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“STORIE ALFA ROMEO” EPISODE TWO: ICONIC 6C 1750 FORETELLS FUTURE AND DOMINATES ITS ERA
|Date: 28 Apr 2020
||Author Type: Press Release
The flying man from Mantua
- In the
1930s, the 6C 1750 possessed the unique ability to win races and design awards
- With outstanding
power-to-weight ratio and perfect balance, the 6C 1750 launched technical
traditions that continue today
On April 13, 1930, just after 5 am, the silent
shadows beside Lake Garda are shaken by the rumble of an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750
Gran Sport Spider Zagato driving at 150km/h with its headlights turned off. At
the wheel is Tazio Nuvolari, from Mantua, nicknamed “Nivola” and beside him is
Gian Battista Guidotti, chief Alfa Romeo test driver at the Portello Factory.
It’s a key moment of a mythical Mille Miglia
race. The race leader and expected victor is Achille Varzi. But some kilometers
before the lake, in Verona, Nuvolari and Guidotti had come up with an
unbelievable idea: turn off their headlights. Their only hope of beating their
rival was to take him by surprise.
Dawn was approaching. After the lake, the
placid countryside would lead to the finishing line in Brescia. It was here
that Varzi and his second driver Canavesi detected the echo of another engine.
Too late... before they realised what was happening, they’d been overtaken by
an identical car to their own.
Nuvolari won. His average speed was 100.45km/h. It was the first time ever that the
100km/h average speed barrier had been broken in this legendary race and the
record made the front pages all over Europe. Ten minutes later, a stunned Varzi
came second. Third to arrive was Giuseppe Campari. Fourth, Pietro Ghersi.
Different kinds of drivers with one thing in common: they were all racing in
the same car: the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750. And they weren’t the only ones. In the
following hour and a half, other 6C models arrived... all together, eight out of
the first eleven.
A case of what’s called absolute supremacy,
which was to be repeated that year with top three finishes in the Spa 24-hour
race in Belgium, and in the Belfast Tourist Trophy. The 6C 1750 was simply the
fastest car of its era.
The 6C family
Vittorio Jano had taken charge of all Alfa
Romeo product planning in 1926, and the 6C was his first creation. His task was
to invent “a brilliantly performing lightweight car” that would win races and
admirers, but also conquer new markets.
The 6C combined structural simplicity with
sophisticated engineering, typical virtues of Jano’s creations. However, it
also offered something else that would turn out to become an Alfa Romeo
speciality: extremely high specific power. Jano had an astonishing ability to
conjure horsepower from small engines, and this allowed him to imagine what
today we would call downsizing: designing engines with a displacement somewhere
between 1.0-litre for utility cars and the 2.0- or 3.0-litres of luxury models.
Even back then, Alfa Romeo boasted the best power-to-weight ratio making them
This engineering intuition led to a stream of
cars that became legendary.
Merosi had previously developed highly original
engines for the 1914 GP (blocked by the outbreak of war), which went on to dominate future Alfa Romeo engine design: two overhead
camshafts, four valves per cylinder and dual ignition. The 6C
1900 GT (and later the 6C 2300 and the 6C 2500) introduced further innovations:
independent suspension and a new chassis with welded (instead of riveted)
components, in order to boost rigidity.
The handling and road-holding performance of
Alfa Romeo models became key elements of its special Brand DNA.
The 6C 1750, presented in January 1929 at the
Rome Motor Show could be said to have expressed the 6C formula’s full
maturity. The engine was an evolution of the previous 1500 straight six engine.
It was produced in various versions – single- and double-overhead-cams, with
and without supercharger – ranging in power between 46bhp in the Turismo
version to 102bhp of the Gran Sport "Fixed
Head". The latter was
the most special incarnation of the 1750 with very limited production with the
cylinder head and crankcase cast in a single unit in order to eliminate the
seals (and the risk of burning them). Weighing in at just 840kg it could reach a top speed of
The engine was not the only factor that made
the 6C 1750 a peak of motoring innovation. It used a mechanical braking system,
with large drums actuated by pushrods. Its pressed steel chassis was perfectly
balanced and impressively rigid with leaf springs mounted outside the car body
instead of beneath the side members, allowing a lower centre-of-gravity, which
was a big contributor towards its class-leading handling. The fuel tank was set
further back, in order to obtain greater weight on the rear wheels to improve
axle balance. Importantly – and in line with the Brand’s philosophy – all the
innovations from the racing cars were shared with the production road cars.
The more races it won, the more the model’s
technical reputation grew. From its launch, the 6C 1750 immediately achieved
notable sales growth. Between 1929 and 1933, 2,579 models left the Portello
factory for sale in Italy but also abroad: notably in Great Britain and the
Commonwealth. An exceptional result, especially considering the car’s status as
an elite product. In Italy, for example, it cost between 40,000 and 60,000
lire: equivalent to roughly seven years of an average wage.
The bodybuilding era
Until the 1930s, it
was normal for bare frames to leave production plants,
equipped only with engine, gearbox and suspension. The customer purchased the
car, and then commissioned a coachbuilder to create a practically unique
bespoke body. The first bodybuilding department inside the Portello factory was
not launched until 1933. It initially co-existed with the previous system of
selling the basic bones of the car directly to customers and bodybuilders.
The 6C 1750 offered exceptional opportunities
for fine coachbuilder trims. Alfa Romeo’s extraordinary mechanical and
engineering base lent itself to the creation of some of the most elegant bodies
ever built, designed by the finest stylists and bought by some of the world’s
most famous people.
1750 GS Touring “Flying Star”
Star” was made to be as irresistible as its millionaire owner, model and
socialite celebrity, Josette Pozzo. It was conceived especially to participate
in the Concours d’Elegance competition of Villa d’Este in 1931, built by the Carrozzeria Touring of Felice Bianchi
1750 Spider was a one-off
creation: a jewel of originality, elegance and attention to detail. It was
entirely white, including the underbody, wheel spokes, steering wheel, and
upholstery, the only exception being its contrasting black dashboard.
endowed the 1750 with new proportions, adding a series of elegant art
nouveau aesthetic details, including the suspended front and rear steps
that extended from the wheel arches and crossed beneath the doors without
touching each other.
The result? At the Villa d’Este event, the 6C 1750 GS Touring won the
Gold Cup for the most beautiful car. Josette herself drove it to receive the
prize, dressed stunningly in a matching white outfit.