Sam Philip 04 October 2013

First drive: Touring Disco Volante

A standard 8C too common for you? Then you need this – Sam Philip drives the discerning man’s coachbuilt Alfa…

What is it?

It's an Alfa Romeo 8C for the discerning cove who sees the 8C itself as (a) too cheap, (b) too common and (c) a bit boring to look at.

That'll be the very expensive, very rare, very not-boring-to-look at Alfa 8C?

Indeed. It takes a certain sort of confidence/madness to look at Alfa's V8 masterpiece - the car widely regarded as perhaps the most beautiful of the 21st century - and think: hey, not bad, but what if we chopped it up and started again? But that is the sacrifice Milan's Touring Superleggera must make for every Disco Volante: taking an angle grinder to the delicious bodywork of an 8C and crafting its own voluptuous coachwork about the Alfa's chassis and V8.

Murdering an 8C? Noo, the inhumanity, etc...

In fairness, if anyone has the pedigree for such an act of sacrilege, it's Carrozzeria Touring. One of the original Italian coachbuilders, the Milan house crafted masterpieces including the original Alfa 8C and BMW 328 Coupe, and, after World War II, the Alfa 1900 C52 (which provides the inspiration for this new Disco Volante), Aston DB5 and Lamborghini 350GT. After a rather quiet five decades or so, the brand is back on the up, recently showing a fastback Maserati Quattroporte and shooting brake Bentley Conti.

The Disco Volante, however, is Touring’s first entirely blank-sheet design of the 21st century – and one, it’s worth mentioning, too, fully sanctioned by Alfa.

So how much 8C remains?

Though Touring leaves the donor Alfa's ample powertrain and chassis largely untouched – bar a fresh exhaust and a few suspension tweaks to cope with the slight redistribution of weight – its skin is all-new.

The body is rendered in hand-beaten aluminium - the only way to achieve those phenomenally complex, voluptuous panels - with a smattering of weapons-grade carbon fibre thrown in for good measure. It is coachbuilding in its most traditional sense, an art that has virtually died out in an era of monocoque construction and mass manufacture.

It looks… different.

It does. Touring's chief designer Louis de Fabribeckers accepts this is a car that’ll polarize opinion: it's not a conventionally elegant design, doing away with the pared-back, sharp-edged minimalism of modern supercars in favour of a more curvaceous aesthetic.

That said, for a car referencing the 1950s so strongly, the  Disco Volante steers clear of shamelessly retro, feeling more like a Fifties vision of the future. That name means 'Flying Saucer' in Italian, and from dead front or rear you can see the 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flight Of The Navigator influences. For what it’s worth, Top Gear thinks it looks jawdropping. And it’s not just us: the Disco won design if the year at the glitzy Villa D'Este Concorso d’Elegenza on Lake Como in May.

So how is it to drive?

Monstrous. Memorable. With the mechanicals little changed, the experience is very much Alfa 8C, which means that vicious, whipcrack V8 and the full-fat Italian front-engined supercar experience.

We always found the 8C entertaining but interestingly fallible, and the Disco Volante is more of the same: that six-speed flappy paddle box remains inescapably thunky, the ride inescapably hardcore. That said, the Disco’s foibles are even more forgivable than in its donor car, so immersive is the experience. And noisy, too: with a new, go-louder exhaust, the Disco Volante emits an extraordinary barrage of screams and booms and rattles worthy of Top Gear’s finest Pavarotti/opera metaphor.

At first it feels an odd sort of powertrain for something that looks like the Disco Volante - from its past-meets-future visuals, maybe we expected the noise of a 1950s Le Mans Alfa overlaid with Tie Fighter whooshing - but one that suits it well: organic and very extrovert.

It looks fast.

It is. Touring quotes 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 182mph, which sounds distinctly plausible. But most of the time you don't feel the need to drive the Disco at Full Stig: firstly because it's a very expensive, very wide, very rare slice of near-irreplaceable exotica, but mostly because this a machine in which to waft around, basking in the attention it provokes, enjoying the bass-to-soprano range of the 4.7-litre V8 and the sheer occasion of the thing. 

The giant sunroof adds a surprisingly airy dimension to the low cockpit, while Touring's interior upgrades - which is to say most of it bar the dash, which had to remain unfettered for homologation reasons - are as bespoke and immaculately executed as anything on the planet. This is an event of a supercar like no other, making the Veyron feel mass-produced, even a Pagani Zonda seem a litte straight-laced.

So can I buy one?

Yes. With a couple of caveats. First, that you have vast reserves of spare cash. Touring won't reveal exactly how much you'll pay for a Disco Volante - firstly because the exact price will vary by each customer's specific demands and secondly because, as they say, if you have to ask - but politely points out you can get a measure of the cost by the fact that each car requires over 10,000 man hours just to build. And even if your pockets are sufficiently voluminous, you'll also have to lay your hands on, and stump up for, an Alfa 8C donor car. And be happy to see it chopped to pieces.

If you pass the qualification criteria, best be quick: Touring plans a production run of just eight cars, with most spoken for already. But however exorbitant the final pricetag, we're pretty sure it'd be a canny investment: has any car in history ever screamed 'future classic' more loudly than this?

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