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OPTICAL AND HEARING
1921 Alfa Romeo G1
10th August, 2005
The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is the ultimate classic car show, attracting the most valuable, unique cars and their owners from around the world to the glorious - and wealthy - California town of Pebble Beach, near Monterey, and this year the featured marque is Alfa Romeo, with 62 of the rarest and most special Alfa Romeos in the world traveling to the USA for the event on 21st August.
But one of the most special and, as it is the only one in the world, rarest Alfas has not traveled from Italy, it has arrived from Australia, the home of the only surviving car to first carry the name 'Alfa Romeo', the Alfa Romeo G1.
"It is a unique and very special honour to be invited to take part in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance," says Neville Crichton, owner of the G1 and Alfa Romeo importer for Australia and New Zealand. "The organisers have put together what they, quite justifiably, say is the most significant display of Alfa Romeos seen anywhere in the world. The G1 is the start of a history of cars that have defined style, performance and engineering achievement. It will be a remarkable display."
The fact that Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo G1 has survived, let alone in perfect - and drivable - condition is no less remarkable in itself.
Chassis 6018 was imported new into Australia in 1921 and was sold, for £850, to a Queensland businessman who, soon afterwards, was declared bankrupt.
Since he had seen his crash coming, he hid the car to keep it out of the hands of his creditors. Then, three years on, he had the misfortune to die and the G1 remained hidden for 25 years, apparently holding up one corner of a shed in the Queensland outback.
Then it was discovered by a couple of young jackaroos who decided it would make a fine 'paddock bomb' for rounding up cattle and chasing kangaroos. Eventually they managed to hit a tree and the damaged car was towed back to the farm where it was used to power a water pump. With its massive torque at low engine speed, it was ideal for the job and the work ensured that the engine remained in excellent condition even if the rest of the car was brutalised.
In 1964 it was retired from pump duty and rescued by Alfa Romeo enthusiasts. The following year the car was bought by Ross Flewell-Smith who, against the advice of some experts who thought the car unrestorable, began to rebuild it, an exercise that took ten years. In this Herculean task he was helped by the fact that he discovered a second G1, a wreck, which supplied many of the parts that were missing. Most of the body was missing and, after experimenting with various styles, Flewell-Smith took advice from Luigi Fusi who was then curator of Alfa Romeo's museum.
Flewell-Sinith's rebuild was good enough to win the 1977 Queensland Vintage Car Concours and to win the 1978 Australian Mile Miglia memorial run. In an historic race at Lakeside it was clocked at 86 mph, remarkable performance for a 1921 car, so remarkable, in fact, it was black-flagged for being so quick!
In 1995, Flewell-Smith sold this car he had nicknamed 'Milly', to Julian Sterling who commissioned a restoration to his own exacting standards. All worn parts were replaced with specially-made components built regardless of cost. New tyres were supplied by Michelin, made from the original 1920s moulds, costing $6,000 for the set. The restoration was undertaken up to a standard, not down to a price, and the work was described in the 1998 edition of the Classic Car Yearbook as 'breathtaking'.
Following a rationalisation of Julian Sterling's car collection, the car was bought by Neville Crichton, who has since had the car fully restored in New Zealand to return it to full drivable condition.
The collection of Alfa Romeos that the Australian G1 will join in Pebble Beach has exceeded even the best hopes of the organisers, but an Italian marque may not seem to be the obvious choice for a major event held in the USA.
"The 95-year history of the Alfa Romeo race cars and street cars is remarkable, and the vehicles are of utmost importance in the collector car world," says Pebble Beach Concours Co-Chairman Glenn Mounger. "We've chosen to celebrate everything from the full array of pre-World War II classes to significant postwar custom coachwork, and there are already several very significant Alfa Romeos that have been restored and prepared for Pebble Beach 2005."
The Alfa Romeo G1 will line up with a remarkable collection of Alfa Romeo cars, including the famous Alfa Romeo 'Bat' cars, the ultra-imaginative winged BATs (Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica) of the '50s, and an array of vehicles that routinely bring world record prices at auction around the world.
Overall, 27 of the 62 Alfa Romeos participating at the Concours are being shipped from foreign countries, including the BAT 5, BAT 7 and BAT 9, which now reside in London.
"The first BAT (5) was built in 1953, when most other carmakers had never even imagined tailfins and long before there was a Batmobile on television," says Glenn Mounger. "The BAT 7, built in 1954, was even more radical in design with huge curved tailfins. And the final BAT - the BAT 9 - was built in 1955 with reduced wings and a design that was closer to a production sports car. We're looking forward to an historic reunion of these incredible cars. The last time they appeared together anywhere in the U.S. was the 1989 Pebble Beach Concours."
There will be a total of 228 vintage vehicles participating at the 2005 Concours, lining the fairway of the 18th hole at the Pebble Beach Golf Links from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
First conducted in 1950, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is an international gathering for "a celebration of the automobile" at The Lodge at Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. The Concours combines a scenic location along the Pacific Ocean with the opportunity to view rarely seen examples of automotive style, performance and history. The 55th annual affair also includes the 18th August Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance around the Monterey Peninsula for Concours entries, and the Sunday evening Pebble Beach Auction that showcases classic, vintage and antique cars.
For 2005, the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic debuts, a nine-day programme giving current and former Concours participants the opportunity to drive their historic collectables from Seattle to Pebble Beach. RetroAuto, Pebble Beach's new 13,000 square-foot shopping display celebrating the automotive lifestyle, will also debut. Proceeds from the 21st August, 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance support a number of local, national and international charities.
Alfa was founded in 1910 as A.L.F.A. (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica di Automobili), produced three models during the next five years and was then purchased by Nicola Romeo in 1915. Automobile production ceased during World War I, so the first Alfa Romeo, the Alfa Romeo G1, didn't debut until 1920. Some successful Formula 1 race cars and production cars were produced during the decade, followed by the 1931 release of the 8C 2300, a 2.3-litre supercharged eight-cylinder engine from famed engineer Vittorio Jano. Versions of this car, which featured two four-cylinder engines, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1931 - 1935. The displacement increased to 2.9 litres by 1935 and the 8C 2900A produced a first, second and third showing at the 1936 Mille Miglia.
In a nice bit of Pebble Beach Concours symmetry, there is a strong link between Alfa Romeo and Pininfarina, also set to be featured in the 2005 event, which worked on the Alfa Romeo 6- and 8-cylinder vehicles from the '30s.
"Battista 'Pinin' Farina founded a company in 1930 that became the best known, influential and successful design house in history and has revolutionised automotive styling for eight decades," says Glenn Mounger. "He essentially invented elegant shapes and lines that would later become commonplace. His Cisitalia (1947) was the first car to be on permanent display in a modern art museum (MOMA in New York), and in the early '50s he was the first automotive designer to gain fame in the U.S."
Battista Pininfarina, who died in 1966, was posthumously inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2004. A portion of those ceremonies included the following: "The Italian automobile design genius Battista 'Pinin' Farina (his name was officially changed to Pininfarina in 1961 by order of the president of Italy) founded his company with the intention to build special car bodies. His work ultimately influenced Alfa Romeos, Fiats, Ferraris, Lancias, Peugeots and even the classic Nash Healey."
The name Pininfarina is synonymous with many of the world's most significant automobiles, an inventive legacy that is shared by Battista and his son Sergio, who joined the Pininfarina Group in 1950 and became president in 1966. Sergio's acclaimed designs, mostly showcased in Ferraris, Lancias and Alfa Romeos, are part of a 55-year career highlighted by three prestigious awards: Cavaliere del Lavoro, the Legion of Honour, and the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry from the Royal Society of Arts in London -- the same three awards his father received.
In addition to featuring Alfa Romeo and Pininfarina, next year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance will celebrate the 100th anniversary of vintage French sports car Delage.