Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 original survivor, missing for decades, now back. The Great Alfa 8C Mystery. Simon Moore wrote the definitive book on the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 – but this car escaped his cataloguing process. Until now… Photography Tim Scott.
It is almost unbelievable that, in the 21st Century, a very original example of one of the great pre-war cars, an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, could remain unknown to marque experts, hidden away in France. I wrote a three-volume book, The Legendary 2.3, that came out in 2000 covering every known 8C 2300 by chassis number, and I knew nothing about this car (although it was pictured in the Remaining Mysteries section in Volume III), let alone that it had survived in original condition.
In fact it had been owned by one person who had acquired the car aged 21 before the War; its chassis number is 2211079. The car was finally moved from its hiding place on the family estate in August 2014 and taken to the UK for a small team to carry out some work on it in strict secrecy to get it running and operating safely – though not a restoration. It looked absolutely stunning!
It should be stated immediately that this car is definitely 2211079 and the car listed under that chassis number in The Legendary 2.3 has no connection with it. Now let’s go back to the beginning and cover all the history.
In the mid-1920s, Alfa Romeo was still selling the Merosi-designed RL and RM models in France, supported by advertising of its 1924 and 1925 racing successes with the P2. The French importer was Ing Nicola Romeo & Cie, based just off the Avenue Champs Elysées. By the time the first 6C 1750 was imported in 1929, Alfa was represented by Societé Bugeaud-Automobiles, but a new company was formed by 1931 called SA Francaise Ing Nicola Romeo, with premises elsewhere in Paris.
As the 1930s progressed, and Mussolini’s colonial ambitions grew, political and economic relations between Italy and numerous other countries in the League of Nations (especially France) became increasingly strained. It is interesting to note, therefore, that the head of this new company was the American, Farrell O’Reilly.
As an aside, his sister Lucy married Laury Schell and they sponsored motor racing through their Écurie Bleu through the latter part of the 1930s – and their son Harry raced in the World Championship in the 1950s.
In France, all manufacturers and official importers had to submit details of new models to the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières for approval and taxable horsepower rating of the model. This also involved inspecting an existing car. After the first 6C 1750 in 1929 (chassis number 0212678 – a twin-cam non-supercharged Sport), the next six-cylinder car that was inspected was chassis number 101014819 (a GT compressore) in October 1931, along with the first 8C 2300, chassis number 2111018. It seems these cars were imported complete from Italy.
In addition to political pressure not to import luxury items such as expensive cars from Italy, duty levels were increased. This led to a number of Alfa Romeos (both six- and eight-cylinder cars) being built in Paris from imported kits or even spare parts (which attracted lower levels of duty) and bodied by French coachbuilders, notably Figoni. It can be seen in a late-1933 magazine advertisement that the company described itself as having a factory at 168 Rue Victor-Hugo in Levallois-Perret, while the agency for the Paris region was a Monsieur Mallet in the Rue de la Boetie, just off the Avenue Champs Elysées, near the George Washington Metro station.
Giuseppe Figoni was born in Piacenza, Italy, in 1894 but the family emigrated to France while he was still young. After World War One, he opened a body repair shop in Boulogne-sur-Seine and moved on to designing and building his own bodies. His later partnership with Ovidio Falaschi led to some stunning coachwork in the late 1930s (notably the ‘teardrop’ style) but his designs of the early 1930s had also been notable. Following Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in the mid-1930s, no further Alfa Romeos were formally imported into France, so these later Art Deco bodies were never mounted on Alfa Romeo chassis.
Some incomplete records survive of the Alfa Romeos that he bodied in Paris between June 1932 and July 1937 – with several typographical errors. The records include a number of cars whose chassis numbers are adjacent, suggesting that cars were imported in lots of two or three. The transcriptions from the Figoni records that I have seen do not have much recorded other than, at best, the month/year of completion and the person or dealer to whom each was delivered.
The first work that Figoni carried out on an Alfa Romeo chassis in Paris was to modify a lightweight Zagato body for racer Raymond Sommer’s shortchassis 8C 2300. The body conformed to the Le Mans regulations requiring four seats despite being on a short chassis, and Sommer won Le Mans in 1932, co-driving it with Luigi Chinetti.
Chinetti had moved to Paris from Italy in the late 1920s as service manager for Alfa Romeo, but left Alfa Romeo when the company wanted him to return to Italy. Details of his activities at this time will soon appear in Michael Lynch’s forthcoming biography but suffice it to say that he was a key player in all Alfa Romeo activities in France at that time. He later travelled to the USA in 1940 with Lucy O’Reilly Schell’s team, and eventually became an American citizen – and the first Ferrari importer after World War Two.
Following on from the work on the 1932 Le Mans-winning Alfa Romeo, Figoni built a faux cabriolet on an 8C 2300 chassis (number 2111024) for Alfa Romeo, which was completed in August 1932. The adjacent chassis number 2111025 was sold to Roger Goldet, who registered the car for the road while still a rolling chassis and then had a cabriolet body built by Figoni, which was apparently not finished until December.
According to Luigi Fusi’s Alfa ‘bible’, 2111024 was built at the end of 1931, so clearly some coachwork took time to complete!
The next 8C 2300 bodied by Figoni in the incomplete record was another open long-chassis, number 2211080, which was registered in early 1933 with plate 9399 RG 1. There is no reference to an adjacent number in the Figoni records.
However, there is a reference to another car, not by chassis number but by the crankcase number 2221084 – which remains in 2211079 today.
2211079 was a short-chassis with Figoni body, the only short-chassis ever built by Figoni, although Figoni modified cars for Sommer and others (including de Guinzbourg) to race at Le Mans.
As an aside, Philip de Guinzbourg (sometimes spelt de Gunzburg, de Gunzbourg or even de Giinzburg) was very active in the Resistance during the War in South-West France in two networks, under the names Philibert and Edgar. He survived the hostilities.
The car you see here, wearing chassis number 2211079, was registered in early 1933 with Paris plate 8574 RG 1, shortly before the long-chassis 2211080. It seems certain that the first owner went by the name of Weinberg and entered the car for the Paris-Nice rally. He did not feature in the results, although the Touring spider of de Guinzbourg (which can also be seen in contemporary photos) was classified fourth.
The official weighing put the Touring spider at 1255kg and the Figoni at 1339kg but, of course, we do not know if the latter had more fuel on board or some other difference. The Figoni had a rear axle crownwheel and pinion ratio of 13×51, compared to the other car’s 12×51, which may have been partly responsible for de Guinzbourg’s better performance on the event.
Weinberg still had the car a year later and competed in the Paris-Nice again, finishing ninth. The weight was almost identical at 1380kg but he had changed the rear axle gearset to 13×49. At that time, the rally ended with the La Turbie hillclimb and Weinberg was pictured in the May 1934 issue of Motor Sport, having set a time of 4min 47sec. By then the car had been fitted with two extra Bosch horns at the front (which it still has), while retaining the single one under the bonnet.
The car changed hands on 16 May 1935 (although it is possible that there was another owner in-between) and was driven by Count Francois de Bremond on the 1935 Grossglockner Hillclimb. According to Motor Sport, September 1935, he finished fifth in the over 2.0-litre sports car class at 17min 26.58sec; the class was won by Pintacuda in the two-seater Tipo B Alfa Romeo chassis number 5001, at 15 min 15.69 sec.
Chinetti claimed, when selling the car, that it had been prepared for Le Mans. Since it was still in completely original two-seater form in August 1935 at the Grossglockner Hillclimb, this could only (if true) relate to 1936. Le Mans was cancelled in 1936 but the book 24 Heures du Mans 1923-1992 by Moiety, Teissedre and Bienvu gives a list of entrants. Only two Alfa Romeos are there, entered by Luigi Chinetti and Count Merlin, although there are six additional entries where the car was not specified, including one by Mr Helde (actually Pierre Louis-Dreyfus), who had finished second in 1935 and could have entered an Alfa Romeo. There is evidence today of possible modification to the rear of the body that could relate to changes made for the Le Mans four-seater regulations, and the car certainly has a larger-than-original fuel tank, as well as cut-outs in the bonnet to fit a battery on both sides.
The car’s long-term owner was graduating from the French Naval Academy in 1937 and his father bought 2211079 for him as a present on his 21st birthday, Luigi Chinetti acting as the broker in the deal. It was re-registered on 6 August 1937 with plate 5567 HX 2, according to the surviving French records. It’s probable that the owner’s father bought the car and hid it for a couple of weeks, as his birthday was on 24 August.
During the War, the car was hidden in a barn and not used. Eventually it was garaged in the 1950s, by which time it had been issued with a new-style Paris plate and left unused, although the engine was kept oiled and turned over regularly.
At one point, Luigi Chinetti drove a Daytona Spider down to see the owner and tried to buy the car – maybe 30 years or more ago.
When I saw the car for the first time in 2014, I noticed that its firewall and engine plates are in the French language and from Alfa Romeo Paris (rather than Milan), with the correct upper-case ‘I’ for the numeral one – distinctly different from the Italian numeral ‘1’ used in the crankcase number. The spinners on the wheels are in French (droit and gauche) but the tags over the fuses are in Italian. On the other hand, the switch for the lights says allumage. The rear adjustable shock absorbers are Siata (Italian) and all the gauges are standard Alfa Romeo (Italian) except for a French Nivex fuel gauge. All the lights are Bosch, including the rears.
Interestingly, based on the contemporary Alfa Romeo owner’s maintenance book, I said in The Legendary 2.3 that autovac systems were fitted only up to chassis number 2211077, but it is clear that the one fitted to this car is original.
Alfa Romeo numbered all the major components in its own sequences, so it is possible to compare the numbers on this car with adjacent chassis numbers. The major components on this car are exactly in line with expectations – and note that 2211080 was also bodied in Paris. The body has many interesting and original features, including lovely little covers over twin holes in the rear wings, which were visible on the pre-war photos – but whose reason to be there is unclear.
When I wrote the book 15 years ago, I never thought that I would subsequently write further about a very original car that had remained hidden from view for decades.
THANKS TO Martin Eyears, Patrick Blakeney-Edwards, Tudor Summers, Ken Carrington, Peter Larsen and Nicolas Brondel.
TECHNICAL DATA 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spider by Figoni
Engine 2336cc straight-eight, DOHC, Memini SI36 carburettor
Power 142bhp @ 5000rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Worm and roller
Suspension Front: beam axle, leaf springs, friction dampers. Rear: live axle, leaf springs, friction dampers
Performance Top speed greater than 100mph, according to gearing
Left, top right and right. Stunning Figoni-bodied Alfa 8C 2300 being driven by first owner Weinberg on the 1933 Paris-Nice rally; pictured with its long-term owner; beautiful 2.3-litre twin-cam straight-eight.
‘Luigi Chinetti claimed, when selling the car, that it had been prepared for Le Mans’