While my Amex Platinum Card has no pre-set spending limit, I’d hate to get that bill at the end of the month.

The Alfa Romeo 2600 has long been one of my favorite cars, which is not surprising, as I am the definition of a Grand Touring Man. The 2600 was responsible for my 1996 writing debut in the pages of SCM: “Mr. Osborne Builds His Dream Car” (March/April, p. 24). The story chronicled my adventures with no fewer than three Alfa 2600 Sprints in pursuit of one perfect car.

I, and other perceptive souls, have seen in the 2600 the essence of what Alfa Romeo was born to be — and, in fact, was for most of the first 40 of the 103 years the company has built cars. I’m talking about the time when Alfa Romeo made road cars for the ultra-wealthy in very small numbers. It also made racing cars that were quite successful until the late 1930s, when “The Leader” in Berlin started outspending “The Leader” in Rome in auto racing subsidies.

Alfa’s road cars were fast (enough), chic, expensive and stylish. They were a symbol of the prosperous man and well-kept woman of the 1920s and 1930s.

A new Alfa Romeo emerges from the ashes

The transformation of the company in the immediate post-World War II years to a volume manufacturer with a middle-class — well, upper middle class — market was a remarkable one.

In creating first the 1900 models and then the Giulietta, Alfa Romeo perfectly forged a new identity with light, easy-handling sporty sedans, coupes and spiders, which were a marketer’s dream.

Alfa Romeo also managed to completely erase in a decade all that had come before. The 1900 was succeeded by the 2000 in 1958. All new bodies came in Berlina (sedan), Spider and Sprint (coupe), with a cast-iron, 4-cylinder engine.

The sedan was delightfully transatlantic baroque, complete with lashings of chrome trim and fins, albeit discreet ones. The Spider was an elegant Carrozzeria Touring creation — and very much the style equal of Maserati and Aston Martin drop tops. But the pick of the litter was the sleek, clean and beautiful Sprint, which was the first job a frighteningly young Giorgetto Giugiaro did for Carrozzeria Bertone.

The 2000 was a sales disappointment, and executives realized that further distance was needed between the “small” Giulietta and the “big” Alfa.

Enter the 2600

In 1962, the Alfa Romeo line received a heart transplant with a new 2,584-cc, DOHC, inline 6-cylinder engine — the 2600. The Berlina and Spider got facelifts, while the Sprint gained a functional hood scoop and three inches in the wheelbase to accommodate the extra cylinders. A super-sleek — and slightly wacky — Zagato model was added to the lineup with the 2600 SZ. Finally, the contract body firm OSI built a very limited number of six-window sedans — the 2600 DeLuxe.

The 2600 Spider and Sprint cars were as austere and ascetic as the factory Berlina was overstyled. When the cars were new, the improved power from the smooth, refined 6-cylinder engine was universally praised. Further, Road & Track magazine’s legendary scribe Henry Manney III wrote of the 2600 line at the time of the launch: “The steering is light, vision good, handling impeccable, brakes super.”

Manney’s review makes later assessments of the 2600 as a badly oversteering, ill-balanced beast somewhat tough to believe. Allow me to elaborate:

The weight penalty for the six cylinders over the four cylinders is only 90 pounds. Yes, it would be good if the cars had power steering, but it would be better to have a suspension that was designed more recently than 1948 as well. That’s the real shortcoming of the 2600, as it is an updated 2000, which is an updated 1900, which was designed as the smoke from World War II was settling.

To understand and appreciate the 2600, it should be put into the proper context.

When you compare the driving experience to the proper cars, the appeal of the Alfa 2600 becomes clearer. The competition was the Mercedes-Benz 220SE, BMW 3200 CS, and, of course, the home-grown Lancia Flaminia.
While the Alfa put out 130 horsepower in the single-carb Berlina, the Sprint and Spider’s 145-hp, three-carburetor system compares favorably to the 150 horsepower of the 2.8-liter Flaminia and the 160 horsepower of the BMW V8 — while handily beating the 134-hp Mercedes inline 6.

As an aside, the SZ put out a healthy 165 horsepower with the lightest body of all the cars. The 2600 was a return to high retail prices for Alfa as well. The 1962 Sprint cost nearly $6,000, but it did boast leather upholstery and power front windows, while the Mercedes coupe was $8,700 with roll-up windows and vinyl seats — and a Maserati 3500 cost twice as much.

Of the full 2600 range, today’s market consists mostly of Spiders, with an occasional Sprint popping up.

The rare Zagato coupes seem to come to market in clumps, with none seen for years, then two or three in a row. I have only seen a couple of Berlinas in the United States, and the only OSI DeLuxe Berlina I have ever seen was at the Auto e Moto d’Epoca show in Padua, Italy, a few years ago.

Production figures are also interesting. For most Alfa models, the sedan was the volume leader; for the 2600 it was a distant third. Most 2600s were Sprints, with 6,999 built, followed by 2,555 Spiders, 2,092 of the Berlina, 105 SZs and a few dozen OSI DeLuxe Berlinas.

I mentioned the values of Spiders and Zagatos earlier; what a Berlina would go for if a good one appeared is anyone’s guess. One sold on eBay in 2009 for $18,900 after being on the market for a year with a price of $25k.

Sorting out the carburetor issue

When assessing a 2600, the carburetors have to be considered as important as the car’s cosmetic condition. The triple Solex 44 PHH carburetors, as fitted to the Spider, Sprint and SZ, had a very bad reputation for a very long time. Interestingly, versions of this same carburetor were used on the Mercedes 190SL and BMW 1600/1800/2000/2002.

While the Solex 44 PHH carburetors have double chambers — like a traditional two-barrel carburetor — they are actually two-stage in use. Vacuum operation opens the second chamber under wide-open throttle for added air and fuel delivery. It’s a clever system that delivers very smooth power when needed and saves fuel and helps drivability at low speeds. So, what’s the catch? The vacuum hoses must be maintained and the vacuum capsule mechanisms must be scrupulously cleaned and lubricated. If not, they will stick, eventually leading to burned valves.

Don’t be seduced by Weber conversions — this rare original factory option required a completely different intake manifold that is difficult to find and expensive to fabricate. Without it, the lash-ups made to accommodate Webers render 2600s largely undriveable and certainly not as smooth in performance as the Solexes. There is also the typical peakiness associated with big Webers.

Values stalled for a decade

Values have been static for Sprints, as nice examples have drifted around the $35,000 mark for a decade now. Occasionally, a show queen gets sold near $50k, but that’s still an anomaly.

These cars are quite expensive to restore, with complex curved body panels with many mud traps, NLA chrome attachment clips and the aforementioned pleated leather interior with double-stitched French seams on the dashboard top. Here a restoration is completely uneconomical and buying work already done is imperative.

Familiarity behind the wheel of a well-sorted 2600 Sprint is almost bound to make a convert. Leave your preconceptions at the curb and let this 1960s flagship coupe carry you back to the glory days of Alfa in its middle youth. The 2600 is the deserving descendant of the great 6C Alfas of yore. And it need not apologize for what it isn’t. ♦

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