The Alfa Romeo 1900C SS Zagato: tailor-made for competition

Published on Thursday, January 30, 2020.
Updated on Sunday, February 2, 2020.
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The Rétromobile Show is the most important event in Europe for any company in the collector automobile sector, as much for the classics as for the youngtimers. CarJager will therefore be present at the Porte de Versailles for the third consecutive year to capitalise on the opportunity to present our unique commercial style and product, our editorial expertise (that no longer needs an introduction), and to launch our brand new, updated website. In order to meet the tone of the CarJager universe, we are proud to present on our stand an automobile of exceptional distinction, fitting with our approach to the collector automobile market, a vehicle both rare and steeped in history: an extremely rare barn find from the Auvergne region of France, an Alfa Romeo 1900C SS Zagato (SSZ), symbol of the effervescence of everything Italian in the 1950s.

The 1900 Berlina relaunched Alfa Romeo in the early 1950s.

Before the war, Alfa Romeo was doing very well as a manufacturer of top of the range, sport and luxury cars, sometimes bodied by a certain Ugo Zagato, located in Milano.  At that time, the production of luxury cars in small series made it possible to survive both as a manufacturer of rolling chassis, as well as a bodybuilder, such as Zagato, Farina, Bertone, Castagna and Touring, for the Italian market.  But with the war came the obligation to produce for the Mussolinian war machine, alongside Germany, causing Alfa Romeo to topple into control from the dark side: manufacturing military vehicles (trucks especially) and aircraft engines (almost 80 % of Alfa Romeo’s turnover in the early 1940s).

The 1900 C Super Sprint designed by Touring, which served as the basis for the Zagato versions.

 

 

Alfa Romeo returns with the 1900

In 1943, Italy broke the Axis, but the north remained under German, fascist, control for some time longer.  It became complicated for Alfa Romeo to continue production after its factory in Portello was largely destroyed by Allied bombing, as well as at Pomigliano d’Arco.  Once the end of the war arrived, the brand with the biscione logo focused on the manufacture of commercial vehicles, trucks, buses, and even gas cookers.  The end of the 1940s saw the return of private vehicles on the assembly lines, but still based on the platforms of Alfa’s ancient pre-war models: the manufacture of the Alfa 6C 2500 in various versions resumed in 1947, but these models were not convincing to the post war clientele, and only 556 units in total were be produced through 1950.

Alfa Romeo, nationalised back in 1933 and put under the control of the IRI (Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale), knew that it would be necessary to substantially change its whole strategic approach in order to reenter the modern industrial world: the AR 1900, a mid-size sedan, but very technologically advanced, would breath new-life into the ageing Alfa Romeo brand, allowing the Italian firm to re-establish its reputation at the high level of its glorious past.  Yet we know in Milano that the success of a car is due as much to its appeal to the masses of its standard models as it is to that of its more exclusive and more desirable derivatives.  In the 20s and 30s, the brand maintained a long successful collaboration with Zagato and therefore hoped to turn to this exclusive bodybuilder once again in the early 50s.  However, due to a lack of sufficient means of production, Touring was the winner of the mandate with the 1900C (for Coupé ) which would become available in Super Sprint (SS) form.

An original version, tailored for racing

At Zagato, the qualities of the 1900 were quickly recognised, particularly in its coupé (shortened) version, with its 1.9-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 115 horsepower, particularly raging and adapted for competition (with two Solex double-barrel carburettors).  In the absence of a means to increase power, our favourite bodybuilder took a different approach: by working on aerodynamics (perhaps primitively and by hand, but with success) and lightened the body thanks to the use of aluminum-alloy and plexiglas windows.  The result, a car weighing in at 200 kg less on the scale than the Touring version and therefore with an improved top speed.  The first car built in September 1954 (on the intuition of Elio Zagato), was initially intended for competition with driver Vladimiro Galluzzi at the wheel, a gentleman driver assigned to the Milanese based workshop.

Raced by Galluzzi and others with the Sant Ambroeus team, the 1900C SS Z would experience real success, and a large part of the production would end up being earmarked for competition from 1954.  In 1955, no less than 6 chassis would take part in the Mille Miglia (although without much success, the best position being 19th place, and only 21st for Galluzzi).  The same year, at the Swedish Grand Prix in Kristianstad, the young Swedish driver Joakim Bonnier (aged 25) won first place in the under two litres category.  He repeated his success in August at Karlskoga.

Quickly, Elio Zagato began to propose to his clientele special order cars developed for the road (Stradale): the client would take possession of a real race car, with a breathtaking design and “competitive” performance.  To improve air penetration, the front hood literally « molds » the fairly high-pitched engine, leaving room for the traditional Alfa grille.  Two air vents provide breathing intake for the power plant under the hood.  The rear slopes gently down to end on two round lights in slightly protruding wings.  The sides seem to have received a scimitar blow separating upper and lower parts: a styling effect that would be repeated later on other creations of Zagato like the duo Alfa Romeo SZ / RZ and the Autech Stelvio (and on the Aston Martin V8 Zagato, although less significantly).

Rare & original: in a word exceptional

In total 39 cars were made to order, in two series: the first, more sober and purer, looks like the one we have on our Rétromobile stand, with its flat roof; while the second series (four units produced between 1957 and 1958) incorporated the two bumps in the roof,  Zagato’s signature “double bubble”.  A spyder version (one unit made in 1958) was also produced; having gone missing, several replicas have appeared over the years.  Generally speaking, if you are in the market for a 1900C SSZ, you’d be well advised to double check the authenticity of any car you find: one is never safe from fakes.

The 1900C SSZ which will be shown on the CarJager stand at Rétromobile 2020.

One thing for sure: an Alfa Romeo 1900C SS signed by Zagato is one of the wonders of the 1950s.  At that time, only enlightened amateurs, gentleman drivers with full pockets and broad ideas, could afford such madness when others preferred to settle for standard sports cars such as the Jaguar XK140, which were certainly more powerful, but heavier and less exclusive.

The automobile on our stand is therefore from the first series.  The chassis and the engine were manufactured in 1954 and then transferred to Zagato to receive its bodywork in 1955 (April 14).  First delivered new in Morocco, it then returned to France to (so far) never leave again.  It is one of the very first cars built, perfectly restored after a long hibernation in a barn in Auvergne.  Rediscovered in 1994, it underwent a slow but profound restoration to become the visible work of art that we see today.

 

Translation credit : Daniel Patrick Brooks

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