The Scene: Northern Italy — April 27, 1945 — during the waning days of World War II. Banished elements of the Nazi regime, including a retreating anti-aircraft unit and fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, proceed north towards the border and possible asylum in neutral Switzerland. They are part of a convoy which also includes members of the Italian Social Republic.
Likewise, Mussolini’s mistress and beautiful 33-year-old Italian actress Clara Petacci speeds north towards sanctuary. Her journey begins in Rome and proceeds towards a rendezvous with the convoy near Lake Como in Lombardy. Accompanying Clara on her journey is her brother, Marcello. The siblings take advantage of a race-bred sports car (which was a gift from Mussolini to his mistress) and its 110-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine.
The car is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta with striking pontoon-shaped front fenders and beautiful wire wheels. The car is covered in an inspiring shade of wine red paint. In this “Spaghetti Opera”, the car plays the Italian beauty. It is loaded with historical sentiment, has been recently restored to better than showroom condition, and recently sold just prior to an RM auction for a cool $2.1-million.
If you are familiar with this true story about the fallen Italian dictator and his mistress, then you know that it does not have a happy ending. Mussolini and the actress kept their appointment near Lake Como and headed towards Switzerland in the Alfa Romeo. They hoped to find refuge there and make a new life, despite their 28-year age difference. Unfortunately, at the last minute the convoy ran headlong into an Italian communist partisan checkpoint. The forlorn leader and his side-dish were quickly recognized and taken into custody. They were executed by gunfire on April 28 in Mezzagra, a small town on the border of Italy and Switzerland. The bodies were taken to Milan and displayed publicly in a major thoroughfare (called the Piazallle Loreto) the following day. Specifically, they were hanged upside down by the heels and photographed as the crowd was allowed to vent their frustrations upon the inverted bodies.
Mussolini’s misguided story ends here but the Alfa Romeo is just getting started. Somehow, the keys land in the pocket of a U.S. Army officer. As the war continued to languish, Italian authorities brought the car to the Italian port city of Livorno, where it was acquired by Army Air Corps officer Major Charles Pettit. Major Pettit used the sports car to shuttle around the small town until 1949 when he shipped the car home to upstate New York. He continued to drive the car until an internal engine malfunction rendered the car immobile and landed it a permanent place in the Pettit barn.
Fast forward twenty-years until the students of a Mohawk, New York shop teacher, named Ron Keno, brought an ad about the Alfa Romeo (in Hemming’s Motor News) to his attention. Keno was intrigued by both the physical presence of the car and its historical significance. He was eventually put in contact with former Nazi chauffer Franz Spogler, who had been assigned to drive the car for several years during World War II. Since Spogler could confirm details regarding the car which could prove or disprove its authenticity, the two men began to correspond via mail. They ultimately met in upstate New York where Spogler identified a roll of tools found in the 6C as the same roll he had used during the war. This, along with other distinguishing factors, confirmed the car’s identity.
In the late 1970s, the partially restored car was sold to a Connecticut enthusiast who passed it on to the Imperial Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (now known as The Quad Resort and Casino). In 1999 it was sold to another individual who had the engine professionally rebuilt in Italy in preparation to compete in the Mille Miglia in 2001 and 2002. Inspired by the car’s renewed vigor, the owner turned it over to renowned restorer Carlo Anderloni for a “no-expense spared” restoration that yielded the Italian beauty that you see here.