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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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
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.
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