Vintage & Classics

Gazelles and Panthers roamed the streets in post-World War II Italy

Alfa Romeo and the Italian police have a 70-year history, which includes this model, the Giulietta.

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

In the fifth episode of "Storie Alda Romeo", the company reveals how, for over 70 years, police officers in Italy have used the company's cars to perform essential job functions. Starting in the 1950s, Alfas were used as call-out vehicles, patrol models in U.S. terms, and became known as the "volanti".

Cars used by the State Police were nicknamed "Panthers" and those of the Carabinieri (military police) earned the nickname "Gazelles". Both terms were flattering and served as metaphors for the vehicles' power and agility.

The first Panther

1900, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Built in 1952, the first Panther was an Alfa Romeo 1900. The Gazelles began production a few years later.

The Alfa Romeo 1900 marked a lot of firsts for its maker. It was the first Alfa to have a self-supporting body and the first left-hand drive model. The car came with a four-cylinder engine, abandoning the six- and eight-cylinder power plants that had proved popular with buyers. The engine was powered by a single carburetor and delivered 80 horsepower (that was a good amount back then).

The 1900 was the first Alfa to be produced on an assembly line, which dropped the production time of one vehicle from 240 hours to 100. Many modern factories have been able to cut this time down to 48 to 72 hours.

It was agile and fast. The car was launched to the public with the slogan "The family car that wins races". It proved popular with buyers. Alfa sold more 1900s alone than the total number of Alfa Romeos it had sold up until the 1900 was produced.

Success in variety

Portello factory, 1900 production

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo attributes much of the 1900's success to product cycle management that is replicated time and time again in the modern market by companies worldwide. Alfa introduced several high-performance variants of the 1900 including the 1900 TI, 1900 C Sprint and Super Sprint, and the 1900 Super, winning important international competitions within their category.

Continued coachbuilder collaboration

BAT  Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Even as the 1900 grew in popularity with the average buyer, the Alfa Romeo continued working with coach builders to launch concept cars, like the Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT) on 1900 mechanics. The BAT was created by Bertone and designed by Franco Scaglione.

The Matta

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The same engine as the one used in the 1900 was also adopted by the Alfa Romeo 1900 M, which is better known as the "Matta". Alfa made two different versions of the Matta from 1951 to 1954, one for civilians and one for military personnel.

It was a 4x4 that achieved 64 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine, which was paired with a four-speed manual gearbox.

In a similar vein as the Willys-Overland MB cum CJ-2A, several variants were produced for the agriculture, firefighting, and road maintenance industries.

The first Gazelle

Giulietta ti, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta was the first Gazelle, which was designed as a patrol vehicle. It came equipped with a radio system so officers could stay in touch with headquarters. Even in most modern police vehicles, radios are a aftermarket accessory.

The Giulietta was shorter, narrower, and lighter than the 1900 and offered buyers a modern exterior that gave owners high levels of comfortability in the cabin. Its aluminum engine delivered 65 horsepower and the car had a maximum speed of 102.5 mph.

The car was a near instant success. It became known as "Italy's sweetheart" and sold over 177,000 units.

At the 1954 Turin Motorshow, a coupe version of the Giulietta debuted. Called the Giulietta Sprint, the model was designed by Bertone to be a low-lying, compact, agile car.

Enter: Giulia

Giulia, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

As popular as Giulietta was, the Giulia was even more so.

The reasons for its popularity started at the front and rear, where, instead of beg but for style, they were designed to be shock-absorbent. This combined with a rigid passenger compartment to give drivers the comfort of knowing that they were in a safe (for its time) car. Many of these innovations were not yet compulsory.

Under the car's hood was a 1.6-litre twin cam engine. It had one one of the lowest coefficients of drag of its time, only 0.34. Alfa Romeo's marketing department capitalized on this, promoting the car as being "designed by the wind".

Sales of the vehicle were beyond expetation. The company sold over 570,000 sales, more than triple those of Giulietta.

Famous police cars

Giulia, "Carabinieri"

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Super was one of the most popular Alfas ever produced and one of the most famous Italian police cars ever produced. Other police cars from the Alfa lineup include the Alfasud, Alfa 75, and Alfetta Alfasud, Alfa 75156. Today, first responders drive the modern Giulia.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross takes its name from the beloved cars.

Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

I wasn't a big car guy growing up. Some kids can tell you the horsepower and engine and endless stats about every car on the road. Or they'll notice the difference in taillights between individual model years, or any of a million other nips and tucks that carmakers do to differentiate their cars.

These days, it's my job to know that stuff, but when I was in high school, I didn't know much — but I knew what a Mitsubishi Eclipse was. As I got ready to write this review, I went back and watched perhaps the most famous 90's-era Mitsubishi Eclipse you could find: Paul Walker's bright green ride in "Fast and the Furious".

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross The car is more traditional up front than it is in the back.Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

The second-generation Eclipse, built from 1995 to 1999, was the best-known (and best-looking) of all the cars, and became a vehicular icon for my generation in no small part to the role it played in "Fast and the Furious". Though I remember the car, I'd forgotten how terrible this movie is. The dialogue is cringeworthy, the cars are absurd (how many gears does that thing have?), and the story is outlandish. But it's still a hoot, and I may end up rewatching the whole series.

But then in 2011, Mitsubishi ended the Eclipse line for good. Or so we thought. Now we have a new one, only the sporty looks and movie-star glamour is long gone. It's called the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and it's... a compact crossover SUV of no particular importance.

That might be a little harsh. It's actually quite an interesting looking vehicle, which is more than can be said for most crossovers. Though the front isn't particularly exciting, the rear has more going for it. There's a dual-window design on the rear tailgate, with a light bar running across the middle. It's very much a love-it-or-hate-it design, but at least it's not boring.

There's a crease running up the doors to the back as well, which looks particularly sharp on the Red Diamond review unit that Mitsubishi sent me for a week. It stickered for $32,720 on the SEL trim, though you can likely negotiate a nice chunk of change off of that at your local Mitsubishi dealer.

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross The touch screen is okay but the trackpad that is used to navigate it is detrimental.Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

Feature-wise, the Eclipse Cross is well-equipped, with a tiny 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower. That's not a ton of power, but for a family crossover it's plentiful and turns in a combined 25 miles per gallon.

Mine had the $2,100 Touring Package, which kicks in a lovely panoramic sunroof, the ever-important adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection and auto-braking, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and some other minor additions.

If you look at the feature list, the Eclipse Cross is a solid vehicle. The interior design is a little rougher, with hard plastic everywhere and not-so-luxurious touch points. The trackpad to control the screen is terrible, as are the up/down buttons to control the dual-zone climate control (though the heated seats work excellently).

The infotainment screen could be bigger, and the dash screen needs some polish. The engine gets the job done, but it's not exactly quiet. It's a middle-of-the-road crossover. It does what it's supposed to do. You can get it for a good price and it's well-equipped.

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Photo courtesy of Cars & Bids

When it was new in 2005, this Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG Kompressor was merely a traditional G-Wagon with a hand-built, supercharged AMG 5.5-liter V8 under the hood, a boxy body, and a rigid frame that only those that scoot around L.A.'s smooth streets could love.

But then someone (read: not the current owner) had an idea.: 6x6 it. So, Squared Customs did.

The now six-wheeled utility vehicle has an extensive list of modifications. Its exterior is finished in a Designo Magno Matte Gray paint job and accented by carbon fiber fenders, snorkel, and hood scoop. There's also full differential locks, portal axles, forged wheels, and fresh exterior lighting. The bed is made of composite decking.

2005 Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG 6x6: 6x6 conversion, plus many other modifications

Photo courtesy of Cars & Bids

The ute's dimensions match a traditional 6x6 from the manufacturer.

The original engine, which produces 469 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, and five-speed automatic transmission have not been altered. It also has its original Brabus bi-xenon black headlights.

The upgraded interior features black quilted leather upholstery and carbon fiber trim. It also has a 5.0-inch infotainment touch screen, navigation, a Harman/Kardon premium audio system, power-adjustable front and rear seats with memory, heated front and rear seats, automatic climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, and SmartKey.

The model is currently up for sale on Cars & Bids. With six days left in the auction, the bids are up to $47,000 at the time of publication.

The seller, out of Deerfield Beach, Florida, reports that despite its 15-year age, the ute only has 97,800 miles on the odometer. It comes with two keys and an owners manual.

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