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8C 2900B Lungo Berlinetta by Touring 1939
In 1924, Vittorio Jano created his first straight-eight-cylinder engine for Alfa Romeo, the 1987 cc P2, with common crankcase and four plated-steel two-cylinder blocks, which won the first World Championship ever in 1925. Although it was a straight-8, the 8C designation was not used.
The 8C engine, first entered at the 1931 Mille Miglia road race through Italy, had a common crankcase, now with two alloy four-cylinder blocks, which also incorporated the heads. The bore and stroke (and hence rods, pistons and the like), were the same as the 6C 1750 (bore: 65 mm, stroke: 88 mm 2,336 cc). There was no separate head, and no head gasket to fail, but this made valve maintenance more difficult. A central gear tower drove the overhead camshafts, superchargers and ancillaries.
In 1931, Jano added 2 cylinders to the 1750, shifted the distribution control between the two cylinder blocks composed of four cylinders, in order to create less stress on the long crankshaft and camshafts, thereby developing the beautiful 8C 2300, an engine which was later developed with displacement increases up to 3800cc modified and used in the next automobile Grand Prix.
As far as production cars are concerned, the 8C engine powered two models, the 8C 2300 (1931–1935) and the even more rare and expensive 8C 2900 (1936–1941), bore increased to 68 mm and stroke to 100 mm (2,905 cc).
Initially, Alfa Romeo announced that the 8C was not to be sold to private owners, but by autumn 1931 Alfa sold it as a rolling chassis in Lungo (long) or Corto (short) form with prices starting at over £1000. The chassis were fitted with bodies from a selection of Italian coach-builders (Carrozzeria) such as Zagato, Carrozzeria Touring, Carrozzeria Castagna, Pininfarina and Brianza, even though Alfa Romeo did make bodies. Some chassis were clothed by coach-builders such as Graber, Worblaufen and Tuscher of Switzerland and Figoni of France. Alfa Romeo also had a practice of rebodying cars for clients, and some racing vehicles were sold rebody as road vehicles. Some of the famous first owners include Baroness Maud Thyssen of the Thyssen family, the owner of the aircraft and now scooter company Piaggio Andrea Piaggio, Raymond Sommer, and Tazio Nuvolari.
The first model was the 1931 '8C 2300', a reference to the car's 2.3 L (2336 cc) engine, initially designed as a racing car, but actually produced in 188 units also for road use. While the racing version of the 8C 2300 Spider, driven by Tazio Nuvolari won the 1931 and 1932 Targa Florio race in Sicily, the 1931 Italian Grand Prix victory at Monza gave the "Monza" name to the twin seater GP car, a shortened version of the Spider. The Alfa Romeo factory often added the name of events won to the name of a car.
'8C 2300 tipo Le Mans' was the sport version of the '8C 2300' and it had a successful debut in the 1931 Eireann Cup driven by Henry Birkin. It won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1931 (Howe-Birkin); 1932 (Chinetti-Sommer); 1933 (Nuvolari-Sommer) and 1934 (Chinetti-Etancelin).
The 8C2900A appears
The first car was shown at the 1935 Paris Salon between 3rd and 13th October. The open spider body was built "in house" by Carrozzeria Alfa and was painted in two different colours, separated by a curved line along the side. Unusually for that era, there were no louvres in the bonnet at all but there were a series of small openable vents down each side of the bonnet. A second similar car appeared at the Milan show later in the year.
The 8C2900B appears
As described above some 8C2900A models were sold as 8C2900Bs but retained the 2.75 metre wheelbase. There was even some early literature describing a new unsupercharged model "8C2900B" but that was never built. The standard 8C2900B was supercharged and had a slightly longer wheelbase (2.80 meters) for the corto (short chassis) and a stretched 3.00 metre wheelbase for the lungo. The standard specification was for a detuned version of the 8C2900A engine with more aluminium castings compared to the magnesium ones on the race cars.
It was at this stage that Carrozzeria Touring enter the story with two new designs with drawing numbers 977 for a coupe on a long chassis and 979 for a spider on a short chassis, the latter specifically built for an American client MacLure Halley. In fact, it is believed that the first spider on a short chassis was built on chassis number 412011 and shown at the London Motor show (14th to 23rd October 1937) whilst the first coupe or berlinetta (chassis number 412020) was shown at the Paris Salon (7th to 17th October). Both cars caused a sensation since they moved so far away from "conventional" sports cars without separate wings and lacking running boards.
The Maclure Halley car appeared along with the first Berlinetta at the Milan show (28 October to 8 November) and was numbered 412014. It seems that Alfa Romeo started to number the berlinettas at 412020 rather than sequentially and therefore mixed in with the short chassis cars and Carrozzeria Touring also started numbering the berlinettas in a sequence starting with number 2029. 412011 and 412020 were both exhibited at the Berlin show in early 1938 and sold to German customers.
Touring went on to build four more short chassis spiders after the first two (412011 and 412014). They then switched to building spiders on the long chassis platform which were generally actually heavier than the berlinettas because they used steel in the bodywork whereas the berlinettas were all aluminium.
Production of these long chassis spiders continued into 1939 with chassis number 412042 being sold in August 1939. Two further cars were completed during the early war years, one a Carrozzeria Touring saloon for the King of Romania and one an experimental streamlined spider built by Alfa Romeo themselves.
The five Carrozzeria Touring berlinettas
As described above, the first of these stunning designs was ready for the major motor shows at the end of 1937 and early 1938 in Paris, Milan and Berlin. Four more were built with consecutive Touring body numbers on chassis numbers 412024, 412029, 412035 and 412036 - the gap between the third and the fourth being the works sports-racing cars of 1938.
412020 was sold in Germany before the war, exported to the USA in the 1950s, was fitted for a while with an unsupercharged 6C2500 engine, restored in the UK by Tony Merrick with the correct engine and recently was re-restored by RX in Vancouver for new owner David Sydorick, winning the first prize "Best in Show" at the 2018 Pebble Beach concours.
The first owner of 412029 was an Italian gentleman who registered the car in August 1938. That car was exported to Switzerland after the war where its correct engine was removed being replaced by a Studebaker unit. It was rescued in the early 1960s by the late Cav Luigi Fusi from a used car lot and is now on display at the Alfa Romeo museum at Arese outside Milan.
412035 was first registered to a company in Milan in July 1938 and was, like 412029, exported to Switzerland just after the war. However it moved quickly to the USA where Frank Griswold used it to win the first ever race round the streets of Watkins Glen in 1947. In the early 1980s it passed to long time owner David Cohen and then twenty years later to Jon Shirley of Seattle. He had the car restored by Butch Dennison's company in the Seattle area and the car and won overall first prize "Best of Show" at the 2008 Pebble Beach concours. The car subsequently also won top prizes at Chantilly, Windsor Castle and Villa d'Este.
The last of the berlinettas was shown at the 1938 Paris Salon between the 6th and 16th October. After its return to Italy it was sold to a gentleman in Milan in November. After seven months he sold it on to someone in the Brescia area and, in 1947, it ended up with Emilio Romano, the local Alfa Romeo agent. He entered that year's Mille Miglia but had to remove the superchargers and run un-supercharged due to the regulations. He recruited 1938 winner Clemente Biondetti as his co-driver and they won the race. Subsequently the car went to Argentina with both unblown and supercharger set ups, then to the USA, Japan and the UK before being acquired by Miles Collier for his collection in Naples, Florida. The car was fully restored by RX in Vancouver and was shown at Pebble Beach in 2006 where it won multiple awards although missing out on "Best of Show".
The differences between the cars
There are subtle differences between the cars. In addition, the first car, 412020 had a steeper rake to the angle of the radiator grille than the other cars.
The next car, 412024, has a smaller windscreen than the other cars - there is clearly more metal between the top of the screen and the roofline than on all the others.
412029 gained a fabric sliding roof.
412035 has slightly longer running boards than 412024, extending right back to the leading edge of the rear wing and very distinctive louvres on the side that extend into the scuttle behind the bonnet.
The last Berlinetta 412036 had similar running boards to 412035.
The 8C 2300 Le Mans model on display at the Museo Alfa Romeo was bought by Sir Henry Birkin in 1931 for competition use, but it is not the car in which Birkin and Howe won the 1931 Le Mans 24 hours.
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