In 1951, Alfa Romeo officially withdrew from Formula One, however, the racing department was not closed but repurposed to test experimental chassis and powertrains. Due to their cutting edge design and production, these could easily be used in racing, which was the exact intention of this car, the C52 Disco Volante.
Co-developed with Carrozzeria Touring, the C52 was essentially a completely new design. Aside from the suspension, which was derived from the 1900 road car, it used a state-of-the-art tubular spaceframe chassis, which was both lighter and stronger than its predecessor. The 1900 engine was completely redesigned and bored, with a new alloy cylinder block, twin-cam valve gear and a single fuel feed, taking power up to 156 bhp with twin Weber carburettors. However, the exterior is what made the C52 so iconic. With the idea in mind being to compete in sports car racing, Touring made extensive use of wind tunnels to achieve as low a drag coefficient as possible and reduce the effects of side winds. The result was an unorthodox round design with large overhangs on either side of the cockpit, quickly earning it the nickname of the ‘Disco Volante’ (‘flying saucer’). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The results spoke for themselves, with the C52 managing a top speed of 140 mph in testing, but with noticeable front- and rear-end lift. After successful testing at Monza, the C52 was entered into the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the intended drivers being Juan Manuel Fangio, José Froilán González and Franco Cortese, but for unknown reasons, Alfa Romeo failed to attend, and therefore the C52 never raced. Four more cars were constructed: a coupé (housed at the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo in Aresa, Italy); a ‘narrow-bodied’ spider (low-level raced in period, housed in the Musée de l’automobile in Mulhouse, France); and two 3.5-litre spiders that used the 227 bhp straight-six from the 6C 3000 (one was dismantled, the other is housed in the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile in Turin, Italy). The original car (pictured) is also owned by Alfa Romeo and is also in the museum in Aresa.