Legend has it that the name for Alfa's Giulietta series of cars stems from a comment made by a Russian prince at a Parisian nightclub in the late 1940s. French grand prix driver--and Alfa pilote--Jean-Pierre Wimille was entertaining seven Alfa Romeo directors when the Russian recognized the party, greeting them all with the question: "You are eight Romeos without even one Giulietta?"
Although it's doubtful that the story is true, Giulietta--the Italian equivalent of Juliet--seems a fitting name for Alfa Romeo's series of delicate and feminine small 1950s sedans. In retrospect, however, it's probably best applied to the most graceful and sensuous of Alfa's postwar products: the Giulietta Sprint Speciale.
The Bertone-designed Sprint Speciale (or SS, as it became known) wasn't much more than a rebodied version of the "ordinary" Giulietta Sprint, but it was quite different in personality. Expensive and well-finished, the SS greatly resembled Bertone's bewinged, Alfa-based B.A.T. (Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica) aerodynamic prototypes and Alfa's Touring-built Disco Volantes. A hot-rodded (116 hp versus 92 hp) version of the Giulietta Sprint's mostly aluminum 1.3-liter, DOHC four was coupled to a five-speed overdrive transmission taken from the 2000 Spider.
The Speciale was originally intended for the racetrack, but it was too heavy to be truly competitive; the forty-nine-inch-tall, two-place coupe weighed ten pounds more than the larger, four-seat model upon which it was based. Still, an incredibly stable chassis--with an independent front suspension and a well-located live axle in the rear--plus a slippery shape made the SS a fantastic grand tourer. Bertone's aerodynamic work paid off: compared with the Giulietta Sprint, the SS produced an almost eerie lack of wind and engine noise. Top speed, aided by a low drag coefficient, was a remarkable 120 mph.
You wouldn't expect that sort of refinement and performance to come cheaply, and it didn't. The Speciale cost just over $5600 in 1961, or almost $1800 more than the Giulietta Sprint. In later Giulia form (1963-65), equipped with Alfa's 129-hp, 1.6-liter four but few other changes, the SS was cheaper, but its price still sat dangerously close to a Jaguar E-type's.
All told, though, the Sprint Speciale wasn't intended or destined to produce grand sales numbers. Controversial styling and a lack of earth-shattering performance meant that the SS never caught on with the masses. As a result, it has always been rare, beautiful, and, oddly enough, affordable. In other words, just how we like it.
WHAT TO PAYProject cars can often be had for as little as $10,000; good, solid drivers range from $15,000 to $25,000. Concours-level restorations and healthy survivors run from $30,000 to $50,000.
BODY STYLETwo-door coupe.
PRODUCTIONJust 1396 Giulietta SS models were built from 1957 to 1962. 1400 Giulia-engined examples were produced between 1962 and 1965.
WATCH OUT FORIt's a handbuilt Alfa, so rust is always a factor. As with all Alfas, regular maintenance is key to drivetrain health.
Alfa Romeo Giulietta Gold Portfolio: 1954-1965by R.M. Clarke, Brooklands Books, $33.www.amazon.com
Alfa Romeo Giulietta: 1954-2004 Golden Anniversaryby A.T. Anselmi and L. Boscarelli, Giorgio Nada Editore, $60.www.motorbooksitaliano.com
SPARES AND DEALERS
ALFA ROMEO OWNER'S CLUB USAwww.aroc-usa.org
OUR CHOICEWe're normally suckers for torque, but the 1.3-liter Giulietta SS, in red, appeals as the purest of the species.