Mother, where are thou? 1951 Alfa Romeo 412 by Vignale

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There are things that could nest in your brain like an obsession. My personal car-obsession is where this car is now, if it still exists. I consider it the mother of every post-war racing barchettas, including Ferrari. Actually the Alfa V12 engine, designed by Bruno Trevisan, was the first of the breed which continued with the Colombo’s V12 at Ferrari. It’s called 412, owned by italian gentleman driver Felice Bonetto. Actually this car had a (1939?) pre-war Alfa Romeo GP12C chassis and engine, dressed with another body made by Touring coachworks; the photo below portraits Felice Bonetto driving his 412s on the Circuit of Boavista, Oporto, Portugal, in 1950. He won that race.

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Many speculations have been made on this car as the history on his birth and death (?) is way far to be clear. It is said that in 1951 the Touring body was removed after a crash during the Giro di Sicilia and another aluminium body was made by Vignale coachworks, probably in april of that year, just in time to join the 1951 Mille Miglia. The car was portrayed at the start in Brescia not painted but in bare metal (below).

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The 1951 MM was not the last race of the car: Bonetto joined again the Oporto race the same year, this time with the 412 painted in red and black (below):

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After that the car was probably modified to seem more “roadish”. Some period photos shows that the headrest was removed and the car was painted in red. It still had its 4,500 c.c. V12 Alfa monster under the bonnet which produced still 230 h.p: when it was in race setup it was fed by a compressor which increased the power to 275 h.p: for sure such compressor was later removed to increase reliability and duration.

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The car was then put for sale but, probably due to its old fashioned technology, engine size, and asking price, the car didn’t had much success on the market. The american journalist Burton Harrison, in a Road’n’Track article of september 1952, said to have had a quick, scary tour in the 412 around the Meazza soccer stadium in Milano (see cartoon and article below). The car was indeed stored at the Scuderia Volpini in Milano in that period.

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The 412, probably after the death of his owner Bonetto due to a crash (in Silao De La Victoria, Mexico, during the 1953 Carrera Panamericana), went around Northern Italy until 1958, the last sure date of its existence, when the american motor journalist Marc Wallach, during a tour in Italy, went to Vignale coachworks in Turin and there he saw “a wonderful V12 Alfa Romeo GP 12C chassis with a postwar, two-seater body by Vignale”. In the photo below there is Wallach near the 412, this time without the headrest.

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After this testimony, there is only fog. It’s indeed said that the car was dismantled and the chassis was used by Nardi itself to build the “Silver Ray” (below): a one-off car for an american client powered by a Chrysler V8 engine; now it’s strange to think that Enrico Nardi, master of chassis, needed to use a pre-war unit to build a new car, with a lot of work to fix it and adapt it to the new car. It should have been much easier for him to build another one from scratch.

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Moreover, some recent token say that, after having seen the Silver Ray (which is said to be now under restoration somewhere in Upstate NY), the car has few Alfa parts but Maserati 3500 suspensions.

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For sure, the engine #412151 (which should be the Bonetto’s car unit) is not with the car anymore: it was sold during an auction in Gstaad (CH) in 1998 from Nardi’s daughter and now it should reside in U.S. (probably owned by Larry Auriana who made it restored at Epifani restorations in Berkeley, CA.). The photo shows such engine photographed in 1999 (more or less). So, where is the car now? Does it still exist? Often it happened that many “special” cars, just because they stand out of the crowd, survived so far but that’s not math. Whatever this wonderful machine is floating somewhere out there, in a dirty garage or in a barn or, most probably, it has been a donor of its parts, someone will never forget it.

Credits: John De Boer (The Italian Car Registry), Stuart Schaller and many other contributors @Alfabb.com

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