Updated: Apr 1
Ten years ago I've been lucky enough to make my small contribution to the convoluted history of one of the world's most beloved car brands: Alfa Romeo.
The interior of the 2010 Giulietta was born in early 2008, from the "key sketch" drawn by yours truly: Here's the "inside story" of how it all happened...
I've never liked the modern Giulietta.
Ever since I saw the definitive design models at the Turin Centro Stile around 2007, I was convinced that the new car was no step forward, compared to the then already old 147.
Lumpy front end, clumsy treatment of the rear surfacing, odd "A" pillar, a "fat" overall volume thanks to its Bravo underpinnings... That also meant a sad goodbye to the trick "quadrilatero alto" front suspension that much pleasure had been giving to 156 and 147 drivers. A game changer, this "940" (as it was then known) wasn't certainly going to be.
Newly arrived at the Centro Stile, hired by a consultancy firm, fresh out of the design academy, I wasn't certainly paid to have opinions and the "940" project wasn't my business anyway, as I was destined to the "Cross Design" department.
"Cross Design" (which no longer exists, by the way) was meant to "support" the various brand's design teams, providing solutions and ideas on... Whatever was needed.
The Alfa Romeo Centro Stile was then still located on the hallowed Arese ground, the "940" was mostly finished and set to production in 2009, if I remember well.
Then Marchionne happened.
Death by Sergio
The CEO reviewed all the ongoing projects in the big presentation room, sat in the "940" interior buck and... Definitely wasn't pleased with it.
I don't know the actual words from Sergio, as I wasn't present, but he isn't famous for mincing words, so I can imagine what his remarks must have been like...
What was until that moment the "production-ready" 940 interior, it was now dead and buried. Why?
Well, I did see that interior and, frankly, it didn't look great even by the not-exactly-high
Alfa Romeo standards, but I don't blame its designers.
The 940 interior had been developed by Arese, in strict collaboration with Bertone... Which still had very competent designers. What happened is that so many and so strict limitations had been imposed to them, that the end result was an awful cross between the Bravo (as all its architecture was to be retained, along with most components) and the MiTo (that was designed to the lowest common denominator, looking to minimize production unit costs). Not pretty.
Why nobody noticed things were going wrong beforehand, is a question I can't answer.
The Big Scramble
Given that nobody wanted to incur in Sergio's ire again, a whole new interior was to be designed and, Sergio being Sergio, the launch date of the 940 wasn't going to be changed. We were in a hurry.
I say "we", because is at this point that my path and the one of the Giulietta crossed...
The new design was going to come out from a competition between Turin's Cross Design and the Arese studio, with Bertone now out of the picture.
As far as I can remember, we produced five proposals and Arese just as many... Each one of "our" ones was the work of a single designer, albeit certain elements (seats, steering wheels etc.) were shared. Mine was this one:
As you can see, it was decidedly retro. My reasoning was that, given that Alfa Romeo's then new "halo car" was the 8C Competizione (itself a design with a marked 60s flavor), a look back to Alfa's better days was the way to go.
My inspiration came from the dash of the early "105" coupès, which had a black vinyl padded surface all around a wooden trim piece. My first sketches actually used wood, but it was deemed "too Jaguar"... And rightly so.
This arrangement had the added benefit of being dominated by horizontal lines, that help giving a sensation of width and space inside any car.
The steering wheel on my sketch was the brainchild of the great Maurizio Tocco, then one of the senior designers leading the project at Cross Design, now working for Ford.
It was brilliant, and a perfect fit to my proposal, given it was inspired by the classic 60s Alfa steering wheels with the horn buttons on the spokes.
Of course we still had the Bravo underneath, with its huge, outdated HVAC assembly (ever wondered why the Giulietta's dash is so high and protrudes so much into the cabin? Wonder no more) and its big instrument cluster... Which we disguised using the classic "cannocchiali" Alfa Romeo...
I never liked air vents... I like clean, simple designs, so I tried to conceal the air vents in the middle of the dash as much as possible, as I absolutely didn't want them to break the horizontal theme.
As you can see in this later image, which shows a much more advanced stage of development, our team managed to keep the spirit of my "key sketch" remarkably intact: not only because we were good, but also because we were allowed some more leeway than the colleagues who did the original 940 dash... Having the retractable sat-nav screen (it wasn't yet the era of "infotainment"...) made all the difference!
Sadly, Maurizio Tocco's steering wheel got unceremoniously ditched on cost grounds (this was Fiat, after all, what did you expect?) and the horrid, Punto-based steering wheel from the MiTo took its place, together with the shift knob.
At this point, I must say that now, ten years on, every time I see a Giulietta it reminds me of those who made it all possible: then Cross-Design boss Christopher Reitz (who later got the responsibility of Alfa Romeo's design, albeit briefly), his two senior designers who steered the project masterfully, Ramon Ginah (now at Great Wall Motors) and Maurizio Tocco (now at Ford)... If it all came together, is because of them and the effort of us all as a team. No modern car project is the result of just one person... Let alone a young designer fresh out of the academy!
Naturally, I've been through the whole development project, drawing whatever was needed, from radio faces to air vents, together with more friends, most of whom no longer work at Fiat, and some even left the car business altogether.
A big hug goes to them all. It's been a great ride, and it's a honor to be a part of Alfa's history, albeit a small and not very successful one.
In mid-2009, Sergio Marchionne halted all R&D spending for several months in the face of the Big Crisis, and all contractors like myself were out.
Launch of new models by the Fiat Group was deferred, and that's why the Giulietta bowed out in 2010, the centenary year for Alfa Romeo.
The Giulietta, as I predicted in 2007, largely failed to make a mark in the hotly contested C-Segment and it's now in its twilight years, selling mainly in Italy... Mostly thanks to quite sizable incentives.
I count this story ten years after the facts, as I remember it and lived it, so I sincerely apologize for any oversight and mistake that's... Possible but definitely not voluntary.
A big hug to those who worked with me on the 940 project, Daniele Calonaci, Antonio Erario, Andrea Musizzano, Alessandro Puglisi, the unforgettable Fabrizio "Art-i-Fizio"... And the few others I can't name now... My memory's fault!
Wish I'll be able to make another Alfa, someday...