1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 "Ala Spessa" by Touring
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On the eve of war, 1939 would have been a special year also from the point of view of competitive motoring. Two causes of change unrelated to the political tension that would have led to the invasion of Belgium and France would have been added to the lesser circulation of cars and drivers between European countries, while Italy remained for some time still in a state of "no belligerence ". During the second passage from Bologna of the competitors of the 1938 Mille Miglia, the Lancia Aprilia of Bruzzo-Mignanego ended up in the crowd causing a massacre. The following day the government had decreed the end of the famous road race by suddenly ceasing, under the pressure of an upset public opinion, the policy followed up to that moment, which had rather been that of inducing the press to silence the non few accidents, even fatal, occurred in previous years.
On the other hand, at the end of the 1938 season, the Italian sports authorities had decided to ban the use of supercharging in sports competitions, issuing a regulation for 1939 that defined the new National Sport class for elaborate series cars, but with high-performance engines. atmospheric power. The provision, inspired by Giovannino Lurani and supported by the journalism master Giovanni Canestrini who at the time, with the title of Secretary, acted as president of the CSAI (Italian Automobile Sports Commission), was certainly appropriate, as it aimed to broaden the field of competitors by putting I play private individuals and small stables. But the change of scenery it caused was drastic.
Giovanni Canestrini, Giovannino Lurani, Guido Cattaneo and in general the whole group that administered the steering power of Italian competitive motoring were so emotionally close to Alfa Romeo that it would be naive to argue that the House of the Portello was taken aback by the measure. On the contrary, it can be assumed that the general manager Ugo Gobbato saw it favorably as a way to reduce the costs of sports management which, since the beginning of 1938, he had personally wanted to rearrange, causing the liquidation of Scuderia Ferrari and establishing Alfa Corse.
However, the team of the Biscione suddenly found itself deprived of the possibility of using the 8C 2900 in the race, that absolute weapon that had no rivals in the world of road racing and which, prepared in October 1935, when it appeared at the Paris Motor Show, it still had to be technically very valid, if a 1938 model was then used for training in the 1940 Mille Miglia. It was now evident that it was not commercially viable, in a period of increasingly difficult exports and an internal market called for austerity. It was a list model, but just over 40 units built in four years had certainly not made it a profitable product for the company's balance sheets, which had benefited only in terms of image with a long series of victories. For sport racing, all the cards of Alfa Corse therefore had to be aimed at a pushed version of the new 6C 2500, a car that had been conceived by its designers rather as a grand tourer for customers ... and therefore was not ideal nor in the weight-to-power ratio, nor in the type of rear suspension, of the pendular type. Suspensions that were designed for comfortable travel, but that suffered when pushed to the limit. In a testimony released to us on January 4, 1991, Consalvo Sanesi admitted: "... marching towards the sealing limits, we had noticeable slippage of the internal rear wheel, with sudden lateral tears of the external rear wheel at the curve. 'era was the best standard solution, even if it was the most expensive ".
In a version for the public and with GT bodies made by the Touring Superleggera, the 6C 2500 Sport debuted on February 17, 1939 at the Berlin Motor Show, together with the standard metal sedan. Meanwhile, the next deadline of a political-sporting event was looming on the horizon, to which Alfa Romeo, an industry controlled by the state, could not deny its careful participation. Competitive motoring was an important component of the regime's efficient and modernist rhetoric and therefore the prohibition of holding a popular event such as the Mille Miglia had been experienced with suffering not only by millions of citizens, but probably also by some members of the management team that had had to issue it.
In an effort to find a solution that would circumvent the decree, it was decided to give maximum importance to a race on the Libyan coast which was originally conceived only as a promotional event for the infrastructures that the regime was building in that colony.
The first edition, on the 1,030-kilometer Benghazi-Tripoli route, was held on December 12, 1937, and was won, coincidentally, by an Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 MM driven by Ercole Boratto. Even in the period of full splendor of the Mille Miglia, it had been - it must be said - a second-rate race and the victory of Boratto, assisted by test driver Alessandro Gaboardi, detached from Portello, was not opposed by particularly important competitors.
In February 1939 the press began drumming the news of a second edition of the race, which would take place on the following 26 March on a route to which the Tobruk-Benghazi section was added, for a total of about 1,500 kilometers. On 3 March the Gazzetta dello Sport reported the news that the Alfa Corse team will be made up of Nino Farina, Clemente Biondetti and Carlo Pintacuda and said verbatim: "These drivers will have the new 2500 SS type derived from the previous 2,337 cm3 six-cylinder. A fourth two-and-a-half-liter Alfa Romeo car will be driven by Boratto, the winner of the first Tobruk-Tripoli. Two of the four Alfa Corse cars will have thick-wing aerodynamic bodywork, and two will have normal profiled bodywork. of the Touring ".
This short piece of news (apart from the slip of the tongue to mention Tobruk, a location not included in the route of the first edition of the race) is very precise and probably contains the first public mention of the term "thick wing", a phrase that almost certainly came out of Felice Bianchi's fervid mind. Anderloni and from these passed to the newspapers in that wise work of self-promotion that he carried out with polite assiduity. "Thick wing", because the side of the car (as had already been seen in the special aerodynamic berlinetta 8C 2900 prepared for Le Mans 1938) tended to an integral volume, that is, without the traditional molding of the fenders.
As for the drivers, the first three names were among the greatest celebrities of the moment: Nino Farina, future world champion with the Alfetta 158/159 single-seaters, Clemente Biondetti and Carlo Pintacuda, both absolute winners of past editions of the Mille Miglia, were known as cross-country racing specialists. It remains to be said of Ercole Boratto, the outsider of the team in which he was included for a favoritism that, in light of the facts, seems well deserved. He was the trusted driver of Benito Mussolini, himself a great lover of speed, in love with Alfa Romeos and a discreet driver on his own, but prevented from participating directly in the races for understandable reasons of opportunity. Thus Boratto (who, incidentally, was the young father of the famous actress Caterina Boratto) in addition to the daily duties of the head of government's first driver, had become a kind of "automotive ambassador". In this role he had had the privilege of being "commanded" in propaganda missions such as participation in the 1936 Mille Miglia with an alcohol-fueled 6C 2300 Pescara (13th overall), then conquering the class victory (4th overall) paired with Guidotti in the following Mille Miglia and, as we have seen, the absolute victory in Benghazi-Tripoli 1937.
One might think that Boratto was an "iron tale" of the regime, but he should not have been without merits, as his co-driver Consalvo Sanesi said, continuing his lucid testimony: "On the driving skills of the Boratto I can say that he was an excellent driver, he knew his limits well and never took risks; his motto was "finish the race without the slightest hitch." and he exasperated me with the constant recommendations to the point that, fed up, I gave him back the guide. In other words, the Boratto was used to not letting the Duce risk his life ......
What about the opposition? Only a couple of private individuals (Della Cella-Parodi) had been able to dispose of the new 6C 2500 SS in time and no one had thought of participating with the valid 6C 2300 MM of the previous season.
The most dangerous attack could have come from the BMW team, a team that was not so much an official of the marque as an official of a warlike nation. In order to understand the climate, we quote a short communication passed to the newspapers on March 7 by the Berlin state agency: "General Adolf Huhnlein, commander of the NSKK, has ordered that the Corps racing team officially participate in the next great Libyan race. which will take place on the Tobruk-Tripoli stretch of the Litoranea. The three BMW Sport cars will be entrusted to the sub-captain drivers Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe, assistant Roese, Briem, Holzschuh, Heinemann and Richter, all members of the NSKW
It was the first act of that offensive that would have led to the overwhelming victory of small BMWs over Alfa Romeos at the 1940 Mille Miglia (held on the circuit to circumvent the government's ban on open road racing). And it was an offensive that began on a regulatory level, as the German participation had been conditioned to the establishment of a special class up to 2000, initially not foreseen by the competition rules.
The BMW 328 with stock spider bodywork were in fact penalized by a lower top speed than the Alfa Romeos.
After a certain battle between the official Alphas, closely followed by BMWs, Boratto ended up winning, which, like Nino Farina, had been assigned the thicker wing version, heavier, but theoretically more aerodynamic than the non-faired spider. A victory of political favoritism? Sanesi's testimony excludes him: "as for the victory there was no team game, much less political imperatives, only mere luck ... Farina, who could have been the sure winner, went out in Derna for his exuberance of road and retired. Pintacuda, who could aspire to victory after Farina, had continuous anomalies and retired in turn. Later Biondetti had taken the lead, but in the last 400 kilometers he had significant brake anomalies and so Boratto won with 11 seconds ahead ".
Boratto's was probably the only victory of the thick wing model, a version little loved by the factory drivers of Alfa Corse, perhaps not so much due to the greater weight of the body (about 60 kg more than the one with the traditional cigar shape, with individually fairing fenders) , as for the lower transversal visibility that its high sides offered on the tortuous paths. It was, in fact, admittedly a bodywork for fast routes and therefore it was seen to reappear in August at the Pescara Circuit where, if we can give credit to the clue offered by the painting, Sesto Leonardi-Guglielmo Dei was entrusted precisely with the 915.006 model of Boratto.
Another Ala Spessa (thick wing), the 915.009, appears at the checks of the 1st Grand Prix of the Mille Miglia, a new name for the re-edition of the famous race that took place on April 28, 1940, on a day of great sporting passion and crazy estrangement. from reality: elsewhere a bloody war is being fought, in Italy civil car traffic is close to paralysis due to the shortage of petrol, soon the authorities will come to confiscate used tires and batteries. And the day of a severe lesson given by the small BMW 328 to the 6C 2500 SS specially prepared with new lightweight Touring bodies and entrusted to the best axles of the Portellos, to which count Carlo Felice (Didi) Trossi, who replaces Boratto, has joined. detained in Rome from the precipitate of events, driving the only example of aerodynamic berlinetta.
Berlinetta Touring BMW versus Berlinetta Touring Alfa Romeo, the performance gap can be summarized in just two figures: the fastest lap of Baron Fritz Huschke von Hanstein is accomplished at an average of 174.102 km / h, that of Didi Trossi, a driver certainly superior to equality of means, at 164,844. Those who estimate the difference between the top speeds of the two cars to be more than 25 kilometers are probably right. For once Farina dominates his own impetuousness and, with a spider perhaps less aerodynamic than Trossi's berlinetta, comes second overall, but with a humiliating 38-minute gap from Huschke von Hanstein's BMW Touring berlinetta. What is the role of the Thick Wing in this whole story? Much more interesting than what the absolute classification says, which sees it relegated to 24th place (fifth, however, in its class, which means that it has done better than other 6C 2500 SS powered by the usual carburetors). In fact, it is the very first Alfa Romeo fueled by injection and one of the first cars in Italy prepared to experiment with this device. The experiment is supported by Alfa Romeo, but it was set up by Caproni as the culmination of a very large cycle of tests. At Caproni the device was proposed by Ottavio Fuscaldo, the little known name of a very valid technician, which forces us to digression.
Very shy by nature, and therefore rarely made headlines, Ottavio Fuscaldo (Verona, March 6, 1886 - Milan, August 11, 1952) was one of the greatest and most prolific designers of the early period of the history of the Italian automobile. He made his debut at Fiat as a collaborator in the project group of the engineer Giovanni Enrico, from where in 1906 he moved to Fides-Brasier, to return to Fiat from 1908 to 1910. In this period he had the privilege of dedicating himself to high-performance cars. Then hired at Nazzaro & C. in Turin as a collaborator of the engineer Arnaldo Zoller, he designs all the pre-war models of this brand and, among these, the winning car of the 1913 Tour of Sicily. In that same year Fuscaldo (who in the meantime had patented and had the first of his vehicles called Rombo built on his own at Officine Chiribiri due to the rhomboidal arrangement of the wheels), he passed to the Automobili Factory Engineer Roberto Zúst of Brescia which, taken over in 1917 by the Officine Meccaniche of Milan, became the OM. All the OM models of the 1920s are by Ottavio Fuscaldo, including the famous six-cylinder 665 S Superba, winners of the performance index of the 1926 Le Mans 24 Hours and, of all, the first Mille Miglia. In August 1927, a few months after that unforgettable victory, Fuscaldo resigned from his post to try to start his own productions.
As an entrepreneur Fuscaldo was not lucky, because he inevitably tried to carry out those projects that were too advanced which could not find credit with his employers. It was so for the repeated attempts to start the production of cars and armored cars built on the Rombo scheme and for a Brescia Company for Aviation Engines, which he promoted in 1929 for the construction of aircraft engines that he had designed in a series of five modular models with powers from 50 to 230 HP This story put him in contact with the leading aeronautical group of the time, led by Gianni Caproni, from whom he was finally hired as head of a special experimental department that operated in the advanced research sector for the Caproni Airplanes of Milan (Taliedo) and the Cemsa di Saronno. Alongside numerous devices used in aeronautical construction, Fuscaldo also designed an electromagnetically controlled injection system on behalf of Caproni, very versatile and capable of operating even with self-sufficient fuels. In addition to many utilitarian applications, two installations were tested in very tough sporting tests: the Milan-Taranto 1939 with a racing Guzzi 250 (the famous prototype-laboratory Gerolamo which, under the leadership of Raffaele Alberti, finished second overall) and the Mille Miles 1940 with our old friend Ala thick made available by Alfa Romeo (of which he kept the service plate in the race).
The system consisted of a current distributor (in practice a second distributor) which launched in each injector, during the intake stroke of the corresponding piston, an impulse of current supplied by the battery. The current, activating a solenoid, caused the opening of the internal valve of the injector, which allowed the passage of the fuel contained in a pressurized tank by means of a gear pump. The main advantage of the Fuscaldo system compared to the traditional mechanical injection methods, in use at the time for diesel engines, was the ability to operate with absolute metering precision even at very high speeds. Furthermore, unlike the carburetor system, the Caproni-Fuscaldo injection system made it possible for four-stroke engines to use normally indigestible fuels.
The time has come to reveal that, while the experimental Guzzi of the Milan-Taranto had the privilege of running on a mixture of petrol and benzene, the poor Ala spessa of the 1940 Mille Miglia, driven by Antonio Chiodi and Livio De Zorzi, two Aeronautical testers of the Caproni, in the name of autarchy it had been forced to work with a mixture of ethyl alcohol and palm oil.
In light of this clarification, the final average of over 133 km / h held over a course of 1,320 kilometers (the car was stopped by regulation after the winner arrived) takes on a completely different flavor.
Twenty-fourth in solute, she was actually fifth in her category, even if not exactly close to the four sisters belonging to the official Alfa Corse team. It therefore did better than other private 6C 2500 SS, but unofficially assisted by Alfa Romeo, such as the 915.014 of Gian Maria Cornag gia Medici, which was slower, or the 915.011 of Piero Dusio, which was fueled by petrol through six Dell carburettors. 'Orto, but which was forced to retire. In short, with this latest appearance in the name of fuels of vegetable origin, the 915.009 Ala spessa, despite having won only on its debut in Libya, earned a marginal but indelible role in the history of the automobile.
La Manovella - ottobre 2010
"Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience." P. Coelho