A MAN AND HIS CAR.
HENRY W. WESSELLS III
AND HIS ALFA ROMEO “TIPO 6C 3000 CM”.
Photo of the car restored by Salvarore Diomante by Massimo Perini ©
First raced by Juan Manuel Fangio at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1953, this Alfa Romeo 3000 CM has had a very thrilling life. Just like many racing GT that in those years, it was designed for road and track racing. Indeed, this rare Alfa Romeo had been engineered for the 1953 Sport Cars World Championship and namely to take part to the Mille Miglia and 24 Hours of Le Mans races.
It is one in a series of six cars first built by Alfa Romeo that year. Four were berlinettas (coupes) and two spiders, all originally made by Carrozzeria Colli. At least four of those racecars were subsequently re-bodied by famous coachbuilders and only two of them have been restored to its original design and are still being preserved these days, according to official sources.
In addition to this berlinetta, the Alfa Romeo Museum in Milano owns the “Spider” that won the 1953 Supercortemaggiore Grand Prix in Merano.
I had the chance to take a close look to this unique AR 6c 3000 CM berlinetta (a definition that is more appropriate than coupe), bearing the chassis number 00126, when it was owned by a well-known private collector, the late Henry W. Wessells III.
Henry W. Wessells the third, the latest hero in our story, was very well known within the car collectors community around the world. An automotive engineering by profession, he became famous for his passion for Alfa Romeo vintage cars. Cars that he liked to preserve and loved to race at veteran-car events. He has owned up to ”half a dozen” of them at a given time and he actually owned, driven and raced many more: «from the Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 to the Alfa Romeo SZ (ES130)». Indeed he was a car collector who love to race “My first race was in 1951 and I have raced ever since” he told us. However his passion for vintage car is just a bit shorter. It started three years later, in 1954 and was still burning the days we met last.
Probably this AR 6C 3000 CM would not exist any more but would have disappeared long time ago, had not the passionate (and reserved) Mr. Wessells, rescued it from oblivion and death on a couple of occasions. He had to do it, though. After all, it was him that crashed the car in a historic car race event in Pittsburgh.
The story of this unique Alfa Romeo and its many lives.
The first time H.W. Wessells brought the AR 6C 3000 CM back to life was when he bought it from an American garage back in August 1970. The second revival started when Henry took it to Italy where it could be properly rescued by Salvatore Diomante of Autocostruzioni S.D. at Nichelino, in the outskirt of Torino.
It took eight years to restore the car to its original status, a lot of researching, travelling, many meetings, not to mention the truck-load of dollars. All those pain have been forgotten by this time but the supercar of the early fifties is here, as to confirm that it is always worth going after passion and investing into roots of out past.
Today it is intriguing to discover that the car Mr. Wessells acquired in 1970, 34 years ago, the car was “only 13 years old” and had a much different look. That is not because, like a lady, she had got old but simply because late in 1953, once the car had completed its racing career in the hands of Fangio, the car was sent to Coachbuilder Boano, in Turin, for a new bodywork. Today we would call the process “recycling”.
In those years it was common practice to recycle racing cars and use them to build a new car for wealthy and passionate enthusiasts. Inter alia, one of the six cars built by Alfa Romeo was converted by Pininfarina four times. This explains why several bodyworks and styles have been developed on the chassis of the 6c 3000 CM, thus creating great confusion among collectors.
Boano completed his job in 1954 and one year later, in 1955, Alfa Romeo presented the new sport car to General Peron, president of Argentina.
Born and raced in 1953.
In 1952, after Alfa Romeo had won the 1950 and 1951 world championships, time had come for the famous Italian brand to switch from the all-winning Tipo 158 and Tipo 159 “monoposto” to the two-seater racing machines with covered wheels.
Time had also come to look for fame and glory in the popular “Sport” car races. The time to challenge and beat Ferrari and Maserati in the Mille Miglia or at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Grand Prix, 1.5 litre, supercharged, Alfa 158 and 159 “Alfetta” where fantastic but were quite different from the cars people see on the streets and would buy. Indeed, after the second world-war and, the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans were much more popular among car enthusiasts than F1 today.
From the ashes of WW II and an engineering flop.
That dramatic changes caused by the Second World War, led to a major reconstruction effort and produced a new wave of sport cars from many carmakers around the world. In the early fifties, Alfa Romeo had several projects and a number of components waiting to be used for new plans on a traditional low production volume left over before the war. Consequently, Alfa Romeo engineers who had been working on different sort of engines, chassis and bodyworks, came to the conclusion that time had come for them to design and build a new racer for the 1952 Mille Miglia. Their first choice went for a 2.0 litre four cylinder engine (developed from the same unit built for the road going Alfa Romeo 1900 Sprint) and a new, very light chassis. The engine was very powerful and had already reached its limits. By mating it with a lighter than usual car the outcome would be absolute winner.
That engine displaced 1997 cc. and delivered some 158 HP at 6500 rpm. It was assembled on a tubular frame chassis and the famous Carrozzeria Touring built a light two seater, racing type “barchetta” that - for its innovative look - was soon called “Disco Volante” in Italy and “Flying Saucer” abroad.
Few cars were built and tested, through 1952 but only a narrower version of the original roadster, called “fianchi stretti” (narrow sides) was entered in few races in 1953. The bodywork was very light and indeed offered low resistance to air but for its design but it suffered of devastating lift force both at front and from the side. In addition the very light body frame was also very fragile too. In essence: it was a flop.
Late in 1952, Gioachino Colombo left Alfa Romeo to join Maserati. By that time the Disco Volante had proved to be not fast enough in the two-litre category (the intuitive aerodynamics had some merits but overall was a disaster for its excessive lift) and was not stable enough in the 3.0 litre class (perhaps for its live axle rear suspension). Consequently, Giuseppe Busso was asked to work at a new “Sport” car with closed bodywork (coupe-berlinetta) for higher speed and greater comfort.
Redesigned by Giuseppe Busso.
Busso designed a new tubular frame to which it fitted the DeDion rear axle well developed for the “Grand Prix” racers (the 158, the 159 and the revolutionary Alfa Romeo 512) and sent the running chassis to coachbuilder Colli for a ultra light bodywork, made of hand made aluminium panels. That new car was powered by a six-in-line Alfa Romeo “touring car” engine which original 3.0 litre displacement had been increased to 3495 cc in order to grant some 250 HP at 6500 rpm. Eventually some cars had engines tuned up to 275 HP.
This car was called “Tipo 6C 3000 CM” where CM does not stand for Campionato del Mondo, nor for Competizione Maggiorata, nor Corte Maggiore but stands for “Cilindrata Maggiorata” because of its increased (maggiorata) displacement (cilindrata).
The car was just 960 Kg. and could top a speed in the 280 kph area, some 20 kph more than the open roof, 930 kg, Barchetta (Spider). Its looks offered a strange mix of aerodynamic, cab forward, futuristic design at the front.
That view was clearly inspired by the Disco Volante (but for the obsolete windscreen) and it is for that reason that some collectors also call it a “disco volante” (even though it has nothing to do with the predecessor), with a rather pragmatic greenhouse.
You would not called it a beauty, for its proportions and style.
Yet, it was very fast, stable and driver friendly, as long as its light chassis did not break. Later on, the round design of the front, with the radiator grille and air intakes on its sides, inspired many Zagato and the TZ series.
Three cars for the 1953 Mille Miglia.
Three cars were completed for the 1953 Mille Miglia and raced on April 25 and 26. They were driven by Juan Manuel Fangio, on car with chassis number 00123 and race number 602 (with Giulio Sala as co-driver and mechanic); by Consalvo Sanesi with Piero Carini (number 631) and one by the team formed by Karl Kling and Hans Klenk. Two of those cars did not finish the race because of chassis failures that led to accidents but for most of the race Karl Kling and Juan Manuel Fangio led the race well ahead of Ferrari and Maserati, proving the were clearly superior. Trough the Rome time line, at half race, there were two Alfa Romeo in the top places, followed by two Ferrari and one Lancia. Karl Kling was first overall with a time of 5h38’38”, Fangio was second, 40” behind and Giannino Marzotto, racing a Ferrari 4100, was exactly four minutes behind Fangio.
However Kling car’s was off the road on the way back from Rome and towards the end of the exhausting race the steering wheel broke on Fangio’s but the Argentinean was brave enough to finish the race in second overall place, despite his car was actually steering on one wheel only. After the finish line in Brescia, Fangio told reporters: “On the mountain roads between Florence and Bologna the chassis broken just where the steering box was mounted and as I wound the steering wheel from lock-to-lock so the broken support tube moved around and allowed the steering box ‘to think for itself!’ Consequently I found that when I steered to the right the car would only straight on.” How he managed to finish the race is something only Fangio knows. But he did it and gained a fabulous second place. That was Fangio!
For the next major race of the Sports car World Championship season, the 24 Hours of Le mans, on June 13th and 14th, Fangio got a new car, precisely this one, with engine number 00507. He shared its steering wheel with Onofre Marimon, a very fast driver, also from Argentina. The car had race number 22 and did not finish the race because one of the pistons burned out.
Subsequently, the car was used by Fangio and Sanesi for test and practice in the Gran Premio Supercortemaggiore raced at Merano. Fangio however won that Grand Prix driving another AR 6 3000 CM, the one with chassis number 00127 that was originally built as a “berlinetta” and converted into a Spider in August 1953 by Colli, just in time for the race.
The light but weak chassis of the AR 6C 3000 CM series had a frame of the backbone type and was made of alloy steel tubing. The front suspension had the double wishbone architecture with coils springs derived front those of the Alfa Romeo 1900 Sport sedan. The DeDion rear suspension was a refinement of the one previously developed for Grand Prix cars and incorporated a triangular connecting frame with Watts link. This was very similar to the sophisticated suspensions used for many years in the Alfetta series through the last Alfa Romeo SZ.
Born Again in 1992.
In those years changing body was almost as simple as changing trousers. Engineers were constantly experiencing the best combination of car, driver, track and race to get the best performance and the bodywork could make a difference. The barchetta was lighter for the engine and cooler for driver. The berlinetta was better for aerodynamics, more comfortable through endurance races (like the 24 Hours of Le Mans) but hot inside. This explains the rapid change of bodyworks on the same “motorized chassis”.
As we said, Fangio’s car for the 1953 Le Mans race was redesigned by Carrozzeria Boano in 1954 and it is precisely this, more comfortable and heavier bodywork, that Mr. Wessells III acquired it in 1970.
The Boano Berlinetta AR 6C 3000 CM gave her “curator” plenty of satisfactions and rewards and was treated with the greatest care. Its mechanics were refurbished in 1979 and the body was painted anew in 1980. Wessells III also took her out often, for some historic car races between 1980 and 1982.
Badly crashed in a 1984 VSCCA race.
In 1983 the engine was rebuilt but in 1984, during a VSCCA (Veteran Sports Car Club Association) race in Pittsburgh it was nearly destroyed. “I badly crashed it”, conceded Henry, “and then I restored it”, added with pride our enthusiastic friend from the U.S.A. “The brilliant restoration was done in Italy by Salvatore Diomante of Autocostruzioni S.D.” stresses Henry, as to suggest the car was made by one of the most experienced and talented men in the restoration business.
It took eight years – between 1985 and 1992 - to complete the job because, after long meditation, Henry decided to restore the 3000 CM to its original Colli bodywork. Once ready to go the car was brought back to the daylight at the 1993 Mille Miglia and then shipped to the United States where it was seen again at the 1998 Monterey Historic “Pick of the litter”.
“The performance of the car is astonishing and the road hold is exceptional”, commented Henry W. Wessells III, who said, “it is the best road going car of the early fifties, approached only by the Lancia D26, according to a distinguished California restorer”.
Since we saw the car at Diomante’s shop Mr. Wessells has sold it to Lawrence E. Auriana, an Italian car collector who lives in Connecticut, USA, for whom Phil Hill has been driving the AR 6C 3000 CM at Monaco, Le Mans and Monterey in recent years.