“Stories Alfa Romeo”, third episode: the 6C 2500 Villa d’Este is the most elegant synthesis of a way of conceiving the car
The symbol of an era
When the 6C 2500 coached by Touring paraded on the Cernobbio catwalk in the spring of 1949, it is clear to everyone who will win the Gold Cup. The uniqueness and class of its lines are such that it is natural to give them “ad honorem” the name of the most important Concorso d’Eleganza in the world.
But the 6C 2500 Villa d’Este is not only a peak of stylistic beauty. This car is at the same time a point of arrival for the artisan way of making cars, and the turning point that announces a more modern production organization.
A Trevisano who has traveled the world
Let’s take a step back. When the 6C 2500 was born in 1939, engineer Ugo Gobbato was at the helm of the Portello for six years. Gobbato brought an important wealth of industrial experience to Alfa Romeo: after graduating in Germany, he directed the Marelli workshops and the Lingotto in Turin, and was among the main architects of the “green lawn” construction of the first, gigantic factory of ball bearings of the Soviet Union.
Workshop man, it is easy to see him go through the departments, talk to his men, try to understand if the work is managed efficiently. Upon arrival, the first concern is to record everything that does not work: the “poor machinery”, the “non-harmonic plant”, the “false movements of material”. Starting from this analysis, Gobbato starts his work. His method lesson is summarized in two manuals published in 1932 entitled “Organization of production factors”: Gobbato theorises and implements a real synthesis between the needs of a modern industrial system and the tradition of craftsmanship precision that has distinguished the company until then.
A “non-standard production rationality”, as it is defined, which takes the form of the inclusion of a lever of young engineers. With them, new rules and modern rules enter the factory. The result is a more defined hierarchy, precise tasks and proportionate wages.
A young promise
As part of this huge overhaul of the Portello, a soccer field is also set up in an adjacent area, complete with an athletics track and tribune.
We are in 1938: the corporate after-work team, the Alfa Romeo Football Group, won the regional division the year before, and will play in Serie C. A promising young footballer is hired for the occasion, attracted by the prospect of an occupation stable as a mechanic at the door. Valentino Mazzola is the future captain of the national team and the Grande Torino.
Who knows if the great Valentino ever worked as a mechanic on a 6C 2500? The only certainty is the presence of the young man at Portello when the first car of the new series was produced in 1939.
The 6C 2500
A direct evolution of the 6C 2300 and 2300 B that preceded it, the 6C 2500 inherits some important technical innovations, such as torsion bar rear suspensions with telescopic shock absorbers, and brakes that are no longer mechanical but hydraulic.
Performance becomes brighter: power levels go up to 110 horsepower in the Super Sport, capable of 170 kilometers per hour. The car made its racing debut by winning the 1939 Tobruk-Tripoli with a “thick wing” bodywork, which integrated the bumpers into the body.
Once again the technical uniqueness of the model and the sporting successes become the key to addressing the elite clientele. Production starts with the five or seven-seater Turismo versions, Sport and Super Sport with short wheelbase, to be entrusted to external body builders. Despite the price (ranging from 62 to 96 thousand lire), the welcome from the market is more than positive. It is above all a great turnover success: the 159 units sold are worth as much as 1,200 Fiat 508 Balilla.
The return of the 6C
After the Second World War, the factories must be converted from war production to civilian production. The Portello suffered the bombings of 1943 and 1944, and paid a tough price. Restarting to make cars is not easy, and it is necessary to start again from the latest model of the house, the 6C 2500 which has been able to save some stocks of mechanical parts.
In 1945 only very few specimens of the 6C 2500 Sport were assembled. Technicians and workers look at them as one looks at a dream. Outside the Portello, Milan and many Italian cities are still partially destroyed, and the economy is on its knees: even companies must resort to the black market to obtain the materials and fuels necessary for the operation of the plants.
The 6C 2500 Cabriolet Speciale Pinin Farina
In 1946 production has already risen to 146 units, including cars and chassis delivered to body builders. One of the latter is set up in a convertible version and brought to the Paris Motor Show. Italy, a defeated country, is excluded from the event – and then the enterprising coachbuilder decides to place his cars in front of the entrance to the Grand Palais, and then move them to Place de l’Opéra in the evening. This is enough to sanction the success of the model and its creator, Battista “Pinin” Farina.
At Portello, also in 1946, the original Freccia d’Oro was born on a Sport chassis, with a rounded tail that interprets the latest developments in aerodynamics. Starting from this model, very important creations are born. Pinin Farina signs an elegant coupe, whose lines make school, and a berlinetta awarded at the Cernobbio Competition. Motorist Achille Castoldi buys a Touring coupe and repeats what Farina did in Paris at the Geneva Motor Show.
The car of the “beautiful world”
Tyrone Power is driving around Rome with its Alfa Romeo 6C 2500, Juan Peron and his wife Evita want it to parade in Milan. People like King Farouk of Egypt and Rainier III of Monaco buy it. When Rita Hayworth reached Prince Ali Khan at the Cannes city hall on 27 May 1949 to get married, she did so on board the 6C 2500 cabriolet Pinin Farina which she had just received as a wedding gift. The model has an elegant gray bodywork, with blue hood and interior perfectly in tune with the bride’s dress.
The wedding was initially scheduled for the beginning of the month; but the wedding date is postponed due to the Superga tragedy, by the express will of the Prince – Turin born, and a big football fan. A circle closed in 1939 with the birth of the first 6C 2500, when the young and still unknown Valentino Mazzola trained at Portello.
The 6C 2500 SS Coupé Villa d’Este
We arrived at the Villa d’Este, perhaps the synthesis of all that has been done so far with the car and on the car.
The 6C 2500 SS “Villa d’Este” is one of the last Alfa Romeo models to be built with a supporting frame separate from the bodywork. It is produced in only 36 specimens, one different from the other, depending on the wishes of the customers and the inspiration of the coachbuilders.
Starting from the 6C 2500 SS Coupé, built by its own Touring, Bianchi Anderloni introduces important changes: the front is redesigned, the four headlights are better integrated into the bodywork, two superimposed elongated cooling sockets appear. The fenders are integrated into the side, but clearly visible. The windshield is split and inclined. In the back, very low and pronounced, two small, elegant round headlights stand out.
A masterpiece of automotive art of the twentieth century was born.
In the 1949 edition of the Concorso d’Eleganza in Villa d’Este, the car won the “Grand Prix Referendum”, the prize awarded by the public – and always retains the name of the event that consecrates it.