The decade of the 1930s ushered in the era of automobiles in worldwide racing competition, catapulting winners into international prominence that translated into increased sales for manufacturers.
Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari, first championed as an Italian motorcycle racer, turned entirely to cars and in 1932 drove an Alfa Romeo to two wins and a second place in three European Championship Grands Prix.
The car reached speeds exceeding 100 mph – an extraordinary achievement in the early days of marathon racing.
That elevated both him and the Alfa Romeo brand into world-wide prominence. It is said his fame produced more than 25,000 mourners at his funeral 20 years later.
Partly as a result of such a triumph of engineering for the day, the Alfa Romeo brand has endured, and today new models begin with a price tag just under $40,000.
But, if you wanted one similar to what Nuvolari made famous in 1932, such as the 8C 2300 Touring Roadster shown here that was owned by local classic car collector, the late John Ridings Lee, you would need to be ready to part with something in the range of $15 million.
Lee was one of our favorite local collectors; we also previously featured his 1937 Bugatti that captured the top class award in the Concours d’Elegance of Texas held in Arlington last year.
John told us that there were only 30 Alfa Romeos made to the specifications of his car and that perhaps only seven remain, including one in the internationally acclaimed museum collection of Ralph Lauren.
His Alfa collected trophies at the country’s most prestigious gatherings of exceptional works of automotive art at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, The Quail and the Colorado Grand Road Race.
He located this rare classic in 1989 in Como, Italy. It took a month-long negotiation through a mediator, but a deal was finally struck. The car was trailered to Amsterdam and, from there, flown to the DFW Airport.
“I didn’t know if it would start up,” John recalled, “but I put a new battery in it, and off we went to my primary restoration expert in Gainesville. I told him I wanted it to be exactly how it came from the Alfa builders in 1932.”
Eight months later, he had achieved exactly that outcome – quite a feat because original parts are very hard to find. It remained the favorite among his collection of extraordinary classic automobiles until his death.
I asked him, beyond the premier car events he had taken it to compete, what else he may have done to enjoy this rarity. The answer came quickly.
“In 2015 I got a call from Rob Walton (of the Walmart family) inviting me to a 2,000 mile rally for pre-1940 Alfa Romeos that would depart from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho,” he said.
“There were 23 Alfas and a van with mechanics if we needed them. With my wife Carole along for the ride, the route took us north across the back side of the Canadian Rockies, then we returned 450 miles along the southern route past Lake Louise and the NW Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy. It took an entire week, but we got to see parts of two countries we had not experienced before.”
We should take note that their experience included long days, some rainy ones, and, all the while, in a race car without a top and scant space for even the smallest of luggage.
Closer to home, there was another tour with 25 old cars that met at Dallas Farmers Market and set out for Tyler, Jacksonville and Athens before returning to where the trip started. It must have been quite a scene of the caravan running through piney woods, across country roads and, sometimes, up to speeds exceeding triple digits.
But, that’s what this car was made to do. And it has long done it with impeccable style, performance, and a certain panache that comes with a car as special as this one.