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Concept Car of the Week: Alfa Romeo Navajo (1976)

Fri, 25 Jul 2014

In 1976, the space shuttle Enterprise was unveiled, Concorde made its first commercial flight and the Cray supercomputer went into service. These events represent a time when ideas transitioned from science fiction to reality.

While significant progress was being demonstrated elsewhere, the motoring world gave us the first Ford Fiesta. Necessary it may have been, but the compact Ford didn't quite fire the imagination like the potential of supersonic flight.

At least Bertone could be relied upon to deliver a concept that looked like it was from another world. At the Geneva motor show that year, it debuted the Navajo, a two-seat GT car that was the last in a series of six concepts – two by Bertone, three by Pininfarina and one by Giugiaro – that used the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale as a base.

The Navajo's wedge-shaped fiberglass body included a built-in rhomboid rear wing that rose from the beltline to bridge the glasshouse. Inspired by contemporary aerodynamics, the Navajo's nose was tapered, reducing the frontal area. The car also featured an active front spoiler, which adjusted automatically according to the car's speed, while the rear wing's top section was also adjustable.

The cabin actually ended with a rear screen mounted just behind the rear seats. However, the glasshouse appears to continue, forming a tunnel that ran below the rear wing, again ending in a rhomboid shape at the rear. This was designed to improve aerodynamics and help extract air from the 2.0-liter V8 mounted underneath.

As was the trend at the time, the Navajo featured pop-up lamps. However, instead of emerging from the hood, the retractable lamps folded out from the front fenders.

To create the Navajo, the wheelbase of the Stradale's race-derived tubular chassis was lengthened by 80mm to provide more space for its two passengers. The seats, again in fiberglass, were fixed, but separated by a center console that ran forward between the seats, kicking up by the manual gear lever with a floating element that contained more controls.

The rectangular-shaped gauge pack consisted of a single screen that digitally displayed information to the driver – much like today's Audi TT. The single wiper was hidden under a panel at the base of the windshield, while the wraparound screen omitted the need for A-pillars.

While the Carabo is perhaps Bertone's better-known reimagination of the Alfa Stradale, the Navajo is arguably a more interesting reflection of the times. Its enlarged glasshouse and thick beltline did give the car a rather heavy, static appearance compared to the Carabo.

It could also be argued that the Navajo lacked the innovation of its predecessor, with its design that's almost a caricature of future thinking at the time. However, from its lamps to its contemporary colorway to its innovative aerodynamics, it's still the Navajo that would look right at home beside a space shuttle or delta-winged commercial jet.

First seen 1976 Geneva motor show
Length 3,800mm
Width 1,860mm
Height 1,050mm
Wheelbase 2,430mm
Weight 870kg
Engine 2.0-liter V8, 230bhp

By Tom Phillips