Circumstances have conspired to put you in a position to build a really neat 6C/8C hot rod in good conscience, as the high road of preservation just doesn't make sense here


We recently received this letter, asking for advice about the restoration of a highly-modified Alfa Romeo 8C. We turned to preservation expert Miles Collier for his response. First, the query:
Dear SCM: I have found myself in an interesting situation, and am hoping for some input as to what to do. Through a variety of circumstances, I have become the owner of the Lord Ridley Alfa Romeo 6C/8C. This car was originally a 6C-1750 Gran Turismo (chassis #101014852), bodied as a Castagna drophead. In the 1950s, it was given the eight-cylinder engine and gearbox from 8C #2211136, as the original body was quite heavy and the blown six-cylinder 1750 motor was felt to be inadequate. The car was run in this configuration for many years, until re-bodied by Dick Brockman in the early 1980s as a long-chassis Le Mans car modeled after #2311204. Unfortunately, the original body was discarded at about that time.
The Ridley Special was then purchased at a Christie's auction in 1998 for $764,775. It was still complete with virtually all of the Monza drivetrain from 8C #2211136, which was then reunited with its original chassis by David George of Cochranville, PA. The remaining parts were then reassembled with another 8C engine and drivetrain, with none of the numbers matching. It is in this condition that it currently sits.
The body is of average quality and somewhat poorly proportioned compared to an original Touring-bodied Le Mans car. It has little inherent value, since it was not in this form when it was commonly known as the Lord Ridley car. The chassis, however, is perfect. The engine is a magnesium-block 8C engine with the engine bearers cut off, likely from #2211116 or #2211117 based on parts numbers, but further research is underway to try to pinpoint this engine number. The steering box is incorrect, as it needed to be mounted to the frame since the bearers are missing. The front axle is from the 6C chassis. In addition, I have an 8C gearbox and rear end, as well as a third-series 1750 engine and gearbox and a fourth-series block and blower.
So, the big question is what to do with the car? To restore or improve it in its current form would result in a well-built, non-original, and quite ugly car. I understand that this car will never be a proper numbers-matching Alfa 8C, but it could be built as a recreation of a wonderful car. While it will be always be a re-bodied and re-powered 6C-based special, it could still be quite spectacular. It will have an original, numbered Alfa 6C chassis and most of an original 8C drivetrain and virtually the entire car will be constructed with proper Alfa bits.
My intent is to recreate and enjoy one of the world's great pre-war cars, with plans that would include vintage racing within the VSCCA, as well as tour events. As an aside, I have noticed that most of these Alfa 8C projects end up as short-chassis replicas in either Touring-bodied or Monza spec. I suspect that this is with future race involvement in mind, and also because Monzas have the most market value. (Perhaps people are hoping their values will ruboff on their replicas.)
I have no intention of trying to pass this car off as a real car, although I suspect that other cars are floating around with even less provenance. Because of the value of the parts we have and the labor involved in completing this car, it is still going to be a very expensive automobile when completed. I consider myself to be quite fortunate to be in the position to do this project, but also recognize that I am never likely to purchase and race an original 8C.
I do appreciate your time in reviewing this letter and welcome your input in trying to put these parts to their best use.-Bruce J. Rudin, M.D., via e-mail

{analysis} Miles Collier responds: To begin, let's take an inventory: You have an unmessed-about Alfa 6C 1750 long-wheelbase chassis, a full suite of 8C powerplant and drivetrain bits, and no body. (Or if you wish, a less-than-accurate '80s pastiche of a Touring-built Le Mans body.) This gives you plenty of options as you proceed.
Most restorations of important, high-value cars like an Alfa 8C hinge with profound solemnity on a get-it-right-at-all-costs approach to historic accuracy and the struggle to save every precious bit of historic fabric. While fascinating and intense, such projects generally do not offer the kind of creative fun that your 6C/8C presents.
As a first step in any restoration, I'd always want to consider the welfare of the car as an historic object, and consider what is right for the car and its place in automotive history. I recognize that this approach tends to fly in the face of much practice in the old car world, grounded as it is in its origins as a hobby. Unfortunately, hobbies tend to be about the hobbyist and his wants and desires, and as we know all too well, cars frequently pay for an owner's ego-driven restoration or modification program by having their authentic, historic lives erased and left to die on the floor of the restoration shop. I would hope that we now recognize that rare and special cars are deserving of a more thoughtful approach.
That said, does that mean you should try to return your chassis to its original incarnation as a Alfa 6C-1750 road car with its Castagna body? Despite the sermon above, I'd say no. My rationale is simple: For a collectible historic road car to be of the first quality, matching numbers are a crucial issue. As you probably won't be able to locate the original engine, gearbox and rear axle, you're left with only a type-correct drivetrain without the correct serial numbers. While this is not the end of the world, it's also a sacrifice not worth making when there are better and more usable options to explore.
Original Coachwork Isn't The Issue. Freed from the tyranny of matching numbers, you can probably also forget about the heavy, original Castagna coachwork, a less aesthetically pleasing wardrobe for such a potentially handsome car. (Though for daily use in-period it was much more practical than the sexy Touring or Zagato competition bodies that are so desirable today.) Unless the body was somehow kept or discarded in Arizona, the chance of it surviving in any usable form after 20 years of likely neglect and deterioration is mighty slim. Even if you like the styling and could obtain the body, I'm pretty sure once all the checks cleared you'd be upside down in a wholly unexceptional, non-numbers matching, street-bodied Alfa 6C-1750.
Since you do have all the Alfa 8C bits in hand, and a 6C chassis with 8C power makes a great and indistinguishable driving experience from a legitimate 8C, I think this is the way to go. I know of one such example that is driven with great competence and enjoyment at all the major U.S. tours, including the bi-annual Alfa 8C events, where its owner is having as much fun as anyone else.
Of course, the most important reason to take this route goes back to my initial point concerning the intrinsic integrity of the pieces you have to work with: You can do this swapping without major violence to any of the components, as the chassis has already been adapted by Lord Ridley when he installed the 8C engine. In other words, all this hot rodding is essentially benign to the parts, as it is now a bolt-in proposition. (And if for some reason the fit comes over you, you can decide to go back to 6C-1750 specification.)
The bottom line is that circumstances have conspired to put you in a position to build a really neat Alfa 6C/8C hot rod in good conscience, as the high road of preservation just doesn't make sense here. Therefore, unless you're desperate to recreate the "Lord Ridley" configuration (which without the Monza parts is a highly dubious undertaking at best), I would suggest you rebuild your car in the same vein as Mr. Brockman tried to, only I'd urge you to get the Le Mans coachwork fabrication dead-nuts correct.
You've Got The Right Chassis
Why a Le Mans racer? Well, unless you're a gifted stylist, you won't possibly be able to come up with anything better looking on that long wheelbase you're stuck with. On this note, let me ascend to the pulpit again: Cutting up a proper chassis to turn it into a bastardized corto is simply vandalism. Any argument that this practice was followed back in the period is pure sophistry, as that was then and this is now, and pre-war Alfas are no longer "just another used car" as they might have been considered then. Shortening a chassis is, for all intents and purposes, irreversible, and not only destroys an authentic original chassis, but makes nonsense of your serial number. To my mind, the practice is indefensible.
You have a no-questions-asked, absolutely genuine 1750 lungo chassis, that if kept un-modified, offers the prospect of some legitimacy to whatever to do next. While you will never have more than a modern hot rod built with period Alfa bits, you will have a car made of genuine, intact parts.
Remember that the 8C lungo Le Mans race cars were, like the Mille Miglia examples, competition cars from the ground up. Aside from a slight hint of wiener dog about them, they are just as spectacular and not significantly slower. Properly bodied, your car would have the virtue of preserving its chassis and avoiding the déjà vu, "boy-racer," Monza-look-alike syndrome that every 8C-2300 "bitsa" aspires to.
The recreation of an 8C-2300 long-wheelbase Le Mans competition car with all the neat Le Mans trinkets is a pretty arresting sight. Better yet, this configuration will also allow you to pack your own luggage on all those tours like the California Mille that you're going to want to go on.
Various Alfa specialists can help you tune the motor with some minor but judicious modern tweaks to the blower and the Memmini carburetor, which will give you some really good poke. I'll make sure I watch my mirrors and let you by when you come hauling up behind my 8C-2300 Corto on the next Alfa 8C tour.-M.C.
(Collier is the owner of the Collier Automotive Museum in Naples, FL, and is regarded as one of the leading authorities on the art of preserving automobiles.)

Comments are closed.