There the blood-red barchetta sat on the Pininfarina stand at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show, calling out to our inner Benjamin Braddock. We almost hopped in and went to save the woman of our dreams from the marriage altar.
To hear the people at Pininfarina tell it, the apogee of the high-spirited sports-car era all'italiana came in 1967 when Dustin Hoffman drove his red Alfa Romeo Duetto on the big screen in The Graduate. That is why this Pininfarina concept car is called the 2ettottanta (du-eh-toh-TAN-tah), a play on the Italian words for "two" and "duet," as in the Duetto nickname for the most famous Alfa spider, and then ottanta for the 80th anniversary of Pininfarina being celebrated this year.
The Alfa Romeo Spider was first sketched in the late 1950s (it was the last car in which Battista "Pinin" Farina had a personal hand), and then went into production in 1966, when it got the name "Duetto" in an Italian sweepstakes contest. It rolled off the production line at Pininfarina's manufacturing facility until 1993.
Today we're driving this Alfa Romeo Spider concept car (not so fast, please; there's only one, you know) in and around the Pininfarina compound southeast of Turin. You get the idea loud and clear, of course. Whenever Fiat Group Automobiles Inc. finally learns how to make an Alfa Romeo sell like an Audi or BMW, a Pininfarina-designed image leader like the Alfa Romeo 2ettottanta must be a key part of the product mix.
That's what Pininfarina is thinking, at least.
Look beneath the car's layer of glossy red paint and there is a surprise. We tapped the bodywork all around just to make certain that what we were told was true, and indeed the Pininfarina 2ettottanta is made of wood. Applewood, to be precise — machined, shaped and sanded.
This is a nice touch, since the traditional way of shaping body panels in Turin called for sheets of aluminum to be pounded into shape over wooden forms (sometimes just a tree stump), which accounts for the asymmetrical look of some of the sexiest Italian sports cars of all time. A Fiat platform of undisclosed origin lies beneath the bodywork, and its wheelbase measures 98.4 inches long, or just an inch shorter than the current Alfa Spider which rides on the platform of the front-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo 159.
Packagewise, the 2ettottanta falls somewhere in size between the Audi TT Roadster and Nissan 370Z Roadster. If we had a comparison test going, we'd probably bring along someone's Chrysler Crossfire Roadster just for yucks, too. They'd all need to be soft-top convertibles with engines in front, at least.
We eagerly anticipate a cavalier leap over the applewood doors and into the leather-upholstered sport seat.
Pininfarina's Lowie Vermeersch, the Belgian-born director of the 2ettottanta project, tells us, "Back at the start of designing the showcar in October 2009, we were only thinking of capturing the pure fun and pleasure of that great wide-open style of driving."
It must be said that Vermeersch himself owns a 1976 Alfa Romeo Spider. Maybe that's why (in a development that should make Alfisti drool in anticipation) the 2ettottanta features a turbocharged 232-horsepower inline-4 mounted longitudinally up front that drives — hallelujah! — the rear wheels.
Looks Don't Lie
Pininfarina has taken the concept of the Alfa Romeo Duetto and given it more mature proportions for the modern world, shifting the passenger tub rearward instead of leaving it dead center. The flying buttresses are imaginative, but we doubt they'll make it to production in this form.
Over its lifetime, the original Alfa Romeo Spider had three key iterations: the initial design is referred to as osso di seppia, meaning cuttlefish bone and referring to the curved tail; then came the coda tronca styling that cut off that tail; and finally aerodinamica that blurred the two together a bit. "We've taken a bit from both the osso di seppia and coda tronca designs," Vermeersch tells us, "but then the vast majority is much more modern and with, we think, better proportions."
The 2ettottanta really does strike us as a smaller version of the Alfa Romeo 8C Spider with its roof permanently open. The car seems to be fairly slippery through the air in computer simulations, registering a 0.32 Cd.
Something Familiar Inside
The applewood bodywork creates an impeccable surface for the red resin, not to mention ideal acoustic insulation. How might wood perform in crash testing? One word: splinters.
We eagerly anticipate a cavalier leap over the applewood doors and into the leather-upholstered sport seat, but instead a tiny black button on the bodywork allows the door to swing open smoothly on its hinges. The leather work in here meets your expectations of fine Italian craftsmanship. The design thereof is not dissimilar to the most recent BMW Z4, what with the intersecting swooping lines highlighted by the two-tone.
The simple and clear controls make us happy all over. Here's hoping the center tunnel of a production version can stay this slim and still feature this Getrag dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The small shift lever on the center console is perfect in the hand, and the Start button in red at the thumb is a great solution that looks great, too.
The signature red of Alfa, in fact, is everywhere. The flashy red instrument dials are huge and easily legible, and Pininfarina has exploited the round Alfa Romeo badge nicely by making it the fulcrum for all the needles. The adaptive chassis interface from current Alfa Romeo models is just to the rear of the shift lever and the machined aluminum feels serious as we click the little trigger between D (Dynamic), N (Normal) and A (All-weather). (Alfa Romeo, take note, please.)
A Clear View
The chief practical benefit of this perfectly impractical barchetta design is the unhindered visibility one has in all directions. We're loving this, since we anticipated the rear buttresses might block the view out the back. What's the point of an open-top sports car if you can't see out?
One of the visual tricks of intelligent bodywork design is to let the driver see just enough of the hood to provide a reference point for driving without showing too much that would prove obstructive during sporty driving in the hills. The Pininfarina 2ettottanta gets it just right, as we could see the shape of the front fenders while also getting a thin line of the hood.
The 14-inch-diameter three-spoke steering wheel reminds us of Alfa's heritage, and we'd like to think that Alfa could find a miracle way to stuff a compact airbag in that center spot to keep it from growing fat during homologation.
Duetto in Motion
The full brunt of 232 hp and 251 pound-feet of torque was not ours for the taking this day, as a proper rear-wheel-drive chassis in the 2ettottanta's size does not even exist anywhere in the Fiat family. And the turbocharged 1.7-liter inline-4 under the hood isn't even designed to fit longitudinally under the hood, as it's meant to be seen transversely in the front-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo Giulietta Quadrifoglio Verde (i.e. "green four-leaf clover," the traditional logo of Alfa Romeo racing machinery). Plus, the TCT dual-clutch box doesn't come on line until this September in Europe. So, we're talking severe speed limitations for the 2ettottanta, folks, since it's just barely capable of self-propulsion.
That said, our cruise time revealed a setup on 19-inch custom wheels that's very ready to rumble. We're told that a chassis laid out this way could conceivably hold a small, next-generation V6 once Alfa Romeo frees itself of its current V6, a heavy and thirsty 3.2-liter Holden V6 from the GM family. The front splitter and twin exhausts are meant for a car that will effortlessly zing to 155 mph. In its current configuration, a 2,700-pound 2ettottanta should be capable of reaching 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, right on the tail of a Porsche Boxster as a matter of fact.
The brake technology is a little over the top, much as you'd expect from a showcar. You'll find Brembo carbon-ceramic rotors at all four corners — 14.6-inch rotors with six-pot calipers in front and 13.4-inch discs with four-pots in the rear.
We like immensely what the Pininfarina 2ettottanta is showing us, and we're hoping that it's just the first stage in the development of a 2014 Alfa Romeo Spider at this early stage. A base price that's not too much higher than the $37,320 Nissan 370Z Roadster but not as high as the $40,800 Audi TT Roadster 2.0 TFSI seems about right, doesn't it?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.