The first automotive elegance contest near northern Italy's Lake Como at the Villa d'Este hotel was held in 1929. The winner of the 1931 event was an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 roadster with Carrozzeria Touring's "Flying Star" bodywork. Eighty-one years later, another Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 took top honors as the favorite of the professional jury, the selectively invited public on Saturday, and the general public on Sunday at the Villa Erba: three coveted trophies, in fact.
Everyone loves Joseph Figoni's late-1930s "teardrop" coupes, of which about a dozen were made. This lovely 1933 6C 1750 coupe shows us where those dramatic designs came from. From the front, the coupe is a spindly-looking artifact of the late '20s. From the rear, it is a precursor of what was to come, thoroughly modern in conception and execution, a sneak preview of the future of coupe design. Figoni was on his own when this car was done, although accountant Ovidio Falaschi (and his wife's money) joined him later in the Depression to save the business from ruin.
Figoni was a design genius and a demanding taskmaster who insisted that all cars coming from his shops be built to the very highest standard, which is why so many of his creations are still around today and why there have been so many Best of Show awards for cars built a long lifetime ago. This particular coupe is a perfect example of the design transition period in the 1930s, when cars changed from rectilinear assemblages of boxes to flowing forms (cf. 1934 and 1937 Fords), in that it embodies both eras in one lovely vehicle. The front of this car represents the earlier era, the rear looks to the future.
The coupe roof is part of both periods. In transverse section it is fairly flat, deriving its shape from the dead-straight top of the flat windshield, but in profile it exhibits the lines that would, a few years later, make Figoni's cars icons of their age, apparently aerodynamic, obviously beautiful and coherent. We know that the later Figoni-Falaschi-bodied Talbots were genuine performance cars at the time they were made, able to enter serious competition as well as impress on Parisienne boulevards. The centerline section flows smoothly down the rear of the roof and into the incorporated tail section in a smooth ogival curve. There is no beltline, per se, but the lower side-window sill describes an arc, higher in the middle than at its two extremes, thereby visually associating itself with the dramatic color separation below.
Earlier cars, like the 1929 Auburn Cabin Speedster show car, incorporated the pointed tail idea, but I believe this is the first-ever car to have simply drawn the pointed shape on a full-width form. It's a dazzling design. No wonder absolutely everyone liked it in Italy this spring. I do, too, and had I been there, I'd certainly have added my vote.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. British headlamps and French foglights are the principal design elements in the front-end composition, the flat blacked-out grille itself being quite subdued, although the Alfa Romeo script is proudly writ large on the neutral background.
2. Radiator shell has only a slight chrome band around the grille, with the painted portion adding to the visual length of the hood.
3. This paint separation line pointing to the front was seen in the middle '20s on Auburns and became a strong design element for many coachbuilders.
4. A second horizontal reference is the top of the windshield, which controls the transverse shape of the roof, very much in the "agglomerated boxes" mode.
5. In profile we have a clear indication of the Figoni shapes to come in the future, with the upper separate from the rear body but flowing into it as a modulated single form.
6. Rear fender is very clearly a sign of things to come, an aerodynamic shape like an airplane's wheel fairings -- round in front, elongated toward the rear, like a raindrop.
7. Edges of the friction shock-absorber stack are polished and become a subtle decorative element.
8. The separation of the side panel and the hood top is the only pure horizontal line on the car, its presence forced by the piano hinges that work only in a straight line.
9. An exquisite composition, the foremost short louvers are straight, with each succeeding one -- except a few shortened to accommodate the latch -- acquiring more length and curvature, the thirty-fifth aligning beautifully with the edge of the side panel.
10. Note that the top of each louver follows a line in harmony with the color separation on the top of the hood.
11. Scalloped side treatment, famously used on various Bugatti bodies, was likely an American innovation, used in the late 1920s on Auburns and Cords. But here Figoni outdid all of them, making the transition from side to top in a single perfect sweep, allowing the paint line to cross the door cut at the rear without disrupting either.
REAR 7/8 VIEW
12. Very slight skirt on the front fender is a transitional design element, from sweeping single section toward full "bubble" shapes, like the rear fender on this car.
13. Antiskid strips on the running-board area of the fender are shortened in proportion to the rearward movement of occupants' feet as they turn their bodies to exit.
14. Wire wheels were normally covered on luxurious cars in the early 1930s but not on sporting chassis like the Alfa 6C 1750. They seem slightly incongruous to us now on such a luxurious coupe.
15. As do the tiny-diameter twin tailpipes, elegantly cut off at opposing angles.
16. When this car was made, such small lights were considered perfectly adequate, and there was no attempt to integrate them into the formal composition. Note the presence of a reversing lamp.
17. One of the few horizontal reference lines on the car is this tight turn-under radius marking the rearmost part of the body -- and the car, as there are no bumpers.
18. There's no mistaking the function of this locked lid; it covers the spare tire.
19. Exposed fuel cap was functional but rather spoils the overall composition with its asymmetry.
20. This line, starting high on the A-pillar,is something I've never seen on a body. It seems to waver a bit below the backlight but is very elegant indeed.
21. The only element that seems like a mistake is this lower corner of the backlight, giving it a rectangular shape that clashes with the rib alongside. It would have been much better aligned with the accent line, with no great loss of rearward visibility. A client request, perhaps?