Pre-War & Perfect - The Alfa Romeo 6C
JAMES YOUNG ORIGINATED IN Bromley, Kent in 1863 supplying the finest horsedrawn carriages and went on to supply his local Member of Parliament with their first car body in 1908.
By the 1920s, the business had expanded and their clients included Rolls Royce, Bentley and Alfa Romeo who towards the end of the decade had produced the 6C model. It was December 1930 when this actual rolling chassis left the Milan factory en route to James Young via Alfa concessionaire Fred Stiles of Baker Street, London. In Bromley, this 5th series 6C chassis (priced alone at 42,000 lire) was clothed in a most beautiful hand crafted body with a sumptuous interior containing the finest leather and most luxurious carpet.
Final enhancements included chrome and superb wood trimming, invisible joints and refined touches; craftsmanship that can still be appreciated today 84 years after it was completed. Returned to the Baker St showroom this Alfa Romeo 6C-1750 Drop Head Coupe was registered GO6038 in April 1931.
The 6C story is filled with great names and tales both on and off track. Working for Alfa Romeo since 1920 a certain Enzo Ferrari began racing the marques machines on a local level and in 1923, his most successful year, he persuaded the top designers Luigi Bazzi and Vittorio Jano to leave Fiat and join the Milan based factory. It was Jano who would go on to produce some of Alfa’s finest road machines and also design the company’s 1925 World Championship winning Grand Prix car, the P2.
Many still regard this time as Alfa’s heyday; they were leaders on the circuit and suppliers of the finest sports cars at the time. Shortly after the P2′s victory, a road version, the Tipo 1500 6C arrived and Jano used this successful formula as a base for the updated 6C. First launched at the 1929 Rome Motor show, it was fitted with the new six cylinder 1752cc motor incorporating a Single Overhead Camshaft and a Twin Cam sport version later known as the GT (Grand-Turismo) plus a supercharged version. Power units ranged from 46 - 85hp; the unsupercharged twin cam version featured here has a very healthy 55hp available at 4400rpm and 85lb ft. of torque at just over 2000rpm - instant success both on the road and track followed. Light and very rapid for the time, the 6C also enjoyed superb handling characteristics and in factory race trim boasted 161km/h or passing the magic ‘ton’ in the UK.
The 6C was to have great success in Italy winning the Mille Miglia in 1928 with the 1500 engine and then again in 1929 with the 1750 motor. Legendary drivers throughout history have taken part in this 1000 mile event including the great Tazio Nuvilari who in 1930 lifted his status to ‘superhero’ in his 6C by winning the event in a most unorthodox fashion.
With a pair of 6C Zagatos constantly passing each other, both Nuvilari and his great friend and competitor Achille Varzi were told by the Alfa team to ‘cool it’, fearing they could lose both cars if they continued to battle. The cars were ahead of the field such was the dominance of their skills and the 6C.
Nuvilari started behind his team mate and was leading on time but not on the road, so just before dawn, as the finish line neared, he switched off his headlights and followed Varzi undetected for many miles. Once the chance presented itself, he switched his lights back on, passing his stunned team mate just prior to the finish at Brescia - the first car to average 100km/h on the Mille Miglia. This daring story just enhanced the 6C’s status; the car though was already as legendary as the brave pilots who drove it. In 1929, the 6C won every race it entered as well as the Mille Miglia; victory in the Spa 24 hours (also won in 1928/30) and Brooklands Double 12 race along with six Grand Prix events.
Exquisite was my first thought on seeing GO6038 for the first time; I suggest it had a similar effect on engineer Bill Toynbee, father of current custodians, brothers Mike and Mark. The year was 1959 and information led Bill to a yard where this Alfa Romeo 6C sat somewhat unloved but Mr. Toynbee could see through that, this was the big project he had been looking for.
Mike recalls his father parted with around £100 for the 6C, which was not a small amount in 1959, making Toynbee the second registered name in the log book, the first being Elsa Ruth Angier of Kingston, Surrey, who had acquired the vehicle on December 30th 1940. Mystery though, surrounds the first decade of the 6C’s existence. A new hood and some ‘fettling’ saw the Alfa back on the road and for around 18 months, Bill just enjoyed the car knowing that once the restoration started it would be a long time before he could revel in it’s Italian charms again.
Engine problems finally saw GO6038 pushed into the garage; con-rod failure with all the collateral damage that entails would see parts purchased but for 30 years the Alfa would not see daylight. Sadly Bill passed away in 1993 and the brothers were left with a dilemma, what to do with this ‘one-time’ jewel of Alfa Romeo excellence. Mike Toynbee explained, ‘the sensible choice would have been to sell the car as a huge box of bits and let someone else get on with it’. I am so glad they didn’t do the sensible thing and so is Mike.
No doubt the rebirth of this amazing machine, over twenty years in the making, not only gave some sleepless nights but also some credit card bills not easy to recover from.
This project was not for the ‘faint hearted’ or the inexperienced so Rees Bros in Aldershot were privileged to undertake the ground up restoration. Having been in business since the very early 1920s, the company was older than the 6C, however their experience and craftsmenship would surely be tested with GO6038.
With cars in the condition of the Alfa, replica bodies are often chosen as it is obviously easier, quicker and almost certainly cheaper but not necessarily better and certainly not original. Mike is happy to point out that the thought of a replica body had never even occurred to him as the car was almost totally original and he wanted to keep it that way. The James Young coachwork would be restored in all its glory; stripped completely, the ash frame was replaced but surprisingly most of the car survived very well. Everything did however require refurbishing but not much replacing. Mike explained ‘the chassis was in excellent condition, showing no signs of damage and once the new ash frame had been made and fitted, attention then turned to the body and mechanicals’.
The engine work was carried out by Jim Stokes Workshops in Waterlooville, specialists in early Italian power-plants with 40 years’ experience and a worldwide reputation for engineering excellence; this was the ideal venue for the original block and head. New pistons, strengthened con-rods, valves and a sensible anti-surge sump conversion were all fitted. Back at Rees Bros, the original instruments were all reconditioned and the interior completely re-upholstered in the finest leather, utilising the original seat frames. As for the hood that restoration now complements the rest of this 6C; perfection