To mark the 50th anniversary of the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, we interviewed Giovanna Scaglione, daughter of Franco, the designer who created what many regard as "the most beautiful car ever".
Designing a sports car is never easy, because it takes painstaking precision to adhere to the many fundamental rules, such as overall dimensions, weights, aerodynamics and, last but not least, aesthetics. The task is even more complex if you start out with a racing car and turn it into a road-going car, because most of the choices have already been made, with efficiency the sole priority.
So what Franco Scaglione managed to come up with after being given the job of designing the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was nothing short of extraordinary: he masterfully transformed technical restrictions into exquisitely stylish features, avoiding unsightly shapes dictated by the rigid application of aerodynamic principles.
"Aerodynamics were his muse, but he always combined them with elegance," his daughter Giovanna told us. "He reconciled his technical training as an aeronautical engineer with an innate taste for beauty. He was an all-round designer."
The end product was both aerodynamically exhilarating and delightfully functional: the car is less than a metre high and does away with conventional doors, which would have made getting in and out of the car particularly uncomfortable. Instead Scaglione designed ‘butterfly’ doors that cut halfway into the roof and open upwards and outwards, so the occupants of the vehicle can get out easily without having to stoop.
Back then, designing such an aerodynamically avant-garde car was no mean feat. Scaglione didn’t possess all the tools that today’s designers have. In those days he couldn’t count on the support of computers or even wind tunnel tests, which were only used for military purposes at the time. The Florentine designer used a fairly realistic system that involved attaching woollen threads to the car and photographing their movement as the car travelled, the aim being to study the air flows by analysing the photos.
Despite these difficulties, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was born from Scaglione's pencil. A car like no other, it also gave his daughter Giovanna her most thrilling memory: "Every car he designed was like a sister for me. But being able to test drive the 33 was my dream and I didn’t give my dad any peace, until out of desperation he asked the developer Teodoro Zeccoli to take me for a spin in it. We were at the Turin Motor Show and it was the greatest thrill of my life!”
During a career spanning over 20 years, Scaglione designed many coachbuilt sports cars and also left his unmistakable mark on two Alfa Romeo Giuliettas: the original Sprint and the eclectic Sprint Speciale. One of his most creative periods coincided with his partnership with Nuccio Bertone.
"That bond with Nuccio Bertone originated in the 1950s and turned out to be an enduring and stimulating one," explains Giovanna, "For nine years my father had the opportunity to experiment, honing his art and flair on many sports cars."
While working for coachbuilder Bertone in the mid-1950s, Scaglione designed a number of celebrated Alfa Romeo cars with elegant and sculpted aluminium bodies: the 2000 Sportiva—which can still be admired at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese—as well as the more famous and widespread Giulietta Sprint and the highly original Giulietta Sprint Speciale, both of which are also on show in Arese and which continued to be produced under the Giulia name even after the other Giuliettas were discontinued.
"The Giulia itself might be one of the current Alfa Romeo models that my dad would appreciate," suggests Giovanna, underlining how the Alfa brand was generally a source of inspiration for her father, whatever the model.
Also because Alfa Romeo became Scaglione’s second home after he parted ways with Bertone.
And the Alfa brand deserves credit for preserving the memory of one of the greatest exponents of 20th century motoring.
"For many years after my father stopped working, people believed that he had died, and his name had almost disappeared from the memory of enthusiasts. It’s all thanks to trade magazines and Alfa Romeo, which I got back into contact with a few years after Dad's death, that the memory of Franco Scaglione lives on. From memorials to publications and events devoted to him, I make it my daily commitment to ensure that this special person is never forgotten, and not just by me as his daughter.
I’m fortunate to be sustained and supported by wonderful people. Angelo Tito Anselmi, for example, was an enthusiast of historic cars who helped me to get back in touch with that world. And thanks to Professor Massimo Ruffili and Roberto Loi of ASI (Automotoclub Storico Italiano), the 2014 academic year at the Industrial Design campus (of the University of Florence) in Calenzano was inaugurated in Dad’s name; on the same occasion, a book launch was held for ‘Franco Scaglione Designer’, written by Giuliano Silli."
Even now, numerous initiatives are being organised all over Italy to commemorate the designer: a square has been named after him in Florence, as well as another in Jesolo on the recommendation of Club Mito Jesolo and with the patronage of Vittorio Dorigo. A square in Suvereto, where he spent the last years of his life, also bears his name.
In 2016, for the centenary of his birth, ASI promoted a second publication entitled "The Scaglione Paradigm", edited by Professor Massimo Grandi of the University of Florence.
The reason for all this affection and esteem is clear to Giovanna Scaglione and has nothing to do with his creations: "He was a truly unique man, both at work and in his private life. He never laid down the law, he always explained why things needed doing. Determined, yes, but in spirit, and never tedious: it was impossible not to admire him and to like him."
The 31st August marked the 50th anniversary of the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, the legendary car born from the genius of Franco Scaglione: find out moreabout the event organised by the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese to celebrate the 50th birthday of this iconic car.