#0023 - Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spyder by Castagna, Unrestored, 1934
This car is currently part of the Simeone Foundation Museum in Philadelphia.
Photographed: Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance, 2010.
The Straight-Eight Era: In previous features we've mentioned Vittorio Jano and his wizardry; see the sketch on our 6C 1750 Zagato Spyder. There are many early Alfa cars that can be used to define Jano's prodigious talent for designing exotic, yet robust powerplants to drive the classic era's preeminent racing marque. But more to the point, the simple 8C 2300 Spyder is the starting point for all things great and eight-cylinder to do with Alfa Romeo. From here, the 2300 evolves into a stripped-down, high-compression, red-blooded racing car in the form of the Monza, while the elegant open cars by Castagna, (same coachbuilder as our car here), and in more rare instances, Figoni, take a longer wheelbase and a stout, continental approach to coachwork.
Looking at the straight-eight concept from another angle, power in a small-capacity motor is a very old idea, but one that wasn't readily implemented in the pre-War era. Subsequently, only the most prestigious and obsessive manufacturers were able to demonstrate a truly sophisticated approach to motor design. The harbingers of this technology began, of course, back in the French Grand Prix cars of the early twentieth century, but I like pointing to the 1 ½ litre Miller cars from the U.S. as the first ultra-sophisticated racing motors. Miller took the twin-cam approach of the French and turned it into something amazingly refined in terms of high-speed performance. The next step forward came when Bugatti got hold of two Miller cars. Subsequent designs for small-capacity Bugatti twin-cam 8-cylinder motors followed the Miller very closely, excepting the supercharger, whose design remained select to each manufacturer. Following on the heels of Bugatti's achievements was Vittorio Jano. His conjunction of two 4-cylinder blocks, creating a straight-eight with a central crank and a supercharger feeding each block, proved both a stong device for endurance and Grand Prix competition, and a wildly powerful unit in its ultimate development.
Perhaps the other remarkable straight-eights of equally reputable performance and aesthetics were those made by Maserati, whose fanatical detailing could, at times, rival that of Miller's own obsession, and the Lycoming straight-eights that powered Duesenberg cars. The latter, while of substantially large capacity, were unparelleled in their performance attributes—as any enthusiast will proclaim, the most powerful production motor of the day. But for the purposes of this short comparison, the key technological advance was really four valve per cylinder technology.
Building on these points, we should note that Miller, Bugatti, and Alfa Romeo developed wonderful racing cars around premier motors, and in this respect were not concerned with furthering the craft of auto racing by advancing motor design alone. In each case, truly remarkable cars emerged, each with aesthetic qualities unique to the time, place, and people involved in their creation. These are the attributes that foster devotion among enthusiasts, when the whole history of a racing culture can be seen in the snapshot of a single car.
The 8C 2300 Grille: For those who pay attention to this sort of thing, the 8C 2300 is a quick spot. It's a lithe roadster on that short chassis, but a bit more substantial than the 6C cars. Moreso than the 6C 1500 and 1750, the 8C 2300 seems to lean forward a bit, taking up a slightly more aggressive stance. The grille shroud is the real give-away, with its sporting pattern of elongated vents running around the perimeter as seen on both the race bred 8C 2300 Monza, and the countryside friendly 8C 2300 Cabriolet. Indeed, this six slot pattern is specific to the early 8C cars, for most intents and purposes shared only by the 8C 2600, which was much less of a specific model unto itself than it was an 8C 2300 of slightly larger capacity.
Wait a Minute: I spot an 8C 2300 Alfa, but the skirts are a bit off, sweeping into the flanks near the door in a way that reminds me of the well known Flying Star Roadster, (well known to some, I suppose). The tail seems a bit odd as well; Zagato doesn't do things quite that way. And if I look closely, I see a strange panel crease sweeping off the bonnet and down the bulkhead, merging onto the door panel into a stylized circular depression. That certainly isn't Zagato. Indeed, it's Castagna, the Milanese coachbuilder associated more closely with touring cars, rather than racing cars. Moreover, while I am aware of Castagna's connection to Alfa Romeo, I always associate them with Isotta-Faschini (which, in the spirit of reminiscing over the straight-eight, is quite appropriate considering Isotta-Fraschini is credited with the first production straight 8-cylinder motor).
It's a much better story, a sporting Alfa in Castagna coachwork, and I'll admit I passed by this quiet gem all day because, at a glance, another Zagato bodied Alfa is just another Zagato bodied Alfa. What might I have been thinking? I can't photograph everything, but then again, keeping these pre-War Alfa cars up to date has been a project in itself, so I might as well have collected another important example. Classic car enthusiasts love to throw the word 'patina' around, so here you go—all the patina you could ask for. Once again, any historical information on this particular car would be greatly appreciated.
Cromo Classico: Perhaps the best internet article on the 8C Alfa can be found here.
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