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With faithful DNA, an Italian spider and a refugee who fled the Nazis conquered Hollywood

The Alfa Romeo 1660 Spider was launched in the U.S. in 1966.

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Steve McQueen didn't just lust over Fords and Porsches. He was fan of cars both fast and furious. "It is a very forgiving car. Very pretty, too," McQueen said when describing the Alfa Romeo 1600 in the summer of 1966. He'd been invited by Sports Illustrated to try the Italian car, one of the first Alfa Romeo 1600 Spiders that made their way stateside.

That wasn't the only encounter that the Duetto had with Hollywood elite. Its popularity was all predicted, and carefully planned, by Max Edwin Hoffman. Hoffman fled Austria for the United States as Nazism rose as World War II picked up steam. Hoffman was a former race car driver who became a vehicle importer for European cars. But, he was more than that.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider shipment Alfa Romeo readies Giulietta Spiders for shipment to the U.S. in n1955, 11 years before the Duetto would arrive stateside.Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Companies trusted Hoffman to give advice on the U.S. market. His advice shaped not just the market but also the creation of the cars he would eventually import, including the Duetto. According to the automaker,

"He began asking Alfa Romeo for her in 1954, immediately after the launch of the Giulietta Sprint. He felt it would become the perfect car for the Pacific Coast, convinced that everyone in Hollywood would want one. So confident was he of its success that he said he was willing to buy several hundred, even before he had seen the final designs."

Hoffmann convinced Francesco Quaroni, the head of Alfa Romeo, and Rudolf Hruska, the company's engineer, to develop the project. Two Italian automobile design houses competed against each other to create their vision of the car - Bertone and Pinin Farina. Bertone had an extreme vision that featured Franco Scaglione's "2000 Sportiva" concept with a pointed front, streamlined headlights and rear fins. Pinin Farina's proposal was designed by Franco Martinengo.

1995 Alfa Romeo Duetto prototype A 1955 prototype of the car that would become the Duetto .Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo chose the Pinin Farina design because of its overall elegance and the classic balance of its shapes in keeping with the company's DNA - "The beautiful young lady", as Pinin Farina described it. The design began with a panoramic windshield, descending side windows, equipped door panels, folding roof, external handles, and a fresh interior design.

The spider's version of the car was equipped with the Duetto's 1,290 cc four-cylinder engine. it delivered 65 horsepower and could achieve up to 96 mph.

To make a splash with the U.S. market, Alfa Romeo's team organized a transatlantic luxury cruise liner for the car's launch and they invited some of the most famous celebrities in the worlds of business, sports, and fashion. All told, 1,300 VIPs were on-board including actor Vittorio Gassman, actress Rossella Falk and the soprano Anna Moffo. The Italian cruiseliner sailed from Genoa to New York, with a stopover in Cannes for the annual film festival. During the entire cruise, three examples of the new Spider were displayed on the ship's bridge: one green, one white and one red.

Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 Aboard the Raffaello ship o the Duetto's launch cruise.Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo described the car as flexible, young, and quick.

The same could be said for Muhammad Ali, who rattled off the phrase "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see. Now you see me, now you don't. George thinks he will, but I know he won't," as he talked to reporters ahead of The Rumble in the Jungle where he fought George Forman in 1974. He memorialized the words by customizing the license plate on his Duetto to read "Ali Bee".

Seven years earlier Dustin Hoffman filmed "The Graduate" where he drove a Duetto full speed to the music of Simon & Garfunkel. The 1960 Fellini film "La Dolce Vida" starred Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, and a Duetto. It was Alain Delon's car in "The Eclipse".

Flexible, young, quick and beautiful, the Duetto was adored by the cinema. Fellini gave her a role in "La Dolce Vita", Antonioni chose her as Alain Delon's car in "L'Éclipse".

Alfa Romeo Duetto 1990 The Alfa Romeo spider's run lasted several decades. Shown here is a 1990 model.Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo would end up producing four generations of the Duetto. More than 124,000 models were produced over 28 years making it the longest living car in Alfa Romeo's history.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The SF90 Spider is one of the most powerful production turbo V8 Ferrari has ever made.

Photo courtesy of Ferrari

Most spiders aren't known for their quickness. This spider is. The just-revealed Ferrari SF90 Spider may be the company's first plug-in hybrid electric convertible, but it hasn't lost any steps when compared to its older fraternal twin, the SF90 Stradale.

Ferrari has chosen a retractable hardtop for its noise insulation properties. It also delivers protection from the elements and doesn't deform at high speed. The hardtop takes up significantly more space than a ragtop roof, with just 100 liters of space occupied compared to 150-200 liters. The roof can be opened in just 14 seconds and can be deployed while the vehicle is in motion. When the roof is deployed, the sides, front, and tail of the SF90 Spider have the same styling as the SF90 Stradale.

2021 Ferrari SF90 Spider With its roof deployed, the Ferrari SF90 Spider has the same lines as the SF90 Stradale.Photo courtesy of Ferrari

Buyers can get their SF90 Spider with the track driving-centric Assetto Fiorano pack, which features Mulitmatic shock absorbers that were derived from Ferrari's GT racing exerpience, a carbon fiber rear spoiler, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. By checking the box, buyers also get an optional two-tone livery that delivers race-ready looks.

Powering the SF90 Spider is a turbocharged V8 engine that is paired with three electric motors (two up front, one at the rear). That gives it 986 horsepower combined, more than any other Ferrari turbo V8 ever built. Ferrari has paired the engine with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Ferraris are known for having a throaty gurgle out the backside and despite its electrified powertrain, the SF90 Spider is no exception. A hot tube system transfers exhaust system sound directly into the cockpit producing a rich rumble.

The car features regenerative braking. Under normal braking conditions, energy is recovered using electric motors. The hydraulic braking system supports the electric system under deceleration conditions. At high speed, the combined contribution of the electric motors lowers the engine's response time, improving performance

2021 Ferrari SF90 Spider

Photo courtesy of Ferrari

There are two steering wheel-mounted selectors on the SF90 Spider - the traditional Manettino and eManettino. The eManettino offers four modes (descriptions by Ferrari):

  • eDrive - The internal combustion engine remains off and traction is entrusted entirely to the electric front axle. Starting with a fully charged battery (with a capacity of 9 kWh), the car can cover up to 25 km in this mode which is ideal for city-centre driving or any other situation in which the driver wishes to eliminate the sound of the Ferrari V8. The 135 km/h speed limit means the car can also be used on out-of-town roads;
  • Hybrid - This setting optimizes the system's overall efficiency. The control logic autonomously decides whether to keep the internal combustion engine running or turn it off. Power flow from the electric motors is limited to conserve battery power;
  • Performance - This mode keeps the ICE running because the priority is more on charging the battery than on efficiency. This guarantees that power is instantly and fully available when required. This mode is best suited to situations in which driving pleasure and fun behind the wheel are the main focus.
  • Qualify - This mode allows the system to achieve maximum power output by letting the electric motors work at their maximum potential (162kW). The control logic prioritizes maximum performance over battery charging.

Ferrari honed the car's power and underpinnings to ensure that drivers can enjoy their time behind the wheel at all times, not just on a track day. Due to the hybrid powertrain, extensive work had to be put in to the traction control system, torque vectoring technology, and brake-by-wire control system. They also completely redesigned the car's chassis from the SF90 Stradale to deal with the extra stress associated with the new power unit.

Just as much attention was paid to the car's aerodynamics, downforce, and cooling so that the roof and powertrain would not encumber the ride and drive experience.

Inside, the car is just as modern. The redesign of Ferrari's infotainment system allows for instrumental to be predominately digital with all the screens going completely black when the car is not running. The screens come to life when the engine stop/start button on the steering wheel is pressed. The instrument cluster is made up of a 16-inch curved screen.

Innovations are found throughout the cabin. The wheel now allows for touch commands to activate so that drivers don't have to take their hands off the wheel to make adjustments. The gearshift has been altered away from the F1 bridge and toward the design of Ferrari's manual gearboxes.

At the bottom of the center tunnel is a compartment for stowing the car's ignition key, which is an exact replica of the Ferrari Prancing Horse badge. The key works in full keyless mode so that the driver can not only start the ignition but also open the doors without taking it out of their pocket.

If you want a SF90 Spider, you'll want to head to your local dealership ASAP to put your name down (after you ensure you'll be able to afford the likely $500,000+ price tag).

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Restoration shop Thornley Kelham has transformed this 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing.

Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham

Reknowned vintage car restoration specialist Thornley Kelham has transformed a rare 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing to its former glory. The result is a product of very detailed owner instructions: it should be perfect, period-correct and finished in anything but silver.

In the 1950s, the 300L was designed as the result of Mercedes-Benz's decision to develop their own sports-racing car. They used the engine, transmission, suspension, and steering from the existing 300 saloon car. The result was the 1952 Mercedes-Benz W194 powered by a 3.0-liter straight-six. That was enough power and performance to earn the car victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Eifelrennen at Nürburgring, and Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. Just 10 examples of the car were made.

Jon Lord Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing English keyboard player Jon Lord (1941-2012) from rock band Deep Purple poses with a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing coupe sports car overlooking Los Angeles, USA in June 1975. Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

The 300SL Gullwing coupe was the company's road-going version of the race car. It was powered by an engine similar to the race car and could get up to 163 mph making it the fastest production car of its time. It was in this car that Mercedes used the "SL" designation for the first time - it stands for "super light".

Interestingly, the car was not originally part of the Mercedes model plan. It was Max Hoffman, the Manhattan car dealer responsible for Porsche and the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia coming to America, who made the suggestion to Mercedes.

The car won many fans in its heyday, with over 3,200 coupe and roadster versions of the 300SL sold. Among the car's owners were some of the best-known royal figures, government leaders, artists, and celebrities of the day including the Shah of Iran, Juan Peron, Pablo Picasso, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Yul Brenner, and Frank Lloyd Wright. In the years since, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, designer Ralph Lauren, and King Abdullah II of Jordan have called one of the models their own.

The 300SL Gullwing that made its way to Thornley Kelham's headquarters in the Cotswolds, following a stopover in France in the early days of its life, has resided in the U.K. since 1981. According to a release, its early history isn't very well documented, but a 1971 inspection carried out as it transferred owners revealed it to be in "perfect condition".

1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

Photo courtesy of Thornley Kelham

By 2020, that was not the case. The Coupe had arrived at the shop with Roadster parts, the result of a shoddy repair following a front-end collision. Luckily, the frame was in good condition though the engine was in need of rebuilding. Sourcing as many original parts as possible was key, as was the careful adjustment of the wheel arches, which proved particularly delicate. The owner has opted to remove the bumpers from the car for a more streamlined appearance.

The car also needed to be painted and trimmed to the client's specifications. This meant putting a period-correct Horizon Blue paint job on the model and finishing the interior with blue plaid non-leather upholstery.

"Restoring a Gullwing is a huge responsibility, and restoring a Gullwing for a Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance judge like our client also comes with a fair bit of pressure. When you're working with a car as rare and iconic as this, originality and accuracy is absolutely crucial," said Simon Thornley, co-founder of Thornley Kelham. "We spent hundreds of hours getting the details of this car exactly right, while making sure it adheres to the same standard that every car we work on does – it has to look good, drive well and is made to last. This car has been enjoyed for over 60 years now, and we're delighted to have extended its lifetime for many more years of pleasure for its owners."

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