Alfa Romeo Disco Volante
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Colombo and Satta
, even before production began on the then new 1300cc Giulietta, Alfa Romeo
already had plans to build a larger version with six cylinders - tentatively called the Giulia. The larger car's engine would not be based on the 1.3-litre Giulietta but on the already existing 1900cc four with two more cylinders added. The 1900's 82.5-mm bore was retained but the stroke was increased from 88 to 92 mm, resulting in a displacement of 2995cc.
The touring car version was never produced but six of these engines were built for a new lightweight racing car officially designated the 6C 3000 CM (for 6-cyl, 3000cc, Cortemaggiore). The design came from Alfa engineers Colombo and Satta, the bodies were built by Carrozzeria Touring and this model came to be known as the Disco Volante, or "flying saucer," because of the strange bodywork.
Three slightly smaller Disco Volantes, two open models and a coupe, were also built. These 4-cyl versions had a displacement of 1997cc accomplished by increasing the bore of the 1900cc four from 82.5 to 85 mm. The original plan to enter two cars at Le Mans in 1952 never materialized and in fact no Disco Volantes raced in competition until the 1953 Mille Miglia.
Four "Disc" coupes were entered in that thousand-mile Italian classic, with Zehender driving a 4-cyl and Fangio, Kling and Sanesi in the sixes. The 6-cylinder engine now had a displacement of 3576cc obtained by increasing the 82.5 x 92 mm bore and stroke to 88 x 98 mm. With six 48 DOM single-throat Weber carburettors, this version of the six developed 275 horsepower at 6500 rpm.
The original Disco body, assumed by some to be the forerunner of the D-type Jaguar, had also been changed by this time. Instead of the double twin-tube frame and multi-tube body structure used by Carrozzeria Touring in the original there was now a backbone-type space frame built by Carrozzeria Colli. This version also had a De Dion rear axle, inboard rear brakes
and a 5-speed non-synchromesh transmission in place of the 4-speed all-synchro gearbox.
The front suspension was conventional with coil springs, unequal-length A-arms and an anti-roll bar
. The brakes
were very up-to-date for the time, being of the "alfin" type, that is, deeply finned aluminium shrouds shrunk onto cast iron drums for improved heat dissipation. There were four extra-wide leading shoes at the front with more-or-less standard leading and trailing shoes at the rear. Fangio finished second to Marzotto's 4.1 Ferrari in the 1953 Mille Miglia
, his being the only Disco Volante to finish the event. The left-hand steering tie rod on his car came adrift during the race and he completed the last miles steering only with the right front wheel.
Some accounts of the event say that El Chueco drove the last half of the race with broken steering but this seems unlikely. Later the same year, three Disco Volantes were entered in the classic 24-hour race at Le Mans, France. These machines, to be driven by Fangio/Marimon, Kling/Riess and Sanesi/ Carini, were the 3576cc Mille Miglia
type cars and that driven by Sanesi, along with Villoresi's 4.5-liter Ferrari, were the fastest cars in the race. None of the Discos were to finish this race, however, Fangio
dropping out after two hours with a damaged piston, Sanesi lasting about 11 hours before going out with broken rear suspension and Kling retiring a bit later with clutch trouble.
Alfa sent one Disco Volante to the 24-hour Spa-Francorchamps
race in Belgium shortly after Le Mans but it went out early, the result of a minor accident while Sanesi was driving. It had been planned to run three cars at the Nurburgring
1000-km race but the team was withdrawn after Kling's steering broke during practice. The final event in which Disco Volantes were entered by the factory was the Supercortemaggiore at Merano, Italy. Cars were entered for Fangio
, Sanesi and Carini but only Fangio's openbodied roadster with a 3-litre engine and disc brakes
actually started. As it turned out, this was all that was needed as he won the 165-mile race at an average speed of 78.96 mph.
This car, along with the original 1952
prototype, we believe to be located at the Alfa Romeo factory museum in Milan, Italy. Joakim Bonnier
, at that time the main agent for Alfa in Sweden, purchased one of the coupes but found the head room inadequate for his 6-ft-plus height and had it re-bodied as a roadster by Zagato. Bonnier
raced this Disco coupe extensively in Europe, then sold it to an American, Henry Wessels III, who subsequently sold it to another American, Shelly Spindei. Both Rodger Ward and Bruce Kessler raced this car for Spindei in the U.S.
Carrozzeria Boano built a custom body on a fourth Disco Volante and this became the property of Argentine dictator Juan Peron in 1955
. The fifth Disco, with Ghia coachwork, disappeared from public view and its whereabouts remain unknown. The sixth Disco Volante started life as the chassis for the proposed 6-cylinder Giulia but later became a platform for a series f styling exercises by Carrozzeria Pinin Farina (later Pininfarina). The first coachwork built on this chassis was "Superflow" a sensational coupe with conventional doors and "gull wing" windows that opened to the top centre line and clear plastic covers over the tops of the wheels. "Superflow II", the second body on this chassis, was more conservative in that the clear wheel covers had disappeared in favour of rear fender fins of clear plastic. These had the curious effect of appearing to be body colour when viewed from outside rut being transparent so as to not block the driver's vision from inside the car.
A third version then appeared as an open roadster with large headrests for driver and passenger. This, along with the two earlier bodies by Pininfarina, had the longitudinal "bayonet blood trough" down the side of the body that eventually appeared on other PF show cars and finally on the production version of the Alfa Romeo Duetto. The final Pininfarina exercise on this chassis appeared at the 1960
Geneva Auto Show and after this it was sent to the USA to test American reaction to the design. After being driven across the U.S. to be put on display in Alfa showrooms, it ended up on a used-car lot in Denver.
If the engine's redline could be obtained in all gears, and would result in speeds of 66, 93, 122, 145 and 166 mph for the five speeds. Backing off on the throttle produced shattering noises from the exhaust
as a result of the enormous carburettor openings and the 101-degree valve overlap. The exhaust
pipe, only slightly muffled, poked out of the side of the body just forward of the left rear wheel. As for the number of Disco Volantes built, there seems to be many figures quoted on the internet.
But according to Luigi Fusi, who was employed by Alfa Romeo
from 1920, starting as a draftsman, later working as a designer, and then put in charge of restoration of cars in the early 1970s, there was a total of nine DVs - three Tipo 1900 C52s and six Tipo 6C 3000 CMs. In the 2-liter version there were two spiders and one coupe while among the 3-liters there were four coupes and two spiders. It is possible that some components were used for more than one car so it is possible that there were actually less than the nine different cars listed in Fusi's book.