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Antique Alfa


This rare, stripped-down 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Zagato Spyder recently for nearly $1 million

Alfa Romeo and Zagato are two of the most charismatic names in Italian automotive history. Alfa Romeo built thousands of cars with bodies by other coachbuilders, and Zagato bodied chassis from most of the great manufacturers of the world, but beginning in the late 1920s, these two great houses jointly produced some of the most desirable sports and racing cars of the 20th century.

One of these is the 6C 1750 Super Sport Spyder. Begun as a 1,500-cc SOHC, 6-cylinder in 1927, the engine underwent development for the next five years. The second series, in 1929, had two overhead cams and more power. In 1929, the displacement was raised to 1,752 cc, where it remained through 1932 and the fifth and sixth series.

Less than 400 of the 6C 1750 SS and GS cars were built. Campari's win in the 1928 Mille Miglia with the first of the 6C 1500 supercharged Zagato Spyders set the stage for Alfa's dominance of Italian sports car racing in the 1930s. In the following year, 6C 1750s and 6C 1500s filled seven of the first ten places.

This 6C 1750 is a Zagato Spyder from the fifth series of production. The supercharged engine provides good mid-range torque and 85 peak horsepower at 4,400 rpm. The excellent chassis and strikingly beautiful Zagato coachwork makes it one of the most desirable sports cars of the 1930s. It was first registered on August 10, 1931, in Southwest France to Baron Phillipe de Gunzbourg. The grandson of a wealthy St. Petersburg banker, he was born in 1904 in Paris. He took up aviation and motor racing, and it was in reference to the village where he lived that he took his racing pseudonym "Varent." His competition successes included a first in the 2,000-cc class on June 5, 1932, at La Mothe-Sainte-Heraye hillclimb and again on June 12 at the Puymoyen hillclimb near Angouleme, probably in this car. The following year, he co-drove an 8C 2300 Alfa to second place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Luigi Chinetti.

While his wife and baby son took refuge in Switzerland during World War II, de Gunzbourg remained in France and worked closely with the French Resistance movement, for which he was honored after the war by the De Gaulle government. He died in 1987 in Paris at the age of 83.

De Gunzbourg sold the car in September 1935, and it was sold again in May 1940, when it was registered to aircraft company Hydravions F.B.A.

On June 5, 1944, the car was bought by a racing driver friend of Chinetti, Victor Polledri. He retained the car until the late 1960s, when it was sold to a fashion designer named Barriere, who bequeathed the car to his son at his death. His son intended to restore it in the 1970s, and rebuilt the engine and stripped the paint from the body. He abandoned the project and sold the car almost 25 years ago to its last owner, who has stored it untouched in the condition you see today. An opportunity to acquire a 6C 1750 supercharged Alfa Romeo Zagato Spyder in original, unmolested condition is extremely exciting and incredibly rare.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $946,000, including premium, at the Gooding & Company Pebble Beach, California, auction held August 19, 2007.

Publisher Martin has often spoken on the topic of which factors determine desirability and "importance" in a collector car. To help quantify those factors, SCMer Miles Collier has been instrumental in bringing to the hobby the concept of "connoisseurship"--understanding the details, technique, or principles of an art and the competence to act as a critical judge--a concept long applied in fine art and antiques.

By any objective measure, the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Zagato Spyder is a top-tier automobile. It achieved high status when new and has never been far off the lists of discerning collectors. A potent performer for its time, the Zagato has the additional benefit of perhaps the loveliest, most sleek styling of the period--the essence of pure and simple. Most would agree the most desirable pre-war Alfa would be any of the great 8C 2900 cars. Following those, many make the case for the 8C 2300, although the lighter, more agile 6C 1750 has passionate devotees as well.

Genuine 1750s a prized item

These are true race cars for the road, with a long record of race victories when new, piloted by the leading drivers of the day as well as talented amateurs. They were well known for their secure handling and the quality of the suspension, which was far less punishing on the occupants than contemporary machinery during long events such as the Mille Miglia. The 1750 was developed from the 6C 1500 "Testa Fissa," or monoblock engine. The Super Sport version was supercharged, with a detachable head. The non-supercharged 1750 was the GS, which retained the monoblock engine.

Today, a 1750 is a guaranteed entry to any vintage rally, touring event, or concours you might choose to enter, with the blown SS the penultimate and Zagato Spyder coachwork the summit. The question for a buyer then becomes this: Is the 1750 Zagato Spyder being sold all that it seems to be? Given the number of 6C 1750s that sacrificed the closed or drophead coupe bodywork with which they were delivered to become Zagato Spyder re-bodies--much like Le Mans Bentley replicas--any genuine Zagato 1750 is a prized item.

Worth adding to those attractions is the current and growing enthusiasm for "original" condition. Although this car had been stripped in anticipation of a restoration, which means it could no longer be a "preserved" example, this is not the big problem in a race car that it is in a touring model. Moreover, its bare condition allowed potential buyers a rare opportunity to examine it in a way not normally possible and to utilize those aspects of connoisseurship mentioned earlier.

Dealers in period antique upholstered furniture always try to strip off any fabric and stuffing on a chair to see the details of the frame -- the part that's most important. Here, with the body bare, the originality of the car could be easily confirmed, down to the markings left inside panels by the craftsmen who created it in 1931. It was clear the car had not sustained major crash damage, replaced panels, or a badly done "restoration."

The final component is a continuous ownership trail, the vital confirmation of what your eyes observe. With all that in place, value is assured. The only thing that could be said to be missing was documentation of period competition history, and with a bit of further sleuthing by the new owner, that might be uncovered. Given this car's attributes, the selling price has to be seen as a bargain. At the low end of the $900k-$1,200,000 estimate, it represents an opportunity for good value that does not come along often with blue-chip collectibles in today's market.

Details

Years Produced: 1929 -- 31

Number Produced: 372

Original List Price: $3,692

SCM Valuation: $750k-$1.1m

Tune-up Cost: $900

Distributor Caps: $750

Chassis # Location: Right frame rail behind back axle

Engine # Location: Right side of block

Club Info: Alfa Romeo Owners Club, PO Box 12340, Kansas City, MO 64116

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1924-30 Bugatti Type 35, 1922-29 Bentley 3 Liter, 1928-32 Mercedes-Benz SSK

Investment Grade: A


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