Gear Head Tuesday – 1937 Alfa-Romeo 6C 2300B Berlinetta

Gear Head

A tip of the hat today to “Ol’ Petrol Head” for sending the link to the Bonhams Auction in Paris in December, 2015, where this fabulous Alfa was offered.

Alfa-Romeo

This beautiful 1937 Alfa-Romeo 6C 2300B Berlinetta was offered at the Bonhams Auction at the Grand Palais in Paris in December 2015. It had been exhibited at the famous Pebble Beach Concours in chassis form during restoration and again a year later at Pebble Beach after the restoration had been completed.

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Text adapted from the Bonhams catalogue.

Introduced at the 1934 Milan Salone, the Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 was the latest flowering of a noble line of sporting models that had originated in 1925 with the 6C 1500. The latter was the first true expression of the abiding design genius of Vittorio Jano, who had masterminded the Italian firm’s meteoric rise to world-class stature in the mid-1920s. His P2 and Tipo B Monoposto Grand Prix racing designs proved virtually unbeatable at premier level in their heyday, while his family of six-cylinder sports-racing cars has passed into the annals of motoring history as the standard-setter of its time.

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Jano visualised the 6C 1500 as a fast touring car that would capitalise on the fame brought to Alfa Romeo by the success of his Grand Prix racers. Intended as ‘a small chassis of very high quality… no expense was to be spared in attaining this object’, the 6C 1500 was first revealed in prototype form at the Milan Motor Show in April 1925, though production did not begin until 1927. Jano had settled on a six-cylinder model with a capacity of 1,500cc as he believed that gave the right combination of light weight and sparking performance, thanks to the engine’s high specific output. These principles would be maintained throughout the 1930s as Alfa’s six-cylinder range evolved through 1750, 1900, 2300 and 2500 models.

The 2300’s six-cylinder 2,309cc engine featured an integrally cast crankcase and cylinder block topped by an aluminium-alloy cylinder head. In ascending order of specification and performance: Turismo, Gran Turismo and competition Pescara models were offered. In 1934 the 6C 2300 made an auspicious competition debut in the inaugural Giro d’Italia when Gran Turismo models featuring tuned engines and special bodies (the basis of the Pescara version) finished 1, 2, 3. The top-of-the range 6C 2300 Pescara developed 95bhp, which was good enough for a top speed of 145km/h.

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At the 1936 Milan Auto Salon Alfa Romeo unveiled a substantially redesigned version of the 6C 2300. Designated as the 6C 2300 B, it broke new ground for the company with the introduction of independent front and rear suspension. Jano and his team had eclipsed themselves, with a complicated looking, but beautifully designed system, which at once both improved the car’s handling and also lowered the centre of gravity of the car. At the same time hydraulic brakes were also introduced, for a vastly improved package overall.

The wheelbase of these cars was now standardised at 3 metres, still with the optional long chassis variant at 3.25metres.

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This major revision allowed the cars to be designed with more aerodynamic bodywork and in fact well in advance of the public announcement of the ‘B’ model the company had been working with some of its closer local coachbuilding houses, with a single independently sprung Touring Pescara Berlina campaigning the Mille Miglia in 1935 and later that year at the Coppa Abruzzo. This leap forward in technology would assist Alfa Romeo’s competition efforts greatly.

This first series of independently sprung 6C 2300B cars would run through to 1938, when they were re-badged from Turismo, Gran Turismo and Pescara to Lungo, Corto and Mille Miglia. Lungo and Corto are self explanatory, Alfa Romeo now being far more transparent in their positioning of the options their buyers had. The more sporting version however now upgraded its name to the association with the Mille Miglia, where they had produced 1st in Class in 1936, 1937 and 1938.

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In their essence, the chassis and running gear were not hugely different between them, but the most sporting Mille Miglia had 20hp more (30hp on the race versions), derived from a 7.75: 1 compression ratio and twin single choke Solex 35-40FH carburettors driven through a 14/61 back axle for a top speed of 145kph. It was not only the performance that made the difference though: this definitive sporting model wore some of the best looking sporting coachwork of its day, the lion’s share being completed in either Berlinetta or Spider form by Touring. Renowned for their lightweight coachwork, this Touring body would unquestionably have contributed to Alfa’s racing successes. In all 861 6C 2300 ‘B’ motorcars were built by Alfa Romeo, the secondary series being more numerous than the first.

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This exquisite and jewel-like Berlinetta comes to the market following a comprehensive restoration to the very highest American standards. The quality of the work is reflected in the fact that it was able to be displayed at the world renowned Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance both as a rolling chassis and as a completed car.

The whole project was a multi-year restoration, which began with its acquisition by the current owner, a long term, West Coast based, collector in 2006. The car had originally arrived on his radar at the suggestion of a friend who had assisted him with many of his restorations, noted restorer Chris Kidd of Tired Iron Works. Offered for sale at public auction, it had recently arrived in America and was thought to have spent most of its life in Argentina. Both felt that the car had considerable potential at Concours level and relished the prospect of returning this Berlinetta, with all of its style and detail to its former beauty.

As with many previous projects, the owner enlisted the expertise of noted historians to ensure that it was restored accurately and with a high level of detail. At the same time, it was also his intention to research as much of the history as possible and to trace its existence back to day one.

Their research brought them to one of the most noted specialists in this field, Raoul San Giorgi and he was employed to assess the car prior to its rebuild.

The car had been attributed with the chassis number 815025, which is stamped on the front chassis member where one would expect to find its identity. It should noted that while this is neither in the same orientation or precise location as other surviving Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B Mille Miglia cars, it is not the only such car to represent an anomaly in this regard.

The research of this era of Alfa Romeo production is not as straightforward as for some makes and models, in that the records for these cars were sadly destroyed during the Second World War. Historians such as Luigi Fusi with his remarkable tome ‘Tutte La Vetture dal 1910/All Cars from 1910’, and those that have followed in his footsteps have documented the correlations of these numbers. Those within the series of 815001-815101 are recorded as being for the 6C 2300 B Mille Miglia Second Series.

In Mr. San Giorgi’s opinion the chassis was unquestionably an Alfa Romeo chassis and carried many of the features specific to the more desirable Mille Miglia model, including numbered ‘MM’ suspension pots, and its structure around the bulkhead, ‘A’-pillar and windscreen.

The evidence of this number could normally be considered to be key to the roots of the car, however extensive research by a number of interested parties provided something of an anomaly in that car 815025, has been found to have been listed on Swiss Road Registration records as being a Cabriolet. 815025 was registered in that country from 1938 through to 1958, its last known owner being one Karl Vogt of Zurich.

It has not been possible to trace a documented path for the car from Switzerland to South America.

At best, one can hypothesize that the car migrated from Switzerland at some time after 1958 and continued its life in Argentina. The Alfa Romeo brand has long been popular in South America, and it would be by no means the first car to have made this excursion, nor the first to have had a secondary ‘life’ in some other purpose than it may have originally been delivered. The car may either have lost its bodywork along the way, or indeed been converted from a cabriolet to a berlinetta. It is known to have been restored or rebuilt in the early 2000s and on occasions to have been run on the 1000 Millas Sport in Argentina.

As noted above, since 6C 2300B chassis and running gear were virtually identical across a relatively long production run, it is equally also possible that the car’s origins lie elsewhere.

To add to the intrigue as acquired the car wore an authentic Touring coachwork badge, with the number 2099, which is in sequence with other Touring bodied 6C2300B Mille Miglia cars of that era and this number was found to be repeated on some of the body side trim pieces.

Alongside the research that was carried out in historical terms, considerable research was carried out in detail terms with the aim of bringing the car as close as possible to the specification of a 6C 2300B Mille Miglia model, its believed heritage. Mr. San Giorgi continued to be employed to advise on this accuracy. The bodywork was extensively restored and reworked, using existing drawings taken from surviving Alfa Touring Berlinettas, provided by Mr. San Giorgi. In addition, the owner and restorer traveled to Touring in Milan and consulted with the modern day team at the styling house.

During its rebuild, the engine that was in the car as acquired (which was numbered 823926) was discovered to be in very poor condition and a period unit from another 6C 2300 (number 823040) was purchased from David Smith of Washington State, USA and rebuilt. A pair of period Weber carburettors were sourced and fitted.

As the restoration progressed, it did so with the aim of being shown at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. When it became apparent that the car would not be ready in time for that year’s event, the car was instead shown as a perfectly restored chassis. Always a fascinating way in which to view a car, not surprisingly it drew much interest.

The following year, in 2011, the car returned there, now completed, one of few cars to have been presented on multiple occasions and during restoration. This was the culmination of a rebuild that by then had cost in excess of $1m. There it was seen by many, one of whom was Louis De Fabribeckers, the Head of Design for Touring Superleggera. Mr. Fabribeckers, who had studied the pre-war designs of the company comprehensively in his education, commended the restorer and was impressed by the accuracy of the restoration of the bodywork, commenting to its owner that he felt it had been rebuilt very faithfully to the company’s principles and design.

Wherever seen, the restoration has unquestionably been a huge success, and is beautifully detailed from stem to stern, particularly with regard to its interior. The car’s tasteful deep burgundy exterior is offset with a rich biscuit coloured leather interior.

Since that time, over the past 5 years, the car has remained cosseted in the owner’s collection and is to this day in exceptionally fine order throughout. Its post-restoration miles are very modest, and the car is barely ‘run in’. Regardless of its history and origins, which may perhaps continue to elude historians forever, as it stands today the Alfa is undeniably a stunning automobile, with faithfully restored coachwork and genuine underpinnings of an original Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B.

It carries a FIVA identity card also, and as such it is eligible for the Mille Miglia, or indeed to debut on the European Concours circuit.

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Update on the restoration of the Packard plant HERE

Packard Plant Bridge

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And now, for a little fun, “Ol’ Petrol Head” provides us with a photo of a Twin-Cam Ute:

Twin-Cam Ute

One Comment

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  1. Great story beautiful auto.

    I want one of ’em CAmels! They ain’t even walking a mile! 😉

    Like

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