#0034 - Alfa Romeo 6C 2300-B Pescara Berlinetta by Pinin Farina, 1937
Photographed: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, 2009. Owner: Pietro Navone
Pininfarina in the Classic Era: While the company adapted to more practical industrial design concerns through the post-modern era, early Pininfarina pursuits were adventurous, lavish affronts on convention. Surely this precedent did not disappear as time passed—the Ferrari 512 Modulo attests to that, and is perhaps the best representative of Pininfarina's essence—but early on imagination seemed to be of more value as the automotive industry depended on coachbuilders not merely as agents for luxury projects, but as the impetus for branding and style. In the post-War era, Pininfarina would accept this charge on behalf of Ferrari, with son Sergio taking the lead. But here in the classic era projects were much more of the one-off variety. And as for Alfa Romeo, branding and style was divided between Touring and Zagato.
The main reason for this bias was geographic: Touring and Zagato were both Milanese firms, whereas Pinin Farina was located in Turin. But deeper than geography, there were striking differences in the design ethic of these coachbuilders. Comparatively, the two Milanese firms were very much about panelcraft in the classic era. Touring's Superleggera design was an ape of Zagato's aeronautically influenced approach, and the yen for competition success made aesthetics subject to a healthy measure of practicality. Build the car light and simple, but make it pleasant on the eye. Both Touring and Zagato could do so much; they had a knack for subtlty, drawing classically proportioned lines and augmenting them with deft touches of chrome. Even looking at the later ala spessa work of Touring—everything that led to the proper, closed-in sporting car—this was a by-product of sensibly guided ideas about aerodynamics, (even if not supported by the rigors of testing). And so the cars pivot on the shapes of metal, and the attraction of a silhouette.
In contrast, this Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 is about grand gestures. Ornament out-weighs panelcraft, and the whole of the design is more a sum of the unique artistic pieces than it is a harmony of lines. We'll step through these details in a moment, but in the meanwhile compare this somewhat awkward design to the simplicity of the 6C 1750 Grand Sport Spyder by Zagato, to the timeless elegance of the 8C 2900-B Touring Spyder, and to the abject conservatism of the 8C 2300 Cabriolet Lungo by Figoni. These cars are arguably better executed aesthetically, but they are also less daring, less exotic, and less sensational.
Morphology: Yes, the shape is far from elegant—a mix of Touring's well established berlinetta form, looking something of an egg with dramatically rounded front skirts battling with trim, well integrated rear wheel covers. But in this case it's what was placed on top of the basic form that's important. For starters, a ream of nine chrome bands runs vertically along the grille, then along the bonnet up into the windscreen. These evoke the new trend of aerodynamic references; they resist any function, however, being the lowly references they are.
Along the flank, the shapelessness of the design is brought to the fore (and I apologize for terming it so bluntly) as the broad door panels run to a high beltline while keeping devoid of embellishment. The only compliments to the fascia's dramatics are the speedlines on the running gear and the three small accents on the rear wheel cover. The bonnet brings into the mix a whole new vocabulary, opting for a motif of thin lines departing from the nose in non-parallel, fanned fashion. This spread of chrome calls attention to the shape of the bonnet's side panel, but it is also joined by three progressively large chrome circles. The composition comprises one of the most needlessly artistic motifs applied to an Italian sporting car—something reminiscent of the Isotta-Fraschini, which tended toward flamboyant symbols that had no immediate mechanical connection. Even the thin rounds of chrome on this Alfa seem to ignore any automotive application.
Toward the back, the hood takes a similar line to Touring's 6C Berlinetta, but adds a small tail fin. This aspect seems to be a typically Italian reaction to Paul "just add a fin" Jaray. From Cisitalia to Fiat, where Jaray's well-intention slant-back form appeared, the Italians often felt it best to add fins. In the end there was little practical benefit, and the trend wasn't so much remarkable for producing elegant cars as it was for influencing Americans to do well by the idea.
So, morphologically this contraption is a mess. And yet I was so excited to run across this car because all of that needless embellishment builds so much character into it. Moreover, the car is still based in Europe and, to date, I'd only seen it in photos from the Villa d'Este Concours d'Elegance, where a number of rare Pinin Farina bodied Alfa Romeo cars appeared in 2009. So the car (and the lovely couple accompanying it) were treasured encounters. In the end, I had a wealth of photographs to chose from for this piece, and I'm really happy with this sampling.
Pescara: Pescara is a province located in the heart of the Abruzzo region of Italy, east of Rome on the Adriatic sea. In the classic era, the city of Pescara, provincial capital, hosted a number of sporting events of note: the Targa Abruzzo and Coppa Acerbo. The former race was held at a proper track while the latter was an endurance trial beginning and ending in the city. Alfa Romeo took wins in both, and the name was subsequently applied to an exclusive line of touring cars. Around sixty chassis were set aside. The 'B' designation indicates a refinement over the original motor design, which debuted in 1934. Pescara cars were slightly more sporting still, breathing through dual-carburetors instead of the standard single. A total of 95 brake horsepower was available—adequate, but no barn-stormer by Alfa Romeo standards.
While no competition version of the 6C 2300 or 6C 2300-B was produced, the motor would eventually be summoned for racing duty at the end of the decade, bored out to 2.5 litres and dubbed the Tipo 256, of which we have a spot on the 6C 2500 SS Tipo 256 Touring Competition Berlinetta. Partly due to the leisurely beginnings of the 6C 2300, the Tipo 256 never became a force for racing success like the big 8-cylinder cars. Looking at this special berlinetta, it's hard to imagine stripping it down for the nitty gritty, much less tuning its motor up to the era's rising horsepower standards. It was never meant for service beyond the extravagant; and our Pinin Farina Berlinetta does extravagance so well, even compared to its classically beautiful stablemates from Touring and Zagato. What lovely contrast to the speed-driven edge associated with Alfa Romeo.
Keith Martin's Sports Car Market: Providing information on Mussolini's Pescara Spyder.
Wheels of Italy: Providing information on the Coppa Acerbo.
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