In 1972, Alfa Romeo unveiled a remarkably sophisticated, modern sedan: from a technical perspective, in terms of the adoption of the transaxle layout and the De Dion tube rear suspension; from a design perspective, for its minimalistic lines (courtesy of the brand’s Centro Stile), tapering into a “notable” tail. The Biscione brand vehemently believed in this new model, so much so it took the name of Alfetta from the F1 World Champions in 1950 and ’51: Fangio’s 159 (1951) had De Dion tube rear suspension, hence the name of the new sports sedan.

In the late sixties, Alfa Romeo was deciding how to follow up on the success of the Giulia and especially on its successor, the 1750. What was needed was a medium- to high-end sedan with as sporty a flair as always, to improve on what had come before; this was definitely not an easy feat. New technical solutions were looked into to achieve objectives of performance – a sine qua non for an Alfa Romeo – and to meet requirements for comfort and spaciousness, features that were already expected by the customer base at the time.

The mechanical architecture of the Alfetta revolutionised the technical solution seen in the Giulia, with the exception of the engine, the widely praised four-cylinder twin-shaft, the powertrain in the 1750, with improvements and more power: the gearbox was placed in the rear, together with the clutch, according to the “transaxle” layout, plus the adoption of a “De Dion” tube rear suspension with a “Watt’s” parallelogram linkage. The rear brake discs were placed “on-board”, to reduce the unsprung mass. As such, the dynamics of the Alfetta benefited from a perfectly balanced weight distribution, 50% on each axle. The front had independent suspension with flexible torsion bar components and a rack steering system with adjustable steering wheel.

Automotive styling was changing in the early seventies: instead of curves and grooves as if blown by the wind like the Giulia’s, there was a quest for cleaner lines and marked edges. The interior also came into line with the rest of the body, with more pronounced inclines in the pillars of the sedans too. On the one hand, this resulted in a bolder appearance; on the other, more efficient aerodynamics.

The Alfetta followed, or rather launched, this stylistic trend: minimalistic, compact, assertive lines: the nose was highly tapered, with a very small overhang – seen from in front, it looked like the wheels were an extension of the body. The waistrail was a smooth continuation, with an increased volume in the rear, connected to the interior by a “C” pillar that reinvigorated the entire car, giving an impression of power and robustness. Such a design provided space for five and just as roomy a luggage compartment.

This decision – a stylistic innovation that was taken up widely – was not so much and not only down to the designers’ creativity, more so to the firm belief of Rudolf Hruska, an Austrian engineer called upon to Alfa Romeo by its President Giuseppe Luraghi, for the Alfasud project. It was Giuseppe Chirico himself, commissioned by Hruska to direct the Alfasud project, who would set it out in detail. Hruska believed that four medium-sized suitcases – with dimensions of 720x430x230 mm each, to be precise – should fit into a car’s luggage compartment. The Alfasud’s spacious boot was designed around this idea.

Towards the end of 1969, the first Alfetta and Alfasud prototypes were presented to Alfa Romeo’s top management. As the meeting drew to a close, Hruska pointed out that the Alfetta could not have a less spacious boot than the Alfasud’s. At that point, it became clear that the vaunted four medium-sized suitcases would not all fit into the boot of the Alfetta prototype. It wasn’t high enough; the spare wheel and fuel tank were there, underneath the loading platform. Next time round, the new Alfetta prototype came with a much higher boot, enough for Hruska’s by-then infamous four suitcases.

The positive consequences of the design did not end with capacity: the form of the raised boot and the new connection to the rear window, the incline of which had to be sharper, made a major improvement to aerodynamics.

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