There aren’t terribly many boxy saloons that can pass for bona fide sports cars, and I’ve already written about most of those here already: the little Simcas, the Renault 8, and Fiats 128 and 131.Of course there have also been plenty of rapid Escorts, Lotus Cortinas, tuned-up Vauxhalls and Rootes specials, but those have generally made outward concessions to the forces of aerodynamics, or at least added rally spots or a flimsy spoiler in order to appear sporty. There’s only one saloon that really springs to mind which has made literally no effort to appear sporty, yet has forever been considered so – it’s even featured in my 1969 Hamlyn ‘Little Guide’ to Sports Cars: the Alfa Romeo Giulia, or to be more precise, the Giulia Super Saloon.
Now it may come as news to some people, but once upon a time the Italians churned out films at an astounding rate, and as the famous ‘spaghetti’ western genre began to lose steam, a new wave of action films, known as poliziotteschi, took their place. Taking their cue from the likes of The French Connection and Magnum Force, the poliziotteschi would often focus upon tough cops treading the fine line between law enforcement and vigilantism, brutally thwarting an apparently endless mob of bank robbers, purse-snatchers, drug dealers, pimps, hitmen and, of course, Mafiosi. Now what has this to do with Alfa Giulias you might wonder? Well, as luck would have it a lot of these tough cops, or the baddies they were chasing, drove Giulias – they were ten-a-penny back then and apparently as disposable as spent cartridges – and barely a film passed without several being demolished. Sad yes, but death in action must surely be preferable to a slow and inevitably rusty decline…
Indeed, the poliziotteschi have frozen the Giulia in a period of time when they not only comprised the bulk of the Italian police fleet, but were amongst the most popular domestic cars in production, as is reflected by the fact that the model remained in production for 16 years. The greatness of Giuseppe Scarnati’s design was the simple notion of placing a powerful (1,290 or 1,570 cc) engine in a comparatively light car, which though adhering to the three-box design school, retained a mysteriously low drag-coefficient. This was largely thanks to some very clever aerodynamic touches around the bonnet and windscreen – with its pronounced curvature – and the slight overhang at the rear of the roof, subtle elements which complimented the overall smoothness of the bodywork – no stripes or spoilers needed here.
Handling, as one might expect, was superb, complimented by a five speed ‘box and disc brakes, initially only available on the 1963 racing spec Ti Super – the most sought-after Giulia of them all – but latterly across the range. The Ti Super (Ti being an abbreviation of the racing category Turismo Internazionale) entered production in 1963, and lasted barely two years before the racing department turned its attention to the GTAs, during which time just 501 examples were made. The model featured floor-mounted gear shift (at the time other models had a column shift), three-spoke steering wheel, bucket seats, plexiglass windows in the rear, in addition to which sound-proofing was removed and the bodywork was constructed using thinner gauge steel, all of which added up to a weight saving of 200 kg.
Of course the standard 1,570 cc Giulia was plenty fast enough for everyday use – be it on the school run, as a getaway car or pursuit vehicle – the twin cam engine was good for over 100 mph, as the films attest. Indeed we owe a great debt of thanks to Remy Julienne and his team of stunt drivers, for had they not set about wrecking them en masse – their final moments forever preserved on celluloid – they’d only have wound up rusting in the scrapyards. So if you’ve any doubt in your mind that a boxy car can shift, I’d like to direct your attention to youtube and a few onscreen demonstrations in the likes of Poliziotto Sprint (aka Highway Racer) and La Polizia è sconfitta (aka Stunt Squad).
First published on Discoveryuk.com