Bertone Concept Car via Benedict Redgrove
1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo Concept Promised the Future (Part 1 of 2)
All that's left are scissor doors.
DEC 3, 2015
BY DAVEY G. JOHNSON
Since the dawn of the automobile—or at the very least, the birth of the Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1901—the industry has drifted toward non-rectilinear shapes. Even the phone-booth-upright Ford Model T featured as many round forms as Henry Ford deemed financially prudent. For those of us born in the 1970s, the angular machines we grew up with seemed normal and modern; anything curvaceous was obviously archaic. A Ferrari 330GTS may as well have been an MGA, which could’ve been a Cord, for all we cared. Only survivors like the Beetle, 911, Mini, and the Fiat 124/Pininfarina Azzurra definitively bucked the trend, and they were recognizably vehicles that had sallied forth from an earlier time, vehicles who somehow beat back all attempts at replacement. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that the straight-edge styling of the 1970s and 1980s was merely a blip, an aberration. But if that strange period has roots anywhere, they’re right here, in the form of the Alfa Romeo Carabo from 1968.
Gandini had conceived of the wedge shape as a way to combat the Miura’s tendency to raise its front end at speed. But at a time when Europe was undergoing upheaval—the Paris uprisings of May ’68, Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia, Andreas Baader’s early arson escapade in Germany, and tensions in Northern Ireland, to name but a few episodes in that turbulent year—why notstart with a clean sheet that looked toward the future? Even if it wasn’t Gandini’s intent, the car’s straight, stern lines offered a respite from chaos, while the beetle-green paint imbued it with a sense of otherworldly playfulness.
While the underpinnings were merely a refinement of what had come before, including a screaming 2.0-liter V-8 fed by SPICA mechanical fuel injection and nestled behind the cabin in a tube chassis, the exterior broke almost wholly with convention. Rather than a collection of forms, the Carabo was a single, hewn mass. Like the new 1968 Corvette and the Opel GT, the Alfa featured pop-up headlights. Unlike the swoopy General Motors products, the Carabo’s rose out of a practically-flat front panel. The doors swung upward, allowing ingress over the thick sills in tight spaces. Gandini would later reuse the idea for the Miura’s replacement, the mighty Countach, a car that outwardly seemed to have more in common with the Alfa Romeo than its own predecessor.
Sports and concept-car designers immediately took note. Nuccio Bertone, Gandini’s employer, put pen to paper and came up with the radical Stratos 0 (or Zero) concept. Pininfarina put its own space-age twist on the idea with the Ferrari 512S–based Modulo, now owned by Jim Glickenhaus. William Towns applied the precepts to a luxury sedan, resulting in the wonderful, complex Aston Martin Lagonda. Essentially, Europe had gone wedge-crazy. Even conservative Ferrari recruited Bertone to pen the successor to the Dino 246GT, the underrated 308GT4, then promptly returned to Pininfarina for their entry-level car’s stunning two-seat variants. Still, the famed concern’s Leonardo Fioravanti had clearly been nipping at the geometric Kool-Aid when he penned the 1972 365GT4 2+2, which later evolved into the 400 and the 412.
While Giorgetto Giugiaro was no stranger to high-powered sporting machines, having designed the lovely, troubled De Tomaso Mangusta during his tenure at Ghia, he truly made his mark on the industry with the first iteration of Volkswagen’s Golf and its more-sporting sibling, the Scirocco, which applied the Carabo’s strict lines in a more friendly, approachable form, setting a template that would influence every hatchback from the very-European Ford Fiesta to the bog-American Chevy Citation.