"Storie Alfa Romeo" Episode five: "Gazelles" and "Panthers" roam the streets of Italy: Alfa Romeo's sporty sedans at the service of the law

The cars of the State Police Corps

In post-war Italy, Alfa Romeo cars were legendary. They proved they were faster than any other car, both on the track and on the road. They were powerful and they always won, no matter what - like good over evil. They had all the right technical and symbolic characteristics to become the natural choice for the State Police Corps.

The connection between Alfa Romeo and the police is an interesting little piece of Italian. From the 1950s on, Alfa Romeo cars became the official emergency call-out vehicles. They were known as "volanti" and as they became a familiar sight, so too did they earn other nicknames: those used by the State Police became known as "Panthers" and those of the Carabinieri, or military police, were called "Gazelles". Two metaphors that underlined their power and agility.

The very first Panther was an Alfa Romeo 1900, built in 1952, its aggressive silhouette having inspired its name.

The first Gazelle came into use a few years later. The most famous police car of all was the Giulia Super, but the Police used many other Alfa Romeo models, practically all the most important ones, from the Matta to the Alfasud, Alfa 75, Alfetta, 156 and the Giulia in use today.

Alfa Romeo is a lifestyle

The history of the brand's relationship with the police force runs parallel with the story of how Alfa Romeo itself evolved over the years. Time to introduce another protagonist of our story: Orazio Satta Puliga, born in Turin, with Sardinian ancestry, and a passionate Alfa Romeo fan.

It is to him that we owe the famous phrase: "There are many automotive makes, among which Alfa Romeo stands apart. It is a kind of affliction, the enthusiasm for a means of transport. It's a lifestyle, a special way of conceiving a motor vehicle".

Appointed director of design in 1946, Satta Puliga had a hard task ahead of him: not only did he need to rebuild everything that had been destroyed by the war, he also had to transform an artisan company into a modern manufacturing force, continuing the strategy paved by Ugo Gobbato.

When Satta Puliga arrived, Alfa Romeo was producing every single mechanical part at its Portello plant, with strict attention to exquisite craftsmanship. He rationalised the process, outsourcing the production of secondary parts and cutting the costs. Meanwhile, he began thinking about creating the new "mass produced" Alfa Romeos, to be built using the most efficient technical and organisational methods around.

1900, the first Panther

Satta Puliga's 1900, which dates to 1950, was the first left-hand drive Alfa Romeo and the first to have a monocoque body. He abandoned the traditional six- and eight-cylinder engines in favour of a new four-cylinder with aluminum cylinder head and chain-drive dual overhead camshafts. The engine was powered by a single carburetor, offering brilliant performance and low taxable horsepower. The 1900 delivered 80 hp. It was agile and fast, just as you would expect from an Alfa Romeo, but also very easy to drive. In other words, it was designed to target a bigger market. Its launch slogan was: "The family car that wins races".

The 1900 was also the first Alfa Romeo to be produced on an assembly line. A veritable revolution: the total manufacturing time needed to produce one vehicle was reduced from 240 to just 100 hours. This new approach led to an unprecedented success in terms of sales: the 1900 alone sold more than the total Alfa Romeo production of other models up until that time.

This success was also due to careful product cycle management. Several high performance variants were introduced (the 1900 TI, 1900 C Sprint and Super Sprint, and the 1900 Super), winning important international competitions in their class.

Despite its mass production, Alfa Romeo continued collaborating with its coach builders: the BAT (Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica) concept car series was launched on 1900 mechanics, created by Bertone and designed by young Franco Scaglione.

The 1900 engine was also adopted for the AR51, better known as the "Matta": a 4x4 launched to replace the post-war off-road vehicles of the Italian Armed Forces.

A Milanese culture vulture and boxing enthusiast

While the 1900 set Alfa Romeo on the serial production course, it was with the Giulietta that it truly became a large-scale automotive factory. The man in the driving seat of this transformation was Giuseppe Luraghi.

Born in Milan, he had studied at the Bocconi University, where he also practiced the "noble art" of boxing. He arrived at Alfa Romeo with a reputation as an incredible manager, coming from a long experience at Pirelli. From 1951 to 1958 he was general manager of Finmeccanica, the holding company that controlled Alfa Romeo. After a short period spent at Lanerossi, he returned in 1960 as president of Alfa Romeo, a position he would hold until 1974.

A keen writer, journalist and publisher, Luraghi also promoted cultural initiatives within the company. In 1953 he appointed Leonardo Sinisgalli, "the poet engineer" to create a magazine that merged humanist culture, technical knowledge, and art. The result was entitled "La Civilità delle Macchine" (The Civilization of Machines).

On the eve of the "boom"

Luraghi revolutionsed Alfa Romeo production, calling in designer Rudolf Hruska and Francesco Quaroni to reorganise the industrial processes. He realised that there was a huge opportunity up for grabs: the Brand had exceptional visibility, its sporting victories thrilled millions of people and fueled their dreams. It was time to translate this success into sales. The economic boom was just around the corner and the car was the most coveted possession: for Luraghi, owning an Alfa Romeo had to become the distinguishing mark of those who had truly made it in life.

Alfa Romeo focused all its design and industrial resources on this new objective. The Giulia became the product that defined this turning point in Alfa Romeo's history, a car designed to boost sales but at the same time confirm the brand's technical and sporting traditions.

Giulietta, the first gazelle

The new Giulietta returns to the link between Alfa Romeo and the Italian police. The first Gazelle of the Carabinieri was none other than a Giulietta, destined for the patrol service. It commenced service equipped with a radio system for communicating with headquarters and in the Italian Army's own words, mirrored the patrol vehicle driver: fast, agile and tough.

Shorter, narrower and lighter than the 1900, the Giulietta took Alfa Romeo into a new segment, for a new public. It offered a modern, streamlined exterior and comfortable interior, as well as exceptional road holding, quick starting and speed. Its all-Aluminium engine delivered 65 hp, racking up a maximum speed of 165 km/h.

The Giulietta made its debut in coupe form at the Turin Motorshow in 1954. Designed by Bertone, the Giulietta Sprint was a low-lying, compact, agile little car that became an "instant classic".

Giulietta was a roaring success, becoming so popular that it earned the nickname "Italy's sweetheart". Its sales record is just as extraordinary: over 177,000 units.

Giulia, the revolution

Only a revolutionary vehicle could knock Giulietta off the top spot. Satta Puliga knew this only too well and his team (Giuseppe Busso, Ivo Colucci, Livio Nicolis, Giuseppe Scarnati and tester Consalvo Sanesi) set to work, developing a vehicle way ahead of its time.

Giulia was one of the first vehicles in the world to consider occupant safety in its construction. The front and rear parts were designed to absorb shock and crumple, while the passenger compartment remained extremely rigid, to protect its occupants: solutions that would only become compulsory much later.

The Giulia's 1.6-liter twin cam engine was an evolution of the Giulietta's 1.3-litre four-cylinder and it stood out for its sodium-cooled exhaust valves.

The Giulia's design was not only revolutionary from a construction perspective. Compact, with well-proportioned volumes and a unique style, the low front and truncated rear were inspired by aerodynamics. The launch slogan described the car as "Designed by the wind". Thanks to the innovative development work carried out in the wind tunnel, the Giulia's drag coefficient was extraordinary for its time: only 0.34.

The vehicle was overwhelmingly successful: it achieved a total of over 570,000 sales (more than triple those of Giulietta) and it became an Italian icon.

Visitors to the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese will find a room dedicated to Alfa Romeo in the world of film. It hosts many car appearances, but Giulia is the undisputed star of the show. In these movies where "cops and robbers" clash, Giulia often stars as both the police car and the getaway vehicle.

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