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Lot 223: 1924 Alfa Romeo RM Four Wheel Drive Winter Sports Half Track

Ferrari and Maserati Motor Cars, Bonhams (19 December 2007)

One of the great marques of Italy, Alfa Romeo survived turbulent early years to emerge as a major player in Grand Prix racing between the wars and go on to establish itself as a leading volume-producer after WW2. Alfa Romeo SpA had been formed in 1918 following industrialist Nicola Romeo�s acquisition of the ailing ALFA concern three years previously. ALFA already possessed a not inconsiderable asset in the person of its Chief Designer Giuseppe Merosi, late of Bianchi, and under his direction the new company embarked on an ambitious competitions programme that would see the red cars with their quadrifoglio emblems become the dominant force on Europe�s racetracks.
The fledgling company�s breakthrough came in the 1923 Targa Florio, when Ugo Sivocci brought his RL-based sports car home in first place with Alberto Ascari second. There would be further victories in sports car racing, but it was not until the arrival of designer Vittorio Jano from FIAT that Alfa first tasted success in Grands Prix. Jano�s first creation for his new masters was the legendary �P2�, a 2.0-litre supercharged straight-eight, which claimed the World Championship in its first full year of competition in 1925. Jano followed up with a series of highly successful sports cars, including the immortal �1750� that won the Mille Miglia in 1929 and 1930.
By this time the works Alfas were entered by Scuderia Ferrari, which was charged with managing the Milanese manufacturer�s return to Grand Prix racing in 1932. Although Alfa once again succeeded in humbling the best that the world could pit against it, these racetrack successes had not been matched by showroom sales and the firm was in dire financial trouble. Rescued by the Italian government, Alfa found itself no longer competitive at Grand Prix level where it faced increasingly stiff competition from Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, although it continued to clean up in international sports car racing, winning the Mille Miglia in 1936 and again in 1937.
Alfa�s Grand Prix disappointments were mitigated by the success in the voiturette class of the Tipo 158 Alfetta, which dominated the 1938 and 1939 seasons. When racing resumed post-war, the formula adopted for Grands Prix permitted 1.5-litre supercharged cars to compete against 4.5-litre normally aspirated types. The new formula seemed tailor-made for the Alfetta and so it proved; Alfa did not contest Grands Prix in 1949, but in the six years from 1946 to the end of 1951 won almost every race it entered, an unprecedented achievement.
It would be another 25 years before Alfa Romeo re-entered Formula 1, firstly as an engine supplier and latterly in its own right, but those glorious past successes would prove unrepeatable. Alfa�s first �modern� F1 engines had been developed originally for its sports car racing programme, a highly successful venture that had seen the blood-red T33 dominate the 2-litre class of the World Championship of Makes and the successor 33TT12 win the Championship outright in 1975. At the same time, the firm actively campaigned its production models in GT and saloon car racing, where the supremely adaptable Giulia Sprint carved its name indelibly in the record books. In more recent decades Alfa Romeo�s motor sports programme has concentrated on touring car racing, with its direct link to showroom models and greater marketing potential, bringing ever more championships back to Milan.
Of all the volume car producers, none has a competition record that can compare with that of Alfa Romeo, whose magnificent sporting heritage has always influenced the design of its production models. One of Alfa�s lesser known - indeed, unique - sports models from the past is the extraordinary �time warp� half-track offered here. Complete and original in all known respects, it is believed to be the sole surviving four-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo half-track in the world. The vehicle has spent nearly all its life in the New England area in the USA and was understood to have been exported there from Italy when new to undertake service as winter transport in the mountains, presumably for a wealthy skiing and motoring enthusiast. Due to its remarkable nature the car has survived for more than eighty years in unmolested original condition. After careful checking over by well known Alfa expert Jim Stokes in England the car started on the handle with excellent oil pressure and the entire drive system was operational.
The car is based on an Alfa Romeo RM chassis with the normal 2-litre 4-cylinder RM engine but which has been modified to dry sump specification - no doubt to deal with the inclines and side slopes of mountainous terrain. The track mechanism was built using Citr�en patents under licence as proclaimed by a plaque on the wheeled bogey carrying the legend �Propulseur � Kegresse-Hinstin (Licence 48) Andr� Citr�en�. The front wheel hubs are marked with the Citr�en gear motif. The drive system is based on that used in the Citr�en Kegresse but the main transmission box is an Alfa Romeo unit made specially for this application and incorporates the original RM transmission brake. The four-speed gearbox feeds via a propshaft into another enormous transmission case, housing a second gearbox with a dual range. The concept of the track laying system was developed by Adolph Kegresse when Technical Manager for Czar Nicholas II as early as 1910. By 1920 Kegresse assisted by Jacques Hinstin was running the department Chenilles for Andr� Boas and Andr� Citr�en at Engrenages Citr�en, Citr�en Gear Company. In 1921 three Kegresse Citr�ens climbed the Lautaret and crossed the Mont Genevre Pass clearly showing their ability over snow. This RM and its track gear both exhibit early chassis and licence numbers. The RM chassis numbers run from 1923-1924 and are listed as 12001 � 12265 and it is listed that the early numbers were restricted to prototypes which at 12023 could date this vehicle very early in 1924 or possibly even late 1923. At Retromobile in 2005, two Sahara Citr�ens were on show one with a licence number of 425 thereby showing how early the RM�s track gear is.
This must have been a very expensive car for Alfa Romeo to build; perhaps they foresaw a strong American winter sports market that never materialised.
The lovely, patinated condition of the rear seat and grab handles suggests that the car saw frequent use at some stage in its life. The well used state of the wonderful wooden skis which are carried on front wings and designed to fit under the front wheels in difficult terrain also suggests that the car saw regular service in snowy New England winters.
This unique piece of motoring and Alfa Romeo history will excite the interest of even the most jaded collector and no doubt find its proper place in a private museum of the highest quality; or perhaps as a talking point and occasional winter transport from a spectacular chalet or mountain lodge high in the Alps, or even back in its old North American haunts.

Lot Details
Auction Ferrari and Maserati Motor Cars
Bonhams, Gstaad, Switzerland
TypeCar
Lot Number223
EstimateCHF350000-CHF450000
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Year1924
Condition rating0
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis number12023
Engine number12023
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors