1929 Alfa Romeo 6C
- AutomobiltypCabriolet / Roadster
Chassis n° 0312905
Engine n° 0312905
- Exceptional history
- Continuous history, original registration
- Restored meticulously by Paul Grist
- Original engine
- Ex Tourist Trophy 1930, Ex 6 Hours of Brookland 1930
The car we are presenting, chassis 0312905, has an exceptional history that has been pieced together in its entirety through careful research. Before we recount the story of this car, here is a reminder of how the fabulous machine, the 6C 1750, was born.
The birth of the six-cylinder Alfa Romeo
In the early 1920s, Italy was full of brilliant engineers working on racing cars. One of these, Vittorio Jano, joined Alfa Romeo in 1923 with the task of designing a new Grand Prix car to replace the P1 created by Merosi. The result was the P2, one of the most outstanding race cars of the last two years of the 2-litre Formula. After the 1925 season, the car participated successfully in Formula Libre events through to 1929, and in a modified form, until the end of 1930. At the same time, Alfa Romeo asked Jano to work on a new straight six-cylinder ohc engine for a road car, the Tipo 6C 1500, presented in bare chassis form from the end of 1925 at various European Motor Shows. This chassis featured conventional suspension, but special alloys were used in individual components and this allowed many of the parts to be far lighter than similar parts used previously and by other makers of the time. As time went by, this type of engineering was applied more and more to different parts of the car.
The wheelbase was 2.92m for the Sport and Super Sport versions but 3.10m for cars fitted with more formal bodywork.
The engine came in three main forms - single ohc (Normale), twin ohc (Sport) and twin ohc with a blower (Super Sport); the latter required the engine to be moved back in the frame to allow for the blower to be driven off the nose of the crankshaft. The Normale had the cylinder block and head in one unit whereas the twin cam was usually fitted with a detachable head. However, some of the Super Sports (the Mille Miglia Speciale) had block and head in one unit called 'testa fissa'. All types had five main bearings (except for a very few later testa fissa engines that had eight) and the overhead camshafts were driven via a vertical shaft at the rear of the block. Water pump and dynamo were also driven off the rear of the crankshaft via a set of cross-shaft gears. The cylinder head featured Jano's unique valve adjusting arrangement using a special tool.
Production started of the Normale version in 1927 and was mostly fitted with formal bodywork. The Sport was usually fitted with open bodywork but more usually "drophead Coupée" or "cabriolet" rather than "spider". The Super Sport, as prepared for racing with the exceedingly rare testa fissa engines was used almost exclusively for the Alfa Romeo factory cars. The fuel tank was located immediately behind the driver on these cars which, Coupéled with the revised engine location, gave a very balanced weight distribution and the marvellous handling associated with all Jano's 6C short chassis cars. There was initial sporting success in 1927 in local Italian events, especially hillclimbs and then Campari and Ramponi won the second Mille Miglia in 1928 driving one of these cars. Other successes followed all over Europe.
The 6C 1750
For 1929, the engine increased to 1752cc and called the 6C 1750. Again the chassis length was 2.92m or 3.10 m for the Turismo, Sport and the Gran Turismo but an additional chassis variant was introduced with the Super Sport (SS) version at 2.745m. This had a twin-cam engine with or without supercharger. On this chassis, the engine was set back, as on the 6C1500 Super Sport and so it was a simple exercise to add a supercharger to an example that didn't have one. Some of the works SS racing cars had testa fissa engines that were disguised by tack welding fake head stud nuts on to the top of the engine! These engines were only used in the works racing cars and few therefore survive today.
Power was increased with the larger bore of these engines to 64 bhp for the unblown version of the SS and 85 bhp for the blown one, good for about 130 Km/h and 145 Km/h respectively. It should be remembered that there were few cars available to the public in 1929 capable of 160 km/h.
Works 6C1750s cars won the Mille Miglia in both 1929 and 1930 and continued to win the up to 2-litre class in many sports car races across Europe in the following years including the class at Le Mans in 1930 and 1932.
Alfa Romeo started the 6C models in 1500cc form with two series of cars and then, somewhat confusingly, called the first 6C1750 cars the "third series". Changes were made throughout the production run with the designation continuing up to the 6th series in 1933 which included a 6C1900. When Alfa Romeo introduced their wonderful 8C2300 in 1931 it was initially stated that it was not for sale for road use. They relented, however, and cars were sold up to and including 1934 when the successor to the 6C1750 was introduced, the 6C2300 which - for the first time at Alfa Romeo - had chain driven overhead camshafts. That was followed by the first car with all round independent suspension, the 6C2300B using essentially the same engine.
In total, Alfa Romeo made over one thousand 6C1500s and over 2500 of the 6C1750 with 200 of the 6C1900. These are considerable numbers for hand-assembled cars with coachbuilt bodies. It should be noted that the common usage of the Gran Sport designation for sporting and racing 6C1750s was only introduced with the 4th series cars in 1930, all the sporting 3rd series cars being Super Sport whether blown or unblown.
The car in the sale, chassis n°0312905
The car on offer, chassis 0312905, is a wonderful example of the first Super Sport third series with supercharger, of which 50 were produced on the 2.745m chassis. Imported from Italy in chassis form by FW Stiles, the head of Alfa Romeo England, the car was initially fitted with a Carlton Carriage body, and sold to JD Benjafield, an amateur driver better known for his links with Bentley (he won the 1927 Le Mans 24 Hour race in a 3-litre Bentley).
The car was registered UU 9125 on 21 June 1929 and on 29 June took part in the BARC 6 Hour race at Brooklands where Benjafield finished 4th. Two weeks later, the car was in Dublin for the Irish Grand Prix, finishing sixth after a brief 'off-road' incident. An identical car won the race, driven by Ivanovsky. On 20 July, Benjafield took part in a hillclimb event organised by the Middlesex Automobile Club and won his class.
He then entered the Tourist Trophy race on 17 August in Northern Ireland, reportedly finishing the event although not classified. Giuseppe Campari, at the wheel of a works Alfa Romeo 6C 1500, finished second behind Carraciola in his Mercedes SSK.
It is likely that Benjafield sold his car back to FW Stiles after this action-packed season, and that it was given a new body at this time. According to certain sources, the car was used by Nuvolari for testing at the 1930 TT. However, although a car registered UU 9125 certainly appears in photos of the event, detailed research suggests it was a different example. Changes of registration were not uncommon at that time.
Anyway, correspondence between Stiles and a subsequent owner suggest that the car was then sold to Ben Plunket, a member of the Guinness family. Later asked to become a diplomat in Washington, he used the car during the 1934 season. With his friend Robert Fellows, they travelled across Europe from circuit to circuit, to attend various events, giving the car the nick-name Rudolph (probably a nod to Carraciola). There is a wonderful photo album resulting from this adventure, which will be delivered with the car. The photographs show races at Montlhéry, Reims, Nürburgring and Monza, starring Auto Unions and Bugattis, along with scenes of the car taken during the journey, at different tourist attractions. It is a fabulous record of an extraordinary journey undertaken in 1934 in one of the finest sports cars of its day. The photographs were probably taken by Robert Fellows, whose images taken of the major European circuits, taken later through to the Second World War, were the subject of a recent publication. The photos in the album, however, are almost all unpublished.
Plunket then took the car to Ireland, where it stayed until 1986, owned by subsequent owners Walsh, Hall and Templeton. While belonging to Hall (the owner of a garage in Lucan), the car had some repair work carried out, and a new body built to replace the previous one that was at the end of its useful life. Hall's correspondence with Alfa Romeo in Milan (which offered advice and plans), Thomson & Taylor, Brooklands Engineering and Chiltern Cars amongst others, demonstrates the trouble he went to gain the right advice and correct spare parts. His personal correspondence with FW Stiles is also fascinating.
In 1986, the car was acquired by John Guyett who mentions a restoration carried out by Templeton in 1972. He parted with this Alfa Romeo at the end of the 1990s, selling the car to Nathalie Chaunavel, who asked Paul Grist to carry out a complete restoration.
Today, the condition of the car reflects the care taken by the restorer to give it the appearance of an original, unrestored but regularly maintained automobile. A judicious choice of materials, expertly used, has produced this superb result.
On the first Carlton body, the spare wheel was on the side. It was later placed at the rear, which gives the car a more balanced feel, without reducing the space available for the rear passengers. A great deal of care was taken over the details and finish, with the fitting of correct instruments and controls, grille guard and windscreen complete with aero-screen. The engine compartment is correct, with the discreet presence of an electric fan appearing as the only anachronism. The wheels ar