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  • Matteo Licata

Scarabeo: The Secret Alfa Project You've Never Heard Of

Scarabeo. That's the Italian word for "beetle," but for a few knowledgeable Alfa Romeo fans, it is also the name of one of the most tantalizing "might have been" chapters in the Marque's long history.


Our story begins in February of 1966, less than a month after Alfa's experimental department had begrudgingly surrendered the development of the 33 sports prototype to Autodelta, the racing department of Alfa Romeo headed by Carlo Chiti.

But the Portello's proud engineers, headed by the great Orazio Satta, had racing in their blood and weren't at all happy to leave all racing cars development to Chiti's outfit, even if that's precisely how Alfa Romeo's president Giuseppe Luraghi wanted things to go.

"Losing" the 33 proved a particularly bitter pill to swallow for its creator Giuseppe Busso, who began working on a new racing car project in the hope that, by sticking within an inferior category and with a significantly cheaper car, he may keep this new program from going off to Autodelta.


Similarly to what happened with the 33 sports prototype, the new project received a type "105" code (105.56, to be precise) even though it very obviously wasn't a direct derivative of the Giulia sedan.

The design

Busso started from the advanced aluminum H-shaped frame he devised for the 33, which housed the fuel in a rubber bladder packaged inside the thick chassis members. However, to simplify construction and reduce costs, he did away with the 33's complex magnesium castings at the front and at the rear, where a Giulia GTA engine was mounted transversely in place of the 33's longitudinal V8.


The 1.6 liters, dual ignition GTA engine was mated to a standard Giulia gearbox, which sent power to the centrally mounted differential casing via a short, oblique propshaft: a somewhat crude solution imposed by the need to keep costs down.


Fitting the engine transversely made for a shorter wheelbase and placed the driver closer to the rear wheels than the 33.

This created a remarkably compact and low-slung car that was a promising replacement for the Giulia TZ on the racetrack and an ideal base for a jaw-dropping show car.


The OSI Scarabeo

The Turinese firm OSI (Officina Stampaggi Industriali) may not enjoy the same recognition as Bertone or Pininfarina, yet in the mid-60s was a well-established company whose well-staffed styling studio was ideal for giving Busso's racing car a look to die for. And it sure did.


Penned by Sergio Sartorelli and exhibited at the Paris and Turin motor shows during the autumn of 1966, the OSI Scarabeo stirred the imagination of critics and the public alike, including president Luraghi, who instructed Busso to build a functional prototype for testing, as the show car was actually engineless.


There's no way of knowing exactly why the prototype was named "Scarabeo" and who chose it, but it most likely stems from the car's rather striking shape.

Development (or lack thereof)

Two "Scarabeo" running prototypes were ultimately built: one whose body only consisted of a rudimentary front skin, which ran at the Balocco proving ground in 1968, and a complete car sporting a much more conventional design than the original show prototype.

Both survive in the Alfa Romeo museum's collection, while the original, non-functional motor show model found its way across the Atlantic and has yet to be seen since. However, it's believed to have survived and apparently will be restored and equipped with a period-correct drivetrain.


However, not only Busso's hopes to keep his new "baby" away from Carlo Chiti and Autodelta were ultimately dashed, but the whole project ended up pretty much dead on arrival.

With Autodelta's resources already overstretched between dominating touring car racing with the Giulia GTA and developing the three-liter version of the 33 sports prototypes, the Scarabeo project languished and ultimately fizzled out entirely in 1969.

Encore

But Busso resurrected his idea of a small mid-engined sports coupé made from existing Alfa components around 1972, probably with an eye to the growing popularity of rallies.

However, instead of a bespoke racing chassis, the new car's structure would have been a traditional steel unibody built from a modified Alfetta floorpan and was therefore given a type "116" code (116.21, to be precise) like any other Alfetta derivative.

What this new project has in common with the original Scarabeo is the transverse mid-engined layout featuring the weird oblique propshaft to send power from the standard Giulia gearbox to the differential. In fact, the engine and transmission were regular production items lifted straight from the 2000 GTV parts bin, except for a bespoke oil sump to clear the De Dion rear suspension.


With no resources available for a new and original design for the so-called "Scarabeo II" prototype, Busso resorted to having a modified Junior Zagato body grafted onto the Alfetta floorpan. By the way, the giant air scoop on the roof, which led many to call this prototype "periscopica," is functional and feeds directly into the engine's air box.


The prototype was built in 1973, but just as it happened for the original Scarabeo, the project had already lost momentum by the time it hit Balocco's tarmac in early 1974: in the aftermath of the oil crisis and with Alfa entering a period of turmoil from the shop floor up to the boardroom, the timing simply couldn't have been worse for such a project.


Thankfully, though, the unique prototype was stored rather than scrapped, and following a conservative restoration in the mid-80s, it's been preserved in the Alfa Romeo museum's collection ever since.


Epilogue

Alfa Romeo wouldn't produce a mid-engined car until well into the current Millennium, with the arrival of the gorgeous 4C in 2013.


But that's definitely a story for another time...

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