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Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster: The Lost Prototype

Designer Paolo Martin shares the story of his P33 Roadster concept. The P33 Roadster was created shortly after the famous Ferrari Dino Berlinetta Competizione, crafted at Pininfarina. Characterized by sharp lines and edgy contours, this vehicle was an innovative interpretation of the roadster type. Presented at the 1968 Turin Motor Show, the P33 Roadster combined bold stylistic elements and advanced technical solutions, embodying the essence of automotive design of the era.

Preface by Gilberto Milano

Texts by Paolo Martin

Photos and Drawings courtesy of the Paolo Martin Archive



Surviving less than three years, it was then destroyed and sacrificed as an organ donor. A decision that forever deprived enthusiasts of the possibility to admire a car that, in its short life, represented more than any other the link between two eras: that of the “curvy” cars typical of the 1950s and ’60s, and the “sharp edges” that were popular from the late ‘60s and throughout the following decade. But that’s how things were in the coachbuilders of the time, whether small or large. It was a shame that the one who paid the price was precisely her, the Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster (the “P” stands for Pininfarina). Two years after being presented at the 1968 Turin Motor Show, she was completely stripped of her bodywork and her chassis was reused for the Alfa Romeo P33 Spider, exhibited by Pininfarina at the Brussels Motor Show in 1971.


All that remains of the Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster are a few archive images, the sketches done at the time by the author, Paolo Martin, and his personal notes. You will remember that Paolo Martin revealed to SpeedHolics how this car was born, telling of the behind-the-scenes and its special place in the history of design.


It was built on a chassis sent to Pininfarina in 1967, directly from Alfa Romeo after the Milan-based car manufacturer decided to halt the production of the 33 Stradale. This was one of the 18 chassis built for that splendid supercar (designed by Franco Scaglione), of which 50 were originally supposed to be manufactured but which was suspended after the thirteenth to make way for the Montreal, for which too many investments had already been made to give up on the project. After this, Alfa Romeo decided to send the remaining five unused chassis (along with the engines, all 2.0 litre, 230 HP Alfa Romeo V8s) to Italy’s most famous coachbuilders. They were to be used to produce Alfa Romeo-based dream cars to be put on show at the most prestigious international motor shows.

And that was exactly what happened. In chronological order, the first coachbuilders to produce a show car on one of the five chassis was Bertone with the Alfa Romeo 33 Carabo designed by Marcello Gandini, exhibited at the Paris Motor Show in October 1968. A month later it was the turn of the car designed by Paolo Martin, which we will talk about here, the Alfa Romeo P33 Roadster, presented by Pininfarina at the Turin show that same year. A few months later, in March 1969, at the Geneva Show, once again Pininfarina showed off his style skills with the Alfa Romeo P33 Coupé Prototipo Stradale, the show car designed by Leonardo Fioravanti, derived from a Ferrari P5 that Enzo Ferrari didn't like and then “camouflaged” as an Alfa Romeo. At the Turin Show in November 1969, it was Giorgetto Giugiaro’s turn to present his idea of a dream car, based on the 33 Stradale chassis, at the Italdesign stand la Iguana. Two years later at the Brussels Show of 1971, Pininfarina presented the Alfa Romeo P33 Spider, again designed by Leonardo Fioravanti, and christened the “Cuneo” due to its extremely sharp lines inspired by the geometrical wedge shape. And this was precisely the show car for which Paolo Martin’s P33 Roadster was sacrificed. Finally, in 1976, at the Geneva Show, Bertone presented the Alfa Romeo 33 Navajo, again designed by Marcello Gandini, the sixth Alfa Romeo dream car born from the last of the famous five 33 Stradale chassis.


The reason for the “sacrifice” of the P33 Roadster was never fully clarified. As often happened in the coachbuilders of the time, it was probably dictated by the urgent need to put a new concept car on display at a new Motor Show. But Paolo Martin never forgave this: powerless before the decision taken by Sergio Pininfarina, he still wonders if it was really worth it. Here, in his own words, is the story of the genesis of one of his most interesting concept cars.


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The P33 Roadster was born immediately after another famous dream car built by Pininfarina, the Ferrari Dino Berlinetta Competizione. Two cars with totally opposite styles: one very “curvy”, the Dino; the other with straight lines and sharp edges.


There was really no clear reason why, in just a few months, this style revolution came about. Even today I wonder what the reasons behind this metamorphosis were. Probably the desire to propose something new, the attempt to clearly break with the habits of the past. The clear-cut lines also had a practical motivation; as often happened with all coachbuilders, a new prototype had to be created for the Motor Show in a very short time, and this had to be both easy to build and modern and original in style. The fact is that all the stylists moved towards square lines and wedge shapes.


Luck had it that I was given a real chassis with a functioning engine; a beautiful, special, very low tubular chassis with a rear engine.

But we really weren’t particularly interested in having a real chassis at our disposal: the work was done on the drawings, we had a dimensional drawing with all the sizes and measurements, interior space and so on, and that’s what we used to develop our ideas. I remember that I was appointed to do the design because at that time I had less work on than the others. It had to be a quick design to implement.


It was June, and the car had to be ready for the Turin Motor Show in November.

As usual, we had to make do with what we had. So the theme we chose was a new interpretation of the roadster. The car was a compromise on style, a mix of curves and straight lines.



I can’t remember how we got to that choice, but these are the kind of intuitions that come to you, and that day that’s what I decided to do. Maybe the day after I would have done things differently.


The simplicity of the bodywork was expressed through the straight lines and the lack of doors and roof, but the whole car had a really strong personality thanks to some of its characteristic features, like the wedge-shaped profile and plan view, with very small front end.

As can be seen, the wedge starts from the black rubber front bumper, a novelty for the time, and ends with the rear K-tail, cutting the front mudguard (rounded in shape to add a softer feel to the overall look) in half. To me it seems that by breaking up the wedge shape with curved inserts added personality to the car.


The black rubber front bumper had a purely aesthetic terminal function, but helped to make both the front and sides more aerodynamic.


In addition, it partly hid the wide front air intake at the bottom. The two small adjustable appendices, another feature of this concept car, should have offered a new solution for optimising the aerodynamic flow, but more than anything had an aesthetic function. Renzo Carli, Sergio Pininfarina’s right-hand man, came up with the idea, suggesting that they add them to the sides when he saw the design: “Let’s try and add something,” he said. The headlight unit, fitted in a single retracting, tilting module, was a forced addition: Leonardo Fioravanti was the one with a mania for single headlights. And so he was happy too.



To reduce the complexity of the design and consequently increase the production speed, I reduced the size of the two doors to make them practically non-existent, hinged at the front and opening upwards. They had to be made this way because getting into the vehicle was complicated by the presence of the main spars of the chassis, which ran right beneath the doors making it almost impossible to get into the passenger compartment. The low, wrap-around windscreen had to be tiny to maintain the clean lines of the wedge.



Initially I had thought of fitting Naca ducts in the side, as can be seen in a rendering, but then I took them out because they seemed over the top. They were just another complication, one of those solutions that seemed simple to apply but which then make your life difficult.


Everything that was taken away made the car cheaper and easier to build.

In the end the side had a clean line, the only thing protruding slightly were the rear wheel arches, which was necessary to house the very wide tyres.



The most surprising innovation of this Roadster was the roll-bar with a hydraulically driven adjustable cast aluminium fin, which also housed the oil circuit. This style element had three functions: the fin, to adjust the downforce; as an air-air heat exchanger and a protection if the car overturned. It was aesthetically pleasing but there was no follow-up and the solution was never used on other cars.



The idea was actually very spectacular, but also rather unrealistic: if the fin broke, there was a concrete risk of boiling oil pouring onto your head.

The rear engine had eight intake trumpets that poked out of a rectangular opening in the rear, protruding just a little and without ruining the line of the boot, which ended in a vertical K-tail.



This had four rectangular lights fitted longitudinally around an exhaust unit set in an aluminum finned frame to dissipate the heat.


The interior was perhaps even more essential, but with some characteristics that make it unique, with two anatomic seats and the transversal frame supporting the dashboard and the controls. This transversal frame also served as the pipe for the internal air circulation. Its style was very similar to the ultra-modern steering wheel.


The car was not only beautiful but apparently very pleasant to drive, as the racing-style mechanics borrowed from the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale worked like a dream. It’s a shame that it didn’t reach our times, at least not in this shape: the chassis was disassembled and reused for the 1971 Cuneo.


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