They chased him off once, but Pinin Farina had spent the last several months working hard on an appropriately over-the-top response to the decision by the organizers of the Paris Auto Show to ban him and other Italian designers from their Salon, so he parked his one-off Alfa Romeo right by the salon’s entrance to show up the French designers inside and to influence auto design for decades to come.
While Farina may not have invented envelope styling–also called slab-sided styling, in which the fenders, running boards, and lamps all become integral to the body’s overall shape–he certainly had an oversized hand in the popularization of it with a couple late-Thirties Lancia Aprilias he designed as well as the highly influential Cisitalia 202. Yet, a year prior to the introduction of the latter, Farina unveiled his 1946 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Speziale.
Whatever perfume designer Giuliana Tortoli di Cuccioli might have initially requested Farina to build atop chassis number 915169–one of a dozen chassis that Alfa Romeo provided Farina in 1942 and one of six of those chassis that survived Allied bombing–Farina immediately discarded in late 1945 when he heard that organizers of the Paris Auto Show, scheduled for early 1946, had decided to ban cars from countries once aligned with Nazi Germany.
“Pinin Farina took this as quite an insult and decided he was going to show up anyway,” Thomas Douglas, research head at the Guild of Automotive Restorers, told Autofocus in 2015. “If he was going to do that, he needed to make sure he made a big statement.”
That big statement would be an all-aluminum streamlined roadster body, sleeker and more modern than just about anything on the market, fitted with an elegant leather interior, sprinkled with just enough chrome trim to make the champagne paint pop, and topped with a tiny Italian flag for a hood ornament.
With Cuccioli’s permission, Farina took the Alfa on a whirlwind tour of Western Europe: Geneva, Lausanne, Turin, Monte Carlo, and in the middle of that itinerary, Paris. The first day of the show, he and his son parked the Alfa and one of Farina’s Aprilias directly across the street from the show’s front doors, where everybody attending the show couldn’t help but see the cars. The show’s organizers asked him to leave, so he drove the Alfa around Paris for a while, held a press conference, and then the next day parked the Alfa right by the show’s doors. It took a call to the cops to get Farina to leave this time, but Farina’s insistence paid off: The Parisian press called Farina’s stunt an “anti-Salon” and likely gave him far more column inches than if the show’s organizers had invited him in the first place.
A year later, its tour complete and Farina’s name sufficiently spread about the motoring press, Farina bought the car from Cuccioli and used it as his personal transportation for about six months. He then sold it in 1948 to Leonard Lord, the chairman of Austin, who allowed the company’s managing director, George Harriman, to use it. While at Austin, the Alfa reportedly inspired the A90 Atlantic, a car that took some of the Alfa’s envelope styling elements for a package that was intended to sell largely in the North American market.
While on assignment at Austin as part of a contract with Raymond Loewy, either to develop the A90 or to work on the early Fifties Austin Seven (sources differ on the nature of the contract), Holden “Bob” Koto expressed to Harriman his admiration for the Alfa. Perhaps he saw in it some of the elements of the 1947 Studebaker and 1949 Ford proposals he helped develop. Harriman arranged to sell the Alfa to Koto at a steep discount, and Koto had it shipped to the United States.
As Artcurial’s auction description for chassis no. 915169 notes, dock workers damaged the Alfa’s bodywork when unloading it, so Koto had Loewy’s shop repair it and paint it metallic green. He then sold the Alfa in 1952 and over the next few decades it bounced around the country, from Illinois to Alabama to California to Virginia with a trip to Japan and back.
Eventually, it made its way to the craftsmen at Ontario’s Guild of Automotive Restorers, who had to piece the Alfa back together after prior abandoned attempts at restoring it and who were tasked with replacing as little of the car’s original aluminum bodywork as possible.
Once completed, the Alfa debuted at Pebble Beach in 2014 and then appeared at last year’s Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Ontario, where it won both best in show and people’s choice.
Now, more than 70 years later, the Alfa has returned to Paris where it will cross the block as part of Artcurial’s Retromobile sale with a pre-auction estimate of €1 million to €1.3 million ($1.24 million to $1.61 million).
The auction will take place February 9 at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles. For more information, visit Artcurial.com.