1929 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Supercharged Super Sport Spider by Zagato
Reg. no. JYH 98
Chassis no. 0312931
The launch of the Alfa Romeo 6C in 1925 – with full production actually starting in 1927 – marked a key moment in the development of this iconic manufacturer – and it could be argued, in the development of the modern concept of the sports car. Replacing the impressive but somewhat upright and heavy RL series of sporting cars, the new 6C represented a major change in direction – the new car was much lower and lighter than its predecessor. The majority of racing cars in the 1920s were just stripped-down, tuned versions of road cars, but the 6C was the opposite – the basis for its development was a dedicated racing car, the P2 of 1924, which conquered the short-lived World Automobile Championship in 1925. For 1926, the capacity limit was reduced to 1500cc, hence the new Alfa’s 1487cc capacity – the new six-cylinder unit based on the P2’s straight-eight. True thoroughbreds have racing blood coursing through their veins, and that could not be more true for the 6C. In ‘normale’ form, the 6C 1500 had a single-overhead-cam engine, the Sport and Super Sport models being enhanced with a twin-cam unit – supercharged, in the case of the Super Sport. It was on this high-performance model that the open two-seater Zagato coachwork was first seen; this has since become the most iconic form of pre-war Alfa, although as with many cars of the era, a wide variety of different bodies were fitted by numerous coachbuilders.
The man behind the new car was Vittorio Jano, one of the most influential motor car engineers in the history of the industry. From 1923 to 1937, he was chief engineer at Alfa Romeo, leading the company through a golden age that contained some of the most storied and spectacular cars ever produced. At the heart of all these machines was the engine; the P2’s 2-litre straight-eight formed the inspiration for a series of four, six and eight-cylinder powerplants, all sharing similar characteristics – light alloy construction, hemispherical combustion chambers, and overhead camshafts. The racing machines were most famously campaigned by Enzo Ferrari – firstly as a driver, and then from 1929 as the leader of Scuderia Ferrari - effectively Alfa Romeo’s factory team. Throughout his long post-war career in charge of the Ferrari Formula 1 team, Enzo was famous for his conviction that the engine was of paramount importance in a racing car – a philosophy no doubt inspired by his experience of Jano’s excellent Alfa engines. The Ferrari-Alfa-Jano axis would provide some of motor racing’s most famous stories, featuring such drivers as Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and Rudolf Caracciola – names still familiar to any motorsport fan today, some ninety years after their daring exploits.
For 1929, as a natural development, the 1750 6C replaced the 1500; the increase in displacement brought an increase in power, with upwards of 75mph within reach for most versions. The most potent of the 1929 models was the ‘Super Sport Compressore’ – of which JYH 98 is an example. These cars were supercharged – ‘compressore’ being the Italian for supercharger – and with their lightweight construction, 85bhp output, and sporty bodies, were good for 90mph. Indeed, such was the success of the new model that in that year’s Mille Miglia, six of the top ten finishers were 6Cs, the race being won by Giuseppe Campari and Giulio Ramponi in a 1750 Super Sport. Other notable victories followed, with the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps, the 12 Hours of San Sebastian and Grand Prix of Ireland all being conquered in 1929, while the RAC Tourist Trophy and another Spa success followed in 1930. The Super Sport evolved into the Gran Sport in 1930, claiming yet more famous victories – none more famous perhaps than Tazio Nuvolari’s win in that year’s Mille Miglia, where he drove for many miles in the dark with the headlights off, following his teammate Achille Varzi. Near the end, he turned them on and caught Varzi completely by surprise, and swept past to claim victory – just one of the many great motor racing tales involving Alfa 6Cs.
As mentioned above, JYH 98 is from the first-year of 1750 production, and with its Zagato body and Super Sport Compressore specification, is the most sporting and desirable 6C offered that year. The car’s early history is mostly unknown; the old logbook in the file lists its first registration in the UK as the 16th of June 1948, and the importer is noted separately as Chipstead Motors of London. It is from this point that the car’s story is well-documented. The first owner was John Pitcher of Wrangle in Lincolnshire; there is a letter on file where he states that he purchased the car from Reg Parnell of Derby. Between 1951 and 1957, the car passed through the hands of no fewer than eight owners.
In May 1961, the car finally found a long-term home, when it was acquired by the late Michael Hirst, from whose estate the car is now offered. When Mr Hirst acquired the car, it was fitted with a Ford V8 – the simple, mass-produced side-valve V8 quite a contrast to the exquisite, double-overhead-cam unit with which it left the factory! Correspondence reveals that the original engine suffered an unfortunate and terminal blow-up in the early 1950s. When sold in 1951 by Chiltern Cars to Mr R J Hedges of Spaxton, Somerset, the 1750 engine was still in place; two years later, however, when sold to S.A Hurrell, again from Chiltern Cars, the engine and gearbox were gone. The ex-War Department Ford V8 was duly fitted, before the car was sold on again to Delta Garages of Leighton Buzzard in 1955.
As can be imagined, Mr Hirst had quite a task on his hands to return his new purchase to something approaching original form. Work proceeded rapidly however; a replacement engine was sourced – engine number 121215071, a 1933 1750 SS unit – and this was duly rebuilt. By summer 1964, the car was ready for a drive to Italy to visit the Alfa Romeo factory in Milan. There, it was inspected by Alfa staff, and it was positively identified as a 3rd Series 1750 SS of 1929, chassis number 0312931, and still wearing its original Zagato body. There is a letter on file from Alfa Romeo concerning this, dated 17th September 1964. Mr Hirst replied on 25th September, pointing out that 0332931, not 0312931, is stamped on the front dumb-iron; on 3rd October, Alfa Romeo replied, confirming their original identification of 0312931 – stating with confidence that the 3 was either a simple factory error or a later modification.
Another example of the extensive correspondence with Alfa Romeo concerns the cylinder block; Mr Hirst reported that, on the long drive back from Milan, it overheated on the famous St Bernard Pass and cracked, and inquired about making one in steel with cast-iron liners. Alfa duly sent him a drawing of the cylinder block, for reference should he wish to make a replacement.
Correspondence also reveals a tantalizing trace of possible competition history. When it was suggested that perhaps this car had been driven at Brooklands in 1929 by that year’s joint Mille Miglia winner Giulio Ramponi, Alfa got in contact with his engineer from that time, Mr Perfetti. He confirmed that he probably tested the car in 1929, as this was his task, but that it was unclear whether the car was the one Ramponi raced at Brooklands.
During the many years that Mr Hirst owned and enjoyed the car, he and his wife Jo were stalwarts of what was then the Alfa Romeo Section of the VSCC, attending many events both in the UK and abroad. As proprietor of Frenchay Garage, Mr Hirst was well-placed both to keep his own car in excellent running condition, and to support others. Little used in recent years due to ill health and Mr Hirst’s subsequent passing, the car does however remain in a very good state, as befits a much-loved car from long-term enthusiast ownership.
The car is now offered as an extremely rare opportunity to acquire a 1750 SS 6C, still with its original Zagato body, that has not changed hands for sixty years. It comes with excellent provenance, with the chassis and body confirmed by Alfa Romeo as original, and the engine identified as a proper 1750 SS unit that has now been in the car for the majority of its life. The history file contains the correspondence mentioned above, plus several old logbooks and MOTs, and a large quantity of photographs taken over the course of the Hirsts’ long ownership.
It should be noted that when Mike Hirst purchased this car, it was missing the gearbox as well as the original engine. PLease view the extensive history file and correspondence for additional information.
Extra details and estimates:
£650,000 - 750,000
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