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Salon Privé Showcases Two Mille Miglia Italian Sporting Legends

Jürgen Weller Fotografie

Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance presented by Aviva is bringing together two Italian thoroughbreds who both have their roots from competition. The two cars definitely embody the spirit of wealthy, amateur racing drivers and owners from the pre- and post-war eras. Both cars are connected to the renowned Mille Miglia road race which ran in its original form between 1927 to 1957. Both models showcases the importance that their manufacturer attached to competition in improving the breed.

1938 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 B Mille Miglia by Graber

Salon Privé Pre-war Open Class will have a lot of cars to showcase, but one exemplary car that will be showcased is the rare example of Alfa Romeo’s 6C 2300 B in more powerful Mille Miglia specification. Only 107 Mille Miglia examples were produced by Alfa Romeo, and chassis 815045 is now considered one of a kind. It is the sole survivor of four 6C 2300 B convertibles that was produced by Swiss coachbuilder Graber. It is also the only one to have the ‘MM’ designation against its engine number.

Produced sometime between 1935 to 1938, the 6C 2300 B designed by Vittorio Jano had a completely new chassis that used independent suspension all round. It is also one of the first European cars to have it, basically using the front suspension of the Alfa’s grand prix cars with trailing arms and coil springs. Its advanced engine was also a surprise, being a six-cylinder cast iron block topped with an aluminum cylinder head, overhead valves, and double-overhead camshafts.

Not all 6C 2300 Bs were made the same. From 1935 to 1938, Alfa Romeo enjoyed tremendous success with numerous class wins in the Mille Miglia road race and in 1937, they also enjoyed a bumper year as they took first in class and fourth overall.

It was only natural that Alfa Romeo wanted that success in their road cars and it was then that they introduced the 6C 2300 B Mille Miglia. Equipped with twin Solex 35-40 FH carburetors compared to the standard Gran Turismo model’s single item, power was increased from 76 bhp to 95 bhp with an additional increase of maximum speed to 90 mph. All Mille Miglias were also based on the 6C’s 115-inch wheelbase short chassis to maximum agility.

The matching-numbers, Graber-bodied car was built in 1938. According to its factory order, it took the artisan workers of Graber a total of 1,888 manpower hours to complete. Mr. Martin Müller was the first owner and he was invoiced CHF 5,500 which was a pretty penny at the time.

More recently, the 6C was at the Righini Collection near Modena, Italy, where it was purchased back in 2013. After acquisition, the car was given a meticulous three-year-long restoration with the help and guidance of renowned Alfa Romeo specialist Jürgen Graumann with the emphasis on keeping the car as original as possible.

Salon Privé’s chairman Andrew Bagley welcomed the 6C in the Pre-war Open Class stating, “Even when new, this car was unique, but the fact that it’s become the only Graber-bodied 6C convertible to survive, too, makes it a real treat for our Salon Privé guests.”

Fiat V8 Vignale 1955 Strada e Corsa

1955 Fiat 8V Berlinetta by Vignale

In modern terms, the Fiat 8V model is what would be considered as the ‘halo car’ of the company when it was initially introduced in 1952. The first owner of Salon Privé’s 8V was serious about creating a car unlike any other as he took inspiration from an Aston Martin ordered by royalty, before he changed the design brief so it could meet his racing aspirations. This example of the Fiat 8V is set to be a star attraction in the Blenheim venue’s Post-war Closed Class.

The way the 8V model came to be was almost purely by accident. In the early 50s, legendary Fiat engineer Dante Giacossa whose brainchild was game-changing mainstream models like the Fiat 500 and 125, was given the task to develop a new V8 engine for a mid-range saloon. Unfortunately, the program was scrapped. So, he suggested that the engine he made be re-purposed for a high-end, but less costly performance car compared to those produced by Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.

The end result made waves at the Geneva Salon in 1952 when it was finally unveiled. Road & Track magazine called the launch the ‘biggest surprise of the year’ and it was very clear why. The V8 engine of the 8V was truly a Giacosa masterpiece. It has upper portions of a couple of 70-degree V4 engines mounted on a single crankcase to make a 1996cc overhead-valve V8. Initially producing 105 bhp at 6000 rpm, the 8V – named as such because Fiat initially believed that Ford had copyright on ‘V8’ – could top 118 mph. It wasn’t long before it showed itself as adept both on track and on the road.

On April 30, 1955, with the power of the Salon Privé’s 8V, its first owner and gentleman driver Mario Bonacina found himself at the start line of the 1955 Mille Miglia at 4.31am. Only 114 8Vs were built and out of them, only 34 were bodied by Fiat. The rest of the cars were bodied by various carrozzeria following the bespoke specifications of each client. Bonacina trusted Vignale with the 8V chassis, of which only 9 other owners similarly did. He originally specified that designer Giovanni Michelotti to copy the look of the one-off Aston martin DB 2/4 which was commissioned by King Baudouin of Belgium. During the early part of 1955, after deciding to enter the famous road race, Bonacina changed the brief from ‘coupé speciale gran lusso’ to ‘tipo Mille Miglia 55’. Revisions were then made on the bonnet and the rear section of the car, and they let two fuel-filler caps into the Plexiglass rear screen.

Chassis 0066 was completed by Vignale just a mere three weeks before the race. He presented it to Bonacina in a dark-blue livery matched with natural tan leather upholstery for the interior. It rode on chrome Fergat wire wheels and was fitted with an optional, all-synchromesh five-speed gearbox. Like the other 8Vs, due to the narrow cabin and to give the driver more elbow room, they set back the passenger’s seat by a foot.

It was Bonacina’s fourth attempt at the Mille Miglia. The car was entered in the ‘Granturismo oltre 1300’ class along with 62 others, which includes 11 other 8Vs. Five 8Vs was able to make it to the top 50 finishers, unfortunately for Bonacina, his car was recorded as ‘DNF’ although it seems that it made really great progress during the early stages of the race.

In June 1956, it was sold and was acquired by two more Italian owners. The fourth owner, Shelley Pfeiffer acquired the 8V 0066 and it started its new life in California. Pfeiffer then replaced the V8 engine with a humbler 4-cylinder Chevrolet unit after it failed and was unable to find replacement parts.

In 1981, the 8V was again sold to new owner Daniel Simpson who was able to track down its repaired original engine (number 0136) in Dallas. It took him around 13 years of negotiation to acquire the engine and finally bring together the engine with chassis 0066. Since then, the car was given a complete nut and bolt restoration.

Salon Privé’s chairman Andrew Bagley shared, “Any 8V would create a stir at Salon Privé, but this one is quite special. To think that this car shared the same start-line in the 1955 Mille Miglia as Moss and ‘Jenks’ in their winning Mercedes 300 SLR is remarkable. Now back in original form, it is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at Blenheim next month.”

Salon Privé Week promises to be another must-see event with a program that includes Ladies’ Day presented by Boodles on Friday, on Saturday there is the Salon Privé Club Trophy presented by Lockton, and Sunday’s Classic and Supercar event to cap everything off.

Salon Privé tickets can be purchased on their website.