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1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza. (Pawel Litwinski/Gooding & Company)
1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza. (Pawel Litwinski/Gooding & Company)

Classic Car

The rare Alfa Romeo racer that sold for $6.7-million Add to ...

Imagine the open exhaust note of this early 1930s racing Alfa Romeo as the supersonic pulses generated by eight supercharged cylinders crackled into the atmosphere at 5,400 rpm, flat out in top gear at about 140 mph, along the straightaway at San Remo, or Bari or the Circuito di Modena with veteran racer Renato Belestrero in the open cockpit and on his way to winning the Sport Nazionale and Internazionale Championships of Italy in 1947.

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The winning season would prove the swan song for Belestrero, however, and mark the end of the Alfa's European era, both doughty track warriors by this time long past their prime.

Belestrero had been born at the end of the previous century, won Grand Prix races in the 1920s and competed in Alfas in the 1930s. He was killed a year later after his car was broadsided by a truck delivering copies of Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport.

The 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza - so named for its win in the Italian Grand Prix at that track in 1931 driven by legends Tazio Nuvolari and Giuseppe Campari - was born into one of motorsports most heroic eras, during which it and its racing stable siblings competed in and won more than 50 events, including Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio. The Alfa retired to California in the early 1950s where it passed through the hands of just three owners until its record-breaking sale last year at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

In the early 1930s Alfa Romeo, its efforts steered by no less than ex-racer-turned-team-manager Enzo Ferrari, was a dominant force in sports car and Grand Prix racing before the arrival of Mercedes and Auto Union. And the 8C 2300 Monza was among the most successful, rare and revered racing Alfas of this period, explaining perhaps why the example pictured here sold last year for $6.7 million - a world record auction price for an Alfa in the year the company celebrated its 100th anniversary, and the second-most expensive car sold at auction worldwide in 2010.

The Alfa, which found a new owner at the $65-million Pebble Beach auction, was pipped for top global money honours by a car created by that former Alfa racing boss, a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spyder Competizione which went for $7.2 million, and followed by another one, a 1961 Ferrari 250 GTB SWB Berlinetta SEFAC Hot Rod at $6.1 million. All three were sold by auctioneers Gooding & Company.

Alfa Romeo had begun building cars in 1909 and was successful in Grand Prix racing in the mid-20s, but it wasn't until the latter part of the decade its sports car engineering, design and racing experience coalesced to create the marque's legendary 6C 1750. "The greatest Alfa of them all," according to period enthusiast, connoisseur, cartoonist and author Ralph Stein, who owned one and drove many of the other great cars of the period.

Another Alfa legend, engineer Vittorio Jano, who had already created one straight-eight Grand Prix engine, used the general outline of his 1750 and its inline six-cylinder engine as inspiration for the 8C of 1931.

He basically chopped two cylinders off the 1750 six and then joined the resulting four-cylinder blocks together in the middle to create an inline, twin-cam eight of 2.3 litres to which was bolted a Roots-type supercharger and single downdraft carburetor. Power ratings started at 140 hp at 4,900 rpm but racing versions put out 165 hp at 5,400 rpm and 180 hp at 5,600 rpm in Grand Prix trim, which found its way to the wheels via a four-speed gearbox.

This engine was fitted into a slightly scaled-up version of the 1750 with a steel chassis suspended by solid axles front and rear with semi-elliptic leaf springs with friction dampers, and running on wire wheels, inside which were mounted huge drum brakes.

Lungo, or long-wheelbase versions of Alfa's 8C chassis were handed over to many of Italy's carrozzeria (coachbuilders) who created some beautiful bodies for them, while corto or shortened versions became Alfa's new Grand Prix cars. And promptly went out and placed first and second in the Italian and that year European Grand Prix at Monza, which gave them their name. With recession dampening potential buyer ardour only 188 8Cs were produced between 1931 and 1933 and just 10 Monzas.

The Pebble Beach car, with body by carrozzeria Brianza, was originally sold to a Cesare Sanguinetti of Genoa and ran its first event, the Klausen Hill Climb in 1934 finishing seventh. It was sold during the war and then purchased by Belestrero. After his death, it went to Venezuela before arriving in the U.S. in 1954, after which it barely turned a wheel for three decades. It was fully restored in the early 1980s by its second American owner, who then went vintage racing with it in 1985, winning the Phil Hill Trophy at Laguna Seca. It was sold again in 1996 and was still used in competition, including the Mille Miglia Storica in Italy.

The Alfa's modern-day owners, racing a multi-million dollar car of great historic value, exhibit a degree of bravery that in its way matches that of the "pilotas" of this ancient Italian racer's historic past and that still allows enthusiasts to hear its howling "grido de guerra."

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Back in 1933

The movie King Kong, in which actress Fay Wray is carried to the top of the Empire State Building by an outsized gorilla while being buzzed by biplanes, is released to popular acclaim.

Western Union invents the singing telegram after a fan of Rudy Vallée sends him a birthday greeting in which a company manager has operator Lucille Lipps sing over the phone to the Hollywood star. Most singing telegrams are delivered in person until the service ends in 1974.

Herbert Hoover is succeeded as U.S. president by Franklin D. Roosevelt whose remark about the depression - "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself" - could just as easily apply today.

The Lone Ranger radio show begins its 21-year run and Blondie Boopadoop marries Dagwood Bumstead on the comic pages of North American newspapers.

The then-longest playoff game in NHL history is played at Maple Leaf Gardens with Ken Doraty scoring at one hour, 44 minutes and 46 seconds into overtime to give the Leafs a 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins.

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