"Italian coachbuilders at their best have few equals in making cars look sophisticated and powerful, and quite apart from the standard ‘Freccia’ with Alfa’s own bodywork, there were some sleek coupés by Touring… cars like these offered a touch of automotive class which stood out against the drab austerity of the middle forties” – Marque expert David Owen sums up the sublime post-War 6C 2500 SS in his 1976 work ‘Viva! Alfa Romeo’
The Alfa Romeo 2500 SS Villa d'Este
Picking up the pieces – literally and metaphorically – of their war-ravaged factories took the European Grandes Marques some time, and for many it was the end of the line.
That Milanese powerhouse, Alfa Romeo, technically so innovative and for most of the 1930s the maker of the fastest cars in the world, saw things differently. The company planned the introduction of what would become Europe’s most advanced mass- produced car, the twin-cam, four-cylinder 1900 Berlina of 1950.
Until then, the remaining parts and tooling for the exclusive 6C 2500 series of six-cylinder cars for the country’s noblemen, industrialists and professional classes were updated one last time.
Based on the sporting, short-chassis 6C 2500 Super Sport (‘SS’) with uprated engine, the two-door coupé bodied by fellow Milanese craftsmen at Carrozzeria Touring, was destined for long-term celebrity. The car’s superlative lines won the Italian artists the Gran Premio Referendum (public vote) at the second post- War Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in 1949, in those days a salon for manufacturers and coachbuilders to showcase their wares.
According to Touring’s Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni, only 34 such coupés were built and all consequently bore the name ‘Villa d’Este’, words synonymous with power, luxury and elegance.
This car, the 15th example built, ordered new by a confidant of Enzo Ferrari who rallied it on the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally, is one.
Bespoke sports cars for the wealthy and indulgent
Alfa Romeo’s new 2500 ‘six’ was introduced in 1939.The twin-cam motor in triple-carb Super Sport form produced 110bhp, enough, when clothed with lightweight alloy bodywork by Touring or Pinin Farina, to touch 100mph. All-independent suspension, a well-proven engine and good handling made the 6C 2500, particularly in SS, short-chassis form, truly worthy of the Alfa Romeo badge.
After WW2, production gradually resumed and in 1947 a stylish new model, the 6C 2500 Sport Freccia d’Oro (Golden Arrow) recaptured the glory days of Alfa Romeo: streamlined, sophisticated and a body welded, not bolted, to the chassis. All were right-hand drive.
Independent coachbuilders were sold the short, 6C 2500 Super Sport running chassis for the supply of bespoke sports cars to the wealthy and indulgent.
Most famous of all was the prizewinning Villa d’Este, a sublime two-door by Touring, one of the last Alfa Romeos with links to its illustrious, handbuilt past.
This Motor Car
In Tito Anselmi’s standard reference work ‘Alfa Romeo 6C 2500’ (1993), the late marque
expert reports that chassis 915.902 was finished on 15 February 1950. Carrozzeria Touring bodied it (no. 3543) as a Villa d’Este in its familiar Superleggera method, and the car was delivered to its first owner, Commendatore Vincenzo Francesco Ferrario of Bellagio (Como) on 23 February 1951. This is confirmed by a copy of the Automobile Club d’Italia certificate of origin ref. 318-31607, which also records the engine number 928.217, present on the car today. The purchase price was Lire 4,500,000.
Vincenzo Francesco Ferrario, awarded the title Commendatore for his professional contributions to the community, was an aficionado of high- performance cars with a fondness for Alfa Romeos: Simon Moore’s definitive books on the Alfa Romeo 8C list three cars sold new to Ferrario in the 1930s. His connections with the company and its former racing manager, Enzo Ferrari, were close. Research by the current owner revealed that when asked by noted historian Adolfo Orsi, ex-Ferrari team manager Romolo Tavoni recalled that Ferrario was one of only two – the other pasta magnate Pietro Barilla – who spoke to Enzo Ferrari using the informal ‘tu’; a sign of the pair’s familiarity.
When, in 1960, Ferrari was restructured as a public corporation under the name SEFAC S.p.A. (Società Esercizio Fabbriche Automobili e Corse), Vincenzo Francesco Ferrario served on the board. A photograph in the 1963 Ferrari Yearbook shows Ferrario seated at a function with Renato Ferrari (president of motorsport governing body FISA), Enrico Scozzanich (commercial director of Shell) and electrochemical industry pioneer Oronzio de Nora, who later built the ASA ‘baby Ferrari’. Men of power, all.
Ferrario’s past exploits in motorsport are not well known, nonetheless in January 1952 he entered his 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este in the Monte Carlo Rally. As an Italian, he started in Palermo with 15 others, facing the prospect of a gruelling journey of 3,374km that would take them via Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, Lausanne and Dijon to Bourges (where entries from all starting locations met), then on to Clermont-Ferrand, Gap, Digne and Grasse, finishing in wintry Monte Carlo.
Bearing start number 194, the Ferrario Alfa Romeo took the ramp on 22 January, setting off at 14.36 precisely. The entry was made in the name ‘F. Ferrario’; however, the identity of his co-driver is shrouded in mystery. Some sources claim it to be that of well-known factory test driver Bruno Bonini, while others state it was a ‘V. Pellecchia’.
The current owner of ‘915.902’ has carried out extensive research and, based on period photographs and the words of Bruno Bonini reported by Ms Elvira Ruocco (formerly at the Centro Documentazione Alfa Romeo), believes that Pellecchia might have driven most of the non- competitive sections, while Bonini may have taken over, probably as lead driver, in the timed ones. Copies of the period photographs accompany the car.
Whatever, it was a bruised and battered Villa d’Este that completed the gruelling course, unbowed in 108th place. Of the 328 starters, only 163 were qualified as finishers, atrocious weather catching out many a more-fancied competitor.
It’s likely that Ferrario sold the car soon after the event – as he did with the three pre-War 8Cs – and its next documented appearance is in the early 1970s.The Franzi family, via its
Conceria Monzese company, was well known for manufacturing high-quality leather: Touring’s own ‘Cici’ Bianchi Anderloni considered it the equal of Connolly. Ottavio ‘Popi’ Franzi had found the car in Switzerland. His father, Carlo Franzi, was a past owner of a Villa d’Este (chassis 915.882) and his son decided to import ‘915.902’ to Italy, registering it MI-V73684 and commissioning Carrozzeria Lopane of Cormano, on the outskirts of Milan, to restore the car.
The interior was completed in Franzi boar skin, with matching bespoke luggage – to match Franzi Snr’s old car, a special commission from Touring. Lopane carried out another restoration in the early 1990s. Our client, an Italian connoisseur of standing, heard ‘915.902’ might be for sale and bought it in 1994.
He then embarked on a gradual programme of improvement to bring it up to the high standard in which it is presented today. The car’s Amaranto paintwork, previously completed in modern two- pack, was redone in period materials. Likewise, the engine compartment was refinished in correct beige-green. The older restoration had used a modified Freccia d’Oro grille – this was replaced with an accurate recreation. The Franzi suitcases were no longer with the car so, as the company was no longer in business, our client commissioned a new set using leather as near as possible to the original. Various other details – headlamps, the famous copponi rounded hubcaps – and sourcing a period Aster radio as fitted to the car on the Monte in 1952, completed the work.
The result was a fine Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este, true to the car when delivered, with the later additions of the Franzi family. From the mid- 1990s it was shown at the best events: 1994 Paris Bagatelle (class winner); 1996 Trieste concours d’elegance Touring Superleggera (first overall); 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance; 2000 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, where it won the Special Award from the Como Automobile Club; 2001 European Concours d’Elegance Schwetzingen (class winner, Most Elegant Italian Car).Travel to and from the European events was always by road from Italy.
After 2001, the car was retired from events though it has made occasional returns to the public domain. It was featured in the December 2001 issue of Ruoteclassiche and displayed at the ‘Mitomacchina - The design of the car: history, technology and the future’ exhibition from December 2006 to May 2007 at the Museum of Modern Art of Rovereto and Trento. Finally, in November 2017 it was chosen by the Italian Alfa Romeo ‘RIAR’ Registry to represent the Villa d’Este model in the book ‘Pure Alfa Romeo - Legend, Culture, Passion’.
Today, this well-maintained and significant car, in long-term ownership for 25 years, a rare example of a Villa d’Este with proven period competition history, is ready for a discerning guardian to embark on adventures new. The Col de Turini in snowy January or a drive to Como in balmy May? With this ex-Commendatore Ferrario Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este, the choice can be yours.