The Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale – Italian Beauty, Elegance, and Innovation
The remarkable Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale must be counted as among the most beautiful sports car designs of the twentieth century. Penned by the prolific and gifted Bertone designer Franco Scaglione, the Sprint Speciale was highly influenced by sculptural experimentations revealed in the extraordinary aerodynamic studies achieved in the B.A.T. 5 and 7 show cars, also penned by Scaglione. As Scaglione approached the design of B.A.T. 9 with more viable production considerations, the Sprint Speciale evolved to become the ultimate expression of a modern Alfa Romeo sports car.
Indeed, upon completion, the Sprint Speciale achieved a drag coefficient number of .29, among the lowest ever achieved for a standard production car. Interestingly, Scaglione himself had studied aerodynamic engineering earlier in his career, later shifting his focus to car design. Although Alfa Romeo’s racing lineage was inspiring the design, each car was hand crafted using coach building methods and bespoke materials suitable for top clientele; making them among the finest and most visually captivating road cars in the world. Technical specifications included a twin-cam engine, 5-speed synchromesh transmission, and front disc brakes. The final year of production, in 1966, signaled not just the end of the Sprint Speciale, but the pending conclusion of the most beautiful era of car design.
Although sports cars had been around prior to the second world war, it was not until the late 1940s that cars began to dramatically change. Racing and airplane construction were influencing car design like never before, especially in sports cars. During the 15-year “Golden Era of Design” 1953-1968, nearly all of the most iconic sports cars were conceived and produced. The Gullwing, E-Type, Ferrari GTO, Porsche 911, Lamborghini Miura, to name a few, were all upping the bar on performance and beauty. The Sprint Speciale however, remained one of the lesser known vehicles of this era, in part because Alfa Romeo was focusing more on promoting their volume production cars, thus the handmade Sprint Speciale simply didn’t receive the limelight it deserved. Had it arrived just a few years earlier, the Sprint Speciale might have made a more strident impression in spite of its lesser powered engine and lacking cylinder count.
Mechanical and promotional matters aside, there was no doubt about the gorgeous and curvaceous body of the Sprint Speciale. The dramatic undulating curves, sensuous lines, fastback rear roofline and rear glass, thin A-pillars, sweeping single piece windshield, curved side glass, and Kamm tail design, all contributed to a jaw-dropping sports car that quite simply had the dramatic appearance of a concept or one-off car. Even the distinctive clear plexiglass air dam, mounted in front of the cowl to reduce windshield wiper lift, gave it a hint of competition flair. Among the many design features, the forward lurching front fenders, low hood line, dramatic tumble-home, floating hood, and tapered tail, the Sprint Speciale could very well have run the risk of being overdone, except that Scaglione masterfully delivered all of these fantastic design elements in a package that is both innovative and perfectly balanced. The sculptural elements are so elegantly blended together that there is literally no place on the car for the eye to stop or feel jolted when one “racetracks” the form. Your eyes gleefully wander around the surface edges, dancing over the fender lines, encircling the tailored upper, dancing off the brightwork, then landing back at a wheel arch, setting off again, around the beltline for another delightful lap. Even the delicately tailored cut lines are distinctive and perfectly placed. Fully hypnotized by the design, there is nothing you can do to restrain your arm as it uncontrollably lifts to actuate the pushbutton door handle and your zombie-tranced body bends willingly into the cockpit.
Inside, the Sprint Speciale delivers on the promise of the exterior with full instrumentation and a slightly leaned back seating position that offers panoramic views of the car at every corner. Although the inside is small, and storage is slim, the enveloping feeling is both delightful and breathtaking. Getting out of the car after even a brief drive, there is not a person alive that cannot walk away without looking back at the lines to confirm the beauty they have experienced on the road.
While many of these amazing cars were painted red, white, or dark blue, the very best colors to appreciate the surfacing brilliance on this car are mid-tone metallics, which reveal the highlights and gentle surface transitions without overcoming the eyes with chromatic saturation. Had the Sprint Speciale been offered with a larger engine or been campaigned aggressively as a competition car, chances are their values today would be more than triple the prices they achieve today.
Modern cars offer a tremendous amount of technology and safety. There is no doubt that even the most basic of new cars are faster, quicker, and can safely stop in traffic with numbers that best the Sprint Speciale by nearly orders of magnitude. But the Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale is not about performance by modern standards. Rather these cars are about a totally different and unique experience – one that calls on your heartfelt desire to command a sprint on a thoroughbred horse, to venture with a sculptural icon of beauty, to hear the song of the twin-cam, and engage the road, not driven by purpose, rather summoned by passion.