Mark Gessler didn't grow up on a daily diet of Alfa and Romeo. His father was a Hot Rodder, but he wanted Mark to stay out of anything that was too dangerous. Despite his dad's best efforts, nothing could keep Mark away from Alfas after he discovered the unique charisma and history of the marque.
Gessler's first Alfa, a 1956 Giulietta Sprint, piqued his curiosity and launched a passion for discovering the stories behind the famous cars. "In the '30s, these cars were on top of the world," he said. "The more I learned about Alfa, the more intrigued I became."
Gessler has had the chance to search for some of the marque's "rarer birds," and about ten years ago, he began to look in earnest for pre-war Alfas. These cars provide a combination of the aesthetic, engineering and competition success, says Gessler. "If you're interested in sports cars, these things all come together with cars in the '30s."
He bought his second Alfa, a 1933 6C 1500 Gran Sport Testa Fissa Zagato, from the man considered by many to be the top Alfisti in the U.S. Henry Wessells had held on to the car since the 1960s after recovering if from a barn fire in Colorado. The car's history had always fascinated Gessler, and when he got the chance to purchase the 6C, he jumped on the opportunity. What he learned only stoked his passion for the marque.
The 6C was purchased new by Anna Maria Peduzzi, a noted female driver who ran the car in more than a half-dozen races in 1933. In 1934, she won the 1500cc class in the Mille Miglia with her husband Gianfranco Comotti by her side. Both were drivers for Scuderia Ferrari. Gessler decided to restore the car to this "glorious moment."
"To think it was taken across 1,000 miles of roads in Italy with a husband and wife team behind the wheel - it's a real time machine," says Gessler. "These are beautiful cars, but without the charismatic stories of their past, they're not as appealing to me."
Gessler wants to take the car back to Italy in time to celebrate Alfa's centennial, and possibly track down some of Peduzzi's descendents to find some more original documentation for the car.
Gessler's collection also includes a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6c 2500 SS with reconstructed Berlinetta Touring, coachwork designed for Le Mans. He describes it as a "staggeringly beautifully designed car" that provided the basis for what was to come many years later.
"It was one of those early designs that led the way for what is today the modern GT."
He's also ventured into post-war Alfas with a 1957 Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Zagato "Double-bubble," which he calls "one of the top post-war cars."
As for the original that kicked off his fascination with the marque? Unfortunately Gessler rolled his prized '56 Giulietta Sprint in the 2009 Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. The brakes locked up on a corner, and the tight course didn't offer much room to correct. The crash disappointed the Alfisti, but he remains undeterred.
"It probably doesn't make sense to bring it back to its pre-roll form, but I'm going to do it anyway."