Classic: Alfa Romeo Tipo 33
By Ronan Glon
December 25, 2014
Photos courtesy of RM Auctions and AutoWP
A small team of Alfa Romeo engineers began developing the Tipo 33 racer in 1964. Largely controlled by the Italian government, Milan-based Alfa was eager to return to the track after a nearly 15-year long absence.
The project was eventually picked up and completed by Autodelta, Alfa Romeo’s racing division. The car was initially equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine borrowed from the sleek TZ2, and Autodelta started testing the first fully-functional prototype in 1965. Early on, the Tipo 33/2 earned the nickname Periscopa (“periscope” in Italian) because of the distinctive shape of the air intake that was fitted directly behind the cockpit.
The Tipo 33/2 made its official racing debut on March 12th, 1967 at the Fléron Hill Climb that took place in Belgium. The TZ2’s 1.6-liter had been tossed out and replaced by a 90-degree 2.0-liter V8 engine that sent 270 horsepower to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. Gasoline was stored in two large fuel cells and delivered to the combustion chambers via a Lucas-designed mechanical fuel-injection system.
The 33 easily took first place in the Fléron Hill Climb. The victory encouraged Alfa Romeo to step up its game for the 1968 season and participate in the International Constructor’s Championship where it faced competition from big names like Porsche, Alpine and Ferrari. The Tipo 33/2 was constantly being improved and it finished first 24 Hours of Daytona and the Targa Florio, where it ran with a 2.5-liter V8 that made 315 horsepower thanks in part to a SPICA mechanical fuel-injection system.
Autodelta designed both long- and short-tail variants of the Tipo 33/2 but it was not a huge success. Alfa finished third in the 1968 International Championship for Makes with 15.5 points. First place went to Ford with 45 points and Porsche took second with 42 points.
The 33/2 was scheduled to be replaced by a new car for the 1969 season but design and production delays forced Autodelta to make minor updates to it and continue racing it. The season was a disaster, and Alfa tied with England’s Chevron for second to last with just 3 points.
Overall, about 30 examples of the 33/2 were built from 1967 to 1969. It could reach speeds of up to 186 mph and it weighed just 1,278 pounds in its lightest configuration.
The Tipo 33/2 was replaced by the 33/3. While the 2 had a tubular chassis, the 3 rode on a new platform crafted from sheets of a high-strength aluminum alloy called Avional that was reinforced with titanium where needed. Power came from a 3.0-liter V8 engine that made 400 horsepower at 9,000 rpms, enough to send the racer to a top speed of 192 mph.
Although it faced competition from considerably more powerful cars like the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512, the Alfa Tipo 33/3 managed to grab a distant third place in the 1970 edition of the World Sportscar Championship.
The car was updated for 1971 with a 420-horsepower engine and a five-speed manual transmission. The competition was just as stiff as in 1970 but the 33/3 took first at the 1,000 Kilometers of Brands Hatch, at the Targa Florio and at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen. The stellar performance earned Alfa second place in the 1971 World Sportscar Championship, beating Ferrari by 25 points.
Alfa started testing the all-new 33 TT 3 at the 1971 edition of the Targa Florio in Sicily. The TT 3 was smaller and lighter than the 33/3 it was designed to replace and it rode on a new tubular chassis – TT stood for telaio tubolare, tubular chassis in Italian. The TT 3 packed a 440-horsepower evolution of the 33/3’s V8.
The 1972 season was all but dominated by Ferrari, but Alfa nonetheless managed to take second place with 85 points, beating Porsche but losing to its Modenese rival by 75 points. Notably, the 33 TT 3 took fourth place in the 1972 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, marking Autodelta’s best result in the event since 1968.
The 33 TT 3 was replaced by a new car called 33 TT 12 in time for the 1973 season. The TT 12 was powered by one of the most impressive engines Alfa has ever built.
Perhaps inspired by Volkswagen and Porsche, Alfa Romeo had started to discover the merits of boxer engines in the late-1960s and it introduced the controversial Alfasud, its first boxer-powered full-production car, in 1971. The knowledge gained from the project was shared with Autodelta, and the firm’s engineers built a 3.0-liter water-cooled flat-12 engine that made 550 horsepower at 11,000 rpms in its most powerful configuration.
Although it was impressive on paper, the TT 12 did not manage to win a single race in the 1973 season and Alfa Romeo placed seventh in the World Sportscar Championship. Minor upgrades helped the 33 TT 12 perform better in the 1974, taking first place at Monza and fourth in the overall championship, but it wasn’t until the 1975 season that Alfa truly dominated, taking first overall with 140 points.
The final evolution of the Tipo 33 was the 33 SC 12. The 3.0-liter flat-12’s output was increased to 520 horsepower at 12,000 rpms and the car rode on a brand new monocoque chassis made out of aluminum. Porsche won every single event in 1976 and Alfa finished near the middle of the pack in seventh place.
The 33 SC 12 raced again in 1977 and two examples were converted to SC 12 turbo specification late in the season. The 12-cylinder engine’s displacement was reduced to 2.1-liters but it was fitted with a large turbocharger that helped it churn out an impressive 640 horsepower. The SC won every race in the 1977 season, though Alfa openly admits it was helped by the fact that most serious competitors had pulled out of the series after the 1976 season.
The 33 was retired after Alfa won the World Sportscar Championship in 1977.
Tipo 33 Stradale
While the Tipo 33 was designed exclusively for the track, Alfa Romeo couldn’t resist the urge to build a limited number of street-legal coupes in order to benefit from economies of scale. The Tipo 33 Stradale (a word that means “road” in Italian) stood out thanks to a curvaceous, Scaglione-designed body and a slightly stretched wheelbase that made the coupe more comfortable to live with on a regular basis.
The 33 Stradale was powered by a detuned version of the 33/2’s 2.0-liter V8 engine that made 230 horsepower at 8,800 rpms and 151 lb-ft. of torque at 7,000 rpms. Mounted longitudinally behind the passenger compartment, the engine sent the street-legal 33 to a top speed of a little over 160 mph.
As expected, such high performance came at a hefty price and in 1968 the Tipo 33 Stradale cost 9,750,000 lire in Italy. To put that figure into perspective, that same year a 1750 GTV started at about 2,220,000 lire in its home country.
Autodelta built just 18 examples of the 33 Stradale from late 1967 to early 1969, making it one of the rarest and most desirable Alfas ever built.