In the late 1950s, an alliance was established between Renault and Alfa Romeo, which enabled the construction and marketing of the Dauphine model across the Alps. Italy was also one of the leading countries in the field of coachbuilding and the various artistic carrozzeria were allowed to work with many of the brands’ models on the Italian car market. The Alfa Romeo Dauphine proved to be no exception as it too was exposed to Michelotti’s creative hands.
Alfa Romeo and Renault both became state-owned companies in the wake of World War II, with both companies being handed similar tasks of offering popular cars to the people of their respective countries. However, in Italy this role was already occupied by the giant from Turin: FIAT, who maintained a very firm grasp on the domestic market, leaving only very few opportunities for their rivals such as Alfa Romeo. But in the 1950s, the need to produce a popular saloon for the middle class aided in boosting the Alfa Romeo factory’s economy. Instead of developing and launching a brand new model from scratch, the idea of an alliance with Renault emerged, and in 1959 it materialised with the Alfa Romeo Dauphine.
The many Italian coachbuilders would often present atypical and futuristic prototypes based on the models produced by the national manufacturers – the list included Pininfarina, Boano, Ghia, Bertone, Vignale and many more. At the time, the Italian market offered an abundance of custom-designed models, which were often produced only in few, but very costly, examples. Image designer Giovanni Michelotti quickly found an interest in the Alfa Romeo Dauphine and was planning to produce his own interpretation of a coupé version of the little French/Italian saloon.
Michelotti’s resulting sketch became rather futuristic; the car seemed to be an attempt at experimenting with new and unknown shapes and forms. Especially the rear portion of the car was extremely reworked and a total departure from the beaten path – some might even go as fair as saying the design of the rear was somewhat tortured. A vast rear-hinged engine lid incorporated wide buttresses hiding a rear window with an inverted rake. The system was intended to allow for easy access to the engine compartment without compromising the rear view. Oddly, if the rear is entirely alien and disturbing to some, then the front of the car is much more sober as it largely follows the usual Italian trend of that era: smooth and flowing surfaces with embedded headlights under glass fairings.
On the engine side, this version of the Alfa Romeo Dauphine was rebuilt by the engine specialist at Alfa Romeo: Conrero, This exercise gave it an inline 4-cylinder engine with double overhead camshafts and an engine size of 998 ccm. It was claimed to deliver all of 95HP in the prototype. While the regular Dauphine model of course had a conventional rear-mounted engine as was so popular at the time, Michelotti moved the engine forward in the engine compartment effectively creating something reminiscent of mid-mounted engine configuration – thus creating a better weight distribution.
“Unique” is a word easily associated with Michelotti’s Dauphine coupé, and there is not much available information about the prototype either. Was it was a pity that only the one example was produced? Personally, I don’t think so. Frankly, t’s far more intriguing than it is successful. But still, Michelotti deserves due credit for this outlandish experiment. All of which leaves the “ordinary” Alfa Romeo Dauphine as a delicious little treat for those seeking something rare and peculiar: a French-Italian people’s car.