A Photoset for Friday: Alfa Romeo 2600 Berlina

I had high expectations of Friedrichstadt, a perfect little displaced Dutch town in German Nordfriesland, but they didn’t include two Alfa 2600s.

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Their presence was unexplained. No ‘Oldtimer’ gathering, no other participants on a one make outing. I would hate to think that they had just ‘failed to proceed’. The 2600 Sprint’s charms are beyond dispute, but a bit of fact-finding on the Berlina sprung some surprises.

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As far as its “dogma-free” remit permits, DTW is rather fond of large Italian saloons which fell somewhat short of their manufacturers’ commercial ambitions. The Fiat 130 and Lancia Gamma typify the phenomenon. For both there was modest consolation in glamorous and well regarded coupé variants which accounted for around a quarter of production numbers.

In the case of the older (1962–1967) Alfa Romeo 2600, the imbalance was at the opposite extreme. Fewer than a fifth of the 11,346 total production was of the Portello-built Berlina.

So the Friedrichstadt Berlina is the real rarity, one of 2092, making the Austin 3 litre, Vanden Plas 4 litre R, and Borgward P100 look like rip-roaring successes. Alfa didn’t invest too heavily in the Berlina, which is a nose-and-tail job on the preceding 1958 four cylinder 2000. The reader can make their own judgement on the ameliorations, for me the efforts to eliminate the ‘so last decade’ rear tailfins are a less than elegant solution.

With the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, the tall-grilled, tail-finned late fifties 2000 Berlina body seems to work better. The 2600 engine story interests me. The old 1900 / 2000 engine was an iron-blocked long-stroke four, topped with a version of the classic Alfa alloy twin cam head. As the 2600 engine is all-alloy, logic would suggest a 750/105 engine with another pair of cylinders. Which is to forget that this is Alfa Romeo we are talking about.

The 2600 engine’s origins are in a mid ‘50s design kicked around by Satta, Hruska, and Ciacca, with competition central to the brief. It owes more to the older, more generously sized, iron blocked 1900/2000 four than the Tipo 750 Guilietta engine in its fixed points, allowing bigger bearings and oversquare cylinder dimensions. The production engine’s 83 mm bore and 79.6 mm stroke are not too extreme by ‘60s standards, but every variant of the 750/105 engine was undersquare, with the exception of GTA 1300 Junior – 78 x 67.5, before you ask.

All of which is peripheral to a moment of happy serendipity in North Friesia. There’s more to that part of the world than cows, cabbages and canals – there’s the law of attraction in action.

12 thoughts on “A Photoset for Friday: Alfa Romeo 2600 Berlina”

  1. It’s a part of the world I keep meaning to visit. The excellent spy novel “The Riddle of the Sands” is set on the Frisian coast. And the tea they like there is to be found around the Baltic and N Sea.
    The saloon is appealing. It’s the obscure choice for those known as “knowers” in French.

  2. An astonishing sight, these two 2600s on the same spot. I’m not sure I’ve even seen one of them in the metal. I only became aware of their existence a few months ago. The rear lights of the Berlina struck me as very unusual, but not without charm for someone who loves idiosyncratic cars.

  3. When I saw the photo of the tail, I immediately thought ‘Eastern Bloc’, although I’m not sure what exactly prompted that. I had no idea Alfa Romeo altered the tail light arrangement – they really shouldn’t have. It also puts me in mind of the Bristol Blenheim, where the overall body style was unable to support the more modish addenda.

    I recall the late automotive commentator, Michael Sedgewick being fairly dismissive of these in saloon form – not that many crossed the channel in the first place. Was the Berlina Pininfarina’s work? It certainly has their stamp all over it.

  4. Someone I met with my parents once had a dark green 2600 Sprint. It was the first time I had seen one and the 12 (?) year old me thought it looked very good. As I got older I read more about it and (motoring journalists again) was put off by talk of its wallowy handling. But now it seems a nice prospect again, and the Berlina possibly more so.

    I’ve always assumed the 2600 engine was derived from the 1900 four, but it is surprisingly hard to get in depth knowledge of Alfa Romeo. In English language at least, there are surprisingly few publications, and a significant percentage are pretty superficial – as a mere dabbler Alfisti, if I can spot an error, then the author really needs to sharpen up.

    1. It’s a pity that the bridge between the public and a rarity like this car might be twenty articles in magazines. Then it matters how careful one is with the descriptions. A small exaggeration can leave a big impression. Were these cars really noticebly “wallowy” or merely not as firm as the tester would have liked? I find it hard to imagine these cars wallowed in comparison with the mass of saloons on sale.
      Does anyone see shades of the same shapes as appeared on the Rover P6?

    2. There is a similarity around the windscreen/A-pillar and the tail of the pre-facelift car. Well spotted. Bache was a bit of a creative magpie anyway…

  5. Eóin – you thought Eastern European, I first thought South American.

    Same difference. Old, once stylish, European designs cheaply and sometimes clumsily facelifted into a semblance of something newer. The Italians themselves have rather a poor record on facelifts: plastic-clad Alfasuds, the watered-down Multipla and Ritmo, and Pio Manzu’s fresh-faced 127 morphed over a decade into a simulacrum of a Wartburg 353.

    Perhaps Giuseppe Scarnati was the Italian Bache, at his best able to do Pininfarina better than Pininfarina could. I’d have to say that in the metal the 2600 doesn’t have the P6’s other-worldly presence – nothing else except a Citroen DS or NSU Ro80 has.

    Mentioning South America, the Alfa 2000 lived on in Brazil until 1974 – still with the four cylinder engine, eventually stretched to 2310cc (88 x 95, for those interested). The 58-61 Alfa 2000 engine had a 1975cc capacity and 84.5 x 88 proportions, eerily similar to the stretched 750/105 engine in the 71-77 2000 (1962cc, 84 x 88.5). The smaller engine was on the limits of its stretch – in its final, largest, capacity Alfa found another half millimetre of stroke.

    The room found in the Brazilian four bears out the notion that Alfa had notions to produce a Jaguar XK rival with the 2600 engine. Add a pair of cylinders to that Alfa Romeo 2300 engine, and you get 3465cc.

    1. While this is a very nice looking car (and a bit reminiscent of Glas), it doesn’t look like an Alfa at all. Alfas have to be a bit edgy and rough, otherwise they could be anything.

    2. But is that just using Alfa’ mistakes to establish what a true Alfa should be? I’m a great admirer of the edgy 105, but why shouldn’t an Alfa saloon be as good looking as their sports cars? Oh yes, I forgot the 156, they can be.

    3. The OSI 2600 De Luxe (was a better name out of the question?) does indeed look very Glas-ish – like a 1204 in its details, but with far better proportions. It’s credited to Michelotti, but doesn’t quite have his ‘vocabulary’.

      I’m wondering if the design was intended for another manufacturer. The Alfa 2600 wheelbase and width are very close to the Triumph 2000 and the BMW 2500/2800, then again it could have been someone Japanese.

      Or maybe I’m putting two and two and making five.

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