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Two Gorgeous Alfa Romeos Show That Car Design Can Change in an Instant

Two cars on the same chassis, one year apart. They couldn't look more different.

Alfa Romeo is looking back on its 110 years of being in the car business, and the brand's released an interesting essay about a major moment in automotive history. Specifically, when the "anthropomorphic" school of car design—exemplified by cars such as the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale and Ferrari P3/4—was suddenly swept away by the straight edges and extreme wedge shapes of what the company calls "the car of tomorrow era." And, the company posits, the Carabo concept of 1968 and the Tipo 33 provide great examples of how radical this all was, and how quickly it happened.

The most interesting thing about examining this moment in Alfa's history is that these cars, the Tipo 33 and the Carabo concept, are contemporaries. In fact, the Carabo rides on the bones of the 33 Stradale.

The Tipo 33 Stradale is one of the most beautiful examples of what Alfa calls the "anthropomorphic" school of design, which as good a description as any we've heard. The lines are organic, round, smooth, and bulging. It looks like musculature underneath skin. The design is by Bertone's Franco Scaglione, whose designs all embody some form of this language. He did all of the famous Alfa Romeo B.A.T concept cars, the Alfa Giulietta Sprint, and even the NSU Sport Prinz. But his magnum opus has to be the ludicrously beautiful 33 Stradale, with its lovely 2.0-liter V-8, designed in 1967. It is, however, a classic design rooted in its era.

Meanwhile, Marcello Gandini, also at Bertone, was of a younger generation than Scaglione. As he flexed his design muscles, radical shapes with knife-like creases and very low profiles emerged. He was, of course, famously responsible for the Lamborghini Miura, but we'll posit that the wedgy Carabo and the subsequent Lamborghini Countach really cemented his place in the design space. The Carabo, Alfa notes, also introduced scissor doors to the world. Surely some kids had Carabo posters on their walls, but again it was the Countach that brought some of the Carabo's innovations to the mainstream.

There's no denying that both cars make a serious visual impact—even today. But it's absolutely remarkable that the Carabo bowed in 1968, at the Paris Auto Show, just a year after the Tipo 33 Stradale. The two couldn't look more different despite being literally the same under the skin. It's a sea change that wouldn't return until the NSU Ro80's smoother aerodynamic look finally caught on (again) in the 1980s, when the "aero" era started with a nudge from Ford's European designs, such as the Sierra, and later the American Thunderbird and Taurus.

Even so, it's kind of cool to look back on this fascinating moment in automotive design, when classically beautiful lines gave way to sharp, challenging futurism.