Unlike most European manufacturers, Alfa raced all over the world, winning its class in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana with a four-door 1900


As Alfa Romeo's first post-war design, the 1900 was considered a lightweight, compact model at its introduction in 1950. A turning point for the marque, gone were the straight-eight and supercharged projectiles that had written so much motor racing history. Now Alfa replaced them with a new four-cylinder engine in a modern, pressed-steel unit body.
Models consisted mainly of sedans and coupes, although a handful of roadsters were made as well. The engine continued Alfa's twin-cam tradition, but featured a one-piece, cast iron and aluminum block. The state of tune varied from 90 to 115 horsepower, depending upon application.
The 1954 1900 SS Ghia coupe on offer here is the work of one of Italy's most illustrious coachbuilders, Carrozzeria Ghia. Despite the death of founder Giacinto Ghia in 1944 and the wartime damage to its factory, the Turin-based company was soon again enjoying success, thanks to the talents of designers such as Giovanni Michelotti, Pietro Frua, Mario Boano and Giovanni Savonuzzi. The Ghia-bodied Alfa 1900 was unusual, bearing much resemblance to the famous Carrozzeria Bertone BAT aerodynamic experiments.
This exquisite example is fitted with chrome Borrani wire wheels, and finished in the classic and appropriate red paintwork, with gray leather interior and matching carpets. The vendor states that the odometer reading of 40,025 is correct from new, and that the car has been repainted only once in its lifetime. The body is aluminum, and according to factory records, only one of nine Ghia-bodied examples, and the only one on a long-wheelbase chassis.
Notably this car is fitted with the updated 1,975-cc engine that further augments its performance. An additional interesting aspect is the factory-installed, column-shift, five-speed transmission, something not often seen on other 1900 SS models.
This example is undoubtedly one of the rarest 1900s built, and we are assured that it is of the highest quality and will not fail to impress even the most ardent of collectors.

{analysis} This 1954 1900 SS Ghia coupe sold for $92,400 at RM's Phoenix sale, held Jan. 28, 2005.
Like the fabled Phoenix, Alfa Romeo rose from the ashes following World War II. Its Portello factory-reduced to a pile of bricks just years earlier-was slowly beginning to take shape, as its pre-war Grand Prix cars still dominated racing circuits in the late 1940s.
Meanwhile, a team headed by Giuseppe Luraghi and Orazio Satta Puglia was further developing a 1943 concept by the immortal Wilfredo Ricart named "la Gazzella," a revolutionary design that would lead directly to the 1900. Among many unique features was its unibody structure. Yes, the French will tell you that Gabriel Voisin was first with a monocoque vehicle, produced in France just after World War I. But his cars were built in small quantities, and by the '30s the Voisin was no more. The daughters of la Gazzella, however, were destined for mass production. The 1900 thus not only redefined Alfa as a manufacturer, but shed a beacon of guiding light for the rest of Europe to follow.
Officially born at the Paris Salon in October 1950 (though also shown a few months earlier in a Turin hotel to soothe the fragile Italian pride), the 1900 was a milestone car. Let me count the ways: It was the first unibody production Alfa and its first left-hand-drive car. It was the first Alfa designed for the assembly line. Most importantly for a manufacturer seeking to recover from a devastating war, it was the first Alfa to be designed with a regard for fiscal responsibility, establishing an Alfa tradition of trimming production costs while still offering value for the money.
With the 1900, Alfa also established the practice of developing a core model, then extending it up and down the price range. The same package in detuned form provided the base for Jeep-like military vehicles. For the middle classes there was a Berlina, an elegant four-door by Touring, powered by an 80-hp version of the twin-cam four-cylinder. With a column-shift four-speed it would do 0 to 60 mph in about 17 seconds, which was swift for the time. By adding inexpensive speed equipment, Alfa was able to bump horsepower up to 100, and by shortening the wheelbase, give the platform a very sporting character for the C, S and TI (Tourismo Internationale ) models. Every coachbuilder and their brother, from Ghia to Zagato, made at least one 1900, and often more. To fulfill the needs of the playboys on the Riviera, even a few cabriolets were born.
The 1900 was raced with a vengeance. Unlike most European manufacturers, Alfa raced not just in its homeland but all over the world. For example, the 1900 TI sedan won its class in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana in the hands of Consalvo Sanesi.
Before I get to our subject car, I should say a few words about Carrozzeria Ghia. Started as a coachbuilding entity by Giacinto Ghia, it did what every other Italian coachbuilder did in the early 1950s-it hunted for clients. It did not matter who: Fiat or Lancia, Delahaye or anyone with a few lire in need of a body.
In 1950, a strange set of circumstances brought a radical change to the firm. At the time, Ghia had a friendly relationship with Fiat, which had just asked Chrysler to help it properly train its technical personnel in modern manufacturing methods. (No wisecracks about the blind leading the blind, please. We are talking about 1950 here.) Chrysler was happy to oblige, because it felt it could use some help with styling. So Chrysler helped Fiat, who introduced it to both Pinin Farina and Ghia.
Ghia proved to be the smarter of the two, as it hired away a clever Franco-Italian (or was he Italo-French?) named Luigi Segre from Siata. He had a rare talent-he spoke fluent English. Ghia and Segre thus built a relationship with Chrysler, and a series of dream cars were born. If you look closely at the resultant Chrysler K310 and K200, you can quite easily see the lineage of the 1900 at hand. Truth be told, Ghia was not exactly faithful to any manufacturer. An almost identical body graced quite a few other Alfas, and I vividly recall an XK 140 chassis with a similar body.
Which brings us to the Ghia-bodied 1900 SS coupe pictured here. It looked nice, with even panel gaps and everything else as it should be. If I had a bone to pick (and I always do), I would simply question the seller's use of letters "SS." Common wisdom says that an SS has a C after the 1900 (as in 1900C), for the short-wheelbase "corto," and this was a long-wheelbase car.
But this is really just pedantry to the nth degree on my part. Considering its rarity and distinguished looks compared to most other 1900s, the car was well bought, and might even have been a bit on the cheap side. I hope that it runs as well as it should, and provides many happy miles to its new owner.
(Descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.){/analysis}

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