|1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spyder Lungo
|Original List Price:
|$9,500 (in 1932 dollars)
|Chassis Number Location:
|Plate on firewall bulkhead
|Engine Number Location:
|Right side rear crankcase
|Alfa Romeo Owners Club
This car, Lot 206, sold for $4,196,927, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Festival of Speed auction on June 29, 2012.
The 8C 2300 Alfa Romeo is without question one of the most collectible automobiles in the world.
It has basically everything that the serious collector of performance and racing cars looks for when considering what to add to his stable: It is rare, incredibly advanced mechanically for its time, aesthetically breathtaking, a joy to drive and the dominant competitive automobile of its era.
The basic collector’s rule, “What was special and desirable then is collectible now,” applies in spades to the 8C Alfas. That said, in these cars there is a spectacular range of value between the less-desirable and the ultimate examples.
For the astute collector with the wherewithal to participate in the game, the trick is both to understand why the market assigns value to certain cars, and, when it fails to see the true value and undervalues something, to grab it. My thesis today is that the buyer of this Alfa scored — big-time. Let me explain.
When Alfa Romeo set their premier design engineer, Vittorio Jano, to work on a new 8-cylinder, twin-cam, supercharged engine, it was purely with the intent of creating a racing car that could compete and win at the highest levels of motorsport. They had been doing well in the smaller classes with their 6C 1500 and 6C 1750 cars, but after the withdrawal of Fiat from racing, Alfa Romeo considered itself to be the de facto Italian national racing team, and they wanted a car that could challenge the Germans, French and British for overall wins.
The result was the 8C 2300. Then as now, racing was conducted under a number of different categories, but — unlike now — in those days a single mechanical package could be adapted to all categories.
The Lungo and Corto of the 8C
Alfa thus designed their new car with three different chassis lengths: Lungo (long, for touring cars), Corto (short, for sports cars) and Monza (effectively Grand Prix configuration). Originally pure racing cars, their success allowed substantial sales of street versions through the early 1930s, and the longer chassis was more adaptable for this purpose. The result was that of 189 cars built, roughly 60% of the total production was Lungo, with most of the rest Corto and only a few Monzas.
In all of racing during that period, probably the most important venue was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was long, brutal, and intensely watched in the automotive world, so every manufacturer who wanted to prove they were fast and reliable pretty much had to do it there.
In the early 1930s, Alfa Romeo was the car to beat at Le Mans, but nobody managed the job. Alfa 8C 2300s won in 1931, ’32, ’33 and ’34, and finished a close 2nd in 1935. It was one of the most complete dominations in sport to that time, and it brought glory and sales to Alfa Romeo.
Unfortunately, the Le Mans cars weren’t very sexy or useful when the race was done. Le Mans was for “touring” cars, which in that era, meant four-seater bodies with operable tops. The four-seat requirement forced Alfa to use the Lungo chassis for its Le Mans cars, but racing weight meant that the bodies were designed for function above beauty — so they made lousy street cars later.
Money was tight, so many of the team cars were returned to the factory after racing, “refreshed” with street bodywork and resold. That is what happened to our subject car: It got a pretty-but-heavy drophead coupe body and ended up a parade car for Italo Balbo, a prominent fascist general, before the normal procession of owners brought it to the 1990s. George Daniels then bought it and rebodied it to its 1932 racing configuration.
Collectors are a persnickety bunch, particularly at the higher end of the market. Ideally, they want originality, beauty, history, performance, rarity, famous associations, sexiness and provenance, all in varying degrees of importance — the more of each, the better.
There is also a particular term — “rebodied” — that will spook bidders quicker than light on a cockroach. The obvious reason is that most rebodies take old, frumpy saloons and turn them into sexy racer wannabes. These cars may look cool, but they’re not very collectible. A combination of the above factors presented quite a problem for the subject Alfa, but it also created an opportunity for a savvy investor.
Seeing the Birkin and Howe Le Mans car
The first problem was the Lungo chassis; they just aren’t as sexy as the shorter ones, no matter what the history. The second — and biggest — problem was not just that it had been rebodied, but more importantly, it was how it was presented for sale.
Although it had been rebodied back into the factory Le Mans race car that it originally was (and the 1932 Pininfarina drophead body came with it), the Touring Le Mans design just wasn’t very attractive. To realize the Alfa’s true value, the seller needed to emphasize its history and provenance, and that just didn’t happen.
For all his qualities, Daniels never made the car look like a 1932 racer. It was painted bright red and lacked the details to remind buyers of why it was important. His estate obviously just gave it to the auction company and waited for somebody to raise a paddle, which was either too bad — or great, depending on your point of view.
Imagine if, instead, someone had taken the time to paint it the chalky oxblood red that it would have been — and had gotten the patina right. Details, such as the racing numbers painted onto the grille and bonnet, a separate Brooklands screen for the driver, and maybe an old lap counter mounted on the dash, would have been cues to remind the potential buyers that this was a heroic chariot for the iconic drivers Tim Birkin and Earl Howe at Le Mans — and again for Howe at the RAC Tourist Trophy — driving as a factory entry, no less.
Chassis 2211065 was a very important racing 8C 2300 with most of the factors that collectors want, but it wasn’t presented that way. It was just a too shiny and not very pretty 8C Alfa, and most of the bidders looked the other way.
One bidder didn’t, though, and in seeing what this car really was, scored one of the great buys of recent auction history. 8C 2300 Alfas in today’s market range in price from about $3 million for a good bitsa to more than $10 million for a completely original Zagato-bodied Monza.
This was a very good factory team car with known history and the 1932 “street” body still with it. It could have sold for as much as a million dollars more without surprise. I’d say this car was very, very well bought. ?
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)