The Legendary Alfa Romeo 33
The Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale is widely considered one of the prettiest, most desirable cars ever made. Despite its minuscule production numbers, the 33 Stradale is now firmly ingrained in most enthusiasts' wet dreams, thanks to its frequent exposure on promotional material alongside the 8C Competizione and the mid-engined 4C, whose design was directly inspired by Franco Scaglione's masterpiece.
Yet the "Type 33" project spanned over a decade, a complex story that's rarely been told... Until now.
Work on a mid-engined sports racer equipped with a V8 engine started in early 1964. Although the Giulia TZ was in its first racing season, it was already clear to Alfa's technical department that a more advanced design would soon be needed to stay competitive.
The project was assigned the code 105.33 within Alfa Romeo, despite the fact it very obviously wasn't a derivative of the Giulia. Engineers soon referred to it simply as "33," though, so the name stuck with the car and its successive evolutions.
Giuseppe Busso devised an original aluminum frame composed of three tubes 200mm in diameter and 2.5mm thick that hosted the rubber fuel tanks and were arranged in an asymmetrical "H." The structure was then completed by two complex magnesium castings which supported the engine, transmission, and the suspensions.
As Alfa Romeo was a state-owned company, its president Giuseppe Luraghi was keen to outsource the racing activities to a third party to distance it from excessive scrutiny, which led to the foundation of Autodelta under the direction of the engineer Carlo Chiti.
Even though Autodelta's formal independence from Alfa Romeo ultimately lasted less than three years, Busso and the rest of Alfa Romeo's technical department nevertheless had to begrudgingly surrender the 33's development to Carlo Chiti in early 1966.
The two liters, flat-plane crank V8 engine first ran on Autodelta's bench in February that year, and the first complete 33 ran at the Balocco test track in May.
The very first 33 built survives to this day, and it's commonly referred to as the 33 "Fleròn," from the Belgian town where it raced and won for the first time, in March of 1967.
However, that victory in the short Belgian hillclimb proved to be kind of a false dawn, as the original 33 proved fast but less than reliable during the 1967 World Sportscar Championship season: with a 5th place at the Nürburgring 1000Km as the season's best result, Autodelta still had a lot of work to do.
Consequently, Carlo Chiti transformed the 33 for the 1968 season: despite the enclosed body, the new 33 weighed around 40 Kg less and had its mass better distributed, with the oil and coolant radiators moved to the rear. The so-called 33/2 won the two liters class at Daytona, Monza, the Nurburgring, and the Targa Florio.
Presented in October of 1967 and the Paris Motor Show, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was a supercar in the truest sense of the word.
Under the gorgeous aluminum bodywork designed by Franco Scaglione sat pretty much the same hardware that Autodelta's racing drivers campaigned on the world's circuits.
The 1995cc V8 engine was slightly detuned for drivability but remained an absolute screamer, producing 230HP at 8800Rpm. The quirky chassis design of the racing prototype was carried over too, but 100mm were added to the wheelbase to improve cabin space.
However, just thirteen cars were ever made, including the two prototypes. A further five leftover chassis were sent to Italy's most prominent design houses to become stunning show cars that, together with one of the original two prototypes, are preserved in Alfa Romeo's museum.
Unfortunately, the 33 Stradale's eye-watering sticker price of 9.7 Million lire was out of the market. Despite the Alfa's exceptional pedigree and performance, the certainly no less exotic Lamborghini Miura could be had for 2 million less.
Moreover, for a state-owned company to sell such an extravagant machine kind of sent the wrong message in the period's political climate, so Alfa Romeo itself did not exactly go out of its way to sell more.
Autodelta set its targets significantly higher for 1969, as not only the 33's V8 engine had been enlarged to three liters to compete directly with the likes of the Porsche 908 and the Ferrari 312P, but the car's structure had been completely redesigned.
Known as the 33/3, Autodelta's new weapon was a rather well-proportioned roadster built from an aluminum monocoque, with the double-wishbone suspensions attached to titanium front and rear subframes. The oil cooler was moved to the front, and the uprated engine was quoted at 400HP at 9000 Rpm.
However, the death of the driver Lucien Bianchi during a practice session for the Le Mans 24h dealt a big blow to Autodelta's morale and ambitions. Alfa Romeo's racing arm would not regain competitiveness until 1971, when the three-liters 33 clinched one of Alfa Romeo history's most significant victories, with none other than the Sicilian champion Nino Vaccarella winning the Targa Florio against the Porsche 908s.
Between 1972 and 1973, the 33 underwent a profound technical transformation, as the monocoque was replaced by a lighter tubular structure where the driver sat further forward, allowing a more advantageous weight distribution.
The cars equipped with the new chassis were called 33 TT, where the letters stood for "Telaio Tubolare," the Italian for "tubular frame." Initially fitted with the existing V8 engine, the car became the 33 TT12 by 1973 upon receiving Autodelta's all-new 500HP flat-12 engine.
However, the rapidly worsening economic situation at Alfa Romeo made it difficult for its management to allocate funds to keep the endurance racing program alive, and the future of Autodelta itself hung in the balance.
World Champion, at last!
The 33 TT12 was saved from oblivion by the German team WKRT, which put on the line a 400 Million lire sponsorship from the German meat producer Redlefsen.
Their bet would pay off handsomely, as the twelve-cylinder Alfas finally won the 1975 World Championship for Makes after years of trying, with seven wins in eight races.
During 1976 Autodelta redesigned the 33 once last time, creating the 33 SC12, with the letters SC referring to SCatolato, a new chassis made of boxed sections that was lighter and stronger than before.
With their flat-12 engine producing over 520HP, the Alfa Romeos driven by Arturo Merzario, Jean-Pierre Jarier, and Vittorio Brambilla won every single race of the 1977 World Championship for Sports Cars. At the Salzburgring, Arturo Merzario raced a 33 equipped with a 2134 cc twin-turbocharged version of the flat-12 engine, producing around 640 bhp.
That would prove the last evolution of the 33, though, as Alfa Romeo and Autodelta abandoned the world of endurance racing to fully concentrate on their F1 program as engine suppliers for Brabham.
But that's a story for another time...