Featured: How The Curvaceous Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Gave Rise To The Wedges Of The 1970s

How The Curvaceous Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Gave Rise To The Wedges Of The 1970s

By Alex Sobran
December 29, 2017

Photography by Rosario Liberti

Glance at the Tipo 33 Stradale below. Now the white and orange Cuneo in the group above. Pretty stark contrast right? Franco Scaglione’s Stradale is beautifully bulbous—arguably the zenith of contoured ’60s design—while the word Cuneo literally translates to “wedge.” Yet only a few years separate the two cars, and the doorstop profile of Gandini’s 33-based Carabo came only a year after the Stradale was shown to the public in 1967.

The point is, very few, if any, can rival the scope of influence the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 had on automotive aesthetics. Not only did the chassis evolve into a dominant force in motorsport (that’s a different story, told in summary here), but the bodywork laid over the mid-engined V8’s tube-frame by the great Italian design houses helped bring about a sea change of car design. It was an apex, a fulcrum, a turning point. Whatever you want to call it, no other chassis can claim the scope that the 33 can in this regard; the early in-house designs from Milan are still regarded as some of the blurriest lines between function and sculpture, while the unabashedly angular coach-built concepts that followed set the groundwork for the first true generation of supercars. It perfected the sensuous flowing forms that came to prominence in the 1950s, while also setting the stage for the ankle-slicing era of the Countach. Seeing as we already covered the racing history of the 33 last week, let’s take a look now at four of the concept cars built on its underpinnings.

1968: Carabo, designed by Marcello Gandini/Bertone

Speaking of the Countach, Marcello Gandini is also credited with the most well-known of the re-bodied Tipo 33s: the Carabo. Named after a beetle and debuting at the 1968 Paris Motor Show, the car was a wide departure from the muscular radii of the Stradale it was based on, and it cast off the zeitgeist by creating a new one—Gandini, working at Bertone at the time, was simply ahead of his time with this concept.

For instance: the use of the contrasting black and grey composites integrated with the traditionally painted panels, a liberal application of louvers, the hidden headlights, the flat planes that make up the cockpit, the way it eschewed round fenders for low box-cuts in the rear, the buttressed inlet behind the door (look at LaFerrari and so many of the other cutting-edge hypercars in profile to see what I mean), the list continues. The rear end alone contains heaps of instruction for the styling movements that came on the heels of this car. The grid-like taillights predate the ’80s love affair with them by more than a decade, and if you squint just a little bit, you might notice a touch of silhouette race car in the way the transom is encased by the quarter panels and that pert, sharp wedge of a wing.

1969: Iguana, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro/Italdesign

A year after Gandini’s masterpiece came another precursor for the ’70s: the Iguana. And if anybody had a better portfolio back then than Gandini, it was Giugiaro. I feel a bit repetitive at this point in saying this, but like the Carabo, the Iguana was also a peek into the future. There are clear elements of Maserati Bora, Lamborghini Urraco, and even a bit of Espada if you stretch it just a tad, but what’s most interesting in terms of tipping the ’60s into the ’70s is the way this bodywork reinterprets things.

What I mean is, though it was a decidedly “new” look, the Iguana didn’t completely cast off the curves of its predecessors, and it wasn’t an anachronistic mess either—it kept some elements of the past but presented them anew. The best example of this can be seen in the front end, where the pontoon fenders embraced by cars like the 911 was totally reimagined and rebuilt with ruler-straight lines. The layout is still there, but it’s achieved through a wide, hard-cut inlet that extends the length of the hood as opposed to cylindrical elements leading up to the headlights. Another and more innovative feature of the Italdesign Iguana though is the novel spoiler in the rear. Aerodynamics as a whole was sort of a nascent concept at the time, let alone an electronically controlled wing that could theoretically change the handling of the car at speed.

1969: 33/2 Coupe Speciale, designed by Leonardo Fioravanti/Pininfarina

This car is the most unique of the bunch for a few reasons. For one, it began life as a Ferrari, and two, I think we can view it more like an alternate timeline than a forebear for the actual, realized ’70s—it seems like a more natural progression than the severe angles of the cars shown above, retaining plenty of the svelte curves amidst the sharper cuts in its bodywork. Okay, back to the Ferrari bit. Leonardo Fioravanti originally drew this up at Pininfarina for Ferrari as a means to research the increasing importance of aerodynamics on race cars. It featured a few differences in its first iteration— most notable of which was a bank of lights set between the pronged front end—and it was originally called the 250 P5 (if you didn’t see connections to the P3/4 at first, they are probably clear now in the canopy design and that quarter panel intake). As the story goes, Enzo thought the front end looked like a pill that goes up your bottom, and the company was already at work on the car that would become the 512, so the project was given to Alfa Romeo when they asked.

Atop the 33 Stradale chassis, the car was further refined to become the 33/2 Coupe Speciale. Though it ditched the funky strakes on the rear end that it wore while wearing its rosso corsa paint job, it also lost the odd bar of lights on the front end for a more traditional look with the classic Alfa grille and a pair of pop-ups. As an aerodynamic study, the design offered an alternative to the increasing popularity of wings and spoilers and dams, and the resulting shape was far prettier and more organic than its protruding contemporaries. The Speciale is a masterful blend of negative space and aggressive convexities, and to me it looks like the Mach 5 went abroad for a fine Italian suit.

1971: 33 Spider Cuneo, designed by Paolo Martin/Pininfarina

If the Carabo was a little too severe for you, you probably won’t find the Cuneo attractive in the slightest. Indeed, it is hard to call beautiful by any traditional standards; it’s stark, it’s exceedingly simple, and it looks more like a Jetson’s background drawing than a car bodied by Pininfarina. The headlights look like an afterthought, the orange stripes seem to exist simply so it doesn’t look like a bland white slice of cheese, and the rear end looks like it was cobbled together from the blandest parts bin they could find. All that said, I love this thing. How can you not? It’s an Italian UFO with just enough room in it for you and Sofia Loren to bomb down to the autostrada listening to the velocity stacks sucking air into the mid-mounted V8.

This car actually began its life as a different 33-based concept car, the 33 Roadster. That car looked like a cross between this one and wakeboard boat, and the Cuneo is a purer interpretation of its design. It’s not as busy, and in its simplicity comes its striking presence. Call it minimalist, call it an 8-bit Batmobile, but there’s no denying this car’s capacity to captivate.

There were of course two more concepts built on the Tipo 33’s underpinnings that are not pictured here—one the aforementioned Roadster that no longer exists in that form, along with the very last of the breed, the 1976 Navajo—but the four shown here, photographed by our friend Rosario Liberti, exemplify the scope of the group in our opinion. If only we could see these shapes spinning on the floors of today’s auto shows as opposed to yet another 1,000hp full-size kid’s toy…

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Mark Wright
Mark Wright(@mark_wright)
2 years ago

Love this article and the photos. What is the museum or exhibition that the photos were taken at, please?

4 years ago

In California, Sam Foose, father of the today very famous US-autodesigner Chip Foose, wanted to buy this Carabo direct from the Alfa Romeo Works. But they did not sell the one-off Carabo. So he built his own one. A convertilbe with sissor-dors, based on a 1973 Pantera-Chassis and drivetrain. Not with 4 Cylinder 200hp engine as the Carabo, but with a 380 hp strong V8. The styling, the dimensions are all exact like the Carabo. I bought this one-off Pantera Zooom in an auction and now it resides in Germany, undergoing a meticulous restoration to go as my ticket for Pebble Beach in 2 or 3 years.

Light & Shade
Light & Shade
4 years ago

This was one of the best periods for concept cars.

Here’s our humble take at this era. We covered the main Italian design houses from the 60s and 70s split into 3 articles: Bertone, Italdesign and Pininfarina:

4 years ago
Reply to  Light & Shade

I really enjoyed your 3 articles, thanks for sharing them.

Jack B
Jack B
4 years ago

Gandini also designed the Ferrari 308GT4, the only series produced Ferrari from Bertone.

Gas Project
Gas Project(@gasproject)
4 years ago

Love this story – I think I still have a Matchbox toy of the Carabo somewhere. The paint on the Iguana is quite something. Thanks for making my morning.

4 years ago

I was able to drive them all when I lived in LA / Beverly Hills in the late 1960s when I picked up my Alfa. (Daytonas, Lamborghini Miuras, Maserati Ghiblis, Alfa Stratedale 33, Lancias Stratos) Those were cars! Now they’re building cars like appliances,…refrigerators. And they’re as exciting to drive as refrigerators. They call that progress. I don’t…No PASSION!

Dennis White
Dennis White(@alfa66)
4 years ago

Had the opportunity to see these cars at the terrific (and highly recommended!) Alfa museum last year and they are fascinating and that much better in the flesh (though these pics are great). Manna for us Alfisti and keep them coming Alex!

Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer(@jack-straw)
4 years ago

Another great feature Alex, and thanks to Rosario for the photos.

This was my first Saturday morning viewing; roll outta the rack, pour a cup of java, kick on the Mac, get transported to another world ………I think the Cuneo is my fave.

Mayank Gupta
Mayank Gupta(@mayank-gupta0809)
4 years ago

On their own, these cars aren’t ugly at all. Heck, they’re beautiful and interesting!
It’s just that the reference design by Scaglione is too hard to top…