“Alfa Romeo Stories”, sixth episode: with Duetto the Italian spider lands in Hollywood
Hollywood in fate
“It is a very forgiving car. Very pretty, too “. This is what an exceptional gentleman driver talks about Duetto: Steve McQueen, who in the summer of 1966 was called by Sports Illustrated to try the Italian spider together with other “fast friends”. The one he drove is one of the first Alfa Romeo 1600 Spiders landed in the States, after the debut at the Geneva Motor Show a few months earlier. The judgment captures together the essence of Duetto and the uniqueness of Alfa Romeo: driving pleasure and pure beauty.
It is also a technically authoritative opinion. Steve McQueen is a supercar collector and a good level driver, capable of finishing second in his category at the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours paired with Peter Revson.
A year later, Dustin Hoffman is at the helm of Duetto, who runs at full speed on the notes of Simon & Garfunkel in the unforgettable “The Graduate”. Images that enter the history of cinema, and give way to a trend: the Duetto is used as a stage car in hundreds of works on the small and big screen, and it becomes itself a “cult”. Even the heavyweight world champion Muhammad Ali wants one: taking up his motto “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, he personalizes it with the “Ali Bee” plaque.
Duetto’s star career begins like this. We, however, take a step back, and get to know its roots: Giulia’s technical innovation and the charm of Giulietta Spider.
Born to discover America
Also in the history of the Giulietta Spider there is a protagonist Hoffman. Not Dustin the actor, but Max Edwin Hoffman: ex racing driver, forced by Nazism to leave Austria for the United States, who in a few years became the reference American importer for European car manufacturers.
Max is much more than a simple “trader”: he is a profound connoisseur of the market. It guides commercial policies, asks for specific models, suggests style variations – and contributes with its advice to the creation of some of the most admired sports cars ever. Among these is the Giulietta Spider.
Spider for Hoffman is a fixed nail. He started asking Alfa Romeo in 1954, immediately after the launch of the Giulietta Sprint. He feels it can become the perfect car for the Pacific Coast – and he knows that everyone in Hollywood will want one. He is so confident of his success that even before he sees the final designs he says he is willing to buy several hundred.
The Beautiful Miss
Hoffman manages to convince Francesco Quaroni and Rudolf Hruska, and the project starts. The style is put in competition between the two designers of the moment: Bertone and Pinin Farina. Bertone presents an extreme version, the daughter of Franco Scaglione’s “2000 Sportiva” concept: pointed front, faired headlights, rear fins. Pinin Farina’s proposal is designed by Franco Martinengo, and is preferred for the elegance and classic balance of forms.
The “beautiful young lady”, as Pinin Farina defines it, was born with a panoramic windscreen and sliding side windows. There is no handle inside the door: a rope activates the opening. Only later will a traditional windscreen, descending side windows, equipped door panels, folding roof, external handles and new interiors arrive.
A pure sports concept, confirmed by extremely brilliant performance. The Spider adopts the Giulietta engine: a 1,290 cm³ in-line four-cylinder engine, which delivers 65 horsepower and drives the car to 155 km / h. Power continues to rise with subsequent versions – starting with the 1958 80-horsepower Spider Veloce.
Flexible, young, quick. She is beautiful. Giulietta Spider likes cinema: Fellini makes her appear in “La Dolce Vita”, Antonioni chooses her as the car of Alain Delon in “L’eclisse “. Become a status symbol: loved by famous people, desired by everyone.
Made in Italy
The time has come to give the Giulietta Spider an heir. Luraghi and his team know that making an excellent car is not enough: you have to recreate the same charisma. The presentation must be an event – a solemn ceremony, a little investiture and a little coronation.
Alfa Romeo thinks big. For the launch USA organizes a cruise, and invites the most exclusive characters from show business, sport and fashion. There are 1,300 VIPs on board, including Vittorio Gassman, Rossella Falk and the soprano Anna Moffo. The Italian spaceship Raffaello travels from Genoa to New York, making a stopover in Cannes on the occasion of the Film Festival – and during the whole cruise on the ship’s deck three examples of the new Spider show off: one green, one white and one red . Emphasizing the Italian nature of its product, Alfa Romeo anticipates the communicative intuition of “Made in Italy” by more than a decade.
The Giulia technical heritage
The Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 was born on the Giulia floor, with a wheelbase reduced to 2,250 mm; the mechanics are those of the contemporary Giulia Sprint GT Veloce (evolution of the Sprint GT). At launch, Duetto is equipped with the classic 1,570 cm³ twin-cylinder 4-cylinder in light alloy, capable of unloading 108 horses on the wheels with a dry weight of less than 1,000 kilos. The maximum speed is 185 km / h.
“Duet” or “Cuttlefish Bone”?
The model name is a story in itself. To choose it, a prize competition is organized in collaboration with all European dealers. “Duetto” wins – but a question of rights emerges (for the homonymy with a chocolate biscuit), which requires the car to be launched as “Alfa Romeo Spider 1600”.
The Duetto name remains in the background, is consolidated in the memory of fans and becomes the common nickname of all generations of the car. Others will be added: the 1966 Spider, before the series and the last masterpiece by Battista Pinin Farina, is called “Cuttlefish bone” due to its ellipsoidal shape: rounded front and tail, convex sides and a very low belt line. The second is the 1969 “Coda Tronca”, which stands out for the aerodynamic cut of the rear. The third is the “Aerodynamics” of 1983, born from the studies in the wind tunnel. In 1989 the latest generation arrived, the so-called “IV Series” – a car with a clean and streamlined line, somehow a return to the origins.
Four generations, over 124 thousand units produced in 28 years: the longest life ever for an Alfa Romeo model.