This 1900 has been to more European auctions than most SCMers. But this time around, the seller really timed it right.

{vsig}2004-6_1228{/vsig}

The 1900 debuted with mechanical specifications worthy of the marque’s history. Fitted with a double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, it was a modern car that was easy to maintain. It was the first Alfa Romeo to have unibody construction, and the cooling system was one of the best of the era. Despite its rigid rear axle, it had an efficient and well-guided suspension with excellent road-holding in all circumstances.

The 1900 C Sprint (for corto, or short) was built on a shortened chassis with a 2,500-mm wheelbase, and fitted with a 100-hp version of Alfa’s 1975-cc four-cylinder and a five-speed gearbox. Most of the 1900 C Sprints were bodied by Touring, but some cabriolets and coupes would also come from other coachbuilders.

The 1900 Sprint presented here is Touring coupe #01822, painted in the emblematic color for post-war Alfa Romeos, dark Bordeaux. It is an ideal mount for all historic competitions, from the Mille Miglia to the Tour Auto and the Carrera Panamericana.

{analysis} This 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint sold for $79,554, including buyer’s premium, at the Artcurial Briest Poulain Le Fur auction held in Paris on February 15, 2004. It was sold previously at Bonhams’ Monte Carlo auction on May 23, 2003, bringing $54,959, and at the 2000 Brooks Geneva sale, where it made $62,121. It was also profiled in the October 2003 issue.

By now, most SCMers know the 1900 drill backwards and forwards. But in case you’re new to the fold, the 1900 was the product of the postWorld War II reorganization of Europe, designed by a new generation of engineers and stylists that knew their efforts needed to succeed if Alfa Romeo was to appeal to a broader base than it had with the 6C. As such, the 1900 marked the beginning of the high-volume production era at the venerable marque. Many of the lessons Alfa would learn in producing this series would pave the way to the successful launch of the classic post-war Alfa, the Bertone-designed Giulietta Sprint of 1954.

Initial 1900 production began in 1951 at the Portello factory in Milan and at first the car was built only as a sedan. In time, the short version of the chassis was developed to support more sporting versions of the 1900. The chassis was certainly stiff enough for such applications and the twin-cam engine offered high specific power output on the low-octane fuel available at the time.

Series-one and series-two Sprints were “five-window” coupes, while the series-three cars were “three-windows,” with wider, window-less C-pillars that made the cars look like big Giuliettas. While 1900s were indeed a significant step towards mass production for Alfa, all three series of Sprints were still “made-to-order” and there’s not a lot of commonality among specifications for any of the cars.

The 1954 1900 Sprint pictured here is equipped with a later 2000-cc head and induction system, which includes side-draft carburetors instead of the proper twin-choke Solex downdraft units. If you’re counting rivets, this is a minus, but if you’re in want of a driver, it’s quite nice. The car does not have bumpers, which could have been the way it was built, but not likely.

If those are the negatives, the positives are in its appearance. Finished in an attractive combination of Bordeaux with natural color hides and contrasting dark beading, this should be a very easy car to live with-or at least admire in the garage.

Ah yes, the garage. This 1954 Alfa Sprint has been spending a lot of time there, racking up only 82 kilometers of use since first spotted at that auction four years ago-a demonstration of one of the reasons SCM asks its analysts to record odometer readings. Frankly, whether the mileage on a collectible car is “authentic” is something we don’t strive to prove. Rather, the simple difference in readings between each time we see a car tells a tale of its own.

The lack of use for this car is a shame, really, as 1900s were capable performers for the era, solid and dependable cars that ask little of their drivers. Many serve well for collectors who enjoy vintage tours, especially high-profile ones like the Mille Miglia Storica, for which this car is eligible. Further, when properly set up (and it really takes an Italian speed shop to get the suspension right), they handle well even while their excessive body lean makes them look something like a Buick Roadmaster that’s been put on the Atkins diet.

Despite this usability, prices have been stagnant. Perhaps the previous owners were speculators who simply got tired of seeing no appreciation in their investment and dumped the car. Clearly, owner number three timed the market, or at least the one in Paris in February, correctly.

In its recent auction appearances this 1900 has seen more of Europe than most Let’s Go-toting backpackers, so the only thing we can safely discern from its auction record is that the auction companies pocketing the commissions are quite fond of the car. As far as the market at large is concerned, before we judge this last nearly $80k sale to be signs of a new pricing trend, it’s worth noting that adjusting for the French auction’s 15-percent commission means the “huge profit” this last seller reaped is smaller than it initially appears, about five grand, give or take. Even so, it sure beats the nearly $10k loss the other owner took.

That said, I’d still be willing to call this sale a positive trend for the wallflower 1900 Sprint. This is a car that really deserves to “come into its own” and realize higher prices. If this car is truly as represented, with solid mechanicals (a question unto itself, given the number of times it has changed hands), this may be all the money (plus about $20,000, according to the SCM Price Guide), but a not-unfair price for a car with this heritage. There are a number of far less attractive cars, built in far higher numbers, that sell for quite a bit more money. Further, being a 1900 owner myself, I guarantee that the more the new owner drives his car, and the harder he pushes it, the more it will reward him.-Craig Morningstar

(Photos, historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.){/analysis}

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