In the automotive scenario of the 1950s and 1960s, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider was one of the most fascinating divas.

Published on 10 Jan 2021
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Made by the Arese company between 1955 and 1962, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider is considered the convertible par excellence. Variant of the Giulietta Sprint initially designed for a small niche, over 17,000 will be built.

The sexy design and compact size have determined its huge success, especially in the U.S.A. Its chassis, destined to remain in production until the early 90s, is a reference point for Alfisti, namely fans of the Alfa Romeo.

Defined by designer Battista Pininfarina as the beautiful young lady or the girlfriend of Italy, during the years of the economic boom she was the focus of successful magazines and films. Becoming, over the decades, a true icon of motoring.

An Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider parked outside a shuttered house on the shores of Lake Como, 1956. (Credit to Kitti Bolognesi)
An Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider parked outside a shuttered house on the shores of Lake Como, 1956.
(Credit to Kitti Bolognesi)

“What’s in a name”

Legend has it that the choice of the name Giulietta, linked to the masterpiece of William Shakespeare, is linked to a particular episode.

We have to go back to 1950. On the occasion of the presentation of the 1900 model at the Paris Motor Show, 8 Alfa Romeo executives dine at a refined restaurant in the French capital. During the banquet they are entertained by a burlesque poet, a disgraced Russian nobleman, who notices their severe expressions and teases them by exclaiming “Je vois 8 Roméo, mais aucune Juliette!” (I see 8 Romeo, but no Juliet!). This story thus remains etched in the minds of some diners who, in deciding which commercial name to attribute to the new “type 750” model, favor the Giulietta.

If the Russian-born artist looks like a character taken from a fairy tale, there is no doubt that 2 ambitious Austrians prove decisive in embarking on the design path of the Giulietta Spider.

The very first version of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Sprint, presented at the Turin Motor Show in 1954, marks the Biscione’s entry into mass production. The success was remarkable and Max Hoffman, a former driver and owner of the homonymous New York dealer, importer of Alfa Romeo, asks the management of the car company to field a 2-seater version with a soft top. He undertakes to buy 2,000 copies, convinced that it would be a hit especially on the sunny beaches of the West Coast.

Alfa Romeo technical director Rudolf Hruska, who has just collaborated with Ferry Porsche in the industrialization of the Beetle a few years earlier, grasps the great potential inherent in the proposal. And he decides to supervise both the design phase and the subsequent production.

The starting point is represented by the realization of the prototypes by 2 renowned Turin car body designers: Bertone and Pininfarina.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Bertone 1955
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider by Bertone, 1955 (credit to archivioprototipi.it)

In the 2 models presented by Bertone, conceived by Franco Scaglione taking up the lines of the 2000 Sportiva concept, sportiness prevails. The front is sharp, the headlights are careened, and the rear is characterized by 2 fins with the taillights set.

But the choice falls on the Pininfarina prototypes, created by Franco Martinengo’s pencil starting from the Lancia Aurelia B24, which are in line with the refinement desired by Hruska and with the Italian stylistic tradition. Not surprisingly, it is one of the crown jewels of the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo.

The idea is to make it in a limited edition: only 600 cars destined for California. But at the Paris Motor Show in 1955, the approval of the press and the public is so wide that the Alfa Romeo company takes a brave decision: the factories are enlarged and powerful production lines are set up.

“It is the lightness that distinguishes the true Italian car”.

The sporting skills of Giulietta

The 1st series of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider (1955-1958) is characterized by more refined finishes than the Sprint.

On the outside, the front is enriched with pronounced chromes, the America-style panoramic windscreen and the side windows that slide horizontally and hook directly to the capote. Then replaced with a flat windshield and descending glass windows.

Number 1 of Quattroruote 1956
Number 1 of Quattroruote, 1956
(credit to quattroruote.it)

The doors are uncoated (with visible cladding and screws since 1956) and the side pockets are made from the gap between the sheets. The instrumentation is divided between 3 circular elements, placed on a functional dashboard where chrome prevails. The steering wheel is markedly sporty, with 3 spokes, and also houses the gearbox.

Under the hood pulsates a rear-wheel drive engine which, at the time, is a benchmark in terms of performance and consumption. A 4-cylinder in-line longitudinal, 1,290 cm³, with base and cylinder head in light alloy. The 65 hp of the first models will rise to 80 in 1958, allowing the Giulietta to reach a top speed of 165 km/h (even 180 km/h with the Veloce version, thanks to the double-barrel Weber carburetors).

The competition is also beaten in terms of acceleration: 100 km/h are reached in 15.7 seconds from the 1st series, in 14.8 seconds from the 2nd series and in just 11.3 seconds from the Veloce.

A car that manages to combine sportiness with driving pleasure. At high revs, the 4-cylinder emits a scratchy sound, one of a kind, while at around 50 km/h you proceed with a little gas. When overtaking it is not necessary to downshift because acceleration is decisive.

The Giulietta Spider has all the credentials to become a diva.

Number 1 of Quattroruote, the most famous Italian motoring magazine, has the Alfa Romeo Giulietta on the cover. And the following versions, including the Spider itself, will be present on 3 others: a record still unbeaten.

The first and most important consecration takes place thanks to La Dolce Vita (1960), Fellini’s masterpiece where she plays a leading role like Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, as GQ Italy also emphasizes.

Together with the Lancia B24 Spider, its older sister, it stands out in the cult Il sorpasso (1962), directed by Dino Risi, with Vittorio Gassman, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Catherine Spaak. And she is led by Alain Delon in Antonioni’s The eclipse (1962), with the participation of Monica Vitti, and by a very young Stefania Sandrelli in La bella di Lodi (1963).

Stefania Sandrelli with the Giulietta Spider in “La bella di Lodi”, 1963

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