Why I Love Alfa's Wedge Saloon
Alfa Romeo may be struggling to sell its wares nowadays, but enthusiasts sure can't have enough of the marque's classic models. Yet enthusiasts seem to have kind of forgotten about the 1977 Giulietta, and that's the reason why I chose it, back in 2018, as the subject for my first book.
The Nuova Giulietta came out in 1977 to replace the much-loved Giulia, which by then was in its fifteenth year of production.
What I love most about the Giulietta is its peculiar shape: much like its predecessor, it's not conventionally beautiful, but it certainly original and has personality in spades, like all the best Alfas.
The 1977 Giulietta was the first production Alfa fully designed under Ermanno Cressoni, a great Italian designer who I think should get more recognition than he does. Holding the reins of Alfa Romeo's Centro Stile during some very challenging times as the firm fought for its own survival, Cressoni managed to create successful designs in the face of tight budgetary and technical constraints: the Giulietta is an excellent example.
The Giulietta could only have been an Alfa because its shape suggested speed and dynamism in an almost transgressive way
When it launched, its striking wedge profile and short, stubby tail divided opinions. Detractors in the Italian press called it "coda d'anatra," or "ducktail."
Still, it was pure Cressoni ingenuity, transforming a technical limitation into a feature. The Giulietta shared the "116" type denomination of the Alfetta, as it was, to all intents and purposes, a close derivative of it. The platform, suspensions, and drivetrain were the same, as was the wheelbase. So the main differences were concentrated at the rear of the car: to allow for a shorter overhang, on the Giulietta, the fuel tank was placed vertically behind the rear seat, while the spare wheel was placed on the right side of the trunk in an upright position.
This configuration created a tall rear end volume that was impossible to disguise, hence the dramatic wedge profile, with a low bonnet and a steeply rising beltline culminating in an integrated lip spoiler on the boot.
The Giulietta looked younger at heart, more playful, yet wasn't devoid of grace for that.
I love this design's purity and purposefulness: my favorite Giuliettas are the series one models, produced between 1977 and 1981. Because those were so minimalist in their appearance, they even lacked an Alfa badge at the back... Because they didn't need one. The Giulietta could only have been an Alfa because its shape suggested speed and dynamism in an almost transgressive way compared to the more "formal" appearance of the Alfetta... The Giulietta looked younger at heart, more playful, yet wasn't devoid of grace for that.
Fearing the new model would steal sales from the similar but more expensive Alfetta, the Giulietta was available at launch with a limited engine choice: the Alfa's classic twin-cam inline-four-cylinder, in two variants. A 1.6 liters unit carried over from the Giulia with only minor modifications and an entry-level 1.3 engine which now had different internal dimensions that resulted in an actual displacement of 1357cc.
Although Italian buyers initially favored the smaller engine due to its lower road tax and insurance premiums, over time, sales of the entry-level model faltered as it became clear it actually was an under-engined car that often ended up using more fuel than the more balanced 1.6 version.
As Alfa's worries about possible internal competition faded away, the Giulietta was finally allowed to receive the larger twin-cam fours, starting with the 1.8 liters engine in 1979, while the 130HP 2 liters engine became available on most export markets by 1980.
The Giulietta's career came to an end in 1985, the year Alfa Romeo celebrated the 75th anniversary of its foundation
The Giulietta did not change much over its seven-year lifespan, receiving two minor restylings in 1981 and 1984.
In the time-honored Alfa Romeo tradition, expensive sheet-metal changes were avoided on both occasions, concentrating on bumpers and other plastic elements.
The lovely example from Greece starring in the video, painted in the classic Rosso Alfa, belongs to the third and last series, launched with the model-year '84.
I think the new front bumper design to be especially successful, as it integrates the front air dam and foglights more neatly than before.
Top-of-the-line models like this 1.8 liters-engined one were easily recognized by the lower bodysides painted to match the bumpers.
The interior received a new dashboard with softened lines, but it must be said the look and feel of the plastics did not improve much upon the not-exactly-high standards set by the earlier models.
The Giulietta's career came to an end in 1985, the year Alfa Romeo celebrated the 75th anniversary of its foundation, with most of its body structure was retained as a basis for its replacement, the aptly named 75.
But that's definitely a story for another time...