Stradale-ing six decades – Iconic Alfa makes a comeback
First unleashed in 1967 at Monza, the brand new Alfa 33 Stradale has elicited a frenzy of cadenzas in the world of motoring.
The year 1967 was an interesting one on Planet Earth. The Boeing 737 made its inaugural flight; the world’s first ATM was installed in Enfield, London, and a cloudburst in Lisbon killed 450 people. Uganda gained independence from Britain; Dr Chris Barnard performed the first human heart transplant and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the eighth studio album by the Beatles, was released.
It was also the year that the Alfa 33 Stradale made its debut at the Monza Grand Prix on 31 August 1967.
That Alfa was a big deal. For decades it’s been hailed as one of the most beautiful cars ever produced, and all but worshipped by petrolheads far and wide for its exhilarating performance and iconic silhouette, designed by the legendary Franco Scaglione.
Back in the mid-1960s, Scaglione was tasked to come up with a “road-friendly” Alfa using the ferocious Tipo 33 sports racer, with its advanced chassis and high-revving V8 engine, as inspiration.
The result was the low-slung, remarkably compact 33 Stradale, with spectacular “butterfly wing doors” to allow easy access into the tiny two-seater cabin.
The production run was extremely limited – only 18 were produced between 1967 and 1969 – due to its exorbitant costs. At the time, the 33 Stradale set you back almost 10 million Italian lira. (To give you an idea, back then, a Lamborghini Miura could be purchased for less than eight.)
Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, 2023
At the end of August this year, exactly 56 years after the first 33 Stradale was launched, the world of motoring media was set alight when Alfa Romeo unveiled a brand-new 33 Stradale at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Italy. Later that day, it was launched on the Italian F1 circuit at Monza.
According to Alfa SA, “The choice of location was no coincidence, epitomising the link between the world of racing and road cars, as well as marking Alfa Romeo’s official return to the world of competitions, with the 33 project.”
The new 33 Stradale is based on a carbon fibre monocoque, which means that it’s a single structure and all components – like the seats, suspension, engine and body panels – are directly connected to the chassis, which makes the overall construction of the vehicle extremely lightweight. The structure is suspended on double wishbones at all four corners.
The new 33 is offered in two engines: a twin-turbocharged V6 which delivers 450kW and a fully electric model offering a breathtaking 552kW of sublime power. Both the petrol and the electric models can sprint 0-100km in under three seconds.
Like its highly exclusive 1967 namesake, only 33 units of the new 33 Stradale have been produced. And if you’re planning on ordering one, sorry for you – they are all sold.
Coincidentally, when the news of the new Stradale broke, I’d been test-driving two Alfas back-to-back. I’d just handed over my test unit of the Alfa Tonale, which I’d been cruising around in for a week, to swap for an up-switched Alfa Stelvio. While I knew I’d never be afforded a chance to lay hands on the 33 Stradale, at least I was experiencing something of this iconic brand.
Launched late last year locally, the hybrid Tonale was Alfa’s first foray into the new energy segment with pressure mounting from a global motoring industry obsessed with an all-electric future.
It’s a handsome-looking Italian and references some of the brand’s rich, iconic past. For instance, the LED headlights are a tribute to the high-performance SZ Zagato model of the 1980s, which itself was inspired by the Giulietta Sprint Zagato launched in the late 1950s.
The Tonale’s 1.5-litre turbo petrol hybrid engine offers a respectable, while in no way mind-blowing, 118Kw and 240Nm, paired with a 48V electric motor.
I recently took the mid-range Speciale, with its ramped-up 20-inch alloys and matte black body detailing, on a 250km road trip which entailed muddy gravel, open tar roads and mountain passes. I loved the drive.
The steering was precise, the suspension absorbed some pretty bumpy roads and it showed no discernible body roll as I swooped around hairpin bends. Yes, perhaps it could have benefited from a few more kilowatts of power, but on my drive, especially when I switched it into “Dynamic” on the DNA drive mode dial, I was more than happy. (This setting sharpens the throttle response and steering, delivering a more sporty driving experience.)
The comfort levels in the leather-swathed cabin and the tech on hand were top-notch, while its 5-star Euro NCAP crash rating and comprehensive list of safety features, including six airbags, gave me peace of mind.
At the end of the day, it was its frugal fuel consumption that most impressed. For much of my trip, I was able to come close to the manufacturer’s claimed sub-5 litres/100km.
Then it was time for the Stelvio, which sits above the Tonale in Alfa Romeo’s SUV lineup.
In June this year, the sporty Stelvio was treated to a facelift which includes a revised grille, the same triple-barrel LEDs as the Tonale, new tail lamps and an up-switched digital instrument cluster.
Since it was first launched five years ago, the Stelvio has received glowing reviews from usually hard-to-please motoring media.
There are two models (both all-wheel drive) in the current local line-up: the 2.0T Veloce Q4 with its 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, good for 206kW/400Nm, and the top of the range, highly desirable, Quadrifoglio, powered by a kickass 375kW, 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine.
Both models share a brilliantly calibrated 8-speed automatic gearbox (the same ZF-sourced unit found in many BMWs).
Once again, like the Tonale, I took the Stelvio out for an intense road trip to put her through the paces.
I played around with the DNA drive modes ( D=Dynamic, N=Normal and A=All-weather). It was quite remarkable how different the feeling of the drive was as I switched between each setting; none more so than in Dynamic, which, with a sharpened throttle and steering response, allowed this Italian stallion to really show its stuff, roaring 0-100 in just 5.7 seconds.
With its all-wheel-drive setup (which is rear-wheel biased), the Stelvio is a driver’s car that will delight with its world-class handling and on-road dynamics.
It’s also able to navigate slippery, not-ideal gravel surfaces. If I were in the market for a new executive SUV, I would hands-down choose the Stelvio over its German competitors.
Yeah, yeah I know what all you Alfa naysayers are thinking: unreliable, temperamental, blah blah, blah. But those responses are so old and tired. There’s no denying that the brand did go through some difficult times, but a lot has changed.
In the US, which has only recently been graced with the Tonale, Alfa Romeo is in the lead among premium brands and third in the industry, according to a JD Power 2023 US Initial Quality Study. (The survey entailed interviewing Alfa customers 90 days after purchasing their new car to assess the brand’s performance.)
In July, parent company Stellantis released mid-year results which showed exceptional figures for Alfa Romeo. Global registrations were up by 57% and in Europe they were up by a whopping 100%.
In the Middle East/Africa region, which includes the SA markets, sales have increased by a massive 173% compared with the same period in 2022.
When the Tonale launched last November, I was hoping it would take a sizeable chunk of pie from its German competitors. Unfortunately, South Africans are hard to sway, and while they might admire the Italian brand and say how much they “love an Alfa”, there are still far too many who are too unadventurous to swap their allegiance from sauerkraut to risotto.
Alfa Romeo Tonale Ti – R754,900
Alfa Romeo Tonale Speciale – R815,900
Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce – R835,900
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Veloce Q4 – R 1,205,500
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio Q4 – R 1,936,900
Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale – Rumoured to be €1.5-million (around R30-million). DM