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20 Years of Alfa Romeo Brera Concept: The Balance of Shape

The result of an intimate and personal research, Giorgetto Giugiaro created an unconventional design that defied the rules of the time. And in fact, when it was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2002, the result was breath-taking. Twenty years on, SpeedHolics tells the story through an exclusive interview with its creator.

Still Life Photography by Paolo Carlini (IG: @paolo.carlini.photographer)

Black & White Photography by Alessandro Barteletti (IG: @alessandrobarteletti)

With the collaboration of GFG Style, Italdesign,

Giorgetto Giugiaro’s hand caresses the side, lightly touching the lines and following the shapes, moving confidently around the form of one of the most extraordinary automotive sculptures made in modern times. He suggests a very precise perspective, around three quarters along the back left-hand side. “Come here. Can you see that? It’s the only line that starts at the front and finishes at the back. It turns here and fades out in the centre of the rear window.” Then, looking at the front bumper: “This edge should have been sharper. It doesn’t stand out much like this.” And then at the front: “There’s no cut here, otherwise we would have had to put a joint there, and another one there…”.

Giugiaro's thoughts and words travel at the speed of light as he gives me a tour of the Alfa Romeo Brera Concept: pure sculpture, and exactly twenty years after it was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2002, we are standing in front of the only one ever built.

We are in Moncalieri, just outside Turin, at the GFG Style, the company founded in 2015 with his son Fabrizio. This is the home to some of the cars designed in over sixty years in the business: scale models, mass produced cars and prototypes tell of the story and genius of this man, class of 1938, who boasts seven honorary degrees, five Compasso d’Oro prizes - the one in 2004 thanks to the Brera - and is universally recognised as Car Designer of the Century.

click to watch the video

Every contour of the Concept shows how, in the early 2000s, Giugiaro performed a small but great miracle. He ignored all the sterile rules of marketing, went beyond the laws of the market and withdrew into an intimate, personal research. And in that place of the soul, he found the inspiration to shape the silhouette of a work that is as contemporary as it is classic, and this is why I prepare for the interview, not a discussion of technical and style solutions but a chance to listen to his way of feeling and seeing things.

“I would call the Brera Concept the result of a purely egoistic process, because at the ripe old age of sixty-four, I wanted to create something personal, something that would please myself. And what came out was a declaration of love for the brand I owe everything to: Alfa Romeo.”

The Brera lines are original, seen for the first time, but somehow when you look at them you know that you are certainly looking at an authentic Alfa Romeo. “These is no specific formula, some things are like you, they come from your past and your experience. In these cases, inspiration is a kind of magic, being able to propose the simple lines that mark the physiognomy of a brand in a new way.”

And as we know, Giugiaro is the designer who more than anyone personally contributed to defining the style and stylistic features of the Alfa Romeo in modern times. He didn't have to study the past to interpret the future, because that past was a part of him, he was its author and creator.

Mentioning this to him triggers a chain reaction of anecdotes that take his mind back to the late Fifties. The start of his career. “I was just a kid, twenty years old, I worked for Fiat but I had attended an illustration course and that was where I wanted to go. One day, at the Turin Motor Show, a friend introduced me to Bertone, who, finding out what I did, told me to take him some of my works. So I went, and he gave me the drawing of the Alfa Romeo 2600 chassis and asked me to study something around it. I did a few sketches and he took a week to assess them. I was nervous, because I wanted to buy a new pair of skis and I hoped that the drawings could earn me some cash. In fact, he contacted me just three or four days later: ‘The drawings are fine, Alfa Romeo will make this car,' he told me”. The young Giorgetto hadn’t realised that Bertone would really have taken them into consideration, even showing them in Milan.

“I was in seventh heaven, but at the same time I didn’t know what to do about my job at Fiat. Bertone asked me how much I earned, and I told him that my salary was 80,000 Lire a month. He offered me 120,000. I handed in my notice on the spot and Bertone hired me even though I had to leave shortly for military service. And that’s how the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint and my story with Alfa Romeo began.”

Following on from this came the Giulia Sprint GT, prototypes like the Canguro and - with Italdesign - the Iguana and the Caimano, production cars including the Alfasud, Alfetta GT and Alfasud Sprint, up to the restyling of the 156, the Brera and the 159.

“The advantage of an Alfa is that its badge is both particular and identifying: that’s all it takes to recognise one instantly. Yet at the same time it is traditionally a sporting vehicle with top-notch mechanics, and so designing its outer shell is always a huge responsibility. The far-from-easy mission is to be able to transfer all the interior substance to the exterior. The bodywork has to describe what is under the bonnet.”

And this is why Giugiaro chose such top pedigree mechanics for his Brera. “I wanted it to be a step above what had been seen until that time, so I worked on a platform that could mount a longitudinally positioned V8 engine.” Lifting the bonnet in carbon fibre, the material used for the rest of the car too, we discover a four-litre Maserati engine capable of providing maximum 400 horsepower.

The red intake manifold and the sophisticated design of the engine compartment make the eight-cylinder engine look like a beating heart, nestling among what seems to be a constellation of precious stones. In fact, these are refined milled aluminium caps through which the fluids are topped up.

The front-centre position of the engine, further back and positioned inside the axle, gave the designer full freedom in the design and proportions of the front, which for the first time - and perhaps involuntarily - showed that family feeling of the mass-produced Alfa Romeos from 2005 onwards. “Talking about the front headlights, I decided to include the three lights in what seems a slit in the bodywork. My aim was that, moving around to the side, the headlights disappeared from view and the slits seemed like air intakes. Yet another way of highlighting that sporty aggressive feeling the car has to give.”

And then the doors, with their monumental dimensions, that open upwards: a solution as spectacular as it is practical. “Imagine having to open them in the traditional manner, in a tight parking space it would be impossible to get out of the car.”

Contrary to what many might think, Giugiaro’s approach to a new project is always very pragmatic. “Above all today, young people start from a sketch, but how can you design a car like that? You have to start from reality, this is why I never get carried away by my visions, I prefer to define all the limits set by the project first: I have never wanted to mislead my clients with something that is unachievable. For me, you start with the maths. I’m talking overall dimensions, driveability, how far the engine protrudes, how the wheels jolt. First of all, I fix these points, and only once I have joined all the dots creativity comes into play.”

Courtesy of Italdesign

Giugiaro has often defined himself a connoisseur of detail and balances, and the Brera certainly didn't betray this vocation.

“This is an exercise that starts way back. Like an athlete training every day, the designer repeats an idea, a concept, an intuition, and improves its performance every time. This is how you achieve the sensitivity to the equilibrium of shape and the proportion of volumes. The Brera was born at a time when things had to be simple, because cars are like certain songs: when they’re too complicated, you just can't get into them. Other simpler songs hit you the first time you hear them.”

And that is precisely what the Concept did: acclaimed by the critics and press alike at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, its presence made it an instant classic. And indeed, shortly afterwards, Alfa Romeo found itself having to translate it into a production car, and in 2005 the Brera was on the manufacturer's price list. A long and tough road, which in the Biscione tradition has one precedent: the Montreal, presented as a prototype at the 1967 Expo in Canada, was so applauded that it became a production car just three years - and many compromises - later.

Giugiaro recalls: “You could immediately see how the public and the experts didn’t want my work to end there, they wanted to see it develop. I was really pleased about that, but I had never thought of it as a production car. I hadn’t worried about the type-approval, the costs or the production and moulding criteria. For instance, the shape of the glass I had designed didn't allow the window to slide down into the door. Or the front, made in a single piece: if you make a prototype that’s fine, but if you have to mass produce the car it has to be split into several pieces. These are all adaptations which can be done without upturning the essence of the design. When I saw the end result, however, the story of the human face came to mind. We all have eyes, eyebrows, a nose, a mouth: they have been shaped like that for thousands of years, slightly different from one person to another, and that’s what makes us unique in a billion different combinations. But when certain proportions appear, we become beautiful, attractive, as if by magic. It’s the same with a car: it takes just a few minor differences to create, or upset, a perfect balance. And in my opinion this is what happened when the parameters and measurements of the prototype were changed to mass produce the Brera.”

In Alfa Romeo and Giugiaro’s past, there are cars with the most improbable names. Female names, names inspired by the animal kingdom, or those that taken straight from the design number. But Brera has nothing to do with all this.

“Brera is an area in Milan, so it pays homage to Alfa Romeo, which was born there, but it is particularly a district that, in the collective imagination, brings to mind a concept of art, sophistication and culture. I think that overall a car is something extremely fascinating: it’s a joy to see its mechanics, or what sheet metal solutions were adopted, as if it was a sculpture.”

Giugiaro pauses for a moment, and looks towards the room where all his cars are kept. “I must admit: I like to think that a car, the result of human creativity and talent, can be considered a work of art.”


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