By Pete Vack and Dino Brunori
Perhaps the mystery of the missing Alfa Romeo 412 began back in 1975 with the publication of the photo book, Alfa Romeo Milano. British journalist Michael Frostick captioned a picture of Felice Bonetto’s special-bodied Alfa Romeo thusly:
Something of a mystery. The Alfa Romeo files say “16 cylinder 4500 Mille Miglia 1954 (Bonetto).” One can only assume a car was made up with a bored-out version of the Type 162, 3 liter, 16-cylinder car, or more likely, someone has made a mistake somewhere!
Indeed there was a mystery and a mistake, as Alfa 2.9 sleuth Simon Moore realized. The Bonetto car was fairly well documented in a variety of contemporary magazines as one of the four 1939 V12 (not a V16) Tipo 412 Alfas, rebodied post war by Bonetto via Vignale. The serial number was 412151, and after it was retired from competition in 1952, it was offered to Henry Wessells III for $3200 by Franco Cortese in 1954. Henry missed the deal and the car reportedly went to Spain. But by 1955 there was no trace of the car. It had seemingly disappeared, as old race cars are wont to do.
Tracing the engine
Although the Bonetto car was not specifically an Alfa 2.9, it nonetheless was part of the family and of great interest to Alfa historian Moore. By the time Moore wrote the second edition of his landmark book The Immortal 2.9 in 2008, he was on the trail of the remains of the car and the engine, but couldn’t quite pull it all together. The rare Alfa V12 engine provided the clue. It was known that the 412 engine was in the possession of Roberta Nardi, daughter of car builder Enrico Nardi. Enter Simon Kidston, working for Brooks Auctions. In mid-March of 1996, Kidston recalled for Moore, “I was contacted by Gino Macaluso, the owner of the Girard-Perregaux watch company. Roberta Nardi, whose father Enrico had left her an old Alfa Romeo engine which was languishing in the basement of her home near Turin.” Kidston recalls that Roberta didn’t know which car it had come from, but she wanted to sell it. Kidston put it up for auction in 1998, and it went to Lawrence Auriana from New York. Moore put the information in his 2008 revised edition, but the whereabouts of the body and chassis remained a mystery. [Read more…] about A Nardi, an Alfa, a Mystery