The Story Of The Fantastic Alfa Romeo "105" Bertone Coupés
In the hearts and minds of many, the classic Bertone coupés from the 1960s represent Alfa Romeo at its best, and it's easy to see why.
Here's their story...
Things are rarely straightforward in the Italian automobile industry, but the swift and smooth development process of the Giulia GT is an exception to that rule.
Alfa Romeo's new coupé, whose production began in 1963 in the newly-inaugurated Arese factory, was built upon the solid foundation of the Giulia Ti saloon launched a year prior, save for a 160 mm shorter wheelbase. The aluminum twin-cam 1.6 liters engine maintained the same compression ratio and valve diameters as the Giulia Ti saloon, whose Solex 32 mm carburetor was replaced on the GT coupè by two side draft 40 mm Webers.
The uncanny similarity between the larger 2000 Sprint, launched in 1960, and the 1963 Giulia GT was no accident.
Both cars were styled by a young Giorgetto Giugiaro for Bertone. Alfa Romeo was adamant about the smaller coupé to maintain a "family resemblance" with its bigger and more expensive sibling.
However, I'd be first to admit that the Giulia GT perhaps looks even better than the 2000 Sprint, as it's better proportioned and has a sharper dihedral bodyside section.
However, I've always found the notorious "step-front" or "scalino" front-end design (with the bonnet leading edge sitting proud of the body rather than flush with it) unsightly and fussy. But that's merely subjective, of course!
By 1965 the new Arese plant had reached full operativity, allowing Alfa Romeo to widen the range with the more upscale Giulia GT Veloce, recognizable by the 3 chrome bars on the black front grille and the round cloverleaf badges placed on the rear pillars.
This new version came equipped with a revised and upgraded 109 HP variant of the 1.6 liters twin-cam four that, largely thanks to its better torque delivery, offered a much more significant increase in performance than the apparently modest increase in horsepower suggested.
Cheaper and cheerful
On the opposite side of the spectrum was the Giulia GT Junior, presented in 1966: an entry-level model whose smaller 1.3 liters engine and simplified interior allowed Alfa Romeo to tap into a much broader market. So much so, in fact, that Juniors soon took the lion's share of Giulia GT sales and remained popular throughout their long production run.
Recognizable by the simpler hubcaps and grille design, the GT Junior retained the original "step-front" nose until 1971.
The one nobody wanted
If there's a Giulia GT variant that hardly anyone bought new, that's the convertible GTC. Styled by Bertone but manufactured by Touring Superleggera of Milan, it proved surprisingly unpopular with buyers despite its gorgeous look.
Just 1000 examples of the Giulia GTC were made between 1964 and 1966, using a strengthened floorpan to partly compensate for the roof's absence.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday
Tired of seeing the Giulia Ti Super soundly beaten by the Lotus Cortina in the European Touring Car racing scene, Alfa Romeo decided to go all out with the Giulia GTA, the "Gran Turismo Alleggerita."
The GTA did not differ much aesthetically from the "regular" GT but weighed about 200 kg less, thanks to a simplified interior and the extensive use of aluminum panels for the body. The roof, fenders, doors, bonnet, and boot lid were all made of Peraluman 25 alloy, riveted to the underlying steel structure of the Giulia GT.
But the GTA's party piece was the 1570cc twin-cam engine, fed by two side-draft 45 mm Weber carburetors and equipped with a new cylinder head with larger valves and dual ignition. Although the road-going GTA's peak horsepower was likely underrated at 115 HP, the twin-plug ignition was worth around 5%of the roughly 170 HP the engine made once prepared for racing.
Although less than 500 Giulia GTA 1600 were made, they certainly did wonders for Alfa Romeo's image, conquering the European Touring Car Championship three years running, between 1966 and 1968.
From 1968, Alfa Romeo repeated the trick in the lower displacement category with the GTA 1300 Junior, which would win, among many other national and international trophies, two consecutive European Touring Car Championships in 1971 and '72, respectively.
In 1967 the Giulia GT and GT Veloce were replaced by the new 1750 GT Veloce, equipped with a 1779 cc twin-cam engine rated at 118 HP. This upmarket model is instantly recognizable thanks to its redesigned front end, flush-fitting bonnet, and quad circular headlights.
The interior was revamped with a new dashboard and instrumentation, reprofiled seats, and a new central console housing additional instruments.
Complying with the newly-introduced American tailpipe emissions regulations forced Alfa Romeo to ditch the carburetors in favor of a clever mechanical fuel injection system developed by its subsidiary, Spica. This is an important detail because it leads us nicely to the GTAm.
The acronym stood for "GT America" because Alfa's racing arm Autodelta chose the US-spec 1750 GTV as a starting point for its new touring car racing weapon, precisely because it was equipped with fuel injection.
This allowed Autodelta to use fuel injection on the race cars, albeit a very different system from the one used on the production GTV. The cylinder head was, in fact, a completely new design with dual ignition and a much narrower angle between the intake and exhaust valves.
Contrary to what the GTA acronym may have you believe, the GTAm wasn't fitted with aluminum panels. However, fiberglass was used wherever possible to save weight, including the big fenders necessary to cover the 9" wide wheels, which gave the GTAm the purposeful, aggressive stance enthusiasts love it for.
Very successful in the European Touring car racing scene right out of the box, the GTAm started losing ground to Ford and BMW from 1972 onwards, as Autodelta gradually shifted its attention towards sports car racing with the 33 prototypes.
The twilight years
In 1971 the GT range was comprehensively overhauled: the GT Junior received the smoother front-end design previously exclusive to the 1750 GTV, minus the bumper overriders and fitted with a single pair of headlights. Starting from 1972, the GT Junior could be equipped with a 1.6 liters engine at extra cost.
The 1750 GTV was replaced by the 2000 GTV, whose increase in displacement resulted from the cylinders' bore being enlarged to 84 mm, bringing peak power up to 132 HP.
The 2000 GTV also got a few aesthetic tweaks that make this model my favorite of the bunch: a new front grille whose horizontal chrome bars featured protruding blocks forming the familiar Alfa Romeo "shield," a new dashboard and center console, and redesigned front seats.
The same interior and grille would also be fitted to the GT Junior, starting from 1974, to streamline production during the model's twilight years.
The last few Juniors and GTVs left the Arese factory in 1976, and even though Alfa Romeo has made many cool cars since, none of the company's subsequent models has quite managed to recapture the GT's magic, and probably none ever will.