Racing car development



In 1935 the Scuderia Ferrari, who carried the fortunes of Alfa Romeo in Grand Prix racing, were being thoroughly trounced by the German teams from Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union. To try and save National pride, Enzo Ferrari and his chief engineer Cav. Luigi Bazzi, schemed up a real monster to try and combat the Germans. Grand Epreuves were being run to the 750 kilogramme Formula, but there were some non-Formula races of equal importance being run, in which the German teams participated and it was to these that Ferrari looked, especially as one was at the Avus track in the German capital city Berlin, and the other was at Tripoli in North Africa, a part of the Mediterranean area that was important to Fascist Italy. If Ferrari could beat the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams on their home ground at Avus and in Tripoli it would more than make up for the inevitable loss, in France, at the Nurburgring or at Monza. 

This was 45 years ago, and the same Enzo Ferrari has just passed his 82nd birthday and still rules the Scuderia Ferrari, while Cav. Bazzi lives in quiet retirement in Modena. The Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeos for Grand Prix Formula racing at the time were 2.9-litre or 3.2-litre straight-eights in the classic Tipo B “monoposto” chassis, but they could not match the 4-litre Mercedes Benz or 5-litre 16 cylinder Auto Unions, though a new 3.8-litre was on the stocks at Alfa Romeo in the hope that it would match the German cars. 

The monster schemed up by Bazzi for the two important Formule Libre events was called the “Bi-motore” (pronounced bee-mo-toree), which was self-explanatory, “two-engine”. A basic Tipo B “monoposto” chassis was used, of the 1935 type with Dubonnet i.f.s., with a 2.9-litre engine in the normal place. The rear of the frame was lengthened and another 2.9-litre straight-eight engine was mounted behind the driver. This engine drove forward to the central gearbox coupled to the rear of the front engine, and a divided drive, as used on the Tipo B, took the drive diagonally rearwards to a crownwheel and pinion and short shaft for each rear wheel. The two halves of this rear axle assembly were located on giant wishbones and sprung on half-elliptic springs. With all the chassis space taken up by engines the fuel was carried in long tanks hung outside the chassis rails between the wheels, one on each side. 

The Bi-motore was more than fast enough to combat the German cars and as a prelude Nuvolari tried the first one on an Autostrada at over 210 m.p.h. When it came to racing, the enormous weight and power were too much for the tyres of the day, and any speed superiority over the German cars was negated by pit stops for fresh tyres. Two cars were built, one using 2.9-litre engines and the other using 3.2-litre engines, and Tazio Nuvolari and Louis Chiron raced them at Tripoli and Avus, but still the Germans won.

The project could almost be called Ferrari’s Folly, for it was soon abandoned as being impractical. The small-engined car was developed in an experimental way, but not used, having the Dubonnet i.f.s. removed and replaced by Alfa Romeo’s own i.f.s., as used on the 3.8-litre GP cars and on the production 2.9-litre sports cars.

In 1937 the English racing driver Austin Dobson bought the small engined Bi-motore, with its two 2.9-litre engines,the other car being broken up, and he attempted to race it in England, with an eye to Brooklands track racing, but it didn’t take him long to realise he was dealing with an uncontrollable monster. In 1938 he sold it to the Hon. Peter Aitken, though he never raced it, and in 1939 it was decided to turn it into a “mono-motore”. It was virtually cut in half, only the front half being retained, and an ENV pre-selector gearbox was installed and a normal rear axle sprung on quarter-elliptic leaf springs was used. An entirely new body was made, with a fuel tank forming the tail and its colour was changed from Ferrari red to Aitken pale blue. It was raced briefly at Brooklands in 1939 until the war put a stop to motor-racing, and was entered as the Alfa-Aitken.

After the war it re-appeared, still as the Alfa-Aitken and eventually passed to Tony Rolt, who got Freddie Dixon to work on it. As the Formula One of the time limited supercharged engines to 1½-litres, but allowed 4½-litres unsupercharged. Dixon removed the two Alfa-Roots superchargers and fitted the engine with eight SU carburettors, at the same time enlarging the capacity to 3.4-litres, and the car was called simply Alfa Romeo. Role raced it quite successfully and when the Formula changed he sold the car to New Zealand, where it got “used up” in National racing, ending up with a GMC truck engine being installed. Recently Tom Wheatcroft acquired the rather sad remains of the “3.4-litre Alfa-Romeo” that had been the “2.9-litre Alfa-Aitken” that had been derived from the Bi-motore. There were insufficient bits to re-assemble the Alfa-Aitken, let alone the Bi-motore. The front suspension and the abbreviated chassis side-members of the original Bi-motore certainly still exist, and the engine that was in the rear is now in a monoposto Tipo B Alfa Romeo, but little else remains; I last saw the original radiator grille being used as a fire-guard, but that was many years ago. The Alfa Romeo firm are talking of building a facsimile of a Bi-motore for their museum at Arese, just as they have built a facsimile of a 1931 Tipo A twin-engined car, in which case, with their heIp Wheatcroft could resurrect a Bi-motore, but it can only be a recreation, it can never be the Bi-motote Alfa Romeo that raced at Brooklands in 1937. Even so, two re-constructed Bi-motore’s 10 museums will be an exciting and fascinating monument to the inventivenesss of Luigi Bazzi.