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How to Buy a Giulia Sprint Speciale, The Most Beautiful Alfa Romeo of All

Road & Track logo Road & Track 5/18/2017 Colin Comer
How to Buy a Giulia Sprint Speciale, The Most Beautiful Alfa Romeo of All© Andrew Trahan How to Buy a Giulia Sprint Speciale, The Most Beautiful Alfa Romeo of All

I bought my first Alfa, a 1969 1750 GTV, when I was 16 years old. A harrowing test ride with its lunatic seller proved my MGB/GT was agricultural by comparison. Every component on the Alfa was a work of art, especially its exotic DOHC engine. I had to have it. But I was soon daunted by the idea of maintaining such a sophisticated piece of machinery. I joined the local Alfa Romeo Owners Club chapter for technical advice. That's where I learned about valve shims. And, more memorably, saw a Sprint Speciale for the first time.

Research

It was magnificent: A flying saucer of a body over everything good about Alfas. The SS seemed like something from another world. It almost is. The SS has its roots in aerodynamic studies conducted by Bertone designer Franco Scaglione in the Fifties. His three Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica, or B.A.T., concept cars were revolutionary for their aerodynamic efficiency. Sweeping lines and fins were garish fashion accessories for Detroit at the time, but on the B.A.T. cars, they actually worked. The slipperiest B.A.T. was reported to have a drag coefficient of just 0.19. The Sprint Speciale, which debuted in 1957 as a halo version of Alfa's landmark postwar Giulietta, was designed by Bertone with clear B.A.T. influence. But mass production has its limitations. Made of steel, the SS isn't nearly as light as the aluminum-bodied, Zagato-built Giulietta specials.

As such, the SS didn't make for much of a competition car. But its style is undeniable, and for a 1950s Italian show car brought to life, it's a surprisingly enjoyable travel companion. Both the 1300-cc Giulietta versions (1957–1962) and the 1600-cc Giulia models (1963–1965) are swift, competent road cars. Plus, their sleek shape cuts wind noise at speed.

© Andrew Trahan

Yet for years, Sprint Speciales didn't demand much of a premium over more common Alfas. That's changed, as the car has finally gained recognition in the market. A decade ago, $40,000 would get you a decent SS. Today, they start at one hundred grand more than that.

I owned a few of these cars before they became precious metal. But there remained one Speciale that tugged at my heartstrings-the final-year Giulia SS seen here. My friend Rex's dad, Hal Chalmers, bought it new in 1965, from Knauz Imports in Chicago. Its stunning Verde Muschio paint and tobacco interior offer a welcome respite from traditional Alfa red. The Chalmerses lavished care on the SS but didn't hesitate to drive it-47,000 miles in total-making it wonderfully imperfect in the process. Every flaw the car was born with is there, along with every one it's earned in the 52 years since: Door dings, paint chips, faded chrome, and Italian seat foam that now presents itself as a fine dust on the floor.

All of these details work to tell you a story, like a long-lost friend would over a beer. It would be a crime to restore this car, and I've always loved it for that. But it was always not for sale.

Until one day when it was. A move across the country and his daughter's wedding finally convinced Rex to let the car go. As promised, he gave me the first call. Five seconds later, the SS was mine, sold with the stipulation that I make Rex my first call if I ever tire of it. But I don't see that happening. In addition to all the reasons above, this very car happens to be the same SS I laid eyes on all those years ago. There's something to be said for that.

© Andrew Trahan

Speciale realities: In addition to the usual vintage-Alfa caveats (head gaskets, weak second-gear synchros, rust), the SS also brings the quirks of a low-production, hand-built car. Although chassis parts are relatively available, the sheetmetal and other SS-specific parts, especially trim and glass, are tough to find. Every car is dimensionally different, so things like windshields and bumpers rarely fit without major massaging. And the stuff that isn't reproduced? Plan on having it made; for that, 3-D printers are a godsend.

Speaking of which: Don't even think about buying an SS without a thorough prepurchase inspection by someone who knows them well. Body and chassis condition are paramount. Few cars are as susceptible to rust or as easily damaged in a traffic shunt. Also, odds are excellent that you'll be looking at restored examples. Beware of budget and/or aged "restorations" done when these cars weren't worth what they are now.

Living with a supermodel: Properly sorted, an SS is a wonderful car. It's reliable and begs to be driven at eight-tenths or better, with little risk of incurring felony speeding charges, thanks to the modest horsepower (about 113 hp in the Giulia). Open the fresh-air vent in the driver's footwell and let that magnificent Weber induction noise into the cabin, where it'll blend with the ripping-silk exhaust note. It's a feature Alfa unknowingly invented long before cockpit sound tubes became common in modern cars.

© Andrew Trahan

Just don't: Human nature being what it is, everyone likes to "improve" old cars. Stiffer springs, bigger anti-roll bars, and wider wheels and tires are common, but all that does is ruin the ride quality and steering. A set of good shocks and speed-rated tires in the correct size go a long way, allowing you to properly slide around in your flying saucer. The stock suspensions are soft, yet roadholding is exceptional. So you can cane it, even if it feels like you are dechroming the door buttons in the process.

Factory records If you provide a chassis number, a researcher at Alfa Romeo's Centro Documentazione will often be able to email you the original build configuration and delivery information for a vintage Alfa. It's a great way to verify original color combinations and engine numbers-priceless details not available from less passionate manufacturers.

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