs on the back roads of Europe, not the pockmarked crumbling roads of New York!” As such, Nico is currently planning his next European road trip for 2019.