Here we are absolutely delighted to have been engaged to offer this outstanding, uniquely important, supercharged straight-8 Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car for sale by auction. It is a superb example of the first all-independently suspended, big-engined Grand Prix racing design from Alfa Romeo, which the Portello factory made in 1936 to combat the might of the rival state-backed German “Silver Arrow” Mercedes-Benz W-25E and Auto Union C-type cars. It was in this Alfa Romeo and its sisters that the legendary Italian superstar driver Tazio Nuvolari and his teammates fought a bitter rearguard action against the overwhelming might of the German teams and their star drivers. Here is an artifact which in essence these great names would have seen, touched, experienced, campaigned and confronted around the world’s most demanding road-racing circuits of the mid-1930s.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1935-36 Alfa Romeo 8C 35 Grand Prix
Number Produced:Six
Original List Price:N/A
Chassis Number Location:Plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:Right side near crankcase
Club Info:Unobtanium Owners Association

This car, Lot 235, sold for $9,480,778, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Goodwood Auction on September 14, 2013.

This is the third Grand Prix car that I have written about in as many profiles, and it is time to restate the most basic reality of all vintage cars, which is particularly true in relation to the Grand Prix variants: These cars have absolutely no underlying economic value.

You can never make anything of economic value with them (save the occasional movie) and never will. The only thing that gives any of these cars any monetary value is the fact that someone is willing to exchange their money for the car. In trying to understand and parse out why any of these cars command the money that they do, we cannot talk about value in the traditional sense — we have to look at the intangible rewards that flow from being able to own one. As opposed to road-going cars of the era, the driving experience of pre-war GP cars is not the primary determinant of value. They have to be considered as historic artifacts.

A breathtaking car

Imagine wandering through a technical museum. What makes certain exhibits draw and hold your attention?

I will argue that the core factor is the feelings they evoke about people, the stories they can tell about who designed them, who built them, who drove them: the passion, imagination, creativity, courage and heroism exhibited by real people who struggled to advance the frontiers that we now think of as history.

This is what makes certain things seem humdrum and others take your breath away — this is what accounts for value in old racing cars. It’s the human drama they represent — not the brazed steel, cast aluminum and paint — that gives them value.

This is why originality and known history matter so much: A perfect replica or a made up “bitsa” may be impressive, but it wasn’t really there to participate in the drama. With a bitsa, Tazio Nuvolari’s sweat never soaked into the upholstery, a young Enzo Ferrari never fretted over getting it ready to race. Only the real thing can tell the stories. When it comes to artifacts, authenticity and participation in the human drama are everything. Our subject car is the real thing.

Players in a vivid drama

The mid-1930s were a spectacular time when it came to the human drama, and Grand Prix racing was where much of it played out. Nationalistic pride was at a fever pitch in all of Europe, and technological change driven by scientific advancement and industrial expansion was exploding.

Although the clouds of World War II darkened the horizon — and lent a feeling of consequence to all international competition — the sun was still out, the teams and drivers still liked and respected each other, and everybody laughed a lot. It was a time of intense competition, effort, passion, and some tragedy, but it was not war.

All this plays in our minds as a fantastic movie from just beyond memory, and these cars are the only remaining connection to it. There are relatively few surviving cars that participated in this drama, so let’s consider them as the actors with the roles they played — and from that derive how collectors value them.

The heavies

Although they weren’t villains, the German Mercedes and Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the era were certainly the heavies in the plot. With virtually unlimited financial and technical resources — due to government support and a huge car and truck business — Mercedes-Benz created masterful and dominant gems in the W-125 and W-154 GP cars. These “Silver Arrow” cars were astonishing marvels of engineering, packaging and performance that set an almost impossible standard. These Mercedes-Benz racers are the ultimate cars of the era and are valued accordingly — I’m told in the $18 million to $20 million range.

Auto Union didn’t have anything like the industrial resources of Mercedes, but they did have generous government support and the genius of Ferdinand Porsche to produce the first mid-engined GP cars in their Type A through D racers. They weren’t quite the dominating presence that Mercedes was, but they were worthy competitors, particularly in the 1936 season, and easily qualify in the Teutonic heavyweight role. There are only a couple of them out there, and I’m told they are in the $13 million range.

The supporting cast

Maserati led the supporting cast with its 8CM. Though quintessentially Italian in design and execution, Maserati was anything but a national or even a factory team. Maserati was like Lola or March in a later time: a company whose business was to build and sell racing cars to customers. So Maserati cars were by definition privateers, often brilliantly driven (Nuvolari personally owned and raced one) but without the limelight glow that is associated with the leading characters in the show. These carry an appropriate lower market value, with the best in the just-under-$5 million range. There were also a number of late Bugatti and ERA GP cars that filled in the grids at the various races. They were participants in the show but not more. These generally are valued in the $2.5m–$4m range.

Alfa Romeo as hero

The role left to fill is the brave, underdog hero, defiantly joining the battle against the odds on behalf of a proud and grateful nation — and once in a while prevailing. In this era, Alfa Romeo played that role.

In 1923, a very young driver named Enzo Ferrari persuaded the engineer Vittorio Jano to move from Fiat to Alfa Romeo. Shortly thereafter, their combined talents made Alfa into the dominant Italian racing power.

In the late 1920s, Jano created the architecture for a supercharged 8-cylinder sporting car, the 8C 2300, which quickly became both dominant and iconic in European racing. Light, responsive, powerful and balanced — and almost voluptuous in design and execution — the 2.3-liter and later 2.9-liter 8C Alfas set an entirely new standard for both sports and racing cars in the early 1930s.

The Grand Prix version of the early 8C was called the Tipo B, better known as the P3. With Enzo Ferrari’s masterful team management, it was the car to beat until the Germans started to flex their muscles.

In 1932, Alfa got in financial trouble and was taken over by Mussolini’s fascist government. Alfa became more than an Italian team; it was the Italian national emblem, and standing up to the Teutonic challenge from the north became a matter of national pride.

The car that Jano and Ferrari created to do this is today’s subject, the Alfa 8C 35. It was greatly improved from the P3, with aerodynamic bodywork, all-independent suspension, and a 3.8-liter evolution of the 8C engine. It was a much faster and better car than the P3, but it wasn’t really much competition for the German Silver Arrows that dominated.

There were a few glorious and heroic drives, primarily by Nuvolari, that made the world cheer and believe that Germany was not invincible — but only a few. This car did force the Germans to share the spotlight, and in the drama of the era, that was no small accomplishment.

Ultra-rare 8C Alfas

There were six 8C 35 cars built, and of those, two and a half survive. One is in the Alfa Museum, the other is our subject car, and there is a “bitsa.” They are the ultimate iteration of the iconic 8C line of Alfas, and as such, carry value from the lineage.

They are also among the last Alfas to have Ferrari’s fingerprints on them (he left Alfa in 1937) and they carry memories of heroic drives against great odds. As the storm clouds of the brewing World War II roiled in the dramatic late scenes of our imagination, Alfa’s 8C GP cars were the ones that managed to share the spotlight with the Germans. Now — as then — they command an important share of the attention and value of the German cars.

This Alfa sold for twice the value of the best supporting-cast cars, and half that of the ultimate players. I would suggest that it was fairly bought and sold. ?

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)


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