Yes, it’s tall, narrow, boxy, and not particularly nicely detailed, but it was an enormously successful and influential design. When the Alfa Romeo Giulia body shape was introduced in 1962, the only cars in production with lower aerodynamic drag were the Porsche 356 coupe and the Citroën DS four-door, as listed by Britain’s MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in a little technical paper on aerodynamics. Maybe Panhard’s 24 CT was better. But not by much.
As Alfa Romeo’s second mainstream unit-body car, the Giulia benefited from everything the company learned from the Giulietta, which moved Alfa Romeo into volume manufacturing in the 1950s. The Giulia’s structure was really stiff, despite the car’s low, 2200-pound-plus weight. The 1570-cc engine did a fine job, and in the Super version with two Weber twin-choke carburetors it made 112 hp, enough for a top speed of 109 mph.
Obviously, the roof is rather flat and parallel to the ground, not at all like the raindrops cited as perfect low-drag shapes, but notice the huge radius in plan view for the bottom of the windshield and the rounded cuff at that base, and then imagine the path of a single air molecule striking the glass. Whether it goes upward or sideways, it will have diverged a minimum amount from its longitudinal path. This was a very clever design, in that it offered excellent interior accommodation, solid if not elegant appearance, and outstanding performance.
Alfa Romeo, then a government-owned entity, had a deal with la Régie Nationale des Usines Renault, also government-owned, to assemble Renault Dauphines and R4s. The French tie-up gave the Italians a lot of experience with cheap and simple body construction. The Tipo 103 with a front-wheel-drive, 896-cc mechanical package developed between 1959 and 1961 was a vague equivalent to the Renault R8. Its styling was a mix of Renault and Alfa themes, leading to the bigger, more luxurious Giulia in 1962. Europeans loved American practice in those years, and almost all builders adopted column-mounted gear shifts-even Aston Martin-and Giulias so equipped had bench seats so that six (small) people could fit in the car.
I picked up my Giulia Super at the factory in Milan in 1965. Of all the sedans I’ve ever owned, it remains my favorite. An airline strike in 1966 compelled me to use the Giulia for many illegally fast trips between New York and South Carolina, running at 100 mph on newly opened Interstate highways. We were never stopped because it was evident in those pre-radar days that a block-shaped gray four-door could not be speeding. The Giulia was the perfect stealth car, whatever the subterfuge.
“Alfa Romeo? That’s a sports car!” said my insurance agent.
“No, no. It’s a four-door sedan.”
“Well, does it have four on the floor?” he asked.
“No, absolutely not,” I replied.
It was fun, it was safe. It was a winner.
1. The generous radius sweeping up from the hood, which slopes down to the front, reduces pressure build-up at the base of the windshield. The Giulia may look like a telephone booth, but it is very clever and very efficient.
2. Notice how the sides flow into the front with a large radius, again offering minimal disturbance for the air flowing past the body.
3. Most Giulias had these perforated steel wheels with dog-dish hubcaps. They looked so good that few bothered to change them.
4. A body feature all but gone from cars today, these opening quarter windows are very practical and agreeable for assuring adequate ventilation without buffeting.
5. Not much brightwork on the side, just the door handles, window trims, and this simple stainless steel strip.
6. The glass area in the Giulia is enormous, letting the gray and black interiors still feel luminous. Visibility for the driver and passengers was superb.
7. Extending the roof past the backlight reduces drag and provides a slight sunshade for rear passengers.
8. The Giulia was perhaps the first car to use a high, flat rear deck as an aerodynamic element (as well as give an efficient and practical rectilinear luggage compartment).
9. The entire rear façade is simple and rectangular. A rounded rib on the entire perimeter stiffens the structure without adding weight.
10. The generous curve of the windshield fairs into the body side for excellent penetration without excessive turbulence.
11. This panel is held in place by the wiper shafts and lifts off for easy access to the wiper motor and linkages, an obvious link to French practice acquired when Alfa assembled Renaults in its Milan factory.
12. The four headlamps were of standard sizes, making it easy to substitute required sealed-beam units in the U.S. Manyowners changed back to Italian high beams.
13. There’s nothing elegant or imaginative to these pure rectangular lamps, very much a product of an engineering department “meet the performance specifications and basta” attitude.
14. The beautiful Alfa grille owes as much to Carrozzeria Touring as to Alfa’s own designers. It is used modestly but elegantly here.
15. Ah, the purity of Alfa before Fiat got it in 1986. . . look at the ribs on the wide sump, used as a cooling element as well as a lubricant reservoir.
16. This badge is owner-added, not standard for the well-balanced front end design.
17. Notice how the indented areas on the roof and waistline reduce total frontal area and channel air cleanly down thesides. Seems insignificant, but the results are there.
18. Instrument cluster is highly legible and gives a very sporting feel to the rather plain interior.
19. A black plastic rim is not luxurious, but the wheel is quite beautiful, very much in the Alfa GT tradition, and the plastic is very high quality.
20. Giulia Supers have a floor shift, which is much better than the five-speed column shift used on all Giulia sedans
up to 1964.
21. The toggle switch array is a knee-breaker, but it looks cool and is easy to use.
22. Bottom-hinged pedals are a clear indication of age in a car that was conceived almost fifty years ago.
23. The ignition switch to the left of the steering column is strange for most people, but perhaps not to Porsche drivers.