Simanaitis Says

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ALFA ROMEO SPRINT SPECIALE—AN UNFULFILLED LOVE AFFAIR

DO YOU HAVE an unfulfilled automotive love affair? Not simply a car of such exotic character—and cost—that it is clearly out of the question. (For instance, “my” 1930 Bugatti Type 43 Grand Sport.) Rather, today I’m thinking of a car that was, at least for awhile, tantalizingly close to my rational ownership.

My unfulfilled love affair is with the 1961 Alfa Romeo Sprint Speciale. Even its name, Speciale, was quite enough to encourage the affair. The car’s svelte styling was derived from the Giulietta SS Speciale that was first seen at the 1958 Turin Auto Show.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS Speciale, as photographed at the 1958 Turin Show by Karl Ludvigsen. Image from the Revs Digital Library, Stanford University.

The Sprint Speciale was featured in R&T, July 1961, with a subhead, “Something special—for Alfa enthusiasts.” Expecting a “lighter, smaller and more streamlined” model, the road testers expressed a mild disappointment: “We were right in one respect: It is more streamlined than the standard Giulietta. As we discovered, to our surprise, it is heavier (by 20 lb) and longer (by 10.3 inc.) than a normal Giulietta Sprint.

This and images following from R&T, July 1961.

Size and weight mattered, because beneath its svelte and impeccably fabricated Bertone coachwork, the Speciale carried standard Sprint mechanicals. Its 1290-cc double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine produced 116 hp. Its standard Alfa double-A arms up front and well-located live axle at the rear offered predictable grip, albeit with more than a little lean. The only non-Giulietta feature was its five-speed gearbox, taken from the Alfa 2000 Spider parts bin.

Alfa evidently had talented designers do its camshaft covers.

R&T’s praise was only moderate: “The fact that the Giulietta is so vice-free has probably kept a good many mediocre drivers out of trouble…. The performance, insofar as speed and acceleration are concerned, was disappointing to most of us, and especially to the Alfa owners on the staff.”

The Speciale got from 0 to 60 mph in 12.3 seconds, which seems snail-like by modern standards. However, it was not atypical for its class and era. A Fiat 1200 Spider took 19.1 seconds to get to 60. And a standard Giulietta Sprint did it in 13.2.

What’s not to like?

It’s easy to imagine myself stirring that five-speed and gripping the wheel Italian-fashion, low on its rim.

“The interior is spacious and comfortable and has obviously been designed with driver ease and convenience in mind…. Luggage capacity in the trunk compartment is limited by the space occupied by the spare tire and huge gas filler cap.”

My love affairs evidently don’t involve lots of baggage.

The Speciale looked great in 1961 and, to my eye, continues to look great today. Its lines have taut contours with no need for the excess surface development present in many of today’s shapes. I like the mini-Kamm treatment at the car’s rear.

So why didn’t I put my money where my opinions were (and are)? Back in the early 1960s, I was an undergrad at Worcester Poly, not exactly impecunious but not driving Alfas either. What’s more, the Speciale’s specialness came at a premium: $5663 versus a standard Giulietta Sprint’s $3878. And my secondhand ’58 English Ford Consul convertible cost less than a grand.

1961 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale Berlinetta. Lot No. 113 at Bonhams: The Amelia Island Auction, March 9, 2017. Images from Bonhams.


Today, March 9, 2017, a red Speciale (the right color!) goes on the block at Bonhams: The Amelia Island Auction, Fernandina Beach, Florida. Estimates are US$90,000–$130,000. Alas, I haven’t arranged for a phone-in bid. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

4 comments on “ALFA ROMEO SPRINT SPECIALE—AN UNFULFILLED LOVE AFFAIR

  1. Stewart
    March 9, 2017

    I purchased a 63’SS in 1973 for $675 the owner had just spent money on a new bottom end. The car didn’t run well and he said he’d sell it for the amount of money my boss had estimated at a forensic tear down.
    The head hadn’t been worked on and the cam lobes were polished flat. Cams went to John DeLong and I shaved the head a bit to create a real nice running car. The girls really liked it! Sold it in front of the Broken Egg restaurant in Los Gatos, Ca for $6500 and paid for a year of school….wish I had it still.

  2. Skip
    March 9, 2017

    Dennis, lei è una bellezza. My pick would be an Austin Healey 100, with the aftermarket LeMans kit. If it was a real 100M, I’d never drive it, or at least certainly drive it with too much deference. Maybe these are still within reach, barely. It makes the bucket list. Crashing through the gears on the big 2.6L with the windscreen folded down has got to be a hoot. It’s not just a road machine, it’s a time machine.

  3. Frank Barrett
    March 9, 2017

    Lancia B20 or 1600HF, AC Ace-Bristol, BMW 327/328, ’67 Porsche 911S, RS60 (ex-Ginther, with trailer, fresh engine, $3,500 in 1972), 904 (impeccable, original, $25,000 in 1976), I, too, love the Sprint Speciale, but our Giulia Spider makes a good substitute…

  4. Michael Rubin
    March 10, 2017

    A ’29 Model A roadster pickup, running in good condition with no rust. The owner, a year ahead of me in high school, needed to unload it and asked $25. As a junior in high school my lawn mowing money hadn’t added up enough and parental units declined loans. Sad.

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