It takes a spe­cial owner to fas­tid­i­ously re­store a rare clas­sic – but then this Alfa Giulietta Sprint is like no other

Classic Sports Car - - Contents - WORDS MICK WALSH PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JAMES MANN

Mick Walsh sam­ples a rare pro­to­type of Alfa Romeo’s bench­mark coupé

Most ma­jor restora­tion projects are a chal­lenge, but when a car is the old­est-sur­viv­ing ex­am­ple with hun­dreds of hand­made, pre­pro­duc­tion dif­fer­ences the task be­comes much more in­volved, as Alfa Romeo en­thu­si­ast Paul Gre­gory dis­cov­ered. When a blue Giulietta Sprint pro­to­type was launched to the pub­lic in April 1954 at the Turin show, Alfa had no idea of the de­mand the bril­liant 1290cc, 65bhp GT would achieve, and af­ter a few days or­ders had to be sus­pended. To cope with the over­whelm­ing sales, the car was rushed into pre-pro­duc­tion late in 1954 with a se­ries of hand­built cars co-pro­duced by Alfa, Ber­tone (body­work) and Ghia (in­te­rior and electrics). Later builds fo­cused around Ber­tone, with work sub­con­tracted to myr­iad ar­ti­san spe­cial­ists near Turin, be­fore a new pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity was com­pleted at Grugliasco. To raise ex­tra funds, even a bond ticket scheme was set up for early or­ders, with a blind­folded boy draw­ing out the num­bers be­fore the press.

How many of these so-called ‘tran­si­tion’ Gi­uli­et­tas were built re­mains a mys­tery, with es­ti­mates rang­ing from 200-1000. Chas­sis 24, the turquoise beauty fea­tured here, is be­lieved to be the old­est sur­vivor and has body num­ber 16 stamped and etched all over its in­ner skin.

It might ini­tially look like a stan­dard early Sprint, but de­tails such as the lower roof, curved rear whee­larch and lack of badg­ing give clues to a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory that in­cludes an or­der from a young Swedish racer called Jo Bon­nier. The 25-year-old came from a wealthy pub­lish­ing fam­ily and, af­ter study­ing at Ox­ford for a year, he had de­cided to pur­sue a mo­tor-rac­ing ca­reer as well as deal­ing in sports cars in Swe­den. The de­ter­mined young­ster al­ready had links with Alfa, hav­ing ice-raced and ral­lied var­i­ous 1900s in­clud­ing a Disco Volante, and later drove a Giulietta Sprint Al­leg­gerita on the 1956 Mille Miglia, the year he en­tered For­mula One.

From its com­ple­tion date on 5 Jan­uary 1955, the early his­tory of 00024 re­mains a mys­tery. Af­ter his or­der was con­firmed, Bon­nier waited un­til May be­fore his me­chanic KG ‘Kage’ Kan­rell drove the daz­zling new Giulietta back from Italy on Mi­lan plates. The com­pact Blu Chiaris­simo coupé was prob­a­bly the first in Swe­den, and no doubt cre­ated a stir around Stockholm be­fore Bon­nier sold it to Ivan Blom, a wealthy com­pany di­rec­tor, well known in Swedish rac­ing cir­cles. “We think it was used by Bon­nier for demon­stra­tions, but we found no ev­i­dence of com­pe­ti­tion,” con­cludes Gre­gory.

Frus­trat­ingly, Stockholm reg­is­tra­tion records were de­stroyed in ’55, but with the help of lo­cal Al­fisti, Gre­gory has pieced to­gether its own­er­ship his­tory. In 1963, 00024 was ac­quired by Bo Dahlström, a Stockholm-based lo­cal who lived life to the full, tak­ing the Alfa on var­i­ous dates, but over the win­ter he rolled it on snow-cov­ered roads. The Giulietta wasn’t badly dam­aged, but dur­ing the body re­pairs it was re­sprayed a dif­fer­ent blue and re­trimmed. Over the years the car was up­graded to later spec­i­fi­ca­tion in­clud­ing the en­gine, while a floor-mounted five-speed gear­box re­placed the col­umn change be­fore it was taken off the road in the 1980s.

As with so many restora­tion projects, this Giulietta Sprint found saviour Gre­gory al­most by ac­ci­dent. Since 1971 this re­spected en­gi­neer has been ad­dicted to Al­fas, start­ing with a ’64

‘De­tails such as the lower roof, curved rear whee­larch and lack of badg­ing give clues to its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory’

Gi­u­lia Sprint GT: “I was look­ing for some­thing more prac­ti­cal for my com­mute and spot­ted it in Ex­change & Mart. I later re­built the en­gine in the kitchen. Like all Al­fas it was me­chan­i­cally won­der­ful but the body started crum­bling away. My friend Nick Sav­age in­tro­duced me to ear­lier Gi­uli­et­tas and I’ve been hooked ever since. For me it’s a nicer car than a 105 se­ries. With just enough grip to be in­volv­ing but not at stupid speeds, it’s the per­fect pack­age. Great en­gine, good brakes, su­perb steer­ing and beau­ti­ful aes­thet­ics. From just 1290cc, it’ll pull over 100mph and cruise hap­pily at 80mph.”

Gre­gory’s pas­sion for Gi­uli­et­tas even­tu­ally led to him edit­ing the club mag­a­zine and his elec­tion to club chair­man. Hold­ing that ded­i­cated po­si­tion meant he re­ceived tele­phone calls from mem­bers right across the world, in­clud­ing sev­eral from Swe­den: “In 2006 I was con­tacted by Axel Lind from Sävedalen, a sub­urb of Gothen­burg. He phoned to say he had a very early Sprint and needed a val­u­a­tion. My es­ti­mate for in­sur­ance had been gen­er­ous, and 12 months later Axel made con­tact again to re­port that he was think­ing of sell­ing the car.”

The idea of an early car ap­pealed and im­me­di­ately Gre­gory con­tacted spe­cial­ist Chris Robin­son and pal Sav­age about a trip to Swe­den to in­ves­ti­gate: “It was just as Axel had de­scribed the con­di­tion. Some­one had started the restora­tion in the 1970s but thank­fully hadn’t spoilt the car. I had no idea I was about to be­come a self­con­fessed anorak on the early cars, but the process of learn­ing has been great fun.”

The hand­made early con­struc­tion be­came very clear as soon as the paint was re­moved from the body­work: “The stan­dard of work­man­ship was high and very labour-in­ten­sive. The body was made of fab­ri­cated pan­els, which were skill­fully formed and welded to­gether. Once stripped, all the body pieces and fil­lets of beaten and shaped metal be­came clear. For ref­er­ence, we marked out all the sec­tions for a pho­to­graph to record the con­struc­tion.”

John Holden of The Old Coach­works in Over Wal­lop took on the task of the body­work, where Gre­gory’s big­gest chal­lenge was to con­vince this per­fec­tion­ist not to im­prove on the orig­i­nal work­man­ship. “The body was sand­blasted be­cause I didn’t want to dip it,” says Gre­gory. “With none of the struc­tural mem­bers of the later pro­duc­tion Sprints it was a lit­tle floppy, but from the start we de­cided to re­turn it as closely as pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion, just as it left Car­rozze­ria Ber­tone. Ul­ti­mately that task was fas­ci­nat­ing and frus­trat­ing in equal mea­sure.”

The re­build quickly re­vealed the na­ture of its con­struc­tion, with sur­pris­ing bodges in pre­vi­ously un­seen places, such as the front bumper brack­ets and floor. From the fab­ri­cated chas­sis legs and front frame to the flat sheet for the rear bulk­head, the se­crets of its hand-crafted in­ner struc­ture were re­vealed: “There’s lit­tle stiff­en­ing and even the tops of the shock-ab­sorber columns just used folded metal for re­in­force­ment. The in­side of the boot was re­ally patch­work, and the sim­ple door con­struc­tion was folded box­sec­tions. The prop­shaft cover had been crudely ham­mered down just to make the seats fit prop­erly. When the door trims were re­made, we also dis­cov­ered that the door lengths dif­fered by 10mm on each side. It pained John to leave such bodg­ing in the in­ter­ests of preser­va­tion.”

Once the body was re­paired, the shell was sent to Sean Wat­son, also of The Old Coach­works, for the paint­work to be done. Although the car

had been re­sprayed blue and later red, ev­i­dence of the bold orig­i­nal Blu Chiaris­simo (clear blue) was dis­cov­ered in­side the glove­box. “We tracked down the orig­i­nal code, AR310, which turned out to be a pretty lively blue with a hint of green,” says Gre­gory. “I was ap­pre­hen­sive about the tone at first, but since it was sprayed in au­then­tic Lech­ler cel­lu­lose and fit­ted out with the grey trim, I’ve grown to love it.”

The in­te­rior’s unique de­tails pro­vided more chal­lenges but, although the door pan­els had been changed, the orig­i­nal seat frames and cov­ers were dis­cov­ered un­der­neath a later re­trim. “The style was unique to the first 100 cars,” says Gre­grory. “We sent the sam­ple to Humphries Weav­ing of Sud­bury, who did a su­perb job of re­mak­ing the fab­ric. None of the car­pets were left so these also had to be re­made us­ing early pho­to­graphs. The head­lin­ing and sun­vi­sors were trimmed with grey cloth.” With the dis­tinc­tive early-style, body-coloured painted dash­board and lower-hinged glove­box, the fin­ished re­sult looks very stylish. You can just imag­ine the re­ac­tion on open­ing the door on the Alfa stand when the pro­to­type Sprint was un­veiled at the Turin show in April 1954.

The wind­screen for the early cars is a dif­fer­ent size due to the lower roof pro­file and the higher bot­tom edge. The miss­ing front glass had to be spe­cially formed by Pilk­ing­ton Au­to­mo­tive’s clas­sic de­part­ment on the Isle of Shep­pey: “They were re­ally help­ful. The first at­tempt didn’t quite fit. We took it back sev­eral times so they could grind off more glass and put it back in the oven for a few days to re­shape it.” The green-tinted rear screen thank­fully just re­quired a pol­ish, but all the sides were too scratched, and had to be re­cut. For the fi­nal touch, the ‘Vitrex’ logo was etched into the re­place­ment win­dows.

The next chal­lenge was the en­gine be­cause the orig­i­nal had long since been re­placed. Again the cast­ing of the early 750 se­ries is dif­fer­ent, with nar­row ver­ti­cal strength­en­ing ribs, unique front cover stud spac­ing, and a con­trast­ing back­plate: “As with many of the Giulietta’s re­vi­sions, changes were made fol­low­ing cus­tomer prob­lems. Thank­fully, I even­tu­ally found an early block in Italy through Clau­dio Gior­getti.”

Gre­gory’s pur­suit of au­then­tic­ity con­tin­ued through­out the me­chan­i­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tion. A Solex 32PAIAT twin-choke carb was sourced, but the early man­i­fold had to be made from scratch us­ing fac­tory draw­ings and pho­to­graphs: “We knew it would ham­per per­for­mance, but it had to look cor­rect. Solex 32 parts also proved dif­fi­cult, so we’ve now made our own jets. To com­plete the en­gine bay I re­ally wanted an early coal-scut­tle-style air cleaner rather than the later can­is­ter type. Again, my Swedish friends came to the res­cue. Chris Robin­son did a su­per job of re­build­ing the en­gine while I set about the chal­leng­ing task of find­ing parts.”

The first Giulietta Sprints had a cable-pull starter mounted un­der the dash, so Gre­gory had to fit this early de­sign. Set­ting up the starter pin­ion slide to en­gage the fly­wheel proved dif­fi­cult: “There’s no Bendix, and af­ter care­ful ad­just­ment we fi­nally sorted it. It soon be­came clear why the de­sign was su­per­seded.” An­other mys­tery fea­ture of the early Gi­uli­et­tas was the fit­ting of Lucas electrics in­clud­ing dy­namo, dis­trib­u­tor, coil and starter: “It’s amaz­ing that Alfa didn’t use an Ital­ian sup­plier such as Mag­neti, but maybe tim­ing was the prob­lem. Early en­gine pho­tos show the coil mounted on the front of the head, but dur­ing test­ing the

fac­tory quickly found that heat and vi­bra­tions caused prob­lems. This was soon re­placed by the fuel pump high at the front of the en­gine. We’ve re­tained this but to make it more drive­able we’ve fit­ted a modern pump at the back to avoid prob­lems with vapouri­sa­tion and modern fu­els.”

For the wheels, the Fer­gat Torino orig­i­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion was re­stored. These fea­ture rolled rims, which were used up to 1955 but were later changed by Alfa Romeo due to cor­ro­sion prob­lems. A suc­cess­ful search for a set of early hub­caps with 72mm badges was an­other fi­nal de­tail to com­plete the project. Cos­metic touches in­cluded mak­ing a tool­kit bag af­ter sourc­ing orig­i­nal-style can­vas and track­ing down a set of fac­tory tools at con­sid­er­able cost. “I’ve bought cars for less,” jokes Gre­gory.

“A Giulietta Reg­is­ter mem­ber kindly found me an orig­i­nal provvi­so­rio in­struc­tion man­ual, while Claus Men­zel helped source a cor­rect orig­i­nal jack.” The fi­nal touch was a set of pe­riod-style Ital­ian plates sourced via an Amer­i­can spe­cial­ist based in Florida.

There was fur­ther fet­tling un­til the his­toric day when 00024 drove for the first time in four decades: “Af­ter some fine-tun­ing to the ig­ni­tion and the jet­ting on the Solex car­bu­ret­tor it ran well. With the small-bore ex­haust sys­tem it pro­duced a lovely note. Chris wanted to up­grade the sus­pen­sion, but I love the soft ride qual­ity. The col­umn change is a lit­tle rub­bery, but with ad­di­tional miles it’s get­ting bet­ter.”

Gre­gory and Robin­son clocked up the first 400 miles on lo­cal Hamp­shire roads as the de­bug­ging con­tin­ued. Again the de­ter­mi­na­tion to keep the car au­then­tic proved a chal­lenge: “A frus­trat­ing vi­bra­tion was traced to the prop­shaft fork sup­port. The cen­tring de­sign was made of alu­minium, which was later su­per­seded by a stronger steel ver­sion. Again it would have been easy just to mod­ify but, amaz­ingly, AFRA sourced an orig­i­nal re­place­ment.” Where Gior­getti finds these in­cred­i­bly rare parts is a mys­tery, but his AFRA fam­ily busi­ness in Mi­lan has links to Alfa that date back to 1946.

The re­stored car is still run­ning in, with a rev limit of 3500rpm, so the per­for­mance has yet to be fully tested: “It’s frus­trat­ing be­cause this is the point at which the en­gine comes on cam. The early cars were con­sid­er­ably lighter than the pro­duc­tion ver­sions and it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to fi­nally get it on a weigh­bridge. At some stage the car was fit­ted with a 10/41 back axle which might prove a lit­tle slug­gish with just 65bhp, so I have a re­place­ment 9/41 on the shelf just in case.”

Since com­ple­tion, 00024 has been proudly ex­hib­ited in the ro­tunda at the RAC’S Pall Mall Club­house, where it was much ad­mired. Other out­ings have in­cluded the Con­cours of El­e­gance at Hamp­ton Court Palace, but Gre­gory’s not a con­cours man and has al­ways pre­ferred us­ing his cars: “The predica­ment is that it’s too im­por­tant a car to use as a daily driver. It re­ally should be dis­played in the Alfa mu­seum at Arese, but I hate the idea of it be­ing locked up.”

So far it ap­pears that 00024 is the ear­li­est sur­vivor of the first batch of Sprints: “Ten cars were com­pleted be­fore mine, and noth­ing has popped up yet. But you never know – there could still be one out there stashed away in an Ital­ian barn.” Col­lec­tor Cor­rado Lo­presto has chas­sis 002, but this is lit­tle more than a chas­sis plate be­cause the car was reshelled in 1958 by the fac­tory and re­built to Ve­loce spec­i­fi­ca­tion for Ed­uardo We­ber. The gen­eral opin­ion is that this was a tax dodge for a trusted sup­plier.

The ul­ti­mate fu­ture of this beau­ti­ful car is un­de­cided. For now, Gre­gory and his tal­ented team of spe­cial­ists should feel very proud of their achieve­ment. The decade-long project is the per­fect trib­ute to the orig­i­nal de­sign team, en­gi­neers and ar­ti­sans who cre­ated a car that changed the course of Alfa Romeo’s his­tory. Ev­ery one of chas­sis 00024’s early hand­made fea­tures tells a vivid story, and the ded­i­ca­tion to pre­serve them says ev­ery­thing about Gre­gory’s in­spir­ing pas­sion for Gi­uli­et­tas.

Paul Gre­gory’s at­ten­tion to de­tail is se­cond to none and it has hand­somely paid off in this labour-of-love project, which has taken 10 years to com­plete

‘Our’ car is one of these Ber­tone shells be­ing pre­pared in De­cem­ber ’54. Above: Lucas electrics mimic those of the orig­i­nal

Ital­ian-style num­ber­plate is the ic­ing on the cake. Right: pe­riod-cor­rect lug­gage adds to the look. Above: dap­per owner Bo Dahlström pic­tured in ’63

Body-coloured dash­board and lower-hinged glove­box mark out this chic coupé as a very early ex­am­ple; col­umn gearchange has now been re­in­stated

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