Viva Italia: Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Paul Barshon

As usual for this time of year, it's raining cats and dogs. The temperature gauge reads 4 degrees Celsius, and after seventy-five miles the bright white Alfa Romeo Giulietta now wears a streaky, light-gray livery. Gray is indeed the defining color of this depressing late November Sunday: haze in the Po Valley, sleet in the hills above Parma, thick smog permeating Milan like atmospheric cotton wool. Here we are in the newest Alfa Romeo, in weather matching the status and the outlook for a brand that ranges from bleak to bright, depending on whether or not you are on Sergio Marchionne's side. A couple months ago, Alfa stopped building the Brera coupe and Spider, which together found fewer than 5000 buyers per year. Then it canned the proposed 169 flagship sedan, whose spot in the lineup will now be filled by the still-to-be-developed Maserati positioned below the Quattroporte. And instead of creating modern engines along the lines of the great Alfasud boxer and the legendary four-cylinder DOHC units, the bean counters decided to source a new large diesel from VM Motori and the Pentastar V-6 from Chrysler. Despite the dried-up technology reservoir and the barren product portfolio, the Italian capos insist that Alfa is on track to triple its sales volume to 350,000 units by 2014.

Commedia dell'arte or a Machiavellian breakthrough strategy?

The former Alfa Romeo headquarters building on the outskirts of Arese symbolizes the dilemma of the 100-year-old car manufacturer, which became part of the Fiat Group in 1986. A boxy brown bunker clad in washed concrete panels, the building that was buzzing with activity in the '80s and '90s is now empty except for a small ground-floor office and the adjoining museum, which has also seen better days. But go inside, and the exhibits are guaranteed to give you goose bumps. Parked door handle to door handle on six loftymezzanine floors are forgotten gems like the very first Italian-built Darracq; the original Alfa 24HP; the most gorgeous Targa Florio and Mille Miglia racing cars; the famous 6C and 8C road and competition cars; the 1300/1600/1750/2000 coupes, spiders, and sedans; special-bodied sports cars by Pininfarina, Bertone, and Zagato; wide-body GTAs by Autodelta; the striking but commercially unsuccessful Montreal; about a dozen concepts from various periods; and long rows of red track machines from the Tipo 33 to the Alfa-Brabham Formula 1 monoposto.

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