Updated: Nov 9, 2019
We owe the existence of the Giulietta Sprint Speciale to the racing career it never actually got.
From the moment the Giulietta Sprint was unveiled in 1954, it was clear that its technical specification made it a phenomenal contender for class wins in both circuit and road racing.
Alfa Romeo knew this well, and in 1956 the Sprint Veloce was born: power from the 1290cc twin-cam four was up to 90HP, while bonnet and doors (which got Perspex sliding windows) were aluminum instead of steel.
Alfa Romeo wanted a Giulietta variant aimed even more explicitly towards gentlemen drivers, based on the short-wheelbase platform made for the Giulietta Spider.
The success of the Sprint made Nuccio Bertone a trusted partner of Alfa Romeo, so it was up to his designer, Franco Scaglione, to come up with a new design.
Scaglione went for a swoopy, elongated teardrop shape that was a compendium of his previous experimentation, itself based on the studies of pioneering aerodynamicist Paul Jaray. The droopy nose and teardrop-shaped cabin came from the BAT cars and Abarth 1500, while the truncated tail followed Kamm's theories.
Experimentation on the Autostrada between Turin and Milan vindicated Scaglione's work, as the shape of the soon-to-be-called Sprint Speciale allowed it to reach an impressive 200Km/h: all was well.
Until it wasn't.
Unbeknown to either Alfa or Bertone, a formidable contender to the Sprint Speciale was taking shape in Zagato's workshop. By accident, literally.
The well-known Leto Di Priolo brothers destroyed their Giulietta Sprint in a crash while competing in the '56 Mille Miglia, and tasked Zagato to build a new body for it.
The new car was built from a steel tubular chassis clothed in aluminum panels, resulting in a 135 Kg weight saving that gave it a significant edge over its competitors.
As a result, racers soon went to Zagato instead of buying the new Sprint Speciale, which, after the first 101 cars made, was modified into a GT car, more at home on the Riviera than the track.
The success of the Giulietta Sprint Zagato convinced Alfa Romeo to offer it as an officially-sanctioned model by 1960. Moreover, Zagato became the "go-to" supplier for Alfa Romeo racing car bodies, much to Bertone's dismay.
The relative "failure" of the Sprint Speciale is often cited as a reason the relationship between Bertone and Scaglione went sour, leading Scaglione to leave in 1959, replaced by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro.
The Sprint Speciale's design is perhaps the closest Franco Scaglione ever got to translate the aerodynamic experimentation made on the three BAT cars to series production. Its striking shape was dictated by the pursuit of speed, yet it's as far from pure functionalism as it can get. It blends science and art into an irresistible kinetic sculpture.
The Giulietta Sprint Speciale remained in production until 1966, albeit renamed "Giulia" from 1962, when it received its 1570cc engine. Its highly distinctive design meant it always remained a niche proposition: 1366 Giulietta SS and around 1400 Giulia SS were made, now coveted collector cars.