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Musings on the Past

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale – Why did time forget Alfa Romeo’s apex supercar?

After seven years in production, Alfa Romeo’s promising little carbon-fibre chassis sports car, the 4C, is taking a bow. In commemoration, the Italian automaker will round off production with the 4C Spider 33 Stradale Tributo special edition. Named so, and inspired by Alfa Romeo’s legendary 1967 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider 33 Stradale Tributo Tipo 33 Stradale

The bulk of the changes on the special edition 4C Spider are cosmetic. Namely seen in the Rosso Villa d’Este red paint job, gold wheels, carbon-fibre body trim inserts, and leather-trimmed interior. Underneath, the 4C Spider 33 Stradale Tributo features an Akrapovic exhaust system and “race-tuned” suspension.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider 33 Stradale Tributo interior badge

While the 4C Spider 33 Stradale Tributo looks more like a vague facsimile of marketing than an actualised 21st-century re-imagination of the Tipo 33 Stradale, there is a historical link between the two. The Tipo 33 Stradale was Alfa Romeo’s first and only mid-engine road car till the 4C came along, though similarities end there.

Alfa Romeo’s ultimate supercar

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale prototipo

While the 4C boasted a supercar-like carbon-fibre tub, the Tipo 33 Stradale was a bona fide supercar inspired by racing. Believe it or not, there was once a time when Alfa Romeo stood for something more than family cars with wonky electrics.

Named after the Tipo 33 racing cars, the Tipo 33 Stradale was to be its “road-going” offshoot. Not only was it related by name, Autodelta, Alfa Romeo’s motorsports division also developed the prototype.

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale side design shape

Though the Tipo 33 Stradale’s 2-litre V8 engine wasn’t a direct carryover from the race car, it still came with a flat-plane crank and a heady 10,000rpm redline. Peak power wasn’t something to shout about, with just 169kW and 206Nm of torque on tap. By comparison, the contemporary Lamborghini Miura had 257kW and 355Nm of torque from its 4-litre V12.

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale engine

Thanks to its aluminium body on aluminium tubular chassis, the Tipo 33 Stradale weighed just 700kg. Together the Tipo 33 Stradale can sprint to 100km/h in under six seconds, which was even quicker than the 1125kg Miura P400 with its seven-second sprint time.

Beauty comes at a price

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale butterfly door open

However, the Tipo 33 Stradale’s performance wasn’t its most celebrated quality. That would be its visually arresting and athletic aluminium body. Its sleek profile and voluptuous curves were the unmistakable work of Franco Scaglione, a coachbuilder who specialised in crafting beautiful, flowing, and ambitious shapes.

Scaglione might have been a little overly ambitious with the prototype’s twin-headlights designs. Alfa Romeo found it to be breaching minimum headlight distance from the ground and replaced it with single-headlight items. With the final product closely resembling a Porsche 904. Even so, from nose to tail, there was no curve too flabby or a line too many on the Tipo 33 Stradale.

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale single headlight model production version

Despite its looks, performance, and implied racing pedigree, the Tipo 33 Stradale isn’t widely as known as the Miura. Much of this had to do with its price. According to sources the Tipo 33 Stradale retailed at 9,750,000 lire, or about 65 times the annual wage in Italy. To put that into perspective, the Miura was a bargain at 7,700,000 lire. And that car had a bigger V12 engine and LJK Setright’s legendary “supercar” praise to boot.

Lamborghini Miura yellow

Due to its price, only 18 Tipo 33 Stradale examples ever made. Five were repurposed as concept cars by Bertone, Italdesign, and Pininfarina. The rest of which were squirrelled away into collections and rarely ever trade hands. Because of its rarity, the Tipo 33 Stradale faded into obscurity over time. All the while, its contemporaries like the Miura, Ferrari 250 GTO, and Jaguar E-Type, became eternally celebrated design landmarks.

The decline of Alfa Romeo’s heritage

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale design front twin-headlight design

So why did the Tipo 33 Stradale live a relatively hidden existence? It is not easy for something so beautiful to be so easily forgotten. Marylin Monroe is still a sex symbol. Audrey Hepburn is still a standard of beauty. Even the story of Helena of Troy and her war-toting royal simps has become a legend. So what was different with the Tipo 33 Stradale? 

Part of its relative anonymity had to do with its rarity. Ferrari built double the number of 250 GTOs, and raced them, whereas Lamborghini built more than 700 Miuras. However, the primary reason had to do with the decline of Alfa Romeo shortly thereafter. For a better understanding, let me direct your attention to the car that follow-up act, the 1970 Alfa Romeo Montreal.

We built this city

Alfa Romeo Montreal drive

The Alfa Romeo Montreal first appeared in concept car form for the 1967 Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada. Though unnamed at the time, the concept’s popularity at the Expo eventually earned it the production car the Montreal moniker and Alfa Romeo’s blessing to be the next brand flagship.

Alfa Romeo Montreal Expo 67 Prototype

While the prototype had a 1.6-litre Giulia engine, the production car would have the Tipo 33 Stradale’s V8, albeit upsized to 2.5-litre in a modified cross-plane crank form.

While many celebrated the Montreal’s 147kW V8 engine, its supercar fuel consumption and small tank limited its grand tourer appeal. Furthermore, its near non-existent rear seats, tiny luggage space, and limited rear visibility made it more of a supercar in its practicality.

Alfa Romeo Montreal interior

More expensive than a Porsche 911, and an E-Type, without the performance or worldwide recognition, the Montreal failed to take-off. After five years in production, Alfa Romeo wound up production with just 3900 Montreals built.

Nevertheless, dealers found it hard to sell the remaining examples. Some rumours even went as far as claiming that production stopped just three years into its production run, with dealers relisting the production year as the year when they sold it.

Alfa Romeo Montreal rear design

What is certain is that Montreal’s failure is the first crack in Alfa Romeo’s enviable reputation. Not only that, it epitomised the company’s knack for ambition ahead of actualisation. It was a trait that would severely damage the automaker’s reputation. And one that demonstrated itself with Alfa Romeo’s next big ambitious project, the infamous Alfasud

Changing times

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale butterfly door open top

Sadly, for all its beauty and performance, the Tipo 33 Stradale coincided with Alfa Romeo’s high point. The pinnacle of Alfa Romeo as a maker of the most desirable cars in the world. After the Tipo 33 Stradale, the long and inexorable decline of Alfa Romeo as a brand began. Company fortunes steadily dried up, politics ensued, and its history became sullied with cheaper mainstream offerings.

Alfa Romeo model range 1970

Soon, Alfa Romeo of the following decades became nearly unrecognisable to the Alfa Romeo that birthed the Tipo 33 Stradale. With the company focused on sedans for the common man, memories of its heyday steadily faded away, and there was little reason to hark back to Scaglione’s beauty.

Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale prototype heritage museum

Not like there was any reason for people to remember it. By the 1990s, Alfa Romeo’s heritage had long since disintegrated. Nobody remembered Alfa Romeo for Tazio Nuvolari and his exploits in the 8C. Instead, its hero was Nicola Larini in a sedan-bodied 155 2.5 V6 TI in DTM. In the eyes of all but the most devoted alfisti, Alfa Romeo was a purveyor of family sedans. No supercars on victory lane here.  

Fate and future of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo hybrid 8C teaser image

Hallmarks of the Tipo 33 Stradale would only re-emerge recently with Alfa Romeo’s proposed mid-engine hybrid 8C supercar project. Unfortunately, FCA cancelled the project and repurposed it as Maserati’s new MC20.

With FCA merging with PSA, the beleaguered brand’s ambitious product plans got shelved in favour of more SUVs. And with so many brands on hand, it seems unlikely that PSA CEO Carlos Tavares would revisit these plans.  

Carlos Tavares FCA PSA merger

Destined for the garage in the sky, the 4C’s tribute to the Tipo 33 Stradale is unintentionally fitting. While the 4C was more like the Montreal in its ambition and fate, it will be the apex of FCA’s Alfa Romeo, much in the same way the Tipo 33 Stradale was in its post-war era.

Alfa Romeo 4C Spider 33 Stradale Tributo side profile Tipo 33 Stradale

Hopefully, the 4C won’t suffer its illustrious forebearer’s fate of being forgotten beneath Alfa Romeo’s SUV-filled future. And that someday, Alfa Romeo can wheel out the Tipo 33 Stradale in a sincere celebration of an authentic revival.