Italian coach builder Touring Superleggera is celebrating its 90th anniversary at this year's Geneva Motor Show. With the introduction of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Spyder, it looks back on its history in moving forward into the future. Inspired by the original disco volante – the 1952 Alfa Romeo C52 – as well as the Disco Volante 2012 coupe, the new convertible offers hard-top practicality with the option of enjoying the timeless "pleasure of riding with wind tousling one's hair."
Touring's 90-year run hasn't been a traditional one, as it's been actively designing and building car bodies just over half that time. It ceased operations back in 1966, and though the name survived, Touring didn't have anything new to show until after Zeta Europe BV purchased the rights in 2006. The Touring name reemerged on the car design scene two years later with the Maserati-based Bellagio Fastback and A8GCS Berlinetta. Since then, Touring has been hard at work, unleashing a slew of coach builds and concept cars, including the Disco Volante 2012, MINI Superleggera Vision and Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso.
Touring isn't letting its unconventional timeline get in the way of its 90th birthday celebration, reviving the spirit of one of the most iconic cars in badge history, the voluptuous 1952 Alfa Romeo C52 racing sports car. In designing the body for that car, Touring followed the wise words of its founder Felice Bianchi Anderloni, "Weight is the enemy, air resistance the obstacle." It worked hard to make the C52 as insusceptible to the effects of rushing air as it could, putting it through a wind testing regimen to ensure a 0.25 drag coefficient, a number that puts it just behind modern-day top dogs like the 2016 Toyota Prius and Tesla Model S (both 0.24, a few spots behind the Volkswagen XL1).
The C52's overflowing curves led immediately to the nickname "disco volante," which translates from Italian to "flying saucer." The nickname was kind, not derisive, and people looked at the magnificent aluminum sculpture with wide eyes and drooping jaws.
Only a handful of C52 Disco Volantes were produced, and not one ever ran a single race. Still, thanks to its unique looks, the car became an icon for both Alfa and Touring. It influenced the design of future sports cars for decades to come, including, according to some observers, the Jaguar E-Type, a car lauded as one of (if not the) most beautiful cars ever.
An original 1952 C52 was the first thing to greet us at Touring's Geneva booth, as the new Disco Volante Spyder remained covered in cloth awaiting the official press conference unveiling. Borrowed from the collection of Museo Nazionale dell'Automoible "Giovanni Agnelli" of Turin, the luscious red roadster on show weighs just 1,676 lb (760 kg) and relies on a 246-hp 3.5-liter inline-six. After giving it a thorough look-over, we were so mesmerized we almost forgot to stick around for the debut of the 2016 Disco Volante Spyder.
We did eventually snap out of our C52 daze and took a few steps over to watch Touring remove the silky cloth from the all-new Disco Spyder. Touring's latest car is a beautiful design in its own right, building upon the curves of the Disco Volante 2012 coupe – or perhaps we should say "removing from" those curves, since the main change is the loss of the fixed roof. That roof is replaced with a versatile solution: two removable 7.7-lb (3.5-kg) carbon fiber panels that pop off on demand and store in the trunk to deliver the wind-powered hair tousling Touring was going for. When attached, the roof panels ensure that the Spyder drives with dependable, coupe-like protection in poorer weather. Touring calls it a split personality solution.
"Personally I would have a very hard time choosing the configuration I
enjoy most between open top or carbon roof," says Touring head of design Louis de Fabribeckers. "Both have their own essence without compromising
Sixty-four years is an eternity in automotive design, and sadly for those of us that love the style of classics like the C52, modern design has moved far beyond the flat, flying saucer-like body construction that made that car such a legend. The new Disco Volante Spyder, therefore, lacks the magnetizing presence and visual flair of its six decades-old predecessor.
The Spyder does, however, share some basic design DNA with the C52, and the plump, voluminous fenders, strongly defined front grille and bodywork over the upper front wheels can be traced directly back. The back wheels are left open to accentuate the rear-driven muscle power, but the squarish arches keep the look cohesive. Lower elements like the wedge-shaped side skirts and rear diffuser provide sharp contrast with the "Blu Ceruleo" ("sky blue") paint.
The Spyder's rear fenders aren't quite the standalone zeppelins that hover over the C52's wheels, but they're still quite muscular and defined. The fenders taper back into a taut rear-end with flat tail and single-round lights. The accent metal shooting off those lights and the diagonal exhaust outlets give the Disco Volante a unique backside view.
Below Touring's masterful carbon fiber and hand-beaten aluminum bodywork resides an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Spider rolling chassis, which brings its 444-hp 4.7-liter V8 engine. That engine routes power through a six-speed sequential transaxle gearbox with paddle shifters and a limited-slip differential. Touring left the chassis structure untouched wherever possible, including interior components like the dashboard and steering wheel, making changes only where necessary to support the new body style.
Touring reckons the Disco Volante Spyder can bolt from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.5 seconds and keep accelerating up until 181 mph (292 km/h). Updated front and rear double wishbones provide cushion and carbon-ceramic disc brakes bring the car to stop.
We included the Disco Volante Spyder in our Geneva concept car gallery, but this car is actually more than just a design house show car – the Geneva car is the first of seven planned hand-built examples. Touring hasn't shared pricing, saying that interested buyers can receive a quote on demand. Each commissioned build will take six months from the time the donor 8C Competizione is secured.
Source: Touring Superleggera
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