I’m always honest with you, aren’t I? I try to be. That’s part of what I value about our relationship: the honesty. That’s why I’m going to tell you that I feel like I’m really sliding behind on all the content I want to produce for you. I have so much good material to wade through, but there’s so much I’m getting that Large Task Inertia thing I’ve mentioned before. For example, I want to do a big roundup of all the incredible taillights from Pebble Beach and Goodwood, but the sheer mass of it all makes me dizzy. But, I’m not here to complain, and you’re not here to not read about fascinating taillights, so I’m just going to bite off one interesting and strange little chunk and serve it to you, still damp with my saliva, for you to contemplate. It’s a taillight I saw on a beautiful old Alfa Romeo that was going to be auctioned by R&M/Southeby’s. It’s a taillight that looks like, of all things, the front of a Jeep.
Yes, the face of a Jeep! That thing that Jeep pays a team of lawyers lots and lots of money to make sure nobody tries to replicate in any fashion or they’ll go ape-plops on your ass. It’s also on a car that has incredibly little to do with Jeeps of any sort, except of course for the fact that due to fate’s capricious dice-rolls, Alfa Romeo and Jeep are now siblings under Stellantis parentage.
Let’s take a quick look at the car first, because it’s a remarkable machine. It’s an Alfa Romeo 8c 2300 cabriolet, bodied by the incredible Figoni, and the auction estimates were between $3 and $4 million. Dollars. So many dollars. It doesn’t appear to have sold, though, so perhaps it really was too many dollars? Still there’s only three or four of these left in the world, and they’re about as close to a 1930s supercar as you’re likely to get.
The engine in this thing is interesting, too. It’s only 2.3 liters, but it’s made up of two four-cylinder blocks connected end-to-end, and, get this, the crankshaft is also split, and where it’s connected it drives some gears that drive all the ancillaries: the camshafts, a supercharger, oil and water pumps, and generator. It’s pretty amazing.
Of course the bodywork is the real star here, with those long, elegant, flowing fenders and that sleek two-tone paintwork. It’s lovely, and in person, has real presence. You feel like you’re around something very special. I’m also told it has special windshield wipers of some sort, but I can’t quite figure out what’s special about them?
But look, I’m not here to talk about engines or body design or any trivialities like that; I’m here to talk about taillights, specifically these taillights:
These taillights are interesting for a number of reasons: first, I really don’t think they were original to the car. Other examples of Alfa Romeo 8C taillights tend to look more like these:
Those are more period-expected type of taillights for a 1930s car. This particular Alfa Romeo 8c was fully restored in 1987, and my guess would be that the lights we see on it were added then. They do seem a bit more like 1980s lights, after all, and, personally, I think they sort of clash with the rest of the design of the car. You do a full restoration and pick some off-the-shelf lights from your current era? Feels weird to me.
But, in a way, I’m glad that’s what happened, because if not, I never would have seen this in these lights:
I mean, look at it! It’s a Jeep face! Is there any way to look at that taillight and not see this?
I don’t think so. I don’t think this was intentional, because, why the hell would it be? I mean, how would that conversation even have gone between then-owner Robert Rubin, noted collector of vintage racing cars, and Chris Leydon, renowned Alfa Romeo 8C specialist?
SCENE: 1987, Leydon’s restoration workshop
Rubin: I got your eleven faxes and came here as soon as I could! What’s going on? Is everything okay?
Leydon: Yes, yes, everything is fine! I just have some wonderful news for you!
Rubin: What? Tell me! Did you get the seat smell restored to what it was in 1933? Did the fabricator finish the fenders? Did you source the special wipers?
Leydon: Better, better, better! I’ve found the perfect taillights!
Rubin: What? How? You said the last proper taillights for this car fell into a volcano in 1951 as part of a Black Mass!
Leydon: I realized I was thinking about it all wrong–I took a new approach. A bold approach. Look at these! (opens a velvet-lined box)
Rubin: Are…are those supposed to be… little Jeep fronts?
Leydon, through tears: Yes. Yes they are.
(Rubin and Leydon embrace and sob, openly and unashamedly long into the night)
I bet it was something like that.
I don’t know, really. All I know is that these taillights reminded me of Jeeps immediately and I couldn’t shake it. And I can’t imagine that nobody else noticed this? It can’t be? Can it?