Sale of unique Alfa Romeo Buano coupe in Scottsdale refocuses question of restoration vs. preservation

The coachbuilt 1955 Alfa Romeo 3500C SS coupe was first shown at the Turin Motor Show | Bob Golfen photos
The coachbuilt 1955 Alfa Romeo 3500C SS coupe was first shown at the Turin Motor Show | Bob Golfen photos

Once again, the Gooding & Company auction presented some interesting “barn find” European sports cars at its Scottsdale sale, including one of the signature cars of the event, a one-a-kind 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900C SS Coupe Speciale, in distressed yet picturesque condition.

With evocative coachwork by Buano created for display at the 1955 Turin Motor Show, the Alfa was a center of attention at Gooding, even with a cracking repaint in an incorrect red color and some rough-looking dents on top of the alloy right-front fender. Continue reading

Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 marks 50 years of roadster joy

An early Alfa Romeo Spider 1600, this one coming to the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction | Barrett-Jackson
An early Alfa Romeo Spider 1600, this one coming to the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction | Barrett-Jackson

For many Americans, their first recognition of the Alfa Romeo Spider was at the movies when they watched a young Dustin Hoffman driving one, top down, as he sped after his beloved in the 1967 film, The Graduate.

In bright red with its classic roadster proportions and evocatively rounded tail, the newly minted Spider designed by Pininfarina seemed like a joyous entry in the freewheeling world of diminutive sports cars dominated in the U.S. by such British brands as MG, Triumph and Austin Healey. Continue reading

Eye Candy: Alfa Romeo Owner Club National Convention

Alfa Romeo. The name alone conjures images of racing victories and sports car history. The company has created some of the most successful and beautiful sports cars in the history of automobiles and that is why we were excited to attend and judge the concours at Alfamiglia Nordfest, the Alfa Romeo Owner Club National Convention held recently in Warwick, Rhode Island. Continue reading

Pick of the Day: 1983 Alfa Romeo Spider

The Alfa Romeo Spider is an inexpensive way to get into an Italian exotic
The Alfa Romeo Spider is an inexpensive way to get into an Italian exotic

Italian sports cars have an allure like no others in the world. They combine striking styling, exotic mechanicals, a driving experience unparalleled by cars from Germany, England or the United States, and a storied history made up of scores of racing victories by some of the most famous drivers in the world. Quite simply, Italian sports cars have souls. Continue reading

1932 Alfa Romeo Zagato wins Villa d’Este best of show

 The Alfa Romeo Zagato Spider is driven up to receive its best-of-show award | BMW Group photos
The Alfa Romeo Zagato Spider is driven up to receive its best-of-show award | BMW Group photos

A 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagato Spider was named best of show at the prestigious Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este held Sunday at the historic resort on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. Continue reading

Cord, Alfa Romeo win Amelia Island best of show awards

The 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 wears its Best of Show Sport de Elegance ribbon | Bob Golfen photos
The 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 wears its Best of Show Sport de Elegance ribbon | Bob Golfen photos

A pair of pre-war favorites won best of show trophies Sunday at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance: A 1930 Cord L-29 designed by the legendary Brooks Stevens and a 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagato Spider. Continue reading

Pick of the Week: ’64 Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint Speciale

The limited-edition Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint Speciale has a body by Bertone

After 20 years absence, the great Italian brand Alfa Romeo returns to the U.S. with the all-new and reputedly spectacular 4C mid-engine sports coupe. My ClassicCars.com colleague Larry Edsall got to test drive one, and his Driven report appears here today.

Continue reading

Driven: 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe | Larry Edsall photos

There is no cruise control. No power steering. No struts to hold open the hatch that spans the engine and the unreasonably small trunk. No GPS. No push-button starter. No backup camera that might provide at least a helpful hint rather than leave you backing blindly out of a parking place.

alfatail
4C points ahead while drawing on proud Alfa history

There are leather straps to pull the doors closed. There also is a wake-the-neighborhood wailing banshee of a sound to alert you that you’ve started the engine but have yet to click the seat and shoulder belt around you, and the turn-signal indicator clacks more loudly than anything Buick might have to alert an elder that the light blinking on the dashboard should be canceled.

And there is a sound I hadn’t heard since the glory days of the GTP cars that were racing in the IMSA Camel GT series in its heyday. That sound comes from just over the driver’s left shoulder when you’ve accelerated hard and finally relaxed the pressure on the gas pedal, a wonderful whooshing whistle just like the one that emerged from the waste gates of the P-cars’s turbocharged engines.

But while the cockpit is nearly as tight and Spartan, we’re not driving one of those awesome P cars, though the rush of acceleration not only has audible familiarity but is dynamically delightful as well. The car we’re driving is the 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C.

This is a barebones if technologically advanced sports car, probably the kind Colin Chapman might be building today were he just launching Lotus.

Dynamic, Natural or All-weather settings on DNA selector
Dynamic, Natural or All-weather settings on DNA selector

Chapman, among others, might be surprised the 4C comes with no clutch pedal, but we think it wouldn’t take very many miles for him to appreciate the responsiveness of Alfa’s six-speed, twin-clutch transmission that you can set not only for automatic or manual (via paddles on the steering wheel) shifting, but for weather, natural, dynamic or even race modes. And not only gearbox controls, but chassis-control software also adjusts to those various modes.

We also think Chapman would appreciate the fact that this car weighs just 2,465 pounds, thanks to a racing-style carbon-fiber monocoque tub between front and rear safety cells, an engine carried on an aluminum subframe, and bodywork made from sheet molding compound (aka fiberglass) composite. Even the weight of the windshield and windows was reduced 15 percent from normal.

And speaking of that composite bodywork, it is a gorgeously Italian (designed by Alfa Romeo and assembled by Maserati in Modena, no less) exotic design that Alfa says was inspired by the famed Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale racing car penned by Franco Scaglione, though with all sorts of fascias and air ducts, and a rear spoiler to enhance stability and component cooling.

And it’s not just the styling that harkens to Alfa’s history. Even the name is derived from the famed 6C and 8C Alfas of the 1930s and ‘40s.

The design makes a definite statement in traffic
The design makes a definite statement in traffic

Like the 33 Stradale, Alfa says the 4C can reach 160 miles per hour, but unlike the historic racer, the 4C needs less than 5 seconds to zoom from a standing start to 60 mph while it took the 33 Stradale another second to achieve that speed.

The 33 Stradale carried a 2.0-liter V8 engine that provided 230 horsepower. The 4C has a newly created turbocharged 1750-cc four-cylinder engine that pumps out 237 horsepower and a whopping 258 pound-feet of torque, with 80 percent of max torque available at just 1,700 rpm and full power all the way from 2,200 to 4,250 revs.

A next-generation turbocharger includes what Alfa calls a “pulse-converter exhaust manifold” designed to “exploid pressure waves and boost torque at low-engine speeds” while a waste gate valve adjusts turbo pressure to improve efficiency.

However it’s done, there’s no old-style turbo lag, just instant and more-than-sufficient, thrust-you-back-into-the-seat power whenever you ask for it.

Interior features a lot of exposed carbon fiber
Interior features a lot of exposed carbon fiber

The twin-clutch gearbox responds as quickly as the engine spools up — and likely more quickly than most mortals could do the multi-pedal dance while manually manipulating a gear-shift lever.

We were particularly impressed with how responsive and well coordinated the car’s systems — throttle, gearbox, steering, braking and suspension — were as we hustled along a wonderful — and wonderfully empty of traffic — two-lane ribbon of pavement that climbs and dips and twists and turns as it makes its way from the northern edge of the Phoenix metro area out to one of the series of lakes framed by the Mazatzal Mountains.

The launch of the 4C marks Alfa’s return to the U.S. automotive marketplace, which it left in the mid-1990s after a 40-year run that spanned, among others, the Giulietta, Spider (of Graduate fame), Sprint, GTV, Milano and 164.

We say, “Welcome back!”

The engine is wedged between cockpit and tiny trunk
The engine is wedged between cockpit and tiny trunk

We also find the sub-$54K base price a welcome discovery. The 4C we tested was equipped with a $500 exterior package, an optional $700 Basalt Gray Metallic paint job, $1,000 Bi-Xenon headlamps, $300 red brake calipers, $2,500 optional forged dark gray wheels, and a $400 car cover, and the Alfa still stickers for less than $61,000, and that includes destination charges of $1,295.

Two competitive cars came to mind while we drove: the $63,800 Porsche Cayman S and the $60,000 Chevrolet Corvette Z51.

The new 4C is very much a driver’s car: Tight cockpit, small footprint, quick power, amazingly responsive turn-in, great brakes, a “trunk” large enough only for a weekend bag.

Which means the new 4C is not a car that everyone will enjoy. You pretty much have to fold yourself into the cockpit, and exiting over the very wide door sill is not a graceful event. The engine is right behind the seats and some won’t like its constant aural presence. The cupholders will prove inadequate for many American appetites. A stiff suspension means you likely won’t want to take this car on a cross-country road trip.

You can light up the headlamps, or the rear tires
You can light up the headlamps, or the rear tires

A lack of power steering can make parking a challenge. And once you park, there’s no Park gear, just neutral and the hand brake. But even more challenging is backing out of a parking place. Horrendous rearward visibility makes that maneuver a gamble.

And yet, for some, this is the ideal car. It can be used for the daily drive to work. In rush-hour traffic, the lack of a clutch pedal makes a huge difference. And what a great vehicle for a weekend drive up into the mountains.

Oh, and if you prefer your weekends at the beach, well, there’s a Spider version of the 4C.

2015 Alfa Romeo 4C coupe
Vehicle type: 2-passenger, mid-engine sports car, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $53,900 Price as tested: $60,595
Engine: Turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder, 237-horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 258 pound-feet of torque @ 2,200-4,250 rpm Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch
Wheelbase: 93.7 inches Overall length/width: 157.5 inches / 73.5 inches
Curb weight: 2,465 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 24 city / 34 highway / 28 combined
Assembled in: Modena, Italy

Alfa returns to U.S. with a real pocket rocket
Alfa returns to U.S. with a real pocket rocket

Mussolini-linked ’39 Alfa Romeo in RM’s Paris auction

The evocative Alfa Romeo 6C wears a coachbuilt body by Touring | RM Auctions
The evocative Alfa Romeo 6C wears a coachbuilt body by Touring | RM Auctions

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini wreaked havoc in Italy during the 1930s and into the wreckage of World War II. His reign of death and destruction left the country in ruins.

Yet, he also left behind something beautiful, and here it is: The 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Berlinetta by Touring that he gave to his famous paramour, Claretta Petacci, just as the drums of war began to roll. His mistress used the coachbuilt masterpiece during the European conflict, driven by chauffeur Franz Spögler, who years later confirmed the identity of the evocative automobile, according to auction house RM, which will offer the car in February at its Retromobile sale in Paris.

Spögler also said that this is the very car in which Petacci and members of her family drove in a desperate bid to escape Italy in 1945, only to be stopped by partisans as they approached the border near Lake Como. She and Mussolini later were executed by an angry citizenry, their bodies hung together on public display.

Mussolini’s mistress used the Alfa during World War II | RM Auctions
Mussolini’s mistress used the Alfa during World War II | RM Auctions

Now restored, the historic and stunningly aerodynamic coupe would be an A-list collector car even without its provenance. However, its connection with the notorious Mussolini should boost its value considerably.

After World War II, the car was shipped to the United States by a U.S. Army officer. It was rediscovered in the 1970s stored on a New York farm, after which it was brought back to original condition by renowned Alfa Romeo expert Francesco Bonfanti.

“Few cars that have passed through our hands have had quite the important historical context that this Alfa Romeo can boast,” Augustin Sabatié-Garat, car specialist for RM Auctions Europe, said in a news release. “That it is also one of the most desirable of all pre-war grand touring cars and beautifully restored by the world’s leading marque expert, makes it an unbelievable prize for any serious collector.”

One piece of irony: The Alfa Romeo returned to Lake Como in 2007, where it won best in class at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.

The RM Auction is scheduled February 3-4 at Place Vauban during the Retromobile celebration of great old cars.