It was a key moment in the 1930 Mille Miglia race. In the still-dark morning, just after 5 a.m., a car races along Lake Garda at more than 9o mph — with its headlights turned off. Tazio Nuvolari is driving. Beside him is Gian Battista Guidotti, the head test driver at Alfa Romeo’s Portello factory.
Their car, an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport spider, has trailed leader Achille Varzi, who was driving an identical machine, but Nuvolari and Guidotti think they have realized their only hope of victory — taking Varzi by surprise, which means catching up with their lights off.
The strategy worked. Past the lake was open country that led to the race’s finish in Brescia. By the time that Varzi and his co-driver heard another car approaching from behind, it was too late to make a counter move. The other Alfa swept past and on to victory.
Nuvolari’s car beat Varzi’s to the finish by 10 minutes and averaged 100.45 km/h, the first time any car had broken the 100 km/h barrier over the course of the event. That new standard, plus the fact that the 6C 1750 GS had swept the top 3 positions, led to headlines in newspapers across Europe.
In fact, Alfa Romeo notes in a news release celebrating the 6C 1750 Gran Sport’s history, the cars claimed 8 of the first 11 places in the 1930 Mille Miglia, and repeated the 1-2-3 sweep that season in the 24-hour race at Spa in Belgium.
“Vittorio Jano had taken charge of all Alfa Romeo product planning in 1926,” the company notes, “and the 6C was his first creation. His task was to invent a brilliantly performing lightweight car that would win races and admirers, but also conquer new markets.
“The 6C combined structural simplicity with sophisticated engineering, the typical virtues of Jano’s creations. However, it also offered something else that would turn out to become an Alfa Romeo speciality: extremely high power.
“Jano had an astonishing ability to conjure horsepower from small engines.”
The 6C 1750 made its debut in January 1929 at the Rome Motor Show. The engine was an evolution of the previous 1500 inline 6-cylinder. In various configurations, the engine produced 46 horsepower in the Turismo version and 102 in the Grand Sport.
“The engine was not the only factor that made the 6C 1750 a peak of motoring innovation,” Alfa points out. “It used a mechanical braking system, with large drums actuated by a transmission system.
“Its pressed-steel frame was perfectly balanced and outstandingly rigid, boasting reinforced axles. The leaf springs were mounted outside the car body instead of beneath the side members, and the lower center of gravity greatly boosted cornering grip.
“The fuel tank was set further back, in order to obtain greater weight on the rear wheels and improve axle balance. In line with brand philosophy, all innovative solutions were applied to both racing cars and road cars.”
The 6C 1750 not only won races, but was the subject of treatment by a variety of coachbuilders who wrapped it in award-winning designs.
“The first bodybuilding department inside the Portello factory was not launched until 1933,” Alfa reports. “Until the 1930s, it was normal for bare frames to leave production plants, equipped only with engine, gearbox and suspension. The customer purchased the car, and then commissioned a coachbuilder to create a practically unique bespoke body.
“The 6C 1750 offered exceptional opportunities for fine coachbuilder trims. Alfa Romeo’s extraordinary mechanical and engineering base lent itself to the creation of some of the most elegant bodies ever built… designed by the finest stylists and bought by the most famous VIPs.”
For example, the 6C 1750 GS Touring “Flying Star” commissioned by model, millionaire and celebrity socialite Josette Pozzo to enter the Villa d’Este concours d’elegance, where it won the Gold Cup as the most beautiful car.
“The 6C 1750 Spider was a one-off creation: a jewel of originality, elegance and attention to detail,” Alfa says of the Flying Star. “It was entirely white, including underbody, wheel spokes, steering wheel and saddlery, with the only exception being its contrasting black dashboard.”
Pozzo drove the car to the awards stand in a white coveralls-style outfit that was created to match the car’s appearance.