Alfa Romeo Scighera : 1997

The Scighera stands for Alfa Romeo Sportscar-tradition at it's best.
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When a prototype comes hot from the designer's workshop we like to take a close look around. Not so much to check the body and windows for the finger prints of the master craftsman who has just put the finishing touches to it, but more to savour that very special taste of the exclusive and innovative, overflowing with secrets to titillate the beholder's inquisitiveness. Thespians call this premiere atmosphere. For motor racing enthusiasts, it is the roll-out. Today, we will be going on a journey through the dreams of a young man, whom we ask why this new Scighera has an Alfa Romeo badge, and what exactly does "Scighera" mean?

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The man who answers our questions is Fabrizio Giugiaro, who has overseen the development of the new coupe. He has is a passionate driver of racing cars, but his main claim to fame is as the son of probably the most successful industrial designer of the age, Giorgetto Giugiaro. In this capacity, he acts as midwife for concept cars by the family firm of Italdesign.

This Scighera, with its familiar Alfa Romeo traits, is the latest creation from the development department. It bears clear evidence of Italdesign's favourite themes, and has the countenance of an Alfa. "The current crop of Alfas are well removed from their historical placing", Fabrizio explains. "A sports car with innovative technology and a body which makes traditional references, will always fit in the image of the Alfa Romeo marque. So we have suggested this Scighera".

And what does his father have to say to that? His intention with studies of this kind is essentially to provide some food for thought: not to lecture to others, but to demonstrate competence in his craft: in the interplay of materials and forms; in the beholder's way of looking at things; in the expectations of motoring buffs, who have specific concepts of what a sports car should be - especially an Alfa Romeo.

After Giugiaro senior came up with the Alfasud in 1971, the Volkswagen Golf in 1974 and the Fiat Panda in 1980, elegant styling suddenly began to blossom on the rear ends of other models. The fact that many of these soon withered and were lost and forgotten should not be allowed to conceal the initial spark which Giugiaro ignited with his successful cars. The VW Golf in particular has had a lasting influence on mid-range car design.

Today we are about to find out what role is intended for the new Scighera. Let us, though, first, look back to Moncalieri near Turin in 1991, the year in which Italdesign created the Nazca, a two-seater development prototype with a V-12 mid-mounted engine from BMW and Alpina. The rear wheel drive Nazca, with its characteristic domed roof was to some extent a side-swipe at hi-tech Bugatti, from the neighbouring town of Campognalliano. Bugatti had eschewed the use of Giugiaro aesthetics and instead clad its all-wheel drive EB 110 model in its own patchwork of styles. By contrast, the Nazca had clear lines, and a classic power concept, using well-tried series production engineering from BMW.

At that time there were many enthusiasts who hoped that the Bavarian company would produce a limited edition of the Nazca as a successor to the BMW M1, the now legendary mid-engined racer which also stemmed from the Giugiaro's drawing board. But in times of financial crises, the rug was pulled out from under the market for road-licensed, high performance sports cars. Well-heeled customers turned their backs on the Jaguar XJ 220 and the Bugatti. BMW was not about to risk making the assumption that it alone had the magic touch that would make the Nazca an exception to this trend.

Giugiaro senior and junior decided to accelerate the development of the Nazca project under a different badge, and so turned to Alfa Romeo. This seemed to be a sound choice, especially for Italophiles and all Alfa fans, who for too long had had to stand aside, gnashing their teeth as the powerful parent company, Fiat, used the vast resources of a volume car maker to rationalize away the marque identity of Alfa Romeo. Nowadays, an Alfa is even entered on the car registration documents as a Fiat. What a travesty for a marque which once coaxed Enzo Ferrari to genius status and carried Juan Manuel Fangio to the World Champion's title in the supreme class.

It was now the Giugiaros who turned to the marque, and on the first page of the specification for the Scighera noted that it should be a mid-engined, all-wheel-drive sports car in a two-box design.

Italdesign's first creative flourish was in the mid-section of the car. They somehow created a roomy office for the driver and a cosy atmosphere for the passenger's side. The cockpit has room for two occupants under the typical Giugiaro glass dome, which makes a smooth transition, uninterrupted by A columns, from the windscreen through to the side and roof glazing. In the house style, the electric side windows pivot centrally above the occupants' heads and open wing-like upwards. The doors open and close conventionally.

This generous use of glass makes the actual physical dimensions of the interior seem even larger. A typical Giugiaro feature is that the winged windows can be removed, so opening the coupe up into a T-roof cabriolet. This is where the windscreen, which wraps right around the sides, demonstrates its functionality by steering the air flow past the occupants' shoulders. So even if the name has not yet been coined, Giugiaro has invented the front wind stopper.

No manufacturer has ever before catered for the complete driver customizing of the entire foot pedal set-up by means of an electrically adjustable floor plate. On the Scighera, this is done at the touch of a button. In conjunction with the adjustable steering column, each driver is able to set up an optimal sitting position - naturally on the finest Connolly leather.

Fabrizio Giugiaro regards the intimate relationship between the driver and power train as an expression of the complete sports car concept. In the Scighera, this is accomplished by a dome, linking the passenger and engine compartments. This divides the coupe into two areas with different formal functions: the aggressively elevated front end with its air channelling functions, and behind it the drive unit, made up of the command centre and engine. The convex front end blends neatly with the concave rear end. A language of form dictated by the wind tunnel. Fabrizio does not want us to regard the two electrically retractable triangular structures in the bonnet as any kind of gimmick. They are there to channel the airflow through the two airfoils between the front lights, increasing the downforce.

From a mechanical design point of view, too, the Scighera shows the way forward. To satisfy changing added value criteria in car making, many components have to be capable of being separately produced. For this reason, the Scighera has an aluminium body fitted to a super lightweight frame made of an aluminium-carbon fibre composite material.

Putting the Scighera out as a mock-up is not in Italdesign's tradition. So it not only sports the Alfa Romeo badge, but also has fully operational Alfa engineering under the bonnet. The gritty 3.0 l V-6 engine from the 164 limousine is mounted longitudinally in front of the rear axle and is aspirated by two turbochargers with intercoolers. And the observant onlooker will notice the supercharger. Fabrizio wanted it to feed the turbocharger even when idling in order to improve the reaction time of the turbocharger, and so ensure buckets full of torque even at low revs. Sounds simple enough, but in practice it makes one hell of a racket. It will probably impress once the running gear has been completely fine-tuned. Fabrizio is working on this himself.

The all-wheel drive system is also from Alfa, or - to be strictly accurate - off the shelf of one of its sister companies, Lancia. It was adopted by the Alpha Romeo 155 from the many times winner of the World Rally Championships, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale, and was passed onward to the Scighera. At the same time, the sequential six-speed gearbox was also borrowed. So the new two-seater is largely endowed with well-tried mechanical engineering - which saves a lot of lengthy trials.

At only 432 cm in length and 115 cm in height, but with a width of a full 198 cm, the 2-seater is an extremely efficient, compact sports car which promises good handling characteristics. Fabrizio Giugiaro has realized his dream of a no-compromise racing car licensed for road use.

Finding a backer for a limited series production of the Scighera is his father's department. He believes in the viability of the Italdesign project, and would be willing to allow a few non-essentials, which would not significantly alter the character of the car, to go. However, the level of interest shown in the car by Alfa Romeo can be gauged from the reactions of the upper echelons of the Fiat Group to the study which was unveiled in Geneva - just about zero!! Fiat chief Testore did not even utter a single word of acknowledgement when he visited the Italdesign stand.

Perhaps Fabrizio should have anticipated this reaction. He cautiously christened his dream sports car with a name from the Milan area. "Scighera" is what the local people call the fog which rolls in, enshrouding everything in an envelope of secrecy - all deeds, misdeeds and even dreams. To preserve the car from becoming lost in the mists of memory, the Scighera is to be licensed for road use and driven by Fabrizio. Just think of it: 400 HP from around 1,200 kg...

For the meantime, Fabrizio leaves us surrounded by a bank of dense fog, with many questions unanswered. May his Scighera not cool off before some manufacturer warms to it.


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