Monday, July 21, 2014

Alfa Romeo Sedan Styling: Some Historical Examples

Alfa Romeo was an automobile manufacturer on its own starting in 1910 and then, as its Wikipedia entry states, "It was owned by Italian state holding company Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale between 1932 and 1986," when it was purchased by Fiat (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV).  The Alfa Romeo website has this interactive history.

For many years, Alfa Romeo was best known for its racing and sports cars.  But in 1950 emphasis began to change with the introduction of a production-line sedan, the 1900.  Sedans are usually more of a challenge to stylists than sports cars because packaging dimensions based on user requirements must be closely adhered to.  Italians were generally considered the best stylists starting shortly after the end of World War 2 and for decades thereafter.   For those reasons, I think it worthwhile to see how various Alfa Romeo sedans looked over the years.


1951 Alfa Romeo 1900
The 1900 features the recently developed grille theme that has since identified the brand for nearly 70 years.  The rest of the body is envelope-style with a flow-through fender line, all pretty much standard styling fare by 1950.  Aside from the front end, ornamentation is essentially absent, thereby emphasizing the plain, slightly dumpy body shape.

1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Berlina
Once again, the front is the most distinctive part of the car.  The grille ensemble is nicely done, and the "frenched" headlamps are in line with mid-1950s American styling fashions.  The remainder of the car looks awkward.  Partly this is due to the symmetrical side window shapes (also seen on the 1900, above).  The almost-tailfin (added as part of a facelift on the original 1955 design) helps emphasize the flatness of the side from the front door to the rear.  The sides have a thin ridge that serves as decoration and to slightly relieve what otherwise is a tall, bland surface.

1958 (ca.) Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina
The 2000's front also has frenched headlamps and otherwise is a variation on the now-traditional Alfa theme.  The basic body has a lighter appearance than the 1900 and Giulietta because its windows are larger and the roof is flatter.  The sides are still pretty flat, though several chrome strips are present to offer some distraction.  Like the Giulietta, the front has rounded surfaces that contrast -- and conflict with -- the flat, angular rear fender area.

1962-67 Alfa Romeo Giulia TI
The Giulia is smaller than the 2000, so stylists had less to work with.  A simple set of boxes here.  Large greenhouse, a slight bevel along the fender shoulder line.  The grille is no longer a three-unit affair; what we see is a dominant horizontal grille with the traditional triangular Alfa centerpiece tacked on.  Side decoration is once more a raised stamping.  All told, an unattractive design.

1970-77 Alfa Romeo 2000 (Bertone design)
This 2000 is styled in the same spirit as the Giulia in the previous image, but on a larger car.  Like the 1900 in the top photo, there is no side trim.  However, Bertone added a crease from the front wheel opening back.  This resulted in faceting to reduce visual height via differing reflection patterns on the upper and lower side surfaces.

1975 Alfa Romeo Alfasud
Given that Alfa Romeo was a creature of the Italian government, it became part of a social project that was attempting to bring the Mezzogiorno economically in line with northern Italy.  So this new Alfa model was built in a new factory sited in the Naples area.  Styling was by Giugiaro's ItalDesign.  In the abstract, the basic elements are the same as for the 2000.  Large greenhouse, thin roof, side crease creating two semi-facets, wide grille with Alfa triangle stuck on.  Nevertheless, Giugiaro being Giugiaro, the Alfasud ("Alfa South") is a pleasing design.  The fastback and shaping of the rear side window area add interest, and the proportions of the car are pleasing.  Too bad the Alfasud suffered plenty of non-styling defects.

1988-92 Alfa Romeo 75 (162B)
The design of the 75 (alias Milano in the USA) falls into my What Were They Thinking posting category, so maybe I'll treat it in more detail some future time.  The obvious problem is the upwards kink starting immediately behind the rear door.  About the only halfway positive thing I can say about this is that it's "distinctive" in the eye-catching sense.

1999 Alfa Romeo 156
Walter de' Silva was head of Alfa's Centro Stile and therefore responsible for this design.  I like it a lot.  The body is nicely sculpted.  It''s devoid of obvious ornamentation, but the interrupted character line on the fender and the shaping in the vicinity of the rear wheel opening add interest.  A cute detail is the hidden rear door handle (it's built into the black trim to the rear of the side window).  The grille is small due the the below-the-bumper air inlet common on modern cars.  Yet again, the decorative grill is horizontal with the Alfa "triangle" element attached.  But what I like here is the addition of those narrow slots next to the lower edges of the triangle: these hark back to similar slots on some late-1930s Alfa sports cars.

2005 (ca.) Alfa Romeo 159 (Giugiaro design)
This design is also pleasing.  Again, ornamentation is scarce, but sculpting and front end detailing create interest for the viewer.

2010 (ca.) Alfa Romeo Giulietta
This is the most recent Giulietta as of when this post was drafted (late May).  New models are said to be forthcoming for Alfa Romeo, and I'll deal with those sooner or later.  The Giulietta is a  fairly small car, which makes elegant styling hard to achieve.  Echoes of the 156's side treatment are apparent.  Rather than grille side elements by the Alfa triangle, the triangle has been lowered so that the sub-bumper air intake begins to re-establish the three-element grille theme seen on the Alfa 1900 in the first image above.

Besides a common grille theme, Alfa sedans over the years can be characterized as being largely free of ornamentation.  That is, stylists have attempted to maintain a "clean" appearance, an approach favored by modernist design theoreticians.  But Alfas were never totally pure in the extreme functional sense.  They always featured strong visual brand identification (the grille) and enough other touches that in a few cases created a useful degree of visual entertainment.

The main exception is this 1954-vintage Alfa 1900 Super with a two-tome paint job and chrome separation strips in the spirit of 1950s American styling. (Unlike most of the other images that were publicity shots, this was one I found on the Web that apparently is from another source.)

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