The sports version of Alfa Romeo's historic medium-sized sedan, the Giulietta TI, proved that it was not just as fast but also as tough and reliable as when it was built half a centry ago - because just over a decade ago one of these mass production cars completed the Peking to Paris 2007 recreation event, following succesfully in the footsteps of the legendary Itala exactly a century earlier.
In the first half of the Fifties, after temporarily breaking off its official involvement in racing following its victory in the first two FIA Formula 1 World Championships, Alfa Romeo focused on building cars which were “medium-sized” in terms of dimensions and displacement but delivered impressive performances and had a strongly sporty personality.
It was no coincidence that in 1957 Alfa Romeo chose the Monza Circuit for the launch of the Giulietta TI, a car which embodied this new approach to perfection. The initials TI (the abbreviation of Turismo Internazionale) exactly expressed the concept behind this sporty evolution of the sedan model.
With a higher compression ratio, increased from 7.5:1 to 8.5:1, together with the adoption of a 35mm dual barrel carburettor, the 1290cc four-cylinder engine was able to deliver 65 horsepower compared to the 53 of the normal version.
With a kerb weight of just 908 kg, the Giulietta TI was light and quick, reaching a top speed of 155 km/h, but as well as its performance it was also stunningly fuel efficient, with average consumption, at 80 km/h, of only 8.6 litres/100 km, which with its 40-litre tank gave it a particularly long range for the time. The car's success continued until 1964, when output at Portello totalled 92,658 units.
A hundred years after the 1907 Peking to Paris race, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta TI repeated the feat by taking part in the 2007 commemorative event.
In 1997, the year of the ninetieth anniversary of the 1907 race, the ERA (Endurance Rally Association) organised the first re-evocation of the historic adventure, with cars following a route through China, Tibet, Nepal, Turkey and Greece.
The cars crossed passes more than 5,000 metres above sea level on no fewer than five occasions.
In the centennial edition 130 cars took part - the "oldest" from 1903 - and the route was exactly the same as in the original race, also including Mongolia. The cars, including the Giulietta TI, were flagged off from Beijing in 27 May 2007 before arriving in Paris on 30 June.
The officially-sanctioned Alfa Romeo club, Scuderia del Portello, whose members own and race the brand's historic cars, together with support from Alfa Romeo, took part in the centennial commemoration event with a 1957 Giulietta TI, entered in the Classic category. The race officially ended after 35 days, but some cars reached Paris several days late.
Crewed by Roberto Chiodi and Maria-Rita Degli Esposti, for the record the Giulietta TI, which ran at number 112, came home twenty first overall in the Pre-1961 Classic category and fourteenth in its class.
It wasn’t the only Italian car in the rally as there were three famous Lancias on the entry list – a Theta, Lambda and Aurelia B20S – as well as a Fiat Cabriolet and entirely appropriately due to the legend of the original event there were a trio of Italas, two being the “40” model while the third was a “51B”.
It’s worth recalling the original race too, which it is synonymous with Italian cars as the Itala won the race after a journey has become the stuff of legend. Five cars set out in 1907 – Prince Borghese in the Itala started as the favourite, with his team enjoying the best preparation and best funding.
The specially developed 7-litre ‘grand prix’ Itala engine was fitted into a truck chassis with minimal bodywork and was designed especially to win this unique event.
The mighty Itala survived many treacherous river crossings in Siberia as well as falling backwards through the planks of a wooden bridge into a ravine but the big engine didn’t miss a beat all through the event to deliver the Italian nation a triumph that reverberated through the world and the red colour of that winning Itala was adopted as the national racing colour – so it was very appropriate that another Italian car, this time the Giulietta TI should have followed in its footsteps.