1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Berlinetta by Carrozzeria Touring
In the twenties and thirties, Alfa Romeo was equivalent to today’s Ferrari. Funded by the state, they were directed to build great racing machines, the cars they built were the best in the world.
From the companies founding Alpha Romeo had employed thousands of highly skilled workers, despite making excellently engineered cars they only produced a few expensive models rather than mass producing cheaper ones. As a business model this was fatally floored and the company inevitably hit financial difficulties. The then Facist Italian government bailed the company out and effectively took control. However rather than instructing the company to produce large runs of affordable cars, in order to get it back on its feet financially, they instructed Alfa Romeo to produce racing machines and bespoke vehicles for the wealthy. This was aimed at showing Italy’s technological prowess. As a result Alfa Romeo became a national emblem for the country, much like Ferrari is today.
In a time when many manufacturers, rather than designing their sports cars from scratch, would attempt to modify large idiosyncratic cars into pseudo – sports cars; Alfa Romeo were producing beautifully crafted lightweight works of art, designed from the ground up. In doing so they were to lead the world and show how cars would be designed and built in the future. Alfa produced almost all the parts in-house at the factory in Milan in their Fabrication shop, pattern works , foundry and machine shop. Each part was made by craftsman who took great pride in the part they were tasked with creating and the whole production was over-scene by legendary chief engineer Vittorio Jano, who was later to move on to Ferrari. There was constant testing, evaluating and improving, making the cars meet continually evolving standards. In fact one could say that these really were the first super cars, Alfa’s focus was on performance and handling and then wrapping the whole package up in the most beautiful contemporary design and best quality materials. This ethos of form and function from conception to execution is something that Enzo Ferrari was to take with him when he left Alfa Romeo to found his own company.
The 6C 1500 debuted in 1925 at the Milan auto show and set a new standard for lightweight, high performance road cars, causing Alfa’s reputation to soar. Other cars of the time were much heavier and used huge engines in order to get decent performance. The Alfa’s lightweight body meant that the 6C could easily keep up with contemporary sporty cars while using a much smaller 1500cc engine. In 1929 the 6C 1750 was introduced followed in 1934 by the 6C 2300 fitted with an engine with twice the displacement of the 1750 taking the cars performance to another level.
In 1939 the 6C 2500 was introduced and continued production, in small numbers, throughout the war and on until 1953. The car was designed to carry multiple passengers and their luggage in a reliable and comfortable car that provided excellent performance with grand touring coachwork. in order to achieve this the inline six cylinder engine, which could trace its routes back to earlier models had the cylinder bore increased by 2mm and an improved cylinder head was fitted, giving better aspiration and increased compression. This resulted in the engine producing 95hp. It was fitted with independent front suspension and torsion bar sprung independent rear suspension for superior handling, road holding and comfort. Large drum brakes were fitted with aluminium cooling fins shrunk around cast iron drums, these were very effective for the period.
Although the car can trace its routes back to pre war race machines it is often thought of as a “bridge to post World War 2 production”
The car shown here was made in 1939 and is one of only 13 produced by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan, the best known and most prolific coach builder for Alfa during the period and now a world famous name. The late 30’s saw substantial evolution in aerodynamics and Touring of Milan was a leader in the new technology. They developed their designs in their own wind tunnel and tried a number of approaches. The car was built using Tourings ‘Superleggera’ (Super lightweight) construction system. Patented in 1936 at the time this was a state of the art method of construction. The system involves a framework of slim steel tubes that form the structure of the body, over which are laid the alloy panels of the car’s skin. The advantages of the construction method include the touted lightness as well as providing the designers with tremendous flexibility in fashioning highly original body shapes.
Benito Mussolini loved the car so much that he commissioned one for his mistress, Clara Petacci and they used it for many of their tête-à-têtes. He was later to find it didn’t make for a very inconspicuous getaway vehicle. At the end of the war with the allies moving in he made a break for Switzerland with a view to flying from there to Spain. He disguised himself as a German and drove in the back of a german truck while Clara drove convoy in her 6C. They didn’t make it and were stopped by communist partisans near Lake Como, later to be shot and have their bodes hung from the roof of an Esso gas station in Milan.
I photographed this car for RM auctions on the shortest day of the year. I had scouted for locations the day before as I knew I wouldn’t have too much time with the car. The car was kept at the Candy Store a garage / club for enthusiast owners in the heart of Burlingame and close to both San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I arrived mid afternoon as arranged We moved the car outside and went to lock up the garage, before heading of to take the photos but the lock was broken. We had no option but to wait for a lock smith arrive. By the time we finally got the car to the location it was beginning to get dark, so I had to work fast. The light at dusk over the San Francisco bay however is lovely. So I’d say that things worked out just about perfectly and, as a bonus, I got to spend some extra time at the Candy Store checking out the collection of beautiful cars!