Like a persistent back-seat driver, the 2.0-liter V8 yammers incessantly. Sucking air and high test spritzed into the velocity stacks I can see in the rear-view mirror, it urges “faster, faster,” and my right foot is all too ready to comply. The seat of my pants is on full alert and my neck muscles are tensing. Thank goodness for my brain.
Like nothing Bill Gates has ever programmed, my personal CPU is multitasking in the sensory-rich, command-abundant environment of the Alfa Romeo Type 33 Stradale. This is driving in its most authentic sense.
Stradale means “street-going” in Italian, and the implication describes this car perfectly. It is the highway-legal version of the mid-engined prototype racers that Alfa began developing after about a decade of only building racers derived from road cars. This was the reverse, a roadable racer. It certainly looks the part, penned by Franco Scaglione, one of the Old Masters of Italian sports car design, and constructed by Carrozzeria Marazzi in Milan.
The skin is all-aluminum and, just the opposite of a DeTomaso/Chapman backbone frame, the T33 Alfas have to large cylindrical tubes on either side of the passenger compartment joined by a third spanning the width of the car just behind the seats. A pair of stubs extends rearward to two large magnesium castings, made by Campagnolo, that support the engine/transaxle and rear suspension. The front subframe is another magnesium casting. The frames of the race T33s were made from aluminum and when that proved inadequate, titanium sheet stock, but the Stradales all had steel tubes. Either way, a U-shaped rubber bladder in the frame tubes holds the fuel. It’s like riding inside the fuel tank.
Suspension is conventional mid-1960s race car—the Stradale debuted in 1967—with upper and lower control arms in front and double trailing arms in the rear, along with substantial antiroll bars. Big ventilated disc brakes, then still uncommon in the 2.0-liter class, backed Campagnolo alloy wheels in front, but were inboard at the rear. In this pre-low-profile tire era, wheel diameter was just 13 inches, though rim widths were eight and nine inches front and rear.
The aluminum 2.0-liter V8 was all-new and was a Goldilocks-like compromise between a Ferrari Formula 2-like V6 and a V12. Carlo Chiti, who had been with Alfa in the Disco Volante days of the early ’50s but left for a successful stint at Ferrari, brought the design with him from the ill-fated ATS experiment. The engine was significantly oversquare, at 78 mm bore to 52.2 mm stroke, and with chain-driven double-overhead cams, a 10.5:1 compression ratio and fuel-injection high in the velocity stacks, it was rated officially at 245 hp at 8800 rpm.
That and a curb weight of 1660 pounds classify the Stradale as a projectile. Apparently no one put a fifth wheel on it, but a former owner topped it out at 10,000 rpm, timing the Stradale at 173 mph over several kilometers on the autostrada. For us. the old point system starts breaking up in the 5000-rpm range, which means we’re really missing the meat of the powerband.
The engine still bellows past four grand with authority, and the red missile turns heads like a Ford F-150 with T33-comtemporary Sophia Loren nude on the hood shouting “Free Chianti” through a bull horn. From the driver’s bucket–shaped like a dentist’s chair (but without the spit sink–the shifter is too far back and the elaborate linkage around the engine is slow. The narrow-gated six-speed requires special care. The steep windshield has distortion at the bottom and the speedometer, which theoretically runs off a spur gear in the right-front hub, doesn’t work–as if Alfa cared.
This homologation special–emphasis on both words–two-steps on uneven pavement, and the intake horns bark just inches behind my head. It doesn’t matter that there’s no luggage space or that the pedals are offset to the right. My neck muscles relax and I’m having fun and is there a racetrack around here anywhere?
Special thanks to Keith Goring and Susan Dixon of Alfas Unlimited in Norfolk, Conn.