He seemed to be well positioned at Fiat, then the leading racing team but his friend Luigi Bazzi who had recently joined Enzo Ferrari at Alfa Romeo knew the ego that blazed inside Vittorio Jano could not be contained at the larger company. After the desultory results of the new Alfa P1, a Fiat copy no less, it was suggested by Bazzi that in order to succeed they needed to go to the source, they needed to kidnap “Jano”. It was a job that the equally ambitious Ferrari, a self-described troublemaker was born to. Yet Jano was not so easily moved, and according to legend he demanded a formal proposal from Alfa Romeo, imperiously dismissing Ferrari by stating that he would “speak to the organ grinder, not the monkey”. To the shock and dismay of his managers at Fiat, Vittorio was soon headed to Alfa Romeo.
The immediate result of this new partnership was the Alfa P2, another Fiat copy but one eminently more successful. Besides his duties in the racing department he was required to translate what he could into a new series of sporting road cars. Jano’s designs were born more from an innate technical genius than scientific theories and what transpired was the 6C 1500. The car along with the P2 would see Alfa Romeo through to the end of the decade bringing fame if not fortune to the company.
With the 6C 1750 derivative finally running its course as a front-line race car Jano embarked on a new model built around a straight-six engine with a displacement of 2336cc. The legendary 6C 2300 or more simply the 2.3 is considered by many to be one of the greatest sports cars of all time. The engine of the new car shared the same bore and stroke of the 1750 or 65mm X 88mm with twin overhead camshafts and a Roots-type supercharger. Reports have it developing anywhere from 165 to 180 horsepower, Italian horsepower then as now being a slightly imprecise animal. Structurally the engine resembled two four-cylinder blocks with a central gear train that ran the supercharger, camshafts and other sundry items.
With a track of 1380mm, two wheelbases, the Lungo and Corto were available at 2750mm and 3100mm respectively. The shorter model usually sported a two seater body; the racing version went by the name, Spyder Corsa. The greatness of the car owed more to its overall package and the exploits of great drivers than to any technological breakthrough being stiffly sprung and flexible chassied with a four-speed crash gearbox. It would prove its metal on the race tracks of the world. While enjoying numerous victories, the smaller Alfas were no match for the Bugatti 35B and Maserati Tipo 26M in the major events. The 1931 season would bring about a change in fortune with the 2.3’s first full scale campaign after some initial runs the previous year.
Hobbled by accidents to both of their cars at the Mille Miglia and not ready for Monaco the team pointed to May 10th and the Targa Florio to make their mark.
The Targa Florio was not so much a race as it was an ordeal. Established in 1906 a single lap was approximately 92 miles. Besides the course which traversed mountain roads unchanged since the Punic Wars, there were severe changes in climate, bandits and wolves. Each hairpin competed with a sheer abyss for the driver’s attention over a 3 lap race of 277 miles. Initially there were few rules and the event was open to standard cars of which at least ten identical models had been built.
In 1930 the Tazio Nuvolari – Achille Varzi came to a burning conclusion when a spare wheel on Varzi’s car worked itself lose and punctured his fuel tank causing him to stop more often for fuel. At the last stop his riding mechanic grabbed a spare fuel can. While racing along a downhill stretch his mechanic attempted to refuel the car. Unfortunately a high IQ was not a prerequisite for being a racing mechanic and the car caught fire when some of the fuel spilled onto the hot exhaust. Varzi unwilling to stop and lose the race to his bitter rival continued on while his mechanic beat the fires furiously with his seat cushion.
In 1931 Nuvolari vowed it would be his turn. Though officially Bugatti did not compete in the race it was the privately run T51 Bugatti of Varzi that was still the car to beat. It had rained a lot recently and landslides had made the current circuit unusable. Instead they would revert to the original 92-Mile Large Madonie with the cars covering four laps in approximately nine hours of racing. Jano who was also managing the team assumed that the rain would continue during the event and ordered mudguards to be fitted giving Nuvolari what would prove to be a critical advantage over the Bugatti.
In fact all bodywork was removed behind the seats leaving the car with a brutal look for a brutal circuit. Jano also had the refueling posts equipped with two-way radios so that the progress of their cars and those of their competitors could be monitored. The cars started at 5 minute intervals and Varzi took the early lead. They were racing in a sea of mud and soon neither the drivers nor their cars were recognizable. Goggles became useless and were thrown away while throats became clogged with mud. The road ahead was all but obliterated yet they struggled on hour after hour.
By the last lap the half-blind, some would say half-crazed, Varzi could take no more when again the rain began to fall dropping 7 minutes behind Nuvolari. Exhausted and having to be carried from his car he would eventually finish third behind Borzacchini in the works 6C 1750. The 2.3 had won its first major victory. Congratulated after the race by Vincenzo Florio, Nuvolari was heard to reply simply that he had beaten Varzi.
At the Mille Miglia that year the Alfa would lose to Caracciola driving a huge Mercedes but the Alfa 6C2300s would come back and win the next 3 Mille Miglias, the last with an engine bored out to nearly 2600cc. The 6C2300 was produced in 3 series from 1931 to 1934 with fewer than 190 examples being made. As was the custom, various coach builders were commissioned to supply the car’s body over the factory running gear. Even some of the chassis were sub-contracted. This resulted in the many variations that exist today though invariably they are the stars of any show in which they are displayed.