Not just an Alfa Romeo Spider, the 33 Spider Cuneo was a concept car as simple as it is special
The extraordinary chassis and engine of the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 were created to win races. They then stimulated various coachbuilders to express themselves in very different ways, demonstrating both the unrivalled flair of Italian bodywork designers and the technical strength of the Alfa Romeo project.
The Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 family had an unusual genesis: unlike most cars, the racing version made its debut first, only later followed by the road versions. This “back-to-front” order of events made it possible to create a car with a chassis and mechanics so strikingly refined that they then inspired the best Italian coachbuilders to compete among themselves in a challenge between the titans of Italian automotive design.
The Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 was the culmination of a project – begun in the early 1960s – to create a racing car built around an H-frame and a powerful V8 engine of only two litres, placed in a central / rear position. Its mission in life was to participate in competitions and win the World Sportscar Championship, thus promoting the supremacy of Alfa Romeo’s sporting DNA. In 1967, after the first racing victories of the Alfa Romeo 33/2, Franco Scaglione designed the first prototype of the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, a road car which shortly afterwards led to the definitive version, of which very few exemplars were produced. One of the most beautiful cars of all time was born.
The Alfa Romeo 33 racing programme continued to evolve for roughly another ten years, with countless successes, but only thirteen road chassis of the Stradale version were ever fitted out with the bodywork designed by Scaglione. Another five, including the mechanics as well as the chassis, were offered to the best Italian coachmakers: Pininfarina, Bertone and Giugiaro. The most talented Italian designers were thus invited to express their creativity on superb engines and mechanics, thus inventing their own different and amazing “variations on the theme” of the super sportscar.
The 33 Spider Cuneo was created in 1971, when Pininfarina decided to unleash the creative flair of Paolo Martin by allowing him – after the success of the 33 Roadster in 1968 – to play once again with the chassis of the magnificent Alfa Romeo Tipo 33.
Before the Spider Cuneo, Paolo Martin had already designed the 33 Roadster for Pininfarina, which starred in the Turin Motor Show in 1968. The open two-seater had many highly original solutions to offer. The eye-catching taut lines were interrupted only by the wide fender arches. The iconic lighting cluster of six headlights was straightened into a line and “drowned” in the centre of the lower hood. At the same time, the faired grille was surmounted by a simple rubber bumper and, most importantly, a large orange spoiler carried out various different functions: providing aerodynamic downforce, exploiting the inverted wing to house the oil cooler and – thanks to the large fins supporting it – creating a robust structure acting as a protective roll-bar.
The car was highly praised, but suffered a fate similar to many concept cars of the time: in a way they acted as “laboratory cars”, exploited to try out further technical and stylistic solutions. This is what happened to the Roadster: after being dismantled, it returned conceptually to Paolo Martin’s drawing board. The Turin designer was later entrusted with the task of designing a new creature on the same chassis, conceived to astonish the public at the 1971 Brussels Motor Show.
So Martin took the lines of the earlier Roadster to extremes: he eliminating all curves and reduced the entire body to a perfect wedge shape. He left a few slight curves on the mudguard, as hints underlining the width of the tyres, but the only truly curved part was the windshield which, like a low sleek shell wrapping the front like a visor, rose slightly above the taut lines of the sides.
In the front, the idea of the rubber bumper and the famous headlight cluster returned, with the optical groups merged into a single rectangle, now moved to the centre of the low fairing grille in the lower part as well. The sides were taut and clean, featuring a bold orange stripe, with the Pininfarina crest on the side of the front fender and a green four-leaf clover, symbol of the sportiest Alfa Romeos, on the rear mudguard. There were no doors: a sharp edge separated the vertical side from the flat part that ran beside the cockpit, where two NACA-type air intakes were set. The edge defining the wedge rose gently up from the bonnet creating a sharp fin that ended suddenly in the clean break of the truncated tail.
The rear “transom”, featured a black rectangle which contained the six rear lights and the eight exhausts, each coming from a single cylinder: like a tribute to a racing powerboat. In the cockpit, the four-spoke steering wheel had only the tachometer behind it, the other circular instruments were grouped in a row in the centre of the dashboard. Behind the seats, which echoed the orange colour of the stripes on the body, a thin tubular roll-bar supported the cover of the intake trumpets.
As had happened with the previous Roadster, Martin’s new Spider succeeded in astonishing everyone, offering a completely individual and essential vision of the entire sportscar concept. It is fascinating to note how different the 33 Stradale and the Spider Cuneo are, with practically opposite approaches: we could say that, where Scaglione used compasses and curvilinear lines, Martin used right angles and rulers. But he wasn’t the only one: starting from that prototype, taut shapes and extreme wedge-shaped profiles were adopted by various designers in the following years.
The Alfa Romeo 33 Spider Cuneo is still perfectly preserved in the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese, and is in good company with many other 33s. Many racing versions testify to the evolution and worldwide successes achieved, and alongside the splendid 33 Stradale prototype by Scaglione other coupé models are gathered: the angular Carabo by Bertone designed by Marcello Gandini, with doors that open upwards like the elytra of a beetle; the low, sleek 33/2 Speciale, made by Pininfarina and based on a design by Leonardo Fioravanti; the metallic iridescent Iguana dreamed up by Giorgetto Giugiaro, with bodywork by Italdesign; and, finally, the astonishingly futuristic Navajo, the ultimate dream car based on the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale. This was the work of the Bertone studio, with lines that remind us of spaceships: he lengthened the wheelbase of the tubular frame to improve comfort and accommodate an aerodynamic and squared-off rear spoiler.
This amazing selection of iconic concept cars presents a spectacular concentration of Italian flair and creativity: all variations on the theme of an authentic work of art called the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale.