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


“CLASSIC TESTS” WERE AN R&T FEATURE for awhile, wherein editors would assemble data from contemporary sources and write a virtual road test of the classic era. The Bugatti Type 49 here at SimanaitisSays is an example. This Alfa Romeo 1750 Classic Test published in May 1957 is another. 

This and other images from R&T, May 1957.

This Classic Test is particularly interesting 65 years later in providing insight into the vintage driving experience: The Alfa Romeo sports car, after all, was the Ferrari of its day. Indeed, when Alfa encountered financial difficulty in 1933, it turned to Scuderia Ferrari to maintain its racing presence. Hitherto, his scuderia (Italian: stable) founded in 1929 had been Ferrari’s private enterprise. (Ferrari himself drove in competition until the birth of his first son, Dino, in 1932).

R&T’s Virtual Classic: “August 1932,” the magazine imagined. “An opportunity to test a truly fantastic machine such as the 6C-1750 supercharged Alfa Romeo does not come very often—and when it does, it is an experience not soon forgotten.” 

How often this verbiage has been been recrafted for the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari F40, the Benetton B186, and other automotive superlatives. 

“An honest top speed of over 90 mph, for example,” R&T wrote thinking about 1932, “is a rate of speed confined to only a handful of contemporaries—and all sporting much large piston displacements. Some owners claim a top speed of as much as 105 mph, but such figures probably are the result of over-enthusiasm or optimistic speedometer readings downhill. With 85 bhp and a drag of 135 lbs. at 60 mph, the true top speed could not possibly be 100 mph.”

Always the analytical types, R&T staffers. 

But Enthusiasts Too: “When you touch the starter button for the first time,” the magazine said, “the engine explodes into a characteristic whoom, whoom, that is almost frightening, even though expected. The cam drive and blower make quite a noise on their own, but this is not noticed at normal cruising speed.” 

Above, the supercharger resides at the front of the Alfa’s dohc six-cylinder engine. To accommodate the blower’s 8.0 psi, the engine’s compression ratio was lowered from 5.75:1 to 5.0:1.

In or Out, Drag Included. An accompanying feature article is subtitled “A Gran Sport that demands and gives a lot.” R&T delved into technical subtleties: “On the flywheel was a clutch with a dual personality. It had multiple disks which were once so popular (or were they?), and though engagement was smooth, it would not stand up to prolonged slippage.”

“Some,” R&T said, “have described this type of clutch as an ‘in or out’ one, but even when ‘out’ it tended to drag, and selection of first or reverse gear (when at a standstill) was invariably accompanied by a loud clunk.”

Off The Line. “Correct procedure calls for pushing the pedal down, a pause for gears and things to slow down, plop the lever quickly and firmly into first, and engage the clutch quickly with a minimum of slip and the engine at 900 rpm. First the car jerks, then the engine stumbles for a second or two, and then you tread down hard and scream up to the limit (29 mph, 4500 rpm) in less than 4 seconds.”

Then the Tricky Part. “The 4-speed gearbox,” R&T reminded, “was, of course, the ‘crash’ type, which, simply expressed, means that there were no aids to assist the novice such as dog teeth or synchromesh.” 

“Acceleration is very satisfactory in each gear,” the Classic Test reported, “but the pause between upward changes can waste as much as a full second at each shift point. Slightly quicker changes can be effected by double-clutching, and this technique is, of course, absolutely essential when down-shifting.”

Easy-Peasy. “Actually,” the magazine claimed, “it’s not as difficult as it sounds, and there is a margin for error if the driver makes his shifts with some degree of force, rather than being timid about it all. If you use force, and the engine speed is not quite correct, the shift goes through with a slight crunch. If you are timid and gentle—craaash!”

Whenever I see a young blade tooling around Orange County in a Lambo performing its automated gear changes, I wonder what its driver would think of all this instruction.

Handling, a Plus. The Classic Test continued, “Second only to its performance is the perfect road manners of the Gran Sport. The ride is very firm, almost as if there are no springs at all, but cornering is absolutely a joy. The wheel takes only 1 1/2 turns, lock to lock, and when sliding a corner there is neither front end ‘plough’ nor rear end ‘breakaway.’ If you want a little more drift angle, go into a tighter turn—if the drift is too severe, turn out a little. Correction is easy and instantaneous.”

And a smile on the driver’s face is a given. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023 

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