A Barn-Found Car with a Historic Lineage: The ‘Mussolini’s Mistress’ Alfa Romeo

It seems that nearly every week, someone finds a classic car in a barn, garage or some other out-of-sight place. Recent finds include a rare Ferrari discovered under a pile of magazines in a barn in France, a 1969 Lamborghini Miura S left in an underground parking garage for three decades, and 60 classic cars left to rot for four decades on an estate in western France.

The 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta, given by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to his mistress Claretta Petacci.

The 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta, given by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to his mistress Claretta Petacci.

Although the above “barn finds” were high-end cars owned by rich collectors, most rediscovered classic cars are more modest: an old Chevy left in a garage by great-grandpa; a Packard stored in a farmer’s barn, or a Corvette left in a boat house. If these cars could talk, they would all have stories to tell about their owners, drivers and admirers.

But only one car can tell a story about a toppled regime, hurried escape, capture, execution, decades of oblivion, rediscovery and restoration: the 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta, given by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to his mistress Claretta Petacci.

Petacci and Mussolini had years to enjoy the Alfa, often chauffeured around the countryside by their German driver, Franz Spogler. But by 1945, Italy’s Fascist regime had crumbled and Mussolini and Petacci hurriedly packed and sped out of Milan, seeking refuge in neutral Switzerland. For safety sake, they disguised themselves as Spanish diplomats and fell in with a German anti-aircraft unit fleeing the advancing Allied army. Travelling to the west of Lake Como, the convoy was stopped by Resistance fighters near the town of Dongo. The convoy was rife with Fascist leaders. The Resistance arrested all Italians travelling with the German convoy, and jailed them in Dongo. It wasn’t long before Mussolini and Petacci were identified. They were executed by firing squad the next day, just two days before Hitler’s suicide.

Mussolini and his mistress, Petacci.

Mussolini and his mistress, Petacci.

The story ends here for the original owners of the Alfa, but the car’s story continues.

Italian authorities took the Alfa Romeo to the port town of Livorno, where it was sold to American Army Air Corps Major Charles Pettit. Major Pettit acquired the car for his personal use, and when his tour of duty ended in 1949, he shipped the Alfa back to his home state of New York. Eventually, a connecting rod in the car broke, and the Alfa was relegated to the Major’s barn.

Nearly 20 years later—in 1970—Major Pettit placed a “for sale” ad in the Hemmings Motor News in Mohawk, NY. The ad came to the attention of local high school teacher Ron Keno, who bought the car for $300. Having heard the stories of the Alfa’s World War Two origin, Keno tracked down Franz Spogler, Mussolini’s former chauffer, who was familiar with the car. Spogler flew to U.S. to look at car and, upon inspection, found a roll of German tools that he recalled being given to Mussolini by German soldiers in order to fix the car should it break down on the road.

Keno became convinced of the cars provenance, and began modest efforts to restore the vehicle. Over the next 30 years, the Alfa changed owners several times, with various efforts being made to improve the looks and performance of the vehicle. It wasn’t until the early part of the current decade that Mussolini’s Alfa Romeo was acquired by an owner with a serious intent to restore the car. A two-year restoration project was ensued, with final costs approaching $570,000.

The interior of the 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta.

The interior of the 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 Sport Berlinetta.

The superb restoration of the Alfa has gained much attention: in 2007, the car won “Best in Class” at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and Best in Show at the Salon Prive in 2011. The “Mussolini Mistress” Alfa Romeo was the subject of a feature article in Classic and Sportscar magazine.

On Feb. 4, 2015, the Alfa Romeo was offered for sale by RM Auctions. The anticipated sale price was between $2 million and $3 million USD. The final sale price came in almost $80,000 less than the reserve price but the sale went forward at a final price of $2.1 million, plus selling fees and expenses.

Classic car enthusiasts were disappointed in the price brought by the Alfa. Apparently, the historic connection to Mussolini didn’t offer bidders quite as much panache as, say, the Ferrari 275 GTB/4 owned by Steve McQueen that sold last summer for $10 million. But, the Alfa did better than the 1960s vintage Ferrari 330 GT owned by John Lennon that sold in 2013 for $554,000. Top prices for classic Alfa Romeos on classiccars.com are currently $256,000 for a 1965 Alfa Model 2600 and $154,000 for a 1953 Model 1900.

Wayne Jordan is a Virginia-licensed auctioneer, Certified Personal Property Appraiser and Accredited Business Broker. He has held the professional designations of Certified Estate Specialist; Accredited Auctioneer of Real Estate; Certified Auction Specialist, Residential Real Estate and Accredited Business Broker. He also has held state licenses in Real Estate and Insurance. Wayne is a regular columnist for Antique Trader Magazine, a WorthPoint Worthologist (appraiser) and the author of two books. For more info, visit Wayne Jordan Auctions or Resale Retailing with Wayne Jordan.

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