The Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione? Forget it. Retro must die. Instead, the just-announced MiTo GTA Concept is the car Alfa should return to the United States with. It’s irreverently anti-retro, futuristic and very, very Alfa.
We are tiptoeing down a canyon road on spent winter tires in the wake of a bus kicking up gray sludge at every turn, a road put on this green Earth for Tsuiso drifts and gravity runs on April nights with the transmission in neutral and no sound but crickets and the wind. An Alfa MiTo powers its way uphill and flashes by us in a quick ball of pearlescent black. This is one of the perks of living in Europe. The other: tomatoes come in red, as opposed to sickly ethylene orange.
All Alfas should be driven in anger. This one? No different. The range on the tach beginning at 5,000 rpm? Every time you drop below that, God kills a bunny. Magic akin to Honda’s VTEC happens from then on and students of mechanics should be able to explain to you the tiny machined parts involved. Unfortunately, I’m a student of that peculiar strand of piano wire that goes straight from you eardrums into your heart and which shares the eigenfrequency of high RPM engine noises. So I can’t tell you anything about the mechanics. Let it suffice for me to say hearing it will make you happy.
Mimette is guiding us down the canyon road with a sure hand and since she is well-versed in Alfas, twenty-four valve V6’s in particular, with the inlet pipes lined up in one neat chromed row, I say: “So hey, did you see the MiTo GTA?”
The MiTo tortures her. If you’ve owned Alfas, you don’t buy teeny-tiny Alfas, you buy big Alfa sedans with twin exhausts to carry the gospel of the V6. But try living with a 16-foot sedan in a cramped unplanned European city. You’ll go mad trying to park it. So she sold her big Alfa for a tiny, zingy Fiat, a Punto, which will be replaced by the Grande Punto upon which the Alfa MiTo will be built. Big names, yes, but we’re talking about cars concealable in an average American bacon cheeseburger. And the MiTo would be her logical choice: skip the Grande Punto, it’s all supermini and all Alfa.
But what if it’s retrograde like the Fiat 500 and the Mini Cooper? I’m afraid that would be the end of it as a reasonable pick. Retrograde is what is killing the age of the automobile. You can sex it up all you want by calling it retrofuturism and applying Ford GR–1 concept levels of chrome. Whatever. You're still saying: I have given up and the Sixties are good enough for me. Obviously, they are not. The 500 and the Mini fail this test. Growth hormone and twelve airbags do not Vorsprung make.
Trouble is brewing for our MiTo, even though the GTA spec conjures up a ludicrous 240 HP from five Coke cans of engine (turbocharged, yes, but this is still on the outer reaches of Hondas and Ferraris and whatnot). The MiTo is essentially the 8C Competizione if the bigger Alfa was transmogrified into a European supermini. Also, if the 8C wasn’t a horrible retro sports coupé for rich buyers who happened to come into wealth forty years too late to enjoy it.
Oh yes, grown men will grow knee joints of Jell-O in its presence and its flat-crank V8 is a marching band but—aside from an impressive array of technological underpinnings—it is a forty year old car. It is actually called the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale and it was built in 1967.
Let’s go back now to 2007. My friend Larry and I are 120 MPH-ing our way through the foothills of the Italian Alps when he takes an exit to pull into the town of Rovereto and says: “Peter, you have got to see this.” And by this he means an exhibit on Italian car design where you float past a Miura and a Ferrari F40 to come face to face with the 33 Stradale. Here you go, and that’s Larry on the phone:
After an absolute massacre in the early years of Formula 1, Alfa Romeo retired from racing only to return in the middle of the 60s with the moderately successful Tipo 33 that most importantly spawned the 33 Stradale. If you’ve never seen one in person, the best way to describe the feeling is to have all the blood flush out of your head all at once and proceed fortwith to your nether regions. Only eighteen were made.
Each has 230 HP—less than the MiTo GTA!—, but they come from a 2-liter racing V8 that redlines at 10K with no more than 1,500 pounds of car to propel all the way to 160 MPH. And then you peek through the transparent engine cover to see eight velocity trumpets stacked behind your head. If your significant other has long hair, those eight velocity trumpets will suck up the strands and proceed to light them on fire.
That’s the 33 Stradale and, in a twist of design, this is where the MiTo GTA transcends the 500, the Mini and all the other old cars masquerading as new cars automakers make these days. It’s a boy racer supermini modeled on a shamelessly unoriginal supercar, itself modeled on perhaps the most awesome street special, with race cred in spades. But as I said earlier, forget the 8C Competizione: Frank Stephenson, designer of the MiTo, has morphed an elusive supercar into a boy racer you will actually be able to buy. That’s not retrograde, that’s pure irreverence.
And what a gorgeous design. Yes, diffusers are the new rear wings on hot hatches, but since when do city cars have field mortars for exhausts? Or masses of spider legs for rims? Or better yet, inverted Hofmeister kinks for rear windows? I dare you to drive one and not feel as if there's superglue sneakily squirted between the go pedal and the floor.
Let’s just hope the engine won’t fall to bits producing those 141 HP per liter. Or that they’ll dial out the turbo lag. Let’s just hope that Alfa Romeo will actually make it because the MiTo GTA is a brilliant, hopeful hot hatch. It’s got heritage, it’s got futurism, and it’s what Alfa Romeo should return to the United States with, not a retro sports coupé for your local James Glickenhaus-type. Give us the future any day, not the past.
Peter Orosz, the editor of Hyperleggera, a website he fervently claims is not a car blog (although it really is, we don't care what he says — Ed.), pens Jalopnik’s newest feature dubbed "Crazy Euro Car Boy." It's a series all about one Hungarian sometimes-motoring journalist’s obsession with the cult of cars.