It's over 40 years now since Alfa Romeo launched the 1750 Duetto. Looking back at those times is something we do a lot of here at Unique Cars and Parts, and digging a little deeper for the facts can sometimes work in your favour. We all know Alfa's were (and still are) great to drive, but the marque is probably better known for all the wrong reasons (the three R's - Rust, Reliability and Re-sale).
But getting back to the fact that Alfa's were a great drive - we have spoken ad infinitum about the engineers and their hits and misses here at Unique Cars and Parts, but there was another main ingredient - the manufacturers test driver - the person who would be able to put each design through its paces and report back to the boffins at HQ each and every nuance of changes to engine, chassis, steering, geometry and suspension.
And thats where one Consalvo Sanesi fits into the Duetto picture. By 1968 Sanesi had been a test driver for Alfa for almost 40 years, and had been promoted to "chief road tester". In an era when the realities of life often meant holding down two jobs, Sanesi also ran a large gas station. More importantly, Sanesi apparently liked the Duetto, not just for its great looks and sense of style, but in the way it performed and handled. And that is (almost) good enough for us - but we wont end the article just yet.
Sanesi competed in five Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, debuting on September 3, 1950. Despite Sanesi's experience with cars meant that he was often one of the fastest men on the racetrack, somehow this rarely translated into good results. He scored only 3 championship points. He found some success driving in sports car racing, continuing into the mid-1960s.
During the 1953 Mille Miglia
he posted the fastest stage average speed, 112.8 mph, beating greats such as Nino Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio, but on this occasion his car let him down and he failed to finish. A year later he won his class in the Carrera Panamericana.
But back to the Duetto. Alfa Romeo first showed the updated Series 1 1750 at the 1968 Brussels Motor Show, a rather low key introduction that some interpreted as signalling there was something wrong with the car, or at least something that still needed to be sorted. After all, the new model needed to live up to high expectations, the "Series 1" having garnered a stellar reputation in the previous 2 years, its status in no small way helped by the 1967 film "The Graduate", Dustin Hoffman's character "Ben" looking every bit the successful MILF hunter behind the wheel.
Externally there was little difference between the 1600 and the 1750, save for the 14 inch wheels instead of the formers 15 inch. Even so, Alfa had set the 1750 on the stand in Belgium next to an old 1932 1750, and went to great lengths to let journalists of the time know just how different it was. Sanesi too was excited by the new model - and when the "Chief Road Tester" is excited, then there is more to it than mere marketing department hyperbole.
To be honest though, you had to look pretty hard. Apart from the different wheel/tire combination, there was a revised woodrim wheel and new interior. But it was what lay under the car that made all the difference - it receiving the Sanesi touch. Once you drove the 1750 you would discover the larger tires fitted to the smaller wheels, combined with modified front suspension (with higher roll centers), the addition of a rear anti-sway bar and lower frequency rear springs made the 1750 more sure-footed. The understeer that was abundant in spades in the 1600 was thankfully reduced to more reasonable levels.
The steering was also revised. It was a new recirculating ball steering system which was best appreciated when parking and at very high speeds. Unfortunately though, road testers soon discovered that at intermediate speeds, the combination of king pin inclination and caster still added up to a car with spongy steering. Alfa went to ATE to develop a reworked disc brake system, which incorporated a limiting valve in the rear to help directional stability, and although stopping distances were not much improved, the Duetto would at least pull up in a straight line. Added power-assistance reduced effort, but not dangerously so for a high-performance car. In addition, the parking brake was incorporated into the hat section of the rear discs - Porsche-like. All was not perfect however; Alfa was yet to discover the advantages of anti-dive front and anti-lift/squat rear suspension, so the Duetto tended to "heave" when you get on the brakes. Likewise, the nose would lift skyward under hard acceleration.
Under the hood the 1750 engine looked exactly the same as the 1600. Sanesi would be one of the Alfa crew to let the press in on the mods. Yes it was the same engine - bored a bit, stroked a lot and with an alternator replacing the generator. Thanks to some new mountings, however, the heavier pistons and longer stroke were cleverly disguised. The hydraulically-actuated clutch handled the 1750's (which was actually 1779cc) increased torque without fuss. The 5-speed transmission, on the other hand, still suffered from the up-and-down shift lever movement and was a badly synchronized device.
The new interior was handsome and reasonably laid out with tachometer, speedo, water temperature, oil pressure and fuel level gauge as standard equipment. There was also an array of seven indicator lights, the lenses of some being low grade. Air leaks were still present in the roadster version, but, even at cruising speed, the loudest noise most annoying to road testers seemed to be from the (very efficient) heater fan.
In 1970 the Series 2 was released. By then, the mechanicals had been thoroughly sorted, thanks in no small part to Consalvo Sanesi. The reputation of the Duetto would go from strength to strength, ensuring it would remain in production though series 3 and 4, with production finally ending in 1993. Alfa aficionados will argue the merits of each, but we love the rounded tail end treatment of the originals, and the 1750 is both rare and very well sorted. A gem if you can find one...