The Alfa Romeo 1900, shown to a privileged few in May 1950, was the Milanese firm’s first all-new post-War offering. It was the latest in a great sporting tradition which had given the motoring world thoroughbred models such as the pre-War 6C, 8C and P3, and the all-conquering Tipo 158 Alfetta Grand Prix cars that were to win every race in which they competed during 1950, the first season of Formula One.
Intended as a mount for the sporting gentleman driver, the 1900 in its most potent Super Sprint guise boasted a twin-cam ‘four’ with twin carburettors and a high, 8:1 compression ratio to produce 115bhp at 5000rpm. The gearbox was a five-speed and, depending on axle ratio, the 1900SS had a top speed of 118-130mph. It was the perfect weapon for the weekend racer, but leading Scuderia Sant’Ambroeus member Vladimiro Galluzzi, one of the first to try it in competition, wanted something even faster.
Celebrated local coachbuilder, Carrozzeria Zagato, renowned for its lightweight, aviation-inspired lines, was called upon to create such a car and immediately set to work. The potent result, the ‘1900SSZ’ as it became known, was an instant success and won its first major outing, the gruelling multi-stage Stella Alpina, driven by Galluzzi. It wasn’t long before Alfa’s racing department test driver Consalvo Sanesi tried out the new car and reported back to the firm’s top brass, who quickly sanctioned limited production.
It is thought that just 39 examples (plus two bare chassis) of the 1900SSZ were built, from 1954 to 1957, and they are regarded as the pinnacle of 1950s production Alfa Romeos. Collector, 1900SSZ owner and FIVA steward Mark Gessler sums it up: “Aside from the BAT cars there’s no more requisite 1950s Alfa than a 1900 Zagato.”
Chassis ‘01931’ has been hidden from view for most of its life and spent over 50 years in the hands of a very private, enthusiastic American owner. Delivered new early in 1955 to Vittorio Vanini - a successful wealthy privateer of the period, from the famous family of Swiss chocolatiers - through Sonvico, the Alfa Romeo dealer in Lugano, in the Swiss canton of Ticino, the rakish two-tone Zagato berlinetta was registered ‘TI 13523’.
On 1 May 1955, in Vanini and co-driver Ivo Badaracco’s hands, 01931 participated in the epic Mille Miglia road-race carrying race number ‘451’. Starting, of course, at 4.51am they passed through the Rome checkpoint 6 hours, 44 minutes and 46 seconds later and crossed the finishing ramp in Brescia after 12 hours, 56 minutes and 11 seconds to claim 19th place overall, the first Alfa Romeo 1900SSZ home and a superb second in class.
In addition to their impressive Mille Miglia performance the Swiss-Italian gentleman driving duo also contested that year’s Giro di Sicilia (race no. 335, result unknown) and the Coppa Intereuropa at Monza on 11 September, the GT race preceding the Grand Prix, finishing 11th.
Later that year an American correspondent sent, with his wife, to cover the European racing season, purchased the car. In a manner typical of those more carefree days, the couple bought the racing Alfa to provide transport for the rest of the year, eventually shipping it back to San Francisco, their task completed. After a short time in which it was evident that the potent racing car was not suited to stops and starts on the hilly streets of their home city, it was traded in for a Jaguar.
The next, long-term owner saw a small advertisement for the Alfa Romeo and exchanged his MG TD (with $800) for the desirable, ex-Mille Miglia 1900SSZ, now a long way from home. It was during his ownership that it became red, and it was a familiar sight in the Bay area for many years before moving, with its owner, to Myrtle Creek, Oregon, in the mid-1960s.
The car remained in his garage until 2012 and, aside from some dismantling of minor trim components and other ancillary parts (all of which were carefully stored) sat there untouched and unseen for the best part of the last half-century. The ‘time-warp’ 1900SSZ was sold on the death of this careful American custodian by our offices to an equally enthusiastic European collector, appropriately enough hailing from the same town to which it was first delivered 57 years earlier, eager to return it to its original, 1955 Mille Miglia configuration.
This he did, painstakingly bringing the car back to original condition, even reuniting it with its first Swiss registration, ‘TI 13523’, acquired from the Vanini family.
Fresh from its three-year restoration, this original and exciting, ex-1955 Mille Miglia Alfa Romeo is eligible for the Mille Miglia Storica, the Tour Auto and the world’s finest concours d’elegance.
When sold via Kidston SA in 2012 it attracted the highest number of enquiries we have ever received for any motor car regardless of price. The current owner, now in his eighth decade, hopes we find the right custodian to look after it for the next generation.
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