SPORTING CARS ON TEST: The 22-90 Super-Sports Alfa-Romeo. By RICHARD TWEINETREES.
THE Alfa-Romeo car came into prominence in this country largely as the result of the remarkable successes it achieved in classic racing events abroad, and readers of this journal will:no doubt have followed its path of fame with very great interest. It will serve as a reminder of Alfa-Romeo prowess to mention the Grand Prix d’Europe of 1924 and 1925, both of which were won by this famous Italian car, In the first, Campari, averaging 71 m.p.h. over the Lyons course, finished in magnificent style on his eight-cylinder supercharged Alfa-Romeo, and his team mates accomplished wonderful lap speeds and seldom stopped at the replenishment pits.
The 1925 Grand Prix was held over the triangular course, Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium, and the 9i mile circuit had to be covered fifty-four times. Ascari, who won the race on an eight-cylinder Alfa-Romeo, averaged a speed of 74 m.p.h., Campari running into the second place on a similar machine. During this race it was reported that the Alfa-Romeo cars attained speeds up to 120 m.p.h., and at the end of the terrific contest appeared none the worse for the strenuous tests which the race imposed.
Other successes include the Championship of the World for 1925, the Grand Prix of Italy and the Targa Florio, therefore the sports model under review, incorporating as it does all the firm’s racing experience, is bound to be of exceptional interest. The cars are built by the Ing. Nicola Romeo & Co., an important engineering concern, whose activities embrace the construction of locomotives, electric motors, tractors and bridge building, and by including the manufacture of motor cars, this firm have achieved still greater fame for their products. The technical staff dealing with motor construction comes under the supervision of Signor Jano, a most famous motor engineer, and as the works are situated close to the Monza race track, this is used as a testing place for all the chassis, before the final road tests are performed.
Before describing the actual test of the car illustrated herewith, a few technical details are given, and one of the outstanding features of the whole chassis is the superlative refinement of detail, in which Italian auto
mobile constructors undoubtedly excel. The monobloc six-cylinder engine measures 76 mm. bore by 110 mm. stroke, described as 22/90 h.p., with a total cylinder capacity of 2,994 c.c. The cylinder head is detachable, and contains the overhead valves and valve operating mechanism, the whole enclosed by an aluminium cover, readily removable for inspection. Each cylinder has one inlet and one exhaust valve actuated by push rod and rockers, which are extremely silent in operation, largely due to the provision of springs on the rockers to eliminate clatter.
Other engine details include aluminium alloy pistons, light steel connecting rods, a quick lift camshaft and a plain bearing crankshaft. Two Solex carburettors are empl oyed, and the selection is admirably suited to the engine, giving delightful acceleration, speed and hill climbing powers. Engine lubrication is on the dry sump system, incorporating the use of two pumps, one thrust and one suction, fed from a 3-gallon tank under the dash. The engine, clutch and gear box are of unit construction, in which a desirable degree of all-round accessibility is noticeable. Four forwo.rd speeds are provided with central control, the ratics being as follows :—First gear, 13.2 to 1; second, 9.8 to 1 ; third, 6.85 to 1; top, 3.75 to 1; and reverse, 17.25 to 1; the graduated maximum speed being 85 m.p.h. An exposed cardan shaft transmits the drive to the vertical banjo type of rear axle, a substantial tongue member relieving the rear springs of all but driving stresses. Altogether, the chassis is of very attractive design and appears to be
extremely robust throughout, though there is nothing to suggest unwieldiness or unduly heavy construction, the whole disposition of weight being arranged on theoretically correct lines.
Observations in Traffic.
On taking charge of the Alfa-Romeo, I found it a particularly pleasant car to handle, and throughout my test run endeavoured to ascertain its performance from a sporting driver’s standpoint, even though its general docility and smooth running tempted me to adopt what is sometimes considered to be a lazy way of driving, for practically all ordinary gradients can be surmounted on top gear with scarcely any diminution of speed. When one becomes accustomed to the central change, the manipulation of the gear is perfectly simple, though
personally my preference is for right hand control. In dense traffic the Alfa-Romeo shows up particularly well, and a surprising degree of nippiness can be obtained by judicious use of the gears, as no awkward changes of ratios are encountered throughout the range. Capable of ready and very close adjustment, the four wheel brakes act as real four wheel brakes should, and give a sense of safety even when one makes liberal use of the rapid acceleration of which the car is capable. Light and accurate steering in conjunction with a particularly good lock takes awar imost of the uncertainties of traffic driving, and in the case of the AlfaRomeo there is nothing to be desired in this respect. As discovered later, the excellence of the steering and the general balance of the car permitted cornering with absolute stability at speeds that would be somewhat
hazardous on many sports models I could name ; indeed, the steering is so good that one has to curb a natural tendency to take corners faster than one would do in the ordinary way.
Once clear of the traffic, I opened the Alfa-Romeo out, and found that it sprang to its work with much eagerness and would tear along comfortably at 60 m.p.h. in a way suggestive that touring at this speed could be maintained indefinitely, so that at the end of a long day’s run no suggestion of driving fatigue would be experienced. Whilst from the sound of the exhaust there is no indication that undue back pressure exists, the note given out is deep and mellow, being unlikely to offend anyone even at times when Robert is out on
his funny little antics which keep him so busy at times.
The third gear is noticeably quiet, and during my acceleration tests I found that the speed could be increased from 10 m.p.h. to 60 m.p.h. in fourteen seconds, and at this rate the engine showed no undue vibration or other indications of being overstressed. On second gear the increase from 10 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. can be made in 7 2/5 seconds, which should be sufficient to carry the car through all trial acceleration tests with full marks. From a standing start, using first, second and third gears, 60 m.p.h. was reached in 17 seconds on a level road.
With ordinary application of the brakes on dry surfaces, one would imagine it impossible to skid the wheels, for even on wet roads little trace of side slip accompanies the most violent stamping on the pedal.
At 60 m.p.h. the foot brake, acting on all four wheels, will bring the car to a standstill in a distance of 50 yards, which proves the Dewandre vacuum servo system to fill its role admirably, and though but a little pressure on the pedal is needed to bring the brakes into action, there is none of that spongy feeling which robs so many similar systems of the sense of security so necessary in fast cars. The hand brake, which is provided solely as a reserve or emergency brake, acts on the transmission, and though naturally somewhat less smooth than the P.W.B. service brake, does its work without undue chatter, and is thoroughly effective in action. At the beginning of the trial run I was rather inclined to take the maker’s guarantee of maximum speed as read, for it was raining when we started, but later on in the day we came across some deserted roads where seventy miles an hour seemed dead easy. It then became quite obvious that the Alfa-Romeo was something above the ordinary sports car, which one tries and writes about as a matter of routine. Indeed, I found myself becoming enthusiastic ! Intrigued to continue the run still farther, we touched 85, and, tell it not in
Gath, before the loud pedal was pressed right down for long the speedometer registered 90 m.p.h.—at least, so Mr. Twig, who brought the car down from Town, said, as at that speed one cannot gaze too affectionately at anything but the road. “Try it again,” said Mr. Twig, and we did. Admitted the road had a slight downward grade and there was a following wind, there was no mistake about the speed which this time rose to 91 m.p.h., and as other writers have said, this speedometer is not fast.
Some idea of the hill climbing capabilities of the AlfaRomeo can be gauged by the way it surmounted Pebblecombe Will on third at over 40 m.p.h., even though we had to slow down for the bend, where the car was going even faster. Reigate Hill can just be climbed on top gear, but on trying again in third, we passed under the bridge at a good sixty. For a combination test of hill climbing, cornering and general handiness, we selected Wray Lane leading up to the top of Reigate Hill, a hill I had not tried before. It is 7/10 mile long, and has a maximum gradient of about 1-4. From a standing start at the bottom the summit was reached in 1 min. 22 secs. at the first attempt, which I did not think very good, as it was necessary to slow down at several of the bends in case the road was not clear. During the descent it was seen that no traffic need be anticipated, and the second ascent was accomplished in 1 min. 12 2/5 secs. All the corners, which obviously were taken fast, proved the car a good performer on curves, the steering being absolutely perfect.
If one looks over the Alfa-Romeo, bearing in mind all the common faults to be found in cars, none will be apparent. There is only one car I know that possesses a performance anyway resembling that of the AlfaRomeo, which is an English production, at roughly double the price.
My personal opinion of the AlfaRomeo may perhaps best be summed up by saying that it is one of the very few cars possessing so much charm as to make a test run a real pleasure and to inspire the desire for a further acquaintance under real long distance, fast touring conditions.