History of the Alfa Romeo coupe – picture special

History of the Alfa Romeo coupe - picture special

The launch of the Alfa Romeo 4C marks the welcome return of the Alfa Romeo coupe. We take a look back at the history of the firm’s tin-top sports cars

This week the long-awaited Alfa Romeo 4C was driven for the first time, marking a welcome return for Alfa’s coupe models. The firm might be most synonymous with its drop-top Spider offerings, but the coupes represent some of the most appealing models.

Early Alfas were offered in a bewildering range of configurations, and were coachbuilt by many firms around Italy and beyond. The one constant in the 6C range – which was the first coupe sold under the Alfa Romeo banner – was a six-cylinder engine configuration.

It was much the same with the shorter-lived 8C, which as its name suggests sprouted a further two cylinders. The stunning 1937 8C 2300 was the fixed-head highlight of the 8C range; described at the time as the best-looking sports car in the world – a claim that could arguably still ring true today.

1950 marked the introduction of the 1900 which was the firm’s first ever monocoque design and, once again, was available with a range of coachbuilt bodies, most notably the Disco Volante, Pinin Farina-built Sprint and the lightweight Zagato 1900 SSZ. The model was followed in 1958 by the somewhat predictably-named 2000, offered as a Bertone-designed Sprint coupe.

Alfa Romeo 4C video review

Bertone also penned the pretty lines of the 2600 which arrived several years later. The six-pot flagship saw the SZ (Sprint Zagato) model join the line-up in 1965, and it boasted much-improved fit and finish. It could seat four in comfort and was positioned more as a GT than a outright sports car. The Sprint gained the attentions of the Italian police, who pressed a number of them into service to counter an increasing number of armed robberies in the country.

The Giulietta, which launched in 1954, was the first model to have a non-numeric name. It went on to spawn a number of hot variants, including another SZ which developed 100bhp from its 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine. It was followed in 1963 by a range of Giulia-based coupes which had huge success in race series around the world. The 1600cc Sprint GT won the European Challenge in 1966, ’67 and ’68, and the model was later fitted with a 1750cc unit.

In 1968, Alfa attempted to bring its racing technology to the road car buyer with the 33 Stradale. The pretty Scaglione-designed bodywork was the first to feature dihedral doors, a format which was later used by the McLaren 12C. Just 33 hand-built Stradales were built, making it one of the most valuable Alfas of all time.

Two years later, the Montreal was revealed in the city that gave up its name. It entered production in 1970 and used an evolution of the 33’s V8 to develop 200bhp. Its top speed was in excess of 135mph.

The Alfetta was the basis for the GTV, which became one of the most iconic coupes of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Earlier, smaller-engined models were badged as GT, with the GTV reserved for the range-topper.

It was, however, the GTV6 that grabbed the attention of performance enthusiasts, thanks to its 2.5-litre V6 engine. It won the European Touring Car Championship four times in succession and Andy Rouse took it to a BTCC championship in 1983. Classic and Sportscar magazine said it was “the best sounding engine this side of a Maserati V8″.

While the GT and GTV were gaining plaudits, the Alfasud Sprint – later called the Alfa Romeo Sprint – was an affordable coupe. Sadly, the handsome coupe was overshadowed by the speed it would corrode, and its generally poor build quality.

1989 saw the launch of the radically-styled SZ which showed early promise, but production ended after 1036 units. Despite the jaw-dropping styling, the car was based on the humble 75. The SZ also spawned an ultra rare convertible, the RZ, of which just 278 were built – the lowest number of any series production Alfa.

The GTV nameplate was resurrected in 1993, alongside the Spider. The pretty coupe was a massive sales success, and was voted the Autocar car of the year in 1995. It was sold with a 2.0-litre TwinSpark engine and a 3.0-litre V6 in the UK, although a 2.0-litre turbo was sold in other markets. The model was facelifted in 1998 and again in 2003, before being replaced by the Brera a year later.

As the GTV continued to sell in strong numbers, Alfa introduced the GT. It was based on the 156 platform and shared the saloon car’s mechanicals and, towards the end of its run, featured a range of UK-only limited editions. Sales continued until after GTV ended production, but it never became the sporting flagship – that honour was bestowed on the Brera.

The Brera entered production in 2005, with styling largely unchanged from the Geneva concept car shown earlier that year. Like the GT, it was based on the GM/Fiat platform which underpinned a mid-sized saloon, but in the Brera’s case it was the 159. It carried a range of familiar engines, including Alfa’s sonorous 3.2-litre V6, but was discontinued in 2010 after the Alfa 8C supercar was launched.

Alfa’s most recent supercar was first teased on 2003, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the coupe entered production. Alfa received more than 1400 orders for the Maserati-based supercar but only 500 were built, ensuring its status as an ultra-desirable sports car for years to come.

Which takes us to the latest, and some might argue most desirable Alfa for decades. The Alfa 4C mixes light weight, modest power and agile handling, much like all of its greatest models. Yes, it’s slightly flawed, but as any Alfista will confirm, that is all part of the Italian brand’s appeal.

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