CARS AS ART – MUSEO STORICO ALFA ROMEO

Four months ago, when I sat down to write about the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale and the concepts it spawned, did I think I would ever get the chance to clap eyes on the cars, let alone four months down the track? Absolutely not. Despite so, in mid-May I had the chance to drop into the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo; in Queens English, the Alfa Romeo Museum. Situated in Arese, the outskirts of Milan, a couple underground trips through Milan’s rather complicated subway system (maybe my broken Italian isn’t as good as I thought), and I find myself at the steps of the unassuming building, grinning like a kid on Christmas.

The Museo Storico Alfa Romeo does something different to any other car museum; it treats its cars as art. Far too many car museums put little effort into actually displaying their cars, simply lining them up and stringing a velvet rope across the lot. The Alfa museum couldn’t be any more different, playing host to only around 60 vehicles, each is given room to command their enormous presence, free from ropes, barriers or other Alfa’s parked alongside. Entire rooms have as few as seven cars each; put simply, it’s the Guggenheim of car museums.

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Before you’ve even scanned your tickets at the front gate you’re eye to eye with the Alfa Romeo Navajo, the Cuneo, a one-off Zagato bodied GT, the Montreal concept, the Caimano, and an 8C clay model. If that’s what adorns the front gate, you know you’re in for a treat. Continuing past early pre-war aircraft engines and a smattering of gloriously ramshackle prototype rally cars, you’re into the museums recently opened modern additions.

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Around 10 cars sidle across the floor in a lazy semi-circle, every type of car present from Alfa’s earliest, through Mille Miglia winning 6c’s to a pair of tidy late 60’s Giulia’s; all is calm as you peer through windows and mill between machinery unchained from ropes, the only inkling of separation between you and the cars are a couple of snappily-dressed Milanese security guards, looking like they’d just walked off the set of Reservoir Dogs, keeping an eye over the sleeping machinery.

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As you make down the next level through the museum, you’re greeted with a sweet little Montreal in that fabulously Italian Alfa orange next to the modern 8C Prototype. Move down another level and its DEFCON 1, as what you are gazing at is the Alfa Romeo Carabo, the 33/2 Speciale, the Iguana, the 2000 Sportiva and a 1900 C52 Disco Volante; it goes without saying you’ve reached Alfa Romeo Mecca.

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For those who don’t nerd out over mid-century Italian concept cars to this obsessive a level, allow me to shed some context on these cars. Each one of these Tipo 33-based concepts inspired and captivated an entire generation of young boys. They are unicorns, flying saucers, the elusive lost city of Atlantis, and yet here they all are, sitting in this one room.

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Naturally, the Carabo can’t help but drink in your attention. It has some sort of other-worldly presence to it, a kinetic energy even with its fluids drained, it’s like a sleeping dragon you wish not to wake. There’s quite simply something about its shape that draws you in, something I’ve never experienced whilst spending time with another car. That pure wedge shape, the illustrious metallic green body, the sheer level of complexity to the shape; it’s complicated, yet breathtakingly pretty; for my money, it’s the most beautiful car in the world.

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In comparison, the 33/2 Speciale sits light years apart, swathed in classically flowing Italian lines from the pontoon fenders to knife-edge rounded Kamm tail, its dangerously good looking. The massive glass engine cover goes on for miles, and peering through the long, drawn out air intakes reveals chips of unpainted bodywork, a sign that, whilst expertly penned, what you’re looking at is still very much a ramshackle 70’s concept car.

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On the other hand, the Iguana is like a space ship has fallen to earth. The design is so foreign, so alien, it looks like no other car there has ever been. The metal-flake paint is offensively reflective under studio lighting, the louvred, intake clad body feels positively space-aged today, how it must have felt in 1969 is entirely beyond me.

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The 1900 C52 Disco Volante is Touring’s gem of the collection, an experimental sports-racing prototype from 1952. The last of just three 2-litre models built and only to preserve its original bodywork, the Disco Volante’s flawless profile wraps the car into it’s beautiful streamline shape. Faired in bodywork cocooning the front and rear wheels meet at two stunning teardrop pontoons at the cars stern, the interior hilariously simple, its tubular chassis skeleton protruding into the cabin.

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Continuing further down through the museum, you’re greeted by a tidy trio of teardrop Alfa’s and a ‘Graduate’ era 1750 Duetto Spider. On the other side sits a line of desperately pretty road and race cars: a square-bodied Giulia Ti Super, a Sprint GTA, a GT Junior, the wonderful Scaglione bodied Sprint Speciale and the absolutely awesome Giulia TZ road racer.

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The road racers continue downstairs, with the streamlined Le Mans-raced 1938 8C 2900B, a smattering of arrow-sharp Grand Prix racers and a replica of the 200mph twin-engined 16C Bimotore clad in Perspex body panels to let you peer in and see the engines.

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As you reach the museums ground floor you clap eyes with a collection of 159 50’s Grand Prix cars, the insane 33/2 Daytona, 1 of 12 of the shockingly beautiful TZ2’s, a rounded, double-bubble 6c prototype, a Martini liveried 155 Touring Car and of course, Alfa’s darling, the Tipo 33 Stradale.

Derived from the Tipo 33 racers stationed to its left, this is of course the prototype T33 Stradale as any Alfisti would tell you, easily spotted by the addition of rear three-quarter vents and the lack of such at the front. Whilst wandering around this unicorn I’m reminded of stories of Henry Well II, the first owner of this roadgoing racer sitting it at 10,000rpm and 180mph on the clear Italian Autostrada for mile after mile, it’s clear in the flesh the T33 is simply a roadgoing racer.

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Regarded as Franco Scaglione’s most beautiful design, I expected I would be leaving the Museo Storico after seeing my first Tipo 33 Stradale believing it to be the most beautiful car in the world, though I have to be honest, it slightly disappointed me. Maybe it’s the immense expectations of aesthetic beauty this car carries, though in the flesh, its proportions are slightly off. The Tipo 33 Stradale’s small details are stunning, beggar’s belief, though overall the bodies much shorter than you’d expect, around the size of an early Lotus Elise, whereas the concepts it spawned sit much lower and longer.

Continuing past a two-storey wall of Alfa matchbox cars, the museum deposits you in a modern Alfa Romeo dealership, a dangerous end to such a wonderful museum, cause trust me, I had to stop myself pulling out the Amex and driving out in a Giulia, a move that wouldn’t have pleased my wallet. As you drive out of Museum Storico Alfa Romeo you pass the former Alfa Romeo Arese factory, now transformed into a shopping mall, the only remnants of the buildings former life a large alfa Romeo crest at the centre of a roundabout lined with familiar red and white rumble strips.

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As I passed the Museum’s facade on the Arese motorway, I’m reminded that in my lifetime, Alfa Romeo have always been the underdog, a century old family name that has oft-times found itself on the brink of collapse. Despite so, as I gazed out the window at the familiar Alfa Romeo script adorning the top of the building, what sits behind those walls are hundreds of dream cars. Cars that have emotional power over all car enthusiasts; living, breathing automotive art, and that is what Alfa Romeo are all about.