Pininfarina 2ettottanta
Now the 8C Competizione and Spider need a smaller sibling. How's about a 4C Duetto Spider based on the Pininfarina Alfa Romeo 2ettottanta barchetta? I'd take one, if it can start at $38,000 or so.

There the svelte, tautly designed blood-red barchetta spider sat in the Pininfarina corral in Geneva, begging the Benjamin Braddock in me to hop in and go save the woman of my dreams from her bitter marriage altar.

To speak with everyone involved on the Pininfarina Alfa Romeo 2ettottanta (pronounced "du-eh-toh-TAN-tah," a play on the Italian words for two and duet, the Duetto nickname for the most famous Alfa spider, and ottanta for the 80-year anniversary of Pininfarina), it's pretty clear that the apex of the high-spirited sports car era all'italiana came in 1967 when Dustin Hoffman drove his red Duetto spider on the big screen in The Graduate. It's been a steady downhill since then. Fittingly, the Duetto was also one of the last Alfa Romeo models ever sold in the United States.

That long-lived spider, first sketched in the late 1950s and produced from 1966 through 1993, was designed especially for the U.S. West Coast. Whenever Fiat Group finally learns how to make Alfa Romeos sell like BMWs and Audis, a 2ettottanta image leader must be a key part of the product mix.

Beneath the layer of glossy red veneer there is a surprise: the 2ettottanta is made of finely machined, sanded, and shaped apple wood. This is a keen traditional touch, since the common way for years in Turin was to create wooden jigs around which aluminum panels were pounded into shape. It sits on an heavily adapted Fiat Group family architecture with a wheelbase that's 98.4 inches long, just an inch shorter than the current Alfa Spider of the 159/Brera lineup.

The 2ettottanta falls in somewhere between an Audi TT and a Nissan 370Z. In an added technical detail that makes Alfisti drool in anticipation, the intended layout is a turbocharged 232-hp inline four mounted longitudinally behind the front axle and driving the rear wheels.

Lowie Vermeersch, project design director at Pininfarina, says: "Back at the start of designing the showcar in October 2009 we were only thinking of capturing the pure fun and pleasure of that great wide-open style of driving." Vermeersch himself owns a '76 Alfa Duetto spider.

Regardless of its extreme pre-production state, sitting in the 2ettottanta and moving with it shows off the stunning potential of this design. Pininfarina has taken the Alfa Duetto spider concept and matured it, playing appropriately with the proportions for a modern world. The main change is shifting the passenger tub rearward instead of leaving it dead center. And then there are those imaginative flying buttresses a la Porsche Boxster Spyder, to give a most recent example. These latter 42-inch long and 11-inch high flourishes would never make it into production as is.

It struck me as a smaller 8C Spider with its roof permanently open. Over its lifetime, the original Duetto spider had three key iterations-the design on early ones is referred to as osso di sepia, meaning "cuttlefish bone" and referring to the curved tail. Then came the coda tronca styling that cut off that tail, and finally aerodinamica, which blended the two.

"We've taken a bit from both the osso di sepia and coda tronca designs," Vermeersch says. "But then the vast majority is much more modern and with, we think, better proportions." The 2ettottanta is slippery through the air in initial computer simulations, too, registering a cd of 0.32.

Inside, the controls are simple and clear. Here's hoping the eventual center tunnel on a 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C Duetto can stay this slim and still use the seven-speed TCT (twin-clutch automatic) transmission in a longitudinal layout. The small center lever is perfect in the hand and the Start button in red at the thumb is a great solution.

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