The Story of the Alfa Romeo Carabo, the Concept that Pioneered the Scissor Doors

1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept 17 photos
Photo: Alfa Romeo
1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Marcello Gandini designed some of the most iconic cars of the 1970s, but his career at Bertone debuted earlier than that, in 1965. Just one year later, the Lamborghini Miura took the world by storm as one of the very first mid-engined supercars.
The Miura's sleek and muscular body was Bertone's first major design, but the 28-year-old would return in 1968 with something even more radical. I'm talking about the Alfa Romeo Carabo, the concept car that started the wedge-design craze and the vehicle that pioneered the scissor doors we now see on many modern supercars.

A wedge-obsessed take on the 33 Stradale

The Carabo started life as an Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Designed by Franco Scaglione of Carrozzeria Marazzi, it debuted in 1967 with a curvaceous body and butterfly doors. Only 18 chassis were built, but not all of them were finished with Scaglione's beautiful bodies.

1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Photo: Alfa Romeo
Five chassis were used for six concept cars (one was used twice) designed and built from 1968 to 1976. Gandini's Carabo was the first one, making a rather shocking appearance at the 1968 Paris Motor Show.

The car that redesigned the future

Totally different from the 33 Stradale designed by Franco Scaglione, the Carabo introduced the world to a new era of extremely angular, wedge-shaped car designs. In short, Gandini abandoned the compass it used to design the Miura in favor of a ruler.

But it wasn't just the angular design of the Carabo that raised eyebrows. The concept was also extremely low and flat, with the windscreen angled just a tad higher above the almost horizontal line of the front deck. Yes, visibility was terrible from behind the steering wheel, but the Carabo wasn't designed to be practical. Its main purpose was to make late 1960s sports cars look dated.

1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Photo: Alfa Romeo
To keep the nose flat, Gandini also designed the Carabo with pop-up headlamps. These were far from new in 1968, but this vehicle was the first to combine them with a low-slung, almost flat nose. The Carabo looked dramatic and out of this world compared to the Lotus Elan, Chevrolet Corvette, and Opel GT, production cars that introduced pop-up lights earlier in the 1960s.

The world's first car with scissor doors

Space-age looks aside, the Carabo also pioneered the scissor doors, a feature that would find its way on production models for decades to come. While it's easy to see this feature as a result of Gandini's eccentric approach to car design, it was in fact dictated by his concern over the car's extremely poor rear visibility.

You see, the Carabo did not have a rear window. The entire engine hood was covered in black louvers, through which it was nearly impossible to see where you're going when driving backward. The scissor design enabled the driver to lift the door and lean his upper body out of the cabin in order to see behind the car.

1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Photo: Alfa Romeo
It's an operation that could have easily resulted in a strained neck, but the scissor doors seemed so exotic at the time that they found their way onto many production models. Alfa Romeo did not adopt the design, but Lamborghini did.

They're still around after more than 50 years

It all started with the Countach, which went into development in 1970, two years after the Carabo's debut. Commissioned to design the successor to the Miura, Gandini used the Carabo as a base for the Countach LP500 prototype, shown in 1971.

While not exactly as radical as the Alfa Romeo, the Lambo borrowed the flat yet wide appearance, the pop-up headlamps, the truncated rear end, and the scissor doors. The production model followed suit in 1974 and the scissor doors became an integral part of Lamborghini's lineage of range-topping supercars, finding its way on the Diablo, Murcielago, and the Aventador.

1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Photo: Alfa Romeo
The design was eventual adopted by other carmakers, including Ferrari, Bugatti, Spyker, Vector, and even Renault. Notable examples include the LaFerrari Aperta, Bugatti EB 110, Spyker C8, Vector W8, and Renault Twizy.

It was a fully functional car

The auto industry has spawned quite a few spectacular and innovative concept cars over the years, but some of them didn't have drivetrains (some were devoid of interiors too). The Maserati Boomerang, for instance, an equally stunning concept from the era, debuted without a drivetrain.

But Gandini went for all the bells and whistles and made everything functional, from the louvered headlamps to the 2.0-liter V8 engine and the six-speed manual transmission. The drivetrain was carried over from the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale.

1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept
Photo: Alfa Romeo
And even though it might seem like a small V8 for modern standards, the 2.0-liter mill was of race-bred variety and revved up to almost 9,000 rpm. Rated at 227 horsepower and 152 pound-feet (206 Nm), it pushed the 33 Stradale from 0 to 62 mph (100 kph) in less than six seconds, to go a top speed of 160 mph (260 kph).

It was named after a beetle

The name Carabo was derived from the golden ground beetle, known as the carabus auratus. The concept was also painted accordingly to reflect the iridescent green color with golden reflections of the beetle. The orange stripe on the nose, for instance, resembled the legs and antennae of the insect.

It was one of many Gandini-designed wedge cars

Not only it inspired the Lamborghini Countach, but the Carabo also influenced Gandini's upcoming design. Nearly everything that he penned in the 1970s borrowed styling cues from the concept, including show cars like the Lancia Stratos Zero and Alfa Romeo Navajo and production models like the Maserati Khamsin, Lamborghini Urraco, and De Tomaso Pantera. The Bugatti EB 110 and Cizeta-Moroder V16T, also designed by Gandini, took the Carabo's radical styling cues well into the 1990s.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea profile photo

Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories