The Internet may have bought about the death of obscurity. Information on anything is just a Google search away. That’s one theory. Right about now we’re not altogether convinced as Alfistas the world over are busy bickering – who styled it? Why was it made? Was there one car or two? The sheer quantum knowledge in evidence here is astonishing, as is the swiftness in which the keepers of the flame leap upon any minor slip up like a pack of particularly miffed raptors. Thing is, nobody actually knows much about this unique machine. Not really. It’s all speculation and half-truths. That’ll teach us to post questions on a web forum.
Having said all that, there’s no earthly reason why anyone should remember Pininfarina’s 2600PF Coupé Speciale. It’s not as though anyone paid (itals) that (end itals) much attention to it first time around. See past its jaw-slackening gorgeousness – and its beauty really is of the singularly dazzling kind – and what you’ll find is a prototype and nothing more; one that made only a couple of public appearances in period. Like all concept cars, it was built to forecast future styling trends and trot along the automotive catwalk for a few motor shows before heading off into retirement within a factory museum. Either that or the more customary trip to a nackers’ yard.
As here, even if the location of dumping ground serves only to raise even more questions. Found in upper state New York by its current keeper (a prominent Belgian collector) in 1987, nobody is sure how, precisely, the Alfa got there. Or indeed when. See a theme developing here?
What is clear is that it was variously shown as two different cars. Echoing styling themes explored on all manner of other Pininfarina creations, most obviously the ’61 Alfa Romeo Spider Speciale Aerodynamica and the Ferrari 400 Superamerica, it debuted at the ’62 Turin Auto Salon – as the Cabriolet Speciale.
Based on an unmodified Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider platform (chassis no 16601), there was little mention of ‘prototipo 621’ in the Turin firm’s press bumf, other than a line about its ‘mother-of-pearl paintwork with synthetic leather trim.’ Legendary Road & Track correspondent Henry N. Manney III wasn’t completely whelmed, his show report stating: “Pininfarina always puts on a good show and this time there was no exception… certain members of the production line-up being joined by a hastily finished (judging by the paint) metalescent maroon Alfa 2600 Spider which followed the same general format as those seen at shows since Geneva, ’59.”
Quattroroute was more effusive, gushing over its, “balanced mass, harmonious curves with design by the hand of the master.” The first ever edition of Style Auto also featured a glittery - if baffling - photo spread, complete with the odd juxtaposition of a woman dressed to the nines with a mink stole, a bunch of tinkers and a little girl in a bucket set against the romantic backdrop of Pininfarina’s Grugliasco factory.
After further appearances and what passed for an ‘interim’ restyle, the car remerged a year on for the ’63 Brussels Motor Show; it appeared suitably different, largely due to the addition of a roof and a change of hue. Somehow you suspect this was a last-minute rush job, a stand filler that - depending on your point of view - rendered the newly-reminted Coupé Speciale even more striking than its original open-top incarnation.
Style Auto patently thought so, returning to Turin to wax not entirely coherently: “There exist problems of style, the way the shape is put together which must be harmoniously resolved. All these points Pininfarina has concluded with exceptional mastery. The roof, which starts with the double curvature windscreen, presents a particularly aerodynamic profile – you can define it as a ‘light profile’. Seen from the side, the new coupé seems even better than the cabriolet. The top confers greater slenderness on the car and the character of the long and low look is even more accentuated… Everything is positive. It represents a clear stylistic evolution of the original cabriolet version.”
This being Pininfarina, where the company name always comes first, no one individual was ever credited with the styling. And nobody has since come forward to claim recognition, either. Similar, if only in part, to the masterful Chevy Corvette-based Rondine and Fiat 2300-derived Lausanne penned by then employee Tom Tjaarda, the American-born design divinity nevertheless had nothing to with the Alfa. Having lit a recollective fuse, he ponders: “I did not design the car but it was built while I was working at Pininfarina. What you have to remember is that we were all so busy; there was so much going on that we didn’t really take the time to look at what the next person was doing. This car sort of appeared and then was gone.
'I really do not know who authored it, or who could in fact be called its designer. Strange as it may seem, the design of this car just kind of emerged from a synthesis of many styling themes that were going on at Pininfarina at the time. It may have a few overtones of the Rondine, but it also has lines and surfaces from many other vehicles. There is no definite styling theme or concept evident on this car. It’s just a nice, well-proportioned and competent show car that has an Alfa Romeo image about it. For sure, people who see this car like it very much.'
When the Alfa was discovered Stateside, the vendor apparently had no idea that it was a former salon star, believing instead that it was a production model. Peter Kunz of Red Willow Racing in The Netherlands oversaw much of its restoration: 'When the car arrived, it was painted in primer and was on its wheels but all the other parts were in boxes. It was almost complete; only a few mechanical parts were missing.
We were very lucky in that all the special bits were still present. We started work on it in 2002 and to be honest it wasn’t all that difficult a job: Carrozzeria Granturismo Milano did the bodywork, chroming and trimming while we did the rest. There was some discussion about restoring the car as a two-seater roadster as it was originally, and I can tell you there was some very strange welding where the roof was attached later on.'
Making its post-restoration debut at the 2003 Concours d’ Elegance Paleis Het Loo, the Coupe Speciale walked away with best of show honors. 'The only thing I heard from the judging jury was that I hadn’t used the proper type of screws…' smiles Kunz. Up close, it’s truly, spectacularly lovely. The 1960s were a fertile period for Pininfarina; most of its output was instantly classic, the balance being merely very good.
The identity of the unheralded artisan behind the styling may be a mystery but it has an outline that can only have originated from passion and inspiration. You can see indicators to future mainstream production Alfas; a nod to the Duetto here, a wink to the Montreal there (just look at the headlight arrangement…). Riding on Borrani wires in place of the original steel rims and centre caps, it’s every inch the exotic even if the skinny 165-400X radials lend it a slightly spindly look from directly head on.
Inside, the glamour is tastefully muted. A predictably vast Nardi tiller fronts a simplistic dash with the Veglia speedo reading to 240km/h, the rev counter red lined at 6200rpm. There’s little meaningful headroom, or space for your right knee for that matter; it’s cramped in here. But the bespoke door furniture is beautiful; the leather soft and fragrant. The view over the long bonnet as it spills over the rounded flanks lends an undeniable jet-set vibe, the prominent bonnet bulge a promise of speed and excitement.
One that ultimately it cannot live up to. Not fully, anyway. Here running on triple Weber 45s, the Alfa’s 2.6-litre straight-six makes all the right noises, and there’s plenty of torque. It’s a super-smooth unit, just not a particularly racy one: it may be all-alloy, but you still sense the engine’s heft. As with most Alfas of the period, the five-speeder here is a joy, and it’s near-impossible to grandma a gearshift. On the flip side, the modish body style masks rather prosaic underpinnings which are altogether more vintage in origin than you might imagine (much of it dates back to the 1900). The steering is incredibly heavy at pottering speeds and it’s only when you’re really motoring that it gets lighter. It’s not nimble – not even close – and a contemporary Giulia saloon would run rings around any 2600 on twisty back roads. Punt this showstopper into a corner and it’ll simply lean over although it never threatens to spill.
As you would expect, it’s patently a GT rather than a sports car, seemingly designed with the Autostrada in mind. The ride quality is compliant and it’s commendably stable, too. The brakes – discs up front, finned-aluminum drums out back – also work remarkably well even if there is a tendency for the Coup� Speciale to stand on its nose. With greater familiarity, you could likely derive greater enjoyment out of driving it but the fact that this remarkable confection drives at all is praiseworthy. So many concept cars are truly horrible above walking pace with the actual motion part being pretty low down the list of priorities: it’s all about the visuals.
And here there’s no adjectival phrases that can sufficiently do the shiny bits justice. You just wish Alfa Romeo had adopted it as even a limited-edition flagship. The production Sprint coup� is nice enough; Bertone’s Giorgetto Giugiaro basically reworked his Gordon-Keeble outline for the umpteenth time. Ercole Spada’s riff on the theme for Zagato remains super-groovy but only 105 2600SZs were made and in no way can they be called pretty. Desirable yes, sexy as hell, too, but never pretty. Not like the Coup� Speciale. But then you could argue that Alfa did take it on, just in piecemeal fashion, spooning out a little to one model, a bit more to another.
Which at the end of the day is what concept cars are all about; you have to look at the bigger picture. The reasoning behind its inception remains a mystery – nobody at Pininfarina is sure whether or not Alfa Romeo itself commissioned the car’s construction – but just be glad that it was built at all. Obscure it might be, but that beats rank ordinariness any day.
Thanks to: Paul Koot, www.gtmilano.com