Alfa Romeo Disco Volante – it really flies!

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Arese 1_(c)_Paolo_Ollig

The flying saucer might not seem like a very flattering nickname for a car. But if you just take the Italian name, it looks completely different. In the case of the extraordinary Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, it is actually an honorary title.

Alfa Romeo 1900 C52 “Disco Volante”

Alfa Romeo 1900 C52 “Disco Volante” is the full name for this charismatic car. But as it is with nicknames, they are used more often than all the official names. 

The story of the flying saucer begins in 1952. Alfa development manager Orazio Satta Puliga and designer Carlo Chiti were commissioned to develop a racing car for the sports car class, using the Alfa Romeo 1900 as the basis for the new car. Together with Carrozzeria Touring they created one of the most exciting and wildest models in the history of the Italian brand.

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante DLS_(c)_Kirill_Kirsanov (2)

The brief history of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante

The first version of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante had an open roadster body. You can see how uncompromisingly the design was based on aerodynamic aspects. The drag coefficient of 0.30 is just a number, but the flat body that sits practically on top of the car and partially covers the wheels and tyres speaks for itself. And for your own knowledge – to impress your friends! – even in cross winds or when accelerating sideways, the Disco Volante has an exceptionally good drag coefficient. 

The first Disco Volante had a modified 2-litre four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, which generated 116 kW / 158bhp. Just three 2-litre open-top examples were initially built, one of which was converted into a coupé with a fixed roof in 1953. With the other, the Alfa engineers modified the bodywork to give it “slim hips”. The Italian name “fianchi stretti” is still used today for this variant.

Two more Alfa Romeo Disco Volante were built in 1953, but this time the 3.5-litre in-line six-cylinder from the Alfa 6C was implanted.

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Fianchi Stretti

The sporting success of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante remained modest; and they never progressed further than prototype status. Nevertheless, the effect and appeal of these vehicles at that time – and probably still today – remain unbroken. But what should you do if you want an Alfa Romeo Disco Volante? Five were ever built, four survived, the very first and a coupé are in the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese and two in museums in Mulhouse and Turin. The chances of being able to buy the vehicles out of the exhibition are very slim; and even if they did, an amount in the millions would be due.

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Coupe

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante – close to the original

So it can really only be a replica of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. An extraordinary example is currently for sale at DLS Automobile in Fellbach. Mind you, this is not a replica that was built decades later on the basis of a remote vehicle, but a contemporary replica. In the 1950s, people were still a long way from having anything against replicas or even shredding the cars if they dared to use the official logo. 

At that time you could just contact Alfa and ask if you could use the construction plans. Just like the first owner of the Disco Volante from DLS, to whom Alfa handed over the plans to make his dream of a Disco Volante come true. From today’s point of view, with the hardened fronts between replica supporters and opponents as well as lawyers of large manufacturers who are willing to issue warnings, this is a sympathetic approach: for Alfa to say, “I’d like to build the car according to your taste and our plans. Just because we have not pursued the prototype, there is nothing against letting similar cars on the road.” Especially since a few lire would have flowed for the approval…

So the first owner brought the tubular space frame together with the drive components to Coriasco, the renowned Turin-based coachbuilder. He built a body that was based entirely on the first Touring prototype. It is neither the original nor a distant replica, but an authentically patinated testimonial.

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante DLS_(c)_Kirill_Kirsanov (4)

The car remained in Italy with three verifiable owners until 1993. Then it was sold to England, where it appeared in an auction catalogue a few years ago. The Alfa Romeo Disco Volante was withdrawn before the auction started. A well-known Swiss collector did not miss the opportunity and bought it beforehand. 

His first stop led directly to a renowned Alfa specialist in Germany, who carefully restored the car. In 2017 Harry Utesch, managing director of DLS Automobile in Fellbach, became aware of the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. The busy and well-connected entrepreneur heard that there was a flying saucer in Switzerland, almost finished and authentically restored. The owner had died in the meantime and the widow was not interested in continuing the project.

After a little research and persuasion, the vehicle became the property of DLS Automobile. Harry Utesch is clearly delighted with the coup: “The Disco Volante has such a wonderfully authentic patina that you can actually leave it standing there and look at the car even in the smallest crack that it is now 65 years old. Just as it should be for an authentic, contemporary model built in the 1950s.”

Utesch is not at the end of his research; the general inspection and the H license plate are already up to date, FIA and FIVA papers are to follow so that the new owner can also compete in historic races at Goodwood and LeMans or the Mille Miglia.

But how does a ride in the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante actually feel? “Unfiltered,” says Susen Utesch. “Around 150bhp in a car that weighs just over 600 kilograms; already in town the wind blows neatly over the tiny windshield around your ears. But it should be exactly, honest and puristic. History, shape and driving pleasure, everything just fits with this Alfa Romeo Disco Volante!”

Alfa Romeo Disco Volante DLS_(c)_Kirill_Kirsanov (1)

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

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