Blue Blood: Alfa Romeo T33 Stradale
Even Enzo Ferrari was impressed by Alfa Romeo’s most exotic supercar, based on the Tipo 33 sports-prototype, that wowed the automotive world when unveiled at the Festival dell’Autodromo at Monza in September 1967. The only thing wrong with it, he quipped, was the badge.
Though the car did have a somewhat troubled gestation, to put it mildly. In 1963 Carlo Chiti was enlisted to run Alfa’s racing operation as a separate wing christened Autodelta. As well as developing the TZ coupes, he was given the challenge of creating a two-liter sports-prototype partially based on the old Scarabeo. The first T33 was launched at Balocco in March 1967, but the mid-engined 270-hp V8 with bold H-layout chassis made from riveted aluminum wasn’t really race-ready, as its troubled first season would prove.
As if Chiti didn’t have enough on bis plate, the Alfa management, led by Giuseppe Luraghi and Orazio Satta, also demanded a road car based on the new prototype, with plans for a production run of fifty. Chiti had worked with Franco Scaglione in 1963 on the short-lived ATS supercar, and late in 1966 the talented Turin-based designer was contracted for the new Alfa. Scaglione’s background was in aviation and so his designs also had a technical foundation in aerodynamics. From the beginning, the shape was tested extensively, first with scale models and then as a bare aluminum prototype. The 170-mph missile was brilliantly stable at high speed but the driver and passenger cooked in the cramped cockpit. Air conditioning would have been an essential option for this road-going racer.
Even Enzo Ferrari was impressed by Alfa Romeo’s most exotic supercar, based on the Tipo 33 sports-prototype, that wowed the automotive world when unveiled at the Festival dell’Autodromo at Monza in September 1967.
The first Stradale prototype based on the original aluminum/Peraluman racing chassis with a lengthened wheelbase was built by Autodelta, but the racing division wasn’t set up for building bodywork and Scaglione became ever more frustrated by the lack of equipment and specialized skills. Extra specialists were taken on, but Chiti clearly saw racing as his priority and the relationship between Chiti and Scaglione became strained. “It’s a Tipo 33 with baby fat,” said Chiti. The bodywork was finally ready in September, but no engine was available, and an argument over the color (Chiti wanted it white) delayed presentation to director Luraghi.
In October the project was given the go-ahead. Chiti, against Scaglione’s advice, contacted Carrozzeria Marazzi to produce the production cars based on a stronger, longer-lasting steel chassis. After its low-key debut, the Stradale was officially launched a week later at the Frankfurt motor show with a staggering price of $17,000, making it the most expensive car listed.
Scaglione was proud of the Stradale’s successful aerodynamic tests. Turbulence only appeared behind the rear wheel arches. The finished first body, made by Saracino e Lingua of Druento, looked almost identical to Scaglione’s models. After the prototype, the shape was revised with large air ducts appearing behind the front and rear arches. The press road tests were hugely enthusiastic, praising the staggering performance, sharp rack-and-pinion steering and sensational roadholding. Up to 150 mph there was relatively little engine noise, but past 160 mph it became really intense inside the snug cabin, with the V8 screaming away behind. The biggest problem was the low ride height, and even ramps into petrol stations resulted in noisy scrapes.
What became of Scaglione? He was overlooked in the development of the T33 racer’s Daytona body, and through 1968 his situation became ever more overwrought. Eventually, after supervising early construction at Marazzi, he resigned and went to join Intermeccanica.
Orders were slow. The specifications varied from semi-competition Corsa to full Lusso trim with a plusher interior. There had been initial discussions about racing the Stradale, and one prototype was taken to the Targa Florio but only used for a demonstration. In 1996 two Stradales ran at the Monterey Historics, an amazing sight that will likely never be repeated.
Austrian classic car specialist Egon Zweimüller has driven both the early T33 racers as well as the Stradales. “They have a unique character, with a very direct feel just like a motorcycle,” he says. “The ATE brakes are superb but heavy, the racing clutch is tricky, the steering is super-direct and the box a little tight, but it works better the faster you go. Everything – engine, brakes and gearbox – must be really warm before you can start driving. The V8 loves to rev but lacks torque for road use. A 2.5- or 3-liter engine would make it a dream machine, but compared to a Stradale, the Daytona and Miura are trucks. It’s a pure racer for the road. There’s no luggage space and only one spare for the front, but there’s a special toolbox for homologation.”
The true number of Stradales built remains uncertain – not helped by a secretive run of “continuation” cars built by Giovanni Giordanengo, possibly with Chiti’s help. The general belief is that thirteen Scaglione-styled Stradales were completed, which tallies with Chiti’s records. The first three, including the prototype based on the riveted-aluminum chassis with fuel stored in the side members, featured quad headlights, but to make the car legal in Italy it switched to two lamps from 1968, when only trucks were allowed paired lights.
The show car starred in the 1969 movie Un bellissimo novembre, where its shapely form competed with curvy co-star Gina Lollobrigida. Its distinctive features included a roof-mounted single wiper, and story has it this early Stradale was sold from the factory collection to a Japanese collector, while the second was built up from spares in 1969 and is now a star of Alfa’s Museo Storico. While the first cars were completed under troubled circumstances at Autodelta, the rest were finished at Carrozzeria Marazzi in Caronno Pertusella, near Saronno, with the help of former Zagato and Touring specialists.
The first steel-chassis Stradale was bought by American enthusiast Henry Wessells III, who met Chiti in the early sixties on a flight to Sicily for the Targa Florio. The pair became friends, and in 1967 Wessells was invited to Balocco to see the new Tipo 33 testing. During the visit, he was shown a secret bare-aluminum coupe in a workshop. Wessells was smitten and ordered the first “production” Stradale. The car was kept in Italy for a few months, with Wessells using it regularly on the road, including a high-speed blast on the autostrada to Venice running at the rev limit of 10,000 rpm for 4 km, at 180 mph. “The Stradale was fantastically stable – even in crosswinds it ran brilliantly straight,” recalled Wessells in 1999, further confirming Scaglione’s skill. The car was eventually air-freighted to America by Alitalia for no charge, in exchange for the publicity of transporting the world’s most expensive car. This was the final Stradale with Scaglione’s direct involvement. Today it resides in a Belgian collection.