It happens very rarely if ever, that a designer gets a chance to freely express himself. Free from the Marketing people with their benchmark comparisons of the competitor's offerings, that produce long “check-lists of features” to follow... Yes, exactly, “to follow”!
Photos courtesy of Zbigniew Maurer Archive
And try to explain them that this practice, while safe and fine for the “followers”, will never result in an original, innovative design and that every designer strives to become a trend-setter rather than a follower. Free from the production engineers with their rigid, platform-based synergies and production-plant related technologies to adopt. They might be satisfactory for the short-sighted economics of production processes but are inherently very limiting for the project. Quite often I had an impression that this great attention paid almost exclusively to the procedures and processes, pushed to the second place the actual final product, the car itself. Free from various “suggestions” which in reality translate into rigid impositions to execute blindly “if you know what's good for you...”. Especially when coming from highly ranked persons, not always competent in design.
Nobody in no Design Center will likely serve you an ideal project in total freedom “on a silver plate”. To paraphrase The Rolling Stones “You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find , you just might find you get what you need”. The Diva project was just that.
It started in a very circumstantial manner, as an off-shoot of the official concept-car project named Sportività Evoluta or Evolved Sportiness.
I was not lucky enough to participate in this very desirable adventure because I was busy leading two “bread and butter” or real production projects, the 938, new “Duetto” spider and 936, Alfa 166 restyling. I can't say I was suffering this exclusion because both mentioned projects were fully absorbing all my energies and were giving me many problems to resolve but also many professional satisfactions. Obviously I was curious about the progress of our Sportività Evoluta concept car project but the more I followed its development the more I realized I didn't quite agree with its philosophy. It was becoming more and more theoretical and detached from the principal rules of good sports car design. It was like a typical “Car Styling School project”, big, heavy and over-complicated. Just the opposite of my idea of Alfa Romeo spirit.
In the meantime some big changes happened. The divorce of Fiat Group and General Motors declared, among other things, the sudden death of my Spider project, already at an advanced stage of industrialization. I have already been used to the fact that a good part of the projects started at Centro Stile would stop at some point of their development but still, it was a hard blow.
I was very personally and emotionally involved in the Spider project. It was my proposal that first won the internal competition at Centro Stile and later with Pininfarina.
Another big change was a sudden change of the responsible of our Centro Stile. As often happens in these occasions, the new boss stopped all the current projects to reorganize them and give them his imprint. This included the Sportivita Evoluta project. It was re-started from the beginning. For me it was an occasion to express my interpretation of the sportiness in the Alfa Romeo way. I had my ideas ready and clear and they were very different from the “official” project which, even under the new direction of Centro Stile, continued as big and heavy car with big, powerful engine, a typical muscle-car.
My idea was a sophisticated but compact and lightweight sports car, much in the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale spirit. Alfas have always been relatively small and light cars that would often outperform bigger and much more powerful competitors with agility and balanced handling. It was the lap time rather than top speed and acceleration in the straight line that mattered.
The official project that later became 8c Competizione with Ferrari/Maserati-derived power train and chassis, was absorbing all attention and resources of Centro Stile with the lighter version gradually abandoned but never definitively stopped. The only way to continue its development was to work on it myself between other official projects with only occasional and limited help since it didn't have its own project number nor the budget and hence officially it didn't exist. It was hard enough to justify the costs of development of one sports car concept, let alone two!
But this peculiar situation had its bright sides, because it was a “ghost” project, nobody cared to intervene and I enjoyed an almost total freedom in taking decisions, not only in the styling of the exterior shape but also in the general lay-out. It was a perfect example of Total Design and it became a clear homage to the Tipo 33 Stradale.
Now we return to the “white sheet of paper“ situation in which a total freedom can actually be detrimental to the healthy development of any project. To proceed in absence of directives I decided to self-impose a set of strict rules, based on purely technical aspects. It simply followed the traditional Alfa Romeo approach to car design: start with the ideal racing car and then adapt it to the open road use. This was the secret of success of Alfa Romeo sports and granturismo cars in the glorious past. The big problem was that nowadays every competition category is extremely specialized and conditioned by a myriad of peculiar rules what results in racing cars being totally useless outside of their particular category. This situation caused a total detachment of racing cars from road-going cars. So I imagined to design an ideal racing car, not following any specific category but with the only goal to provide the best all-around performance with active driving pleasure in a street-legal, usable and reasonably priced sports car.
Naturally I wanted to keep it as much Alfa Romeo as possible. At this time we still had our V6 “Busso” engine in production, few hundred meters from our Centro Stile, actually it was the very last manufacturing activity of the Arese plant... So it seemed natural to develop the car “around” this engine.
To keep the project feasible I decided to adopt the entire power train from the contemporary 156/147 GTA cars, gearbox, diff and semi-axles included, simply translated backwards to the rear, centrally located position. I preferred this ready, compact and zero development costs solution to the more “purist” architecture with longitudinal engine location and a Hewland or similarly “exotic” transmission with all relative complications. It was my self-imposed synergy. It also guaranteed perfect proportions and ideal position of the driver and passenger in relation to the wheels. I also decided right from the beginning to respect all the ergonomic and regulatory prescriptions, just like on any production car because for me it was not just another concept car but a serious and fully realistic project.
The only “concept” was to prove that it was still possible to design a True Alfa Romeo sports car.