Against all odds, the Alfa Romeo new Spider “Duetto” project 938

Photos courtesy of Zbigniew Maurer Archive

Duetto is a magic word for Alfisti. It was chosen via an international contest to find a name for a very important car, the successor of the already iconic Giulietta Spider. The winning name seemed perfect for a new Alfa Romeo two seater spider, it was easily pronounced in most languages and was internationally familiar as a part of Italian music-related terminology. Strangely enough it was never officially adopted because Alfa renounced its use after the first, unlikely protest coming from a chocolate-based snack producer...

Evidently Alfa Romeo had first-class engineers and technicians but very lousy lawyers at the time!

Nevertheless the name Duetto has always been used by Alfisti, journalists and general public to identify the four editions of this lovely evergreen spider throughout its almost thirty-years-long life-span.

The successor of Duetto, the 916 series Pininfarina-designed spider didn't quite manage to retain the original Duetto's flair and driving pleasure. It was bulky, heavy and in some way alienating for its occupants. Its Fiat Tipo derived chassis, despite many modifications and a completely new, ad hoc developed rear multi-link suspension, failed to deliver the renowned Duetto driving feeling. Even the top-spec, beautiful V6 “Busso”, the last 100% Alfa Romeo designed and produced engine, was struggling to transmit with due refinement its generous torque to the ground through the front driving wheels. But probably the greatest disappointment in comparison with Duetto was the experience of the open-air driving for both the driver and passenger. High, inclined belt-line and massive A-pillars, ending very close to the occupants' faces, resulted in a somehow oppressed feeling, a far cry from the wonderful feeling of freedom and full contact with the surrounding nature the original Duetto was granting its occupants.

I have experienced all those differences first-hand, driving my personal 1973 cut-tail, our Centro Stile service IV-series Duettos and the then-recent 916 series spiders. So, when it came to design the new or future Duetto, I had my ideas quite clear.

The new Alfa Romeo Spider project begun in the late 1990's and coincided with big organizational changes, the director of Centro Stile Alfa Romeo Walter De Silva left for Seat and was succeeded by Andreas Zapatinas coming from BMW. The design coordinator of the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo brands, Carlo Fugazza was succeeded by Humberto Rodriguez coming from VW, Fiat Auto CEO Paolo Cantarella was succeeded by Roberto Testore and the Fiat itself entered in a joint-venture with GM. Lots of changes in a very limited span of time.