The Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este attracts the most magnificent automotive masterworks of the past century, each painstakingly restored to compete with its peers for hard-judged honours in an event all but unparalleled for exclusivity, elegance and prestige.
Oliver Collins of Toronto turned up at the event, held last April on the shores of Lake Como in Northern Italy, with the sagging door of his entry held shut with a piece of rope.
Not quite how he'd envisioned the realization of a long-held dream to take part in this glamorous event - and help Alfa Romeo celebrate its 100th anniversary - with his 1948 6C 2500 SS Touring Coupe.
Collins, a keen Alfa enthusiast since the early 1970s, and wife Lucie had embarked for Italy this spring for three months "of doing car stuff" with the centrepiece of the trip being Villa d'Este.
He'd enquired about participation last year and (various hoops having been jumped through) received a "rather deceiving" letter welcoming him. Which he took to mean he'd been accepted "and jumped for joy, only to find out I had been accepted to the competition to be accepted."
An invitation did eventually arrive and the Alfa was fettled and shipped to Italy. After retrieving it - not without incident - the couple embarked on their first planned event, the Superleggera Tour near Asti. Superleggera is a form of lightweight bodywork patented by Corrozzeria Touring, which built Collins' Alfa, involving aluminum panels fitted over a tubular frame.
But before the day ended the Alfa was refusing to select first and second gears, and after a bit of fiddling it was determined the gearbox would have to be removed. The car was loaded on a flatbed truck heading for Milan where it would be looked at Monday morning. The Villa d'Este concorsa was to start on Thursday.
Wednesday brought good and bad news. The gearbox could be fixed but one of the Alfa's doors, left open, had been backed into and buckled.
Thursday morning, with the gearbox reinstalled, a body shop was visited where "this really big guy came out and lifted the door so it didn't sag and got it almost closed and secured with a rope."
A call had already been made to the organizers, who were sympathetic, and the "wounded" Alfa was soon making a 120 km/h blast down the Autostrada to Villa d'Este - where it subsequently won a Silver Medal Of Honour in its class.
Collins's almost lifelong Alfa odyssey was predated by a late '40s Plymouth and a couple of mid-'50s Chevys in his teen years in Kitchener, Ont., and a pair of Brit sports cars while studying architectural technology at Ryerson in Toronto.
He drove a Triumph TR3 and then a TR250, but their charms rapidly oxidized and he transferred his affections to a used 1972 Alfa-Romeo Berlina in the mid-'70s. The Alfa's overhead cams, beautifully cast aluminum alloy and long and glamorous history easily trumped British pushrods and cast iron. "It was a kind of mundane four-door sedan, but I was so impressed with the quality of the mechanical parts I've just kept on buying them."
A second Berlina was followed by his first and only new Alfa, a 1974 GTV. A dozen or so others have found space in his garage since, while Collins pursued a career as a project manager overseeing construction of shopping centres. Along with an eclectic mix of other interesting machinery - some of them daily drivers, but including a 1959 Osca vintage racer and his current track car, a 1959 Stanguellini Formula Junior.
With the purchase of the GTV Alfa, enthusiasm was obviously building and Collins and a neighbour, who'd also bought one, decided to see if there was interest in a club. Flyers on Alfa windscreens resulted in the 1978 creation of the Alfa Romeo Club of Canada, with friends Richard Stafferton (now deceased, who ran the Autophile book shop in Toronto for many years) and John Winter.
And Collins's interest in the cars now began to extend back in time to encompass older Alfas such as a 1950s Giulietta Spider, 1960s Giulietta Sprint Zagatos and a Giulia Spider and a pretty pair of late 1940s 6C 2500 SS Pininfarina Cabriolets.
The 1948 6C 2500 SS Touring Coupe was purchased in 2005. "I wanted a car I could tour in," says Collins, and after checking out a couple of other marques found the Alfa, which had arrived in the United States via Belgium. "It was really what I wanted," he says and he discovered after buying it that it had been restored in Belgium in 1995 by a friend.
Collins has now traced its dozen or so owners, but the group unfortunately doesn't include Rita Hayworth or Tyrone Power, who both owned one. "They were the Italian car of the Hollywood set in the early '50s," Collins says.
The 6C 2500 was introduced in 1939 and production resumed following the war, ending in 1952. Its separate frame was equipped with all-round independent suspension and drum brakes. The engine was a 2,443-cc, twin-cam, inline-six, and with 110 hp and a four-speed gearbox the lightweight car could top 160 km/h. The 6C 2500 SS would have been provided as a rolling chassis by Alfa to Carrozzeria Touring of Milan to be fitted with its coachwork.
The drama leading up to the Villa d'Este event was actually nothing new for Collins and his accident-prone Alfa. While being delivered to him - and just weeks before it was due to appear at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California - it broke loose and banged around in the transporter.
But it was fixed and made it to that event too, winning third in class and the Road & Track trophy awarded to the car the magazine's staff would most like to drive. The car has also won first in class honours at Amelia Island and Meadowbrook
"I've never really been a spit-and-polish kind of guy," says Collins, but a car like the 6C 2500 SS isn't something you'd want to keep under a dust sheet in the garage - this final and very elegant example of coach-built Alfa-Romeos deserves a place in the spotlight.
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