Winning Lineage: The Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Competition Cars
Photography by Rosario Liberti
“Vintage Italian cars.” What are the connotations here? What kind of image is coming to mind? Does it include a Giulietta Spider cheerily making its way towards the town square along a cobbled street barely wide enough to pass a cyclist without clipping a mirror? An overheating Miura parked on the sandy shoulder of some nondescript strada in a countryside flanked with olive trees? An F333 SP whittling down its tires testing at Fiorano? A Topolino nearly toppling over as it leans and rolls and just generally exerts its way up through the Dolomites?
It’s a disparate thing, this history of Italian automobiles—from the charms of Cinquecentos to the dune-smashing aggressiveness of the LM002—but Alfa Romeo can be found in practically any corner you look. There are few manufacturers that can even approach the scope of Alfa’s output in the 1960s and ‘70s today; Ferrari came the closest in terms of building swoon-worthy street cars alongside their motorsport champions, but the gap was a bit narrower in their case. Enzo’s cars from both sides of the Armco never spanned a range as wide as the one in the Alfa Romeo stable. Lancia is probably the closest competitor in this regard, but back in the ‘60s this comparison clearly breaks down in favor of the Milanese manufacturer. Fulvias are cool and all, but you had to have been dropped by your mother to think it’s on the same plane as the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33. The dominant Beta Montecarlo would come years after Alfa swept up the World Sportscar Championship with the final iterations of the 33.
“The” is misleading of course, as the Tipo 33 would see a process of evolution and experimentation that resulted in all sorts of variants on the original that was developed in the mid 1960s. With gorgeous street cars, coach-built one-offs, and a cadre of downright successful racing prototypes, it spawned such wildly different machines as the LEGO-like Cuneo and the Targa Florio-winning 33TT12. The one that most will likely think of first though is the Stradale, a road-going interpretation of the early Tipo 33 competition cars like the “Periscopica.”
Unveiled in August of ’67, the Stradale celebrated its 50th birthday in 2017, and the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo thought it a fitting occasion for a larger exhibit dedicated to the 33 chassis. Our photographer and friend Rosario Liberti took a trip to the museum in Arese to shoot the collection Alfa’s amassed, and so if you find yourself (like me) unable to make it there in person in the near future, this is the next best thing.
1967: Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale Prototype
The birthday beauty herself, the first of the street legal Tipo 33s and arguably the best work of the prolific Italian designer Franco Scaglione. Alfa had purportedly planned a production run of 50 of these cars, but their exotic nature made the tube-framed (including a relatively massive single-piece casting of magnesium for the front subframe), quad-cam V8-powered machine extremely expensive, as well as difficult to produce in such volume—the bodywork was carried out by the coach builders at Marazzi, the engine was more or less a detuned version of the 33/2 Daytona’s race-bred unit designed and built in-house, and Autodelta was tasked with assembly.
Later models (it’s generally agreed that no more than 18 were built in total, with five—some say six—of those chassis having been shipped to coach builders like Pininfarina and Bertone for re-bodies) featured just a single lamp inside each of those sumptuous headlight covers, but the prototypes with the stacked sets really look the business. And that’s exactly what these cars were: the absolute business. Motionless they are captivating, but 230 horsepower from a two-liter and just a few pounds over 1,500 makes a compelling argument for the functional side of the equation of one of the prettiest forms a car has ever taken.
1968: Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 “Daytona”
The Stradale was an aesthetic triumph and one of the fastest things you could put on a public road in ‘67, but the racing versions of the first Tipo 33s weren’t what you’d call dominant cars. Yes, they saw podiums in a handful of minor events like hill climbs, but they were largely unsuccessful in their first and final season. The following year’s works effort saw a reversal of sorts in 1968, as the newly developed Tipo 33/2 proved to be quite the contender, including class wins at not one, but two 24-hour races: Daytona and Le Mans, the former earning it its nickname.
The “Daytona” still resembled the original 33s, but it saw a number of changes, the most obvious of which being the elongated bodywork and the fact that the cockpit was now fully enclosed. Along with the rest of its new shell, the longer tail unlocked more top-end speed for the 33/2, and combined with the general refinement of the holdover parts from the early cars, the 2-liter class in the World Sportscar Championship was awarded to Alfa in the first season that the 33/2 saw competition. 2.5-liter cars were also tested and raced in the 33/2, though they often couldn’t keep pace with the more powerful Porsches in the higher-capacity classes.
1970 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3
The 33/3 is a very fitting name for this car, seeing as it is the third generation of the racing Tipo 33s, as well as the first in the family to bump the capacity up to three liters. Spurred on by the auspicious debut of the 33/2 a year prior, Alfa Romeo decided to start competing for outright race wins rather than just in their class, and Autodelta began this new stage of development by modifying the existing aluminum alloy V8 from the previous cars, which resulted in 2998ccs good for 400 horsepower as opposed to the roughly 270 in the two-liter cars. It also lost its roof (some hardtop configurations were still used, depending on the track and driver, like the Targa Florio-winning car), though it still gained some weight overall despite this. This is because the 33/3 was the most marked change in the 33 lineage thus far; the complex tube chassis was ditched for a stiffer, more traditional box-sectioned monocoque design, fundamentally changing what it meant to be a “33.”
The example pictured here is a 1970 car (the first 33/3s raced in 1969), which was the least successful season for the 33/3 in which the chassis didn’t win a single race. The following year saw the 33/3 keep the name, but it was a more than mildly revised car that appeared at the starting line in 1971, boasting an increase in horsepower, less weight, as well as revised, more squared-off bodywork that ditched the longer enclosed tail of the ’69 and ’70 cars for a design resembling the Porsche 908/03. The Porsche won the Targa Florio in 1970, but the Alfa would take the overall win in 1971, ending the Germans’ five-year winning streak and bringing the trophy back to Milan for the first time since 1950 when the 6C 2500 finished first.
1975 Alfa Romeo 33TT12 and 1977 33SC12 Turbo
The 33TT12 and the 33SC12 Turbo were by far the most dominant of the 33 family, with each handily winning a World Championship for Makes. It wasn’t immediate though. The 33TT12 (“TT” designating Telaio Tubolare, “tube frame,” the “12” for the new three-liter flat-12 mounted behind the driver’s head and under that towering induction scoop), began its competitive life in 1973, but seeing as it was basically an entirely new car, the season’s efforts did not result in any wins or much success, with a few crashes and a slew of retirements. The TT12 was still being honed in 1974, and it finally saw victory at the Monza 1000km with Mario Andretti and Arturo Merzario driving.
1975 was the banner year for the TT12; further tuning had bumped its power past the 500 mark for the first time, and it was the year that would finally give Alfa the Makes title in the WSC. And it did so with ease—the TT12 won seven of the eight races in the season, as well as another overall win at the Targa Florio on top of that.
The 1976 season saw the TT12’s replacement being developed: the SC12 (“SC” for Scatolato, “box-section,” or “monocoque”), a lighter, stiffer, faster car altogether. The reason for its existence was mainly due to to the tube-framed TT12 not being able to cope with the ever-rising power of Carlo Chiti’s flat-12 (around 520 by the time it found itself in the new SC12), and the effort proved to be worthwhile, seeing as the SC12 won all eight races in the championship season of 1977. As all of this was going on, Alfa and Autodelta were working on a twin-turbocharged version of the flat-12 (even back in 1976 while the NA car was still being put together), and before the 33 program would cease in order to allow the company’s pursuit of Formula 1 they completed a 2.1-liter flat-12 with a turbocharger for each bank of cylinders. It produced a staggering at the time, and now, 640hp. The 33SC12 Turbo was only entered in two races in ’77 season, in which it claimed a second and first, at the Salzburgring and Hockenheim, respectively.
Next week we’ll be back to look at the concept cars that were derived from the Alfa 33 Stradale chassis—motorsport is just one piece of the 33’s lore.