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Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint

Italy’s sweetheart.

Alfa Romeo made its real quantum leap in terms of production quality with the Giulietta: designed by Franco Scaglione and produced in collaboration with coachbuilder Bertone, the Giulietta Sprint was a coupé with a distinctive yet minimal design, characterised by power, speed and... beauty.


In August 1952, the structural characteristics required of the Alfa of the future were already evident. The remit was to expand the range with a model to be positioned below the '1900': front engine in a longitudinal position and rear-wheel drive. A first prototype with an 1100 engine and coupé bodywork hit the streets less than a year later.

The development of the new Alfa Romeo was closely tied to the trend of evolution sparked with the 1900. The Portello plant used to assemble the saloon was structured for assembly line production, but it was not yet capable of meeting the high daily output required, so each stage needed to be made more efficient. Finmeccanica's general manager, Giuseppe Luraghi, (who later became the president of Alfa) thus hired Austrian engineer Rudolf Hruska, who had experience in setting up serial production plants in Germany.

Hruska's intervention turned out to be fundamental because by early 1954 the mechanics were already at a good level of development and fine-tuning, the displacement had risen to 1290 cc and the twin-camshaft delivered 65 hp, but there were only a few sketches of the bodywork and a few prototypes, still to be properly defined. But although the development phase was far from over, promises were already being made: Finmeccanica announced that it would deliver a few of the new vehicles to a selection of shareholders.

Hruska proposed what appeared to be the only solution: outsourcing to an external coachbuilder the creation of a small series of coupé versions for delivery to shareholders pending the completion of the saloon. Initially the top management of IRI, which had control over Alfa Romeo, expressed some doubt, but in the end they accepted the proposal. Three coachbuilders presented their sketches: Boneschi, Boano and Bertone. The latter, with designer Franco Scaglione, proposed a compact and well-proportioned car with essential, refined and sporty lines. His design would become the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint.

The first pre-series vehicles included some of the original features: 1.3-litre twin-shaft unit fuelled by a single carburettor delivering 65 hp, four-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive, independent suspension at the front, rigid rear axle and drum brakes on all four wheels. The passenger compartment, with the gearbox on the steering wheel, offered plenty of space in the front and a 'makeshift' two-person rear seat, as it was called at the time. Overall, the car was ultra-light: the extensive use of aluminium alloys in the mechanics stopped the needle on the scale at 880 kg. So light, the Giulietta Sprint was nippier and faster than many high-end coupés of superior segments and greater power.

Previewed at Portello and then at the Turin Motor Show, the Giulietta Sprint immediately proved to be a great success, exceeding all expectations. Its lines and performance made it particularly desirable, launching the saloon that would follow a year later.


During the Easter holidays in 1954, Alfa Romeo unveiled a series of innovations in its Portello plant to an audience consisting of the authorities, some famous drivers, the automotive press and members of the general public, invited to Via Gattamelata for the occasion. Two actors in period costumes dressed as Romeo and Juliet jumped out of a helicopter that landed right in front of the entrance. A dramatic unveiling then, featuring Shakespeare’s lovers from Verona set the scene for the launch of the new Giulietta Sprint, undoubtedly the protagonist, the 1900 Super Sprint, the 1900 Super and the Romeo family of vans and coaches. Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, officiated at the event, bestowing his blessing on the new model. The original publicity stunt immediately caused a sensation, even ending up on the silver screen, with several cinema newsreels documenting the event.

The official presentation took place a few weeks later at the Turin Motor Show on 21 April 1954. Two Giulietta Sprints appeared on the Alfa Romeo stand, both exquisitely beautiful but featuring different details: one sported the characteristic Alfa red colour, the other an original sky blue shade that appeared to highlight the elegance of the lines even more.

The launch was an immediate success, so much so that Alfa and Bertone had to run for cover, overwhelmed by an unexpected avalanche of orders, which were inevitably suspended after only a few days. The production, in fact, began in Turin with the creation of the bodyshells, which were then moved to Portello for their 'marriage' with the Alfa mechanics: pre-launch estimates were between 100 and 200 cars a year, a figure that was exceeded in no time. The unexpected success was certainly due to the car’s particularly well-designed sporty lines, but also to the performances it promised, with a top speed of 165 km/h.

Bertone employed a number of trusted coachbuilders, also in the Turin area, to increase production. But in some ways the success of the car by then known as 'Italy's sweetheart’ was enhanced even more by the waiting times that made her an object of love and desire for an ever-widening public.

In 1955, the saloon version was presented, inheriting some of the elegant styling cues of the coupé, thus completing the reorganisation of the serial production: the success of the saloon was also driven by that of the Giulietta Sprint, which had started a year earlier.

Launching what was to become a tradition for Alfa, the Giulietta Sprint Veloce was born in 1956: a hundred kilos lighter and with 79 hp, the top speed rose to over 170 km/h, meaning that the 'Veloce' flanked rather than replaced the Giulietta Sprint, being destined in particular for racing customers. To satisfy those seeking a classier but powerful car, a rare 'Confortevole' trim was created for the Veloce in 1957.

In 1958 the second series was launched. In the Giulietta Sprint the radiator grille was updated to resemble that of the saloon, and the interior was upgraded with the addition of the sportier cloche gearbox. The Veloce increased its power even further, rising to 96 hp for a top speed of 174 km/h. In 1962, after the launch of the Alfa Romeo Giulia with a 1600 engine, the Giulietta Sprint passed the baton to the new Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600 Sprint which inherited the bodywork but with a few changes such as larger rear lights and disc brakes at the front. In 1964, to meet public demand, the 1300 Sprint was reintroduced into the range, i.e. the Giulietta Sprint with the bodywork of the Giulia Sprint but with the 1300 engine. 

Over the years, other true works of art by top Italian coachbuilders were created alongside the Sprint. Franco Scaglione also designed the highly original Giulietta Sprint Speciale for Bertone, often better known as the Giulietta SS, later updated to become the Giulia SS. Intended mainly for racing, the Giulietta SZ by Zagatocame in two series. The Giulietta Spider and the Spider Veloce, later converted into the Giulia by Pininfarina were a different story.  

The Giulietta marked a real turning point for Alfa Romeo, heralding its launch as a major automotive industry. The production of the Giulietta, in its various versions, lasted eleven years, resulting in a total output of 177,513 vehicles, 24,084 of which were Sprints.

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