Celebrities

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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Family driving

Can your family live with a convertible?

Convertibles are fun, but can your family handle the size and driving experience?

BMW

Testing convertibles is always great fun, but they sometimes show up when the weather isn't ideal. Here in Maine, our drop-top driving season is fleeting, which can make for a tricky time driving with the top down. This year, however, a 2021 BMW 430i Convertible showed up in early August and I had an entire week of sun to soak up in the open air. I have two children, however, and own a three-row SUV to haul them, their friends, and all the accompanying gear. Squeezing into a convertible is possible and even fun at times, but it got me thinking: Could a convertible be a car we could live with on a daily basis? The answer for me is no, but there's more to the story, and I'm certainly not ruling out a drop-top purchase for my family at some point in the future.

Of course, none of this came as a surprise to me. Last year, I tested the BMW M850i Convertible, and while it was a blast, there was nothing about it that screamed "family car." This BMW is no different, but my younger daughter's shift to a booster seat from a full-size harness car seat made the back-seat fit for both of my kids much easier. Now, it's a little easier to see how the 430i Convertible could be a perfect weekend or summer car for a family that is already set with roomy daily drivers.

Here's how owning a convertible might play out for your family.


2021 BMW 430i Convertible The BMW 430i Convertible is premium, inside and out.BMW

Open-Top Fun – At a Cost

This BMW's price tag lands in the mid-$50,000 range with a few desirable options, which is about right for a premium brand convertible. There are much cheaper options to be had, however, in the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro. Both cars come in a convertible format and can be found for around half the price of the BMW. There are performance and luxury penalties when moving to the less expensive options, but for most people the draw of a convertible is the open-top experience itself. You don't absolutely need screaming performance or a top-notch interior to get the full convertible experience.

Good in Small Doses

My kids are over the moon about riding in a convertible for a while, and then spend the rest of the time complaining about noise, bugs, and wind. Rolling the side windows up helps, and models with a retractable rear windscreen are even better, but the reality is that some kids are not the best at dealing with outside-the-norm car experiences. More often than not, we'd end up driving for half an hour or so with the top down, a few more minutes with the windows up, and then the rest of the time with the top closed. That's no fun in a small car that feels even smaller with the top up.


2021 BMW 430i Convertible If your kids are like mine, the open-top experience comes with some tradeoffs.BMW

Weather Woes

I get that most of you don't live in Maine like I do, and that your spring, summer, and fall months extend longer throughout the year. You're able to enjoy the open-top driving experience more often than those of us in New England, but there will still be times that driving a convertible is less than enjoyable. If you live in Florida, for instance, how often are you going to want to drive with the top down when it's 90 degrees with 80 percent humidity under the bright sun? Even with the wind in your hair, that will get old. Keep this in mind if you're shopping for a convertible.

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Alfa Romeo's new headquarters is open for business.

Photo courtesy of Stellantis

Alfa Romeo, one of the many brands in the Stellantis portfolio, has opened its new headquarters. The historically Italian automaker will remain in Italy near its sister brands Maserati and Fiat.

The location of its new headquarters, called Centro Stile, is in Turin. The new headquarters is a redeveloped portion of the company's original Mirafiori plant.The plant first opened in 1939 and was, for a time, the largest Italian industrial complex. It was heavily damaged during World War II before being rebuilt to double its original size. Around 29 million vehicles have been produced at the plant since then, including the Maserati Levante.

The renovated space includes an open concept design with shared work spaces that are designed to facilitate teamwork and improve daily interaction between the Alfa Romeo design team and other aspects of the company's business unit.

Alfa Romeo's new Centro Stile

Photo courtesy of Stellantis

Decorators have added to the space with tokens representing the history of the brand and employees have added personal effects related to their professional experiences. The idea is to have a space that intermingles history with personal involvement and future ambitions.

Alfa Romeo is at a unique turning point in its history. The company currently produces the Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV for sale globally. They were expected to unveil the Alfa Romeo Tonale compact crossover this summer but it has been pushed back, allegedly because Alfa's new CEO, Jean-Phillippe Imparato, was not happy with the direction it's headed. Another crossover, smaller than the Tonale and possibly named the Brennero, will debut in 2023.

The company is currently adapting its platform strategy to align with emissions standards and goals established with European countries as well as China and the U.S., among others. This includes ditching the platform that the current Giulia rides on for a new set of electrified architecture underpinnings in four different sizes.

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