Lot 255 - 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Turismo by James Young
|Estimate||£320,000 - £370,000|
Think Alfa 1750, think Zagato or Touring. But Kentish coachbuilders James Young were major contributors to its legacy, too
Vittorio Jano was a hugely successful pre-war engineer with the like of Grand Prix Alfa Romeos, the P2 and Tipo B which preceded and sired the legendary 6C and 8C road cars. These were followed post-war, firstly by Lancia's Aurelia and D-series racers then the immortal Dino V6 and the 1.5-litre V8 that won Ferrari the 1964 F1 world championship. All of them were kissed by his genius and bore his imprimatur.
The Alfa 6C 1500, introduced in 1927, spawned a family which proliferated into a bewildering array of variants when, in 1929, the original 1487cc, five-main bearing straight-six grew to 1752cc, creating the 1750 model. Versions with both single and twin OHC valve gear were offered, plus a muscular compressore, blown by a Roots-type supercharger. Power ranged from an underwhelming 46bhp in the first SOHC variants to a rather lustier 85bhp from the stock blown twin-cam.
Produced in four series (S3 to S6 inclusive, the first two series being the 1500s) between 1929 and 1933, the range of saloons, cabriolets and two-seater Spider models encompassed Turismo, Gran Turismo, Super Sport and Gran Sport variants, all but the early Turismos equipped with the twin-cam heads with four intermediate power outputs being quoted for the various series and versions. Performance was as much about weight as about power and the lithe, relatively spartan Spiders were had a significant advantage in this respect over the more substantial tourers such as the one you see here.
This was due not just to heavier bodywork, but also to the sumptuous interiors that Bromley-based James Young provided. Thick pile carpets, generously padded leather upholstery and lashings of real wood were what you'd expect of a company with strong Rolls-Royce and Bentley connections. And all are proudly in evidence in this 1930 fifth-series Gran Turismo, chassis no. 10914488, belonging to brothers Mike and Mark Toynbee. It has been in their family for 56 years, and has just emerged from a 20-year restoration.
"My father bought the car in 1958 and, as far as I recall, he paid £100 cash for it - and there might have been a trade-in of some old banger," recounts Mike. Toynbee is the second name in the old buff log-book, the first being the recipient of the banger and cash, the exotic-sounding Elsa Ruth Angier, who had acquired it on December 30th 1940. Its history prior to that is opaque, although Mike is clear on one thing: "It left the factory in December 1930, went to James Young, and was first registered in April or May 1931."
'It', of course, was the bare chassis and drive-train (priced at 42,000 lire), which was very probably driven, as was customary at the time, from the Portello factory all the way to Alfa's UK concessionaires, Messrs. F. Stiles, of No 1, Baker Street, NW1 and thence to Bromley. Here, its cabriolet coachwork - sheet metal over a sturdy ash frame - and all the final trimming was completed before its return to Stiles for sale.
By the time Mr Toynbee Senior bought it, it was a bit tired ("I think it had been painted with emulsion", recalls Mike) but he used it on a daily basis for around 18 months or so before it finally cried 'enough'. "Then", Mike continues, "he started to work on it - he bought a new set of pistons - but then it went into the garage and stayed there for 30 years, deteriorating even more. When he died in 1993 we decided it would be nice to keep the car and try and get it back on the road."
Having decided to 'do the job properly', the first thing was to remove the body from the chassis - at which point the remains of the wooden frame just disintegrated, so it was back to the ash grove. At least most of the car was complete. "It is pretty original," says Mike. "The wings and the door panels have all been repaired rather than replaced, so I'd say it's probably about 90 per cent original. The box on the back was never there - it was always missing, so that we had to fabricate. We had lost the brackets that attach the steering column to the chassis, and the bonnet clips - they're this very clever little cam design, and when we sourced them in 1996 they were £400 each..." Restoring old-age pensioners like this is not for the faint of wallet.
Initially, the brothers reckoned around £20k might get the job done, but they were soon disabused of that notion and work proceeded as and when funds were available. But the job certainly has been 'done properly', largely by Rees Brothers of Aldershot, with the more intricate engine work and set-up being entrusted to Jim Stokes Workshops in Waterlooville. And so, 20 years and a bit more than twenty grand later...
James Young certainly knew how to do a quality interior. The cabin's handsome woodwork is a mixture of old and new, but you can't see the join; and the detailing here is exquisite, in particular the shapely door pulls. The seats are just right (there's a third, sideways-on folding chair behind), the view ahead the quintessence of vintage motoring - two imperious chromed headlights enhancing the symmetry of the triangular arch of bonnet and radiator, atop which sits the translucent water temperature gauge.
Other dials, for oil pressure, road and engine speed are conventionally positioned, on the dash, at either end of which can be found knurled wheels to control the stiffness of the Hartford-type friction shock-absorbers. The lever of the four-speed gearbox operates through an exposed metal gate, which is one less potential hazard.
'Gran Turismo' indicates a twin-cam engine, un-supercharged, producing 55bhp at 4400rpm with 85lb ft at just 2000; and a more affable motor you couldn't hope to meet. Heavily undersquare, it's uncannily flexible and happy to slog, while keeping up a garrulous running commentary on its progress without too heavy an assault on your ear drums.
The ride is pliant in that typical, generously-sprung vintage manner, while there's no loss of composure in the corners, the car following the directions of the steering - much lighter at speed, though still pretty beefy - and holding a steady, neutral line unless unduly provoked. If you were being really bull-headed, it would be the back that stepped out of line; but we weren't trying that hard.
These elegant Alfa Romeo touring cars did much to establish Alfa Romeo's name and reputation; and can still hold their heads high in any period company.
With thanks to Simon Park, Michael Ward and Auto Italia Magazine.