The Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale is widely considered among the prettiest cars ever made, and rightfully so. Its gorgeous curves have transcended time and fashion and keep fascinating enthusiasts and casual onlookers alike year after year.
But what if I told you that the man who designed it died in relative poverty and was largely forgotten by the rest of the world?
This is the incredible story of Franco Scaglione, one of the greatest automobile designers of all time.
The first love
Born in Florence in September of 1916, Franco Scaglione was, first and foremost, a lover of art with an innate sense of style and creativity: perhaps unsurprisingly, given his birthplace. Captivated by airplanes since he was a young boy, Franco Scaglione earned a degree in aerodynamics from the University of Florence. Had WWII not interrupted his path, he would have gotten a second one in aeronautic engineering at Bologna University, where he enrolled in 1938.
His passion for airplane design and knowledge about aerodynamic forces then formed the basis for Scaglione's heavenly automobile designs: His cars had to glide through the air creating the slightest turbulence possible and with minimal resistance. By marrying his knowledge with his innate sense of style, Franco Scaglione constantly sought an ideal of aesthetic and aerodynamic perfection.
By 1951, when Franco Scaglione moved to Turin with his family, the city was rapidly becoming an automobile design hotspot, with small coachbuilders producing small to medium-sized cars on Alfa, Lancia, or Fiat chassis and running gear. Scaglione's first commissions indeed came from one of those small coachbuilding companies, Carrozzeria Balbo, for which he designed a unique Aurelia B53 Coupé that survives to this day.
But Franco Scaglione's first significant achievement must undoubtedly be considered the Abarth 1500 he styled for Bertone in 1952. Displayed at the Turin Motor Show, the American firm Packard purchased it on the spot and shipped it to Detroit to serve as a design inspiration.
However, the Abarth 1500 one-off was just the first in a long series of design masterpieces Scaglione would design for Bertone, including the 2000 Sportiva that now occupies pride of place in Alfa Romeo's museum near Milan.
Based on a tubular space frame chassis covered by an aluminum body, the 2000 Sportiva was intended to be produced in limited volumes for Alfa Romeo's more sporting clientele and used as a high-speed grand tourer by gentlemen drivers. Unfortunately, the Milanese company's resources were already stretched thin by the Giulietta's development, so the 2000 Sportiva's potential remained unexploited: just two of these gorgeous coupés were ever made.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint is a powerful symbol of Italy's mid-century economic miracle and the most successful model designed by Franco Scaglione. Initially intended as a low-production special, the Sprint completely transformed Bertone's fortunes, with over 30.000 units made between 1954 and 1964.
Given the success of his collaboration with Alfa Romeo, it was a no-brainer for Nuccio Bertone to choose the Alfa 1900 chassis and running gear as a base for his next show cars. Known under the acronym "BAT," which meant "Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica," these three unique, fully-functional vehicles allowed Franco Scaglione to explore the ultimate possibilities in advanced design.
I've had the privilege to see the BAT 5, 7, and 9, created in 1953, 1954, and 1955 respectively, in 2015, at the Blackhawk automobile museum in California. Sadly, the BAT cars were sold as a single lot by Sotheby's in 2020 for over 14 Million... And I admit that saddened me: I believe they should belong to a public museum, where they can keep inspiring people, rather than be locked away in some billionaire's private lair.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale was conceived as a high-performance derivative of the basic Sprint, aimed for sale to gentlemen drivers. Unsurprisingly, Franco Scaglione sought to create a shape that minimized air resistance and allowed a higher top speed.
Presented as a prototype in 1957, the Sprint Speciale went into production by 1959 but didn't prove successful with Alfa's most sporting clientele, who preferred the Zagato-bodied Sprints because of their lower weight.
For undetermined reasons, Franco Scaglione's fruitful working relationship with Nuccio Bertone ended the same year, with the former venturing on his own as an independent design consultant. In 1963, Franco Scaglione penned the very first Lamborghini, the 350 GTV prototype, displayed at the Turin motor show and the forerunner of the production 350 GT, whose design was, however, quite significantly altered by Touring of Milan for ease of manufacture.
The 33 Stradale
By the late 1960s, the Milanese marque was the pride of Italy's state-owned industries and, as a kind of a cherry on top of Alfa's successful post-war renaissance, President Luraghi greenlit the project for a roadgoing derivative of the Tipo 33 sports racer.
To clothe the 33's advanced chassis and high-revving V8 engine, Autodelta's boss Carlo Chiti naturally turned to Franco Scaglione, as the two had already collaborated a few years prior on the short-lived ATS 2500 "berlinetta."
Scaglione, on his part, demanded and was granted total freedom in designing the Stradale, resulting in an uncompromised, stunning beauty. Remarkably compact and standing at less than a meter tall, the spectacular "butterfly doors" used on the 33 Stradale were essential to allow easy enough access to the car's tiny two-seater cabin.
The car that occupies pride of place in Alfa Romeo's museum is the second Stradale built. Only thirteen cars were made between 1967 and 1969, partly due to the model's astronomical retail price of nearly ten million Italian Lire, when a Lamborghini Miura could be had for less than eight. When production was halted in March of '69, five leftover 33 Stradale chassis were sent out to Italy's most pre-eminent coachbuilders and served as a basis for five stunning show-cars made between 1969 and 1976. But that's a story for another time...
Meanwhile, Franco Scaglione got involved with the small manufacturer Intermeccanica, designing the relatively successful Italia and Indra models and investing considerable money in the venture.
However, the worsening economic conditions of the early 1970s led to Intermeccanica's collapse in 1974.
With a large chunk of his savings now gone, Franco Scaglione lost faith in the automobile business as a whole. Frustrated and depressed, he left Turin to retire in the small Tuscan town of Suvereto, where lung cancer killed him in 1993.