ROAD TEST OF THE-18 CYL. ALFA-ROMEO RACED IN 1931 BY SIR H. BIRKIN..
HISTORY. A A CAR WITH
WHEN Alfa-Romeo produced a new 8-cylinder racing car at the beginning of 1931, and straight away won the Targa Florio with it, one immediately conjured up visions of a 100% racer on the lines of the 1925 2-litre cars. But this was not so, for the type wa’.3 subsequently put into production as a sports model, albeit with a lower compression ratio, 5.75 •to 1, and equipped of course, with a comfortable body.
It will be remembered that one of these cars was acquired by Sir Henry Birkin, who raced it successfully, with high compression pistons, at Phoenix Park in the Irish Grand Prix, when he averaged 83.8 m.p.h., and in the 500 Miles race, during which he covered several laps of the Brooklands circuit at 125 m.p.h. Now the car is the property of Mr. Ernest Kleinwort, and fitted with low compression pistons, has resumed its role of a normal sports car.
Mr. Kleinwort recently gave us his kind permission to make a road test of the car for the benefit of our readers, and bearing the car’s history in mind, it was with feelings of the liveliest anticipation that we attended at Mr. Kleinwort’s house in the West End. The mere sight of this AlfaRomeo is enough to thrill the heart of an enthusiast. Painted in the Italian national colour, bright red, the car is long and low, with the clean lines and general air of neatness which are characteristic of pro
ducts of a manufacturer who has. raced extensively.
Taking the passenger’s seat, we set off for Hay-wards Heath, in Sussex,. and the first point that struck us was. the Alfa-Romeo’s amazing tractability. Through the crowded streets. of South London the car was driven in a perfectly normal manner, no revving up in a block to avoid oiling up a plug—indeed Mr. Kleinwort informed us that he had not touched the plugs for the last 2,000′ miles ! Another point which makes the Alfa-Romeo so different from one’s usual idea of a very fast sports model is that perfectly straight petrol can be used. In fact the only adjustment necessary on leaving Town for fast work in the country was to change the jets, which was. not a long operation.
We then took over the car ourselves, and found the driving position rather unusual. The seat cushions were all that could be desired in their angle and comfort so that the seating position gave perfect visibility, but the steering wheel seemed rather high. When the car was stationary we were not favourably inclined. towards this feature, possibly because we normally use a car in which the steering wheel is very low down in our lap. Once we got going, however, this feeling disappeared, and we found that the angle of the wheel seems to give one a marked feeling of accuracy in control. No doubt this was enhanced by the clear view of both the front wheels.
The engine is extraordinarily smooth—the 10-bearing crankshaft sees to that. Great care has to be taken in getting away from a standstill in low gear to avoid over revving. If the accelerator pedal is fully depressed the rev, counter needle jumps up to 5,500 r.p.m. in a flash, without the engine showing the slightest signs of roughness.
The gear change is simple and positive. The close gear ratios allow rapid changes-up to be made, and the power available at all speeds up to the maximum, is simply staggering. For example, on one occasion a motor cyclist gave chase on his 500 c.c. sports model. We came to a sharp corner, reducing our speed to 30 m.p.h. ; slipping into second gear we gave the Alfa its head, and as we accelerated after changing up into third at 50 m.p.h., we left long black wheel marks behind us ! A few minutes later the motor cyclist was not in sight. How can one possibly describe in mere words the fascination of this superb car ? Whether cruising on a straight main road at 70 m.p.h., or driving hard on a twisty secondary road, using the gears and brakes to the full, the Alfa-Romeo conveys the same feeling of perfection. The steering is in keeping with the rest of the car, taut, vibrant and alive. Every road shock is transmitted to the wheel, but strange to say this is not in the least unpleasant or tiring, and only serves to add to one’s enjoyment of the accuracy with which the car can be placed. So controllable is the car that the sight of a corner ahead encourages one to
increase speed. Indeed we felt that no matter how fast we approached we would always be able to corner safely. The tail just slides a little to be instantly corrected, and the car has that rare attribute, perfect weight distribution and poise.
The maximum speed we attained in our all too brief run was 95 m.p.h., at which speed slight traffic complications made a reduction in our gait advisable. The car was still gaining speed rapidly when we had to cut out, and Mr. Kleinwort informs us that the comfortable maximum is 107 m.p.h., with the engine turning over at 5,000 r.p.m. The top gear ratio is 4.25 to 1. Under favourable conditions, 5,300 r.p.m. can be obtained, which as can be seen from the speed chart represents a road speed of 114 m.p.h. Hills, in the ordinary sense of the word, do not reduce the average speed of the Alfa-Romeo in the slightest degree ; but an indication of the car’s hill-climbing power on top gear can be judged by the fact that Worth Forest Hill was surmounted at a steady 75i m.p.h. on that gear, after taking the
bottom corner at 55 m.p.h.
The brakes are all that one expects from a firm of such vast racing experience. However violently they are applied no ” judder ” or swerve ever occurs—another feature which makes this Alfa-Romeo one of the safest cars we have ever driven.
As we climbed out of the driving seat at the conclusion of our run, we realised that this 2,300 c.c. 8cylinder Alfa-Romeo embodies all those ideals of the perfect sports car, both in design and material, which every enthusiast carries in his heart. Naturally this perfection is expensive to build, and the chassis price is about £1,700—but we hoped fervently that one enthusiast at least, would one day obtain his heart’s desire.