We were drawn to the Barolo red 40/60HP Corsa that scored Alfa Romeo's first significant victory in the 1920 Parma to Poggio di Berceto hill-climb. Sadly, the immaculate car on display is not a runner, and in view of the missing drivetrain parts it probably never will be. Introduced in 1913, Alfa built an unspecified number of stradale versions of the 40/60HP but only four Corsa models equipped with a more powerful twin-carb engine. The front-mounted powerplant is a 6.0-liter four-cylinder featuring split cast-iron blocks, overhead valves, and side-mounted dual camshafts acting through rods and rocker arms. Developing 82 hp at 2400 rpm, the four-speed, 2400-pound two-seater topped 93 mph on the long, flat straights linking Milan with Parma, Piacenza, and Pavia.
On a German autobahn, the 170-hp Giulietta we are driving would have maxxed out at 135 mph. On the Italian autostrade, however, everyone these days is running at 87 mph to comply with the country's speed-control surveillance system. Monitored as we were by the eagle eyes of the law, we would have appreciated a decent sound system to help kill the time, but even the optional premium stereo failed to properly intone Luciano Pavarotti, Gianna Nannini, and Eros Ramazzotti.
SS62 is a magic code for Northern Italian classic-car aficionados. After all, the Parma to Poggio di Berceto road race for vintage (and, more recently, not so vintage) automobiles is still staged every autumn in the mountains leading from the country's ham capital to the wooded hills of the Apennines. A little over thirty miles long, this special stage of SS62 starts with long sweepers interrupted by mushrooming villages and intersected by countless bylanes. Back in the old days, it was the high-speed section where the big-displacement engines would achieve triple-figure velocities-no mean feat considering the Alfa's leaf-sprung live axles, narrow 6.00-20 tires, and marginal brakes. Unlike our Giulietta, which boasts four Brembo stoppers, the old 40/60HP had no brakes at all in the front and massive drums in the rear. They were activated by foot and by hand lever to slow down the car on steep descents and to induce a flick of potentially life-saving oversteer.