The Shape of Things to Come. On Italian roads in a surprisingly futuristic 1947 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Farina Cabriolet. Revisiting Italy’s Forties vision of the future – Farina’s Alfa Romeo 6C 2500. This unique Michelotti-penned Alfa 6C cabrio sat on ancient underpinnings, yet it employed advanced aerodynamic styling. We explore its impact with a drive through the Italian countryside. Words Rob Scorah. Photography Adam Shorrock.
Alfa 6C Cabriolet Stunning rarity driven in Italy
W[/dropcap]hen car enthusiasts hear the name Alfa Romeo coupled with the designation 6C, ears prick up, eyebrows are raised… and assumptions are made. Which one will it be? Might it be the all-conquering racer that was the 1750 of 1929?
Could it be the understated Villa d’Este coupé of 1948 – gaining that sobriquet because it claimed that prestigious concours’ prize that year?
Well no, it’s… it’s none of those things. But looking at it, you might need to give yourself a moment because all your assumptions and perhaps expectations of Alfaishness are disarmed. It’s… well, different. This is the 6C 2500S Cabriolet of 1947 sporting a body designed by Giovanni Michelotti. Whereas the 6C Freccia d’Oro – the standard fare of the line, if you will – still has a hint of seperate wings-cum-fenders in the coachwork, this drop-top presents an almost monolithic presence.
‘This drop-top presents an almost monolithic presence with a total shunning of fussiness’
I think it’s that feature that is causing me such consternation – the total shunning of fussiness. And the grill.
By the late Forties, the slender shield shape was so visually synonymous with the marque that anything else is just… well. not an Alfa Romeo. Take a look at that wide mouth, with its slightly manic smile, and those big eyes. Somehow, those slats seem to wrap around the front end. They almost remind me of a Cord – or perhaps what a Cord would have looked like had the name survived into the late Forties.
There is a somewhat American vibe about the car. Maybe it’s just the whitewalls, since I’m also getting a twinge of Nineteen- Sixty-something Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud drophead from the rear haunch. What will resolve it either way is the engine sound – the throb of a supercharged V8, or the bark of an Italian in-line six. A twist of the key, a push of the button..
‘I’ve settled into a relaxed driving style of moderate pace and smooth movements’
It’s the latter of course. A steady crisp thrumming, a burr overlaid with a mechanical chatter. Remember, 6C stands for ‘sei cilindri’ – simply six cylinders. By the arrival of this car, the motor’s displacement had grown to 2600cc, though was still a direct derivation of the Vittorio Jano-designed 1500 dohc engine of 1927 that, through the years, had traded snarls with Mercedes, Aston Martin, Lancia and all the other formidable motor sport marques on the great racing circuits of the world.
Listening to the chatter – more guttural than I expected – you can remind yourself that the complex rhythms come from the fact that the twin overhead camshafts are chain-driven – well, via a sprocket and gear spurs that add yet another layer of dialogue. And it might not be the American Cord’s V8 (though it does have hemispherical combustion chambers by the way), but had Alfa produced and exported 6Cs they might have represented a rare opportunity for an American buyer to come across a dohc motor. Short of meeting a Duesenburg perhaps.
Sheer grunt-wise, an Italian six may lag behind an American V8, but sonically it is much richer. That said, as I engage the gears through that great wand of a steering column-mounted shifter, I’m finding the motor pulls from a lot lower down than I anticipated. It doesn’t want to accelerate particularly quickly, but seemingly in any gear it picks itself up and glides along very nicely with the smooth application of power through easy pedals.
I think I’ve got it into my head that this cabriolet is a big car; probably something to do with the Rolls-like rear, the high tonneau and the wide, slab-like bonnet. Either the bonnet is lower or the wings drop less dramatically than on the more standard post-war 6Cs, giving a broader aspect to the snout as you point the car towards unpredictable, narrowing bends on Italian B-roads. I’m feeling the car – or me – is wanting wider carriageways and more gentle arcs in the turns.
It’s not that the controls are heavy – well, yes; the steering is at low speeds. But not so the gear change. When I first felt the extent of its travel, I thought the experience was going to be positively agricultural. There are perceivable clunks and mechanical nudges in the movement as you move gear to gear, but there is also a snicketiness in the change that belies the masses of metal obviously taking part. Still, there is a slight slowness in the whole system, an attenuation of your deftness – or lack thereof – which damps your response to bends or accelerating opportunities.
Of course, that begs the question, as I bowl along in this vaguely American-looking convertible – why should I even care about pace or rapidity? Well, I think it’s that 6C designation again playing tricks on the mind. That notion that throughout the model’s history, pre- or post-war, there was always some minor Italian nobleman somewhere, willing to set down his wine glass (but retain the cigarette), button his double-breasted suit jacket, jump into his totally stock Alfa coupé and speed away to do battle on whatever gruelling long-distance road race was going on at the time. And that I should do the same.
But – news flash – this isn’t, by any reckoning, a stock coupé. ‘Pinin Farina and Touring took care of the “official” versions,’ notes Michele Casiraghi, who looks after the Lopresto Collection, in which this car resides. ‘Michelotti’s design was something different.’
As had been the tradition before the Second World War, Alfa, like other up-market carmakers all over Europe, sent out rolling chassis to Italy’s famed coachbuilders. Some were for bespoke orders, others perhaps for the carrozzeria’s own projects. It isn’t clear why Farina chose to build the three or four examples of this drophead, but it does give us one of the first carried-through-to-completion examples of a Michelotti design.
And maybe, though we don’t really know, in designing it, he had peeked across at the ’States and thought how Alfa, re-emerging from the ruins of war, might re-image its cars so as to make them more attractive to American customers. Or maybe he just wanted to inject some other influences into a Europe in part intoxicated with the US. You know, if I look at that grill long enough, I can even see a premonition of Michelotti’s Nardi-Plymouth Silver Ray.
It isn’t just the bodywork that’s retraining my traditional Alfa responses; it’s the cabin too. ‘The interior was actually designed by Count Mario Revelli di Beaumont,’ explains Casiraghi, noting that Revelli’s output was considerable amongst the Italian car makers, if not so widely known today.
By now, I’ve settled into a relaxed driving style of moderately swift if easy pace and big smooth movements. In part, I’m not wanting to give the parallel-trailing-arm front and swing-axle rear suspension any excuse to get flustered about shifting weight, but I’malso attributingmy attitude to the design of the steering wheel. I think the usual three-spoke Alfa wheel, as found in the standard cars – as well as such models as the 1947 Mille Miglawinning Alfa 8C 2900 Berlinetta – is inclined to set my mind to them road racin’ thoughts. But this more curvilinear two-spoke affair – with colour-coordinated leather inserts, and indents for your fingers no less – inculcates a different mindset. Thoughts of Ford Thunderbirds flash through my mind. This is nothing like that roadster’s interior – even a ’55 – but there’s something of the same fanciful whimsy with faux intentions of drama and speed, as is so often found in American sports cars and tourers.
The colour scheme is gorgeous. The car was repainted 20 years ago after being repatriated from the United States. It’s a soberly elegant colour combination, the steely blue over the maroon painted metal dash. Those translucent sun visors, almost tinged pink. Rich grey leather. One’s whole awareness can become lost in the radio’s transparent, crystal-like Perspex control knobs. It’s all very slightly Art Deco in here.
Another quite fascinating feature is the illuminated status panel that reports through the steering wheel – in four languages – on how various aspects of the car such as handbrake and indicators are performing. How very modern.
With all that to look at and engage with, I’m feeling far less ‘Mille Miglia’ and more ‘let’s go and have a picnic, visit a couple of my vineyards, maybe buy some balsamic vinegar…’
The feeling under the right foot may be influencing my mood too. This car is equipped with a single Weber carburettor, so the motor is probably knocking out some 87bhp. I’m still impressed by the engine’s low-down uptake, but the drivetrain as a whole isn’t impressed if you constantly attempt to swap cogs to gain pace or mechanical grip advantage. Better to get settled into your speed and line long before a turn and use the elasticity of the torque – in seemingly any gear – to pull you out at the other side. Maybe if the Cabriolet had the triple Webers of the sportier models, or the 145bhp of the rare 1946-1950 Competizione, I’d be telling a different story. It hasn’t and I’m not, but I’m still enjoying its company.
Worth noting is that, unlike many 6Cs, this car has rear seats; far more in keeping with its ‘Extra Lusso’ designation. Your passengers in the back may have to sit quite primly, knees together at an angle, but they are there none the less. It’s a more social beast. It feels a car that, in period, you could have dressed up or dressed down. Top up; double-breasted suit and into town. Top down; shirt sleeves, straw hat and taking the grandkids to the country.
With that picnic basket of course.
But more so in 1947, it would have been for someone who wanted something fresh, who didn’t want to settle for reaffirmations of the Alfa or anyone else’s traditions. Just look around at other new cars of that year from Mercedes-Benz, Rolls- Royce, Vauxhall, whoever. ‘Attached’ they might be, but their wing/mud guard designs feel very Thirties. You’ll see more than a few notional running boards too.
Look back again and compare them to this modern monolith – no fuss and, on the exterior at least, no sentimentality. Look at the flush door handles; there’s nothing to spoil the surface and the line. It was actually quite hard to find a shape this streamlined or integrated for a good few years on either side of the Atlantic. That said, an honourable mention should perhaps also go to Battista Farina’s 1946 6C Speciale cabriolet – and therefore the Austin Atlantic – along with a couple of Tatras and probably at least one never-produced pre-war Auto Union.
Still; I’m sticking with this establishment-eschewing cabriolet as both the shape of things to come and as a portent of the thinking of a designer whose automobiles would always retain a fresh if restrained, sometimes even stark elegance. I feel that if I drive it here through the Lombardy countryside, to Paris France, or Paris Texas, the car will be able to draw on enough cultural and dynamic reference points to retain its quirky quixotic cool. And be an involving and urbane touring companion too.
You’re looking at one of two survivors. Pre-flight checks for the multilingual pilot Oil pressure and temperature dials inset into speedo are Swiss-watch worthy. Relaxed temperament suits a cruise down to the vineyard. Despite having a definite Art Deco vibe, the cabin also has flourishes that wouldn’t look out of place on a car 30 years younger. The 2443cc dohc straight-six makes 87bhp. Michelotti’s design shunned the pre-war origins of the 6C chassis and clothed this cabriolet in a new, American-tinged style. The coat of arms of the ‘other’ Farina design house. Lone Weber charged with fuel metering.