“Alfa Romeo Stories”, second episode: the iconic 6C 1750 anticipates the future and is the protagonist of its era
The flying mantle
It is April 13, 1930, five in the morning has just passed. The quiet of Lake Garda is broken by the roar of an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport spider Zagato that goes 150 km per hour with the headlights off. At the wheel is Tazio Nuvolari from Mantua, called “Nivola”. At his side is Gian Battista Guidotti, head of Alfa Romeo test driver at Portello.
The race is the legendary Mille Miglia. At the head is Achille Varzi. which seems to be heading towards victory. But a few kilometers before the lake, in Verona, Nuvolari and Guidotti had a crazy idea: turn off the lights. To beat the rival, the only way is to catch him by surprise.
It is almost dawn. After the lake there is the countryside that leads to the finish line in Brescia. It is here that Varzi and the second Canavesi driver hear the echo of another engine. Not even the time to understand what’s going on, and a car identical to theirs surpasses them.
Nuvolari wins at an average speed of 100.45 km / h. It is the first time in this race that the wall of 100 km / h on average is broken – a record that the press of the time gives great prominence to. The unbelieving Varzi comes second, ten minutes away. Third Giuseppe Campari. Fourth Pietro Ghersi. Very different drivers, with one thing in common: they all drive the same car, the 6C 1750. And they are not the only ones. Another 6C will arrive in the next hour and a half – a total of eight in the first eleven places.
An absolute supremacy, reaffirmed that same year with the top three finishers at the Spa 24 Hours, in Belgium, and at the Belfast Tourist Trophy. The 6C 1750 is the fastest car of its time.
The 6C family
The 6C is the first creature of Vittorio Jano, who has taken over all the Alfa Romeo design since 1926. The mandate was to create a “light car with brilliant performance” – capable of arriving first in racing, of being admired, but also of opening up new markets.
The 6C combines structure cleanliness and mechanical sophistication – the typical qualities of Jano cars. But it also has something more, which will become a distinctive Alfa Romeo feature: a high specific power. Jano knows how to extract horses from small engines, and this leads him to imagine what we would call “downsizing” today: he creates engines that are halfway between the one-liter engine capacity, typical of small cars, and the two or three liters of luxury cars . Even then, Alfa Romeos are stronger than all thanks to the best weight / power ratio.
Starting from this design intuition, models are born that will make history.
Already for the GP 1914 (later blocked by the war), Merosi had developed unprecedented engine solutions, which would have characterized Alfa Romeo’s future design history: the two overhead camshafts, the four valves per cylinder and the dual ignition. Other innovations are introduced on the 6C 1900 GT (and subsequently on the 6C 2300 and 6C 2500): the independent wheel suspension, and a new frame with welded (instead of studded) components to increase rigidity.
The handling and road holding of the Alfa Romeo become legendary: “handling” enters the brand’s DNA.
The 6C 1750
The 6C 1750 presented in January 1929 at the Rome Motor Show perhaps represents the full maturation of the 6C formula. The engine is an evolution of the previous 1500 six-cylinder in-line engine. It is produced in different versions – single-shaft and double-shaft, with volumetric compressor and without – and the power goes from the 46 horses of the Turismo version to the 102 horses of the Gran Sport “Fixed Head”. The latter is a “special version” produced in very few copies: the cylinder head is cast in block with the cylinder base to eliminate the seals (and the risk of burning them), the weight is only 840 kg and the maximum speed of 170 km / h.
But it is not only the engine that makes the 6C 1750 the highest point of innovation in the automotive field. The braking system is mechanical, with large drums controlled by a transmission system. The pressed steel frame is perfectly balanced and extremely rigid, with reinforced axles. The leaf springs are mounted not under the side members, but outside the car body: the lower center of gravity enhances the cornering grip. The fuel tank has been set back to obtain a greater load on the rear wheels and improve the balance between the axles. All cutting-edge solutions, which – in line with the house’s philosophy – are applied to racing cars as well as road cars.
Race wins become a sounding board for the model’s technical supremacy. Since its inception, the 6C 1750 has had considerable commercial success. From 1929 to 1933 2,579 copies came out of the Portello, sold on the domestic market but also abroad – especially in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Significant number, considering that it is a decidedly “elite” car. In Italy, the selling price ranged from 40 to 60 thousand lire: about seven years of an average salary.
The era of body builders
The 6C is not only fast, it is also very beautiful. And much of its success is due to the coachbuilders who “dress” it: master craftsmen capable of combining the profession of saddler, panel beater, painter and upholsterer – but above all creatives and stylists capable of leaving a mark in their era.
Until the thirties, it was normal for bare frames to come out of the production plants, equipped with engine, gearbox and suspension. The customer purchased the car, then turned to the bodybuilder to have a bespoke model created – practically unique in the world. Only in 1933 did an internal body shop department open at Portello, which supported (but did not replace) the production of mechanized chassis sold directly to customers and coachbuilders.
The 6C 1750 demonstrates great set-up flexibility. Around the exceptional Alfa Romeo mechanics some of the most elegant cars ever developed – bodywork by the most illustrious stylists, and bought by the most famous personalities.
The 6C 1750 GS Touring “Flying Star”
The “Flying Star” was born to be as beautiful as its owner: Josette Pozzo, millionaire, model and protagonist of the social events of the time. Created specifically to participate in the 1931 Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza, it was developed by the Carrozzeria Touring of Felice Bianchi Anderloni.
The 6C 1750 spider is a “unique piece”: a true jewel of originality, elegance and attention to detail. It’s all white, including underbody, wheel spokes, steering wheel, and saddlery – with the only exception of the contrasting black dashboard.
With this model, Touring gives the 1750 new proportions and inserts a series of aesthetic details that give it an “liberty” charm – such as the suspended front and rear steps, which arise from the wheel arches to cross under the doors without touching each other.
At Villa d’Este the 6C 1750 GS Touring wins the “Golden Cup” assigned to the most beautiful car – and at the award ceremony Josette personally drives the car, showing off a perfectly coordinated white dress.