Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


AMONG THE MANY adjectives that characterize Alfa Romeo automobiles, “sleek,” “snarly,” and “swoopy” come readily to mind. The word “elegant,” though, usually describes other marques: Bugatti, Delahaye, and the like.

To my eye, the 1934 Castagna-bodied 2.3-Litre Alfa is an exception. It has brio, no doubt, but elegance as well. The January 1956 R&T has this car as a Salon feature, from which the following tidbits are gleaned.

The 1934 Alfa Romeo 2.3-Litre Castagna. This and the following images from R&T, January 1956.

Alfa Brio. A top speed over 110 mph was claimed, with a cruising speed of 70, well beyond the top speed of many cars of the era. “Suspension,” R&T observed, “is by conventional half-elliptics all around, but looking under the front end is a dazzling sight—the front suspension components are chromium plated, a process used in the racing models for the purpose of detecting any tell-tale cracks that might show up during competition. The suspension is, of course, back-breakingly stiff by today’s standards, but shock-absorbers are manually adjustable by a lever on the dash.”

Brakes are enormous drums, 17-in. diameter, cast aluminum and heavily finned for cooling. Wire wheels are of 19-in. diameter.

The shift lever actuates a four-speed transmission, a “crashbox” sans synchromesh. Typical of race cars of the era, the steering wheel is on the right; the accelerator is placed between the brake pedal and clutch.

Snarly Power. “In late 1931,” R&T wrote, “Alfa’s chief engineer, Vittório Jano, came up with a truly wonderful engine: a 2.3-liter, straight-8 version of his famous 1750-cc six. Instead of driving the double overhead cams by shafts and bevel gears, the engine was divided into two 4-cylinder blocks, each with 5 main bearings.”

Alfa’s supercharged 2.3-liter powerplant produced 140 hp. Jano finned its intake manifold to promote a cool, dense charge.

The cam drive, placed in the middle, was by spur gears which also drove a single Roots type blower located low on the right side of the engine.”

Alfa Elegance. “Two spares are carried on the rear,” R&T observed, “but no bumpers are provided—no one would dare come that close to an Alfa Romeo. A host of luxury features well ahead of their day include such items as tinted glass in the wind-up windows, lighted signal arms that automatically retract after 10 seconds and headlights that can be aimed up or down from the steering column to control beam distance (besides the usual high-and-low beam control).”

“For open-air touring,” R&T noted, “top easily folds back on trunk and windshield cranks open for maximum ventilation.”

Castagna Elegance. Carrozzeria Castagna began business in 1849 when Carlo Castagna bought a Milanese coachbuilding firm from a fellow named Ferrari (not Casablanca’s Signor Ferrari, nor Enzo). And in those days, of course, the products were coaches.

Image by Larry Stevens.

Castagna bodied a Benz quadracycle, perhaps the first of its kind. And in 1914, Milanese Count Marco Ricotti commissioned Castagna to envelope his A.L.F.A. 40/60 HP model in a bizarre futuristic aerodynamic shape. By the way, this was the firm’s name back then, for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili.

The 1914 Siloro (Italian: “Torpedo”) Ricotti, bodywork by Castagna, mechanicals by A.L.F.A. Image by

“Although Zagato was the designer most often associated with Alfa Romeo bodies,” R&T observed, “this car owes its fine coachwork to Castagna of Milan. It has the longer (124 in.) of two wheelbases offered, and the body style is basically a 3-seat tourer.”

Elegance, swoopy lines, and brio, all in one handsome shape.

R&T wrote, “the 2.3 Alfas are few and far between today, and the fact that only a half dozen of this Castagna model were built makes it a rare bird indeed—a bird that flies fast and well.”

And does so with elegance. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on June 24, 2019 by in Classic Bits and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: