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Could this 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta set a new record for the marque at auction?

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta, chassis 412024. Photos courtesy Artcurial.

Consider this: Just five Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B models were ever built with Carrozzeria Touring Berlinetta bodies on the lungo (long) wheelbase platform, and two of these have taken Best in Show honors at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, in 2008 and 2018. Calling the model a “Holy Grail” for Alfa Romeo collectors is no exaggeration, and when a largely unrestored 1939 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta crosses the auction stage next month in Paris, at Artcurial’s Retromobile sale, it stands a very good chance of setting a new benchmark price for an Alfa Romeo sold at auction.

First shown at the 1935 London Motor Show, the 8C 2900A was a sports racer targeted to the gentleman driver, powered by a supercharged 2.9-liter inline eight-cylinder engine rated at 220 horsepower. In the hands of Scuderia Ferrari, Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A models swept the podium at the 1936 Mille Miglia, backing up this performance by finishing 1-2 in the 1937 race. Not every buyer needed (or wanted) a car with this level of performance, so in response Alfa Romeo created the the slightly more relaxed 8C 2900B in 1937.

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta

The 8C 2900B was detuned for greater reliability, producing 180 horsepower thanks in part to a drop in compression from 6.5:1 to 5.75:1. Though the eight-cylinder engine retained its 2.9-liter displacement and Roots-type supercharger, aluminum was substituted for magnesium on certain engine castings and the wheelbase was lengthened slightly from 2.75 meters (roughly 108 inches) to 2.8 meters (roughly 110 inches) on corto (short) chassis examples. The 8C 2900B also debuted a new lungo chassis variant, which utilized a wheelbase of 3.0 meters (roughly 118 inches).

Just 10 lungo chassis 8C 2900B models were ever built, including the five aforementioned examples wearing enclosed Berlinetta bodywork from Carrozzeria Touring. Chassis 412020 was the first completed, and displayed at motor shows across Europe in late 1937 and early 1938. (Much later, in 2001, this car would go on to win the Most Elegant Closed Car award at Pebble Beach, followed by the even more prestigious Best in Show in 2018). Chassis 412024 — the example offered by Artcurial — was the second 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta built, followed by chassis 412029 (now owned by the Alfa Romeo museum), 412035 (the 2008 Pebble Beach winner) and 412036.

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta

The early history of chassis 412024 is largely a mystery, though anecdotal evidence suggests that it may have been delivered to Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, the son-in-law of Benito Mussolini. No paper trail exists to document this, as the car was never formally registered in Italy, but this itself likely points to early ownership by an Italian dignitary. Count Ciano was known to have gifted an open-cockpit 8C 2900B Spider to his wife, and this car was weighed at Alfa Romeo the day after chassis 412024, linking the two together.

In February 1939, chassis 412024 — with a chrome “I” adorning its rear fender, generally signaling Italian ownership — was exported to England, where it landed with London Alfa Romeo dealer Jack Bartlett. Bartlett received the registration FLR 108 in March 1939, and one month later advertised the car for sale in the April 1939 issue of Speed magazine. At the time, the car was painted blue, and showed just 5,000 miles on the odometer.

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta

With the threat of war looming on the horizon and the world just emerging from the grips of a global economic depression, demand for a high-performance (and thus, high-dollar) sports car was minimal. Chassis 412024 remained out of sight during the war years, and likely in Bartlett’s possession. In June 1947, chassis 412024 resurfaced with a new log book, showing Bartlett as the car’s owner and noting silver as the car’s color. Though temporarily unlicensed, Bartlett showed the car at a number of Royal Automobile Club events, and the Alfa earned a class win at the Regents Park Concours in September 1947. Registered again for road use in July 1948, chassis 412024 was awarded a first-in-class ribbon at the 1948 Eastbourne concours, and later pictured at the show in an issue of Motor magazine.

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta

Bartlett again advertised the car for sale in July 1949, one month before a story on the Alfa (and two others) appeared in Motor magazine. Perhaps the additional exposure helped, since in October 1949 the Berlinetta sold to Dennis de Ferranti, who kept it for two years before selling it back to Bartlett. This time, it didn’t remain with Bartlett long, and the car’s next owner was Lord Ridley (Matthew White Ridley), a racing driver and passionate car collector who kept the Alfa until his death in 1964.

The car’s next steward was Nigel Mann, who changed its color from silver to red and offered it for sale at £4,000 in 1970. Though his ad copy hinted at no shortage of offers in the £3,750 range, he remained steadfast, ultimately retaining possession until 1976 when it sold to Jan Martens in Holland, who owns the car today.

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta

Though the car has been repainted several times and its engine rebuilt in the 1980s, chassis 412024 has never been subjected to a comprehensive restoration, which may well increase its appeal to the right collector. At this writing, the record price for an Alfa Romeo sold at auction belongs to an 1939 8C 2900 Lungo Spider, sold by RM Sotheby’s in 2016 for a hammer price of $18 million ($19.8 million with fees). When chassis 412024 crosses the block in Paris on February 8, Artcurial predicts a selling price between €16 million and €22 million ($18.24 million to $25.09 million), which if realized will make this 1939 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta the most expensive Alfa Romeo in the world.

For additional information on the 2019 Retromobile sale, visit Artcurial.com.