A DIFFERENT KIND OF MOTORING
WE TRY A SECOND-HAND 2.3-LITRE ALFA-ROMEO
Ask any Alfa-Romeo owner, particularly those who run the 1,750 c.c. model or the “two-three,” what he thinks of his car, and ten to one he will say “it’s a marvellous car to drive, once you get used
to it.” Made about a family saloon, where simplicity of handling and foolproof operations are virtues of the highest importance, such a comment would be far from flattering, but in the case of the Alfa-Romeo, built by a firm which has taken an active part in racing from shortly after the war, it sums up its charm and attraction to the connoisseur of fast motor-cars.
The matter can be summed up by saying that the car is made in the racing tradition, and the chassis, the steering, and everything else connected with the car is light in weight and responds to the slightest action of the driver. All out on a straight road the car felt a little disconcerting, and it swooped about in an unexpected way on fast corners. A little attention to tyre pressures and the adjustment of the shock-absorbers worked wonders, but it was not until we remembered the advice of a racing man with a long experience of Alfas that we really discovered the full joy of driving this individual car. The advice we were given was unusual, but quite simple when you get the hang of it. ” Don’t grip the wheel, just rest your hands on it lightly and look where you want to go, and the car will take you
there.” Intended primarily for road racing, the ” two-three ” is a thoroughbred and does not need to be manhandled.
The car is perfectly docile on top, running along at 20 m.p.h. with only a powerful low-pitched rumble to suggest the power which curl be conjured from the beautifully made straight-eight engine. Change down and give her the gas, and the car gets away with an excited yelp which delights the heart of the enthusiast heading for open country. Giving ” 3-5 ” on each gear, the car is in a few seconds travelling at 65 between traffic lights on the Great West Road, cruising silently then with the blower pressure back to zero.
Reaching the comparatively open spaces we tried the effect of a few more revs, 4,500 in the gears being sufficient for anything except flat-out driving. The needle went up to 80, 90, and 95, the exhaust sounds were swept away in the slip-stream, and there only remained the blower note, which was heard as a slight whine at full throttle above 4,000 r.p.m. Where road conditions are favourable the car can run very comfortably at 90-95 m.p.h. on about two-thirds throttle, but the 100 mark which takes 25 seconds to attain from 90 we only touched once. With the windscreen lowered of course, one could have reached it comparatively easily. All-out speed is not the whole story, and the fact that one swoops up and down hill and round fast bends with just a gentle grip on the steering wheel is a source of even greater satis faction to any one who is accustomed to fight his car with both hands at 80. On curves the car seems anchored to the ground, irrespective of the camber. Taking sharp bends the only thing to remember is not to force matters. The front wheels of themselves seem to take a path two inches from the gutter, and unless the driver is keen on fancy driving and wants to sweep the grass with the inside wheel, he can hardly steer more accurately than that. On one occasion, coming down at some speed to an unexpected right-angle corner, we had time for nothing except to spin the wheel half a turn. The tail of the car thereupon swung smartly through a right angle in answer to the helm, and we departed at speed as neatly as
if the manceuvre had been planned
beforehand. Truly an amazing car.
The steering is above all, accurate, high-geared and yet beautifully light, with an unobtrusive caster action, and the car can be placed to an inch. To get maximum stability at speed the shockabsorbers have to be screwed up pretty tightly, which gives uncomfortable riding at 30 m.p.h. Fortunately one of the rear sets of shock-absorbers can be adjusted by means of a hand control by the driver’s side, while if much town-work is contemplated the riding can be brought to normal standards of comfort by slacking off the front shock-absorbers one turn. Continued heavy rain over the last hundred miles of our journey back to London gave a final opportunity of appreciating the road-holding of the Alfa. Except in towns the speed never fell below 65 m.p.h. and if it had been possible to see more clearly through the flooded screen, we should have been perfectly happy at 75 all the time. Anyhow the average worked out at 48 m.p.h., the standard figure which we attempt to reach with a fast car in fine weather, an throughout the run not the
trace of a skid or a slide. Driving a car like that, one can understand more easily some of the averages put up in the Mille Miglia.
The gear-box on the Alfa is definitely meant to be used, though in normal touring only third and top are required, with second perfect for getting away from a sharp corner or hair-pin. The lever slips across the gate with two fingers, although, like other things on this individual car, the timing of the gear-change takes a little learning, and the clutch needs to be fully disengaged. First to second is quick, second to third a little slower and third to top almost instantaneous at low speeds. The engine revs up in a flash and changing down is a sheer joy.
Straight pinions are used on all gears, and third makes a good deal of noise, though probably not more than when the car was new. At 5,200 r.p.m. with the back-axle ratio fitted, the speeds on the gears are 30, 55 and 78, while 5,000 on top is 100 m.p.h.
Enormous finned drums and a rodoperated mechanism make the Alfa brakes one of the finest features of the car. Unfortunately when we took the car over they were badly in need of adjustment, and it was not until the end of our run that we got them fixed to our satisfaction. Then we found it possible to use them with vigour even on wet slippery surfaces and if it had been possible to try them on dry concrete, they would have recorded a most creditable figure. The supercharger on the Alfa is intended, needless to mention, to boost up the maximum power and not to give easy running at low speeds. Even so it is possible to run quite smoothly down to 20 m.p.h. on top gear, and then to accelerate away smoothly and without retarding the ignition, to any speed required. The top-gear acceleration, especially from 2,000 r.p.m. or 40 m.p.h. is really quite
Striking, and the performance of the car is a powerful argument for the benefits of blowers on high-efficiency engines. The plugs were Champion R. 16s, distinctly a rating type, but there was no trouble about sooting or oiling in traffic. The car also started readily, hot or cold. -Included in our tests was a visit to Brooklands, but partly owing to the fact that no speedometer was fitted, and partly to a dislike of bumping about :a light Sports body On the uneven surface, the figures taken were less detailed than usual. Those set out in the acceleration chart were read off one of the two rev counters, which were checked as closely as possible. Unfortunately the needles disappear beneath the scuttle at 5,000 r.p.m. (100 m.p.h. on top gear) so we did not take the car beyond this point. Maximum revs, are 5,200 Limn. or 104 m.p.h., which points to the car we drove having either a lower axle-ratio or smaller tyres than standard. With the standard ratios a speed of 112 m.p.h. should Le possible with those revs, though possibly this speed would not be reached with
the present compression ratio. The acceleration figures were taken with the windscreen raised,. Now as to the coachwork. The car we tried was fitted with a sleek two-seater Mille Miglia body by Zagato, painted the traditional red. The driving position was excellent and the seats well padded. The car is of course somewhat narrow, and the passenger has to keep well to his own side to avoid bumping the driver’s
elbow. The pedals are widely spaced, and the central gear-lever and the handbrake come naturally to hand. The hood is efficient when raised, and folds neatly into a covered well behind the driving seat. Unfortunately it takes ten minutes to assemble and erect, which leads one to believe that the Italians are either a more patient and painstaking race than one had previously supposed, or that they get ample warning of summer
downpours. The windscreen is high enough for the tallest driver, and can be folded flat. The space inside the tail is shared by the 24-gallon petrol tank, the batteries and the hood, leaving room for nothing more bulky than a waterproof. To provide luggage-room the owner has designed a detachable grid which is secured over the body just behind the hood, and capable of taking several suit-cases or
a small trunk. Two spare wheels are carried in a recess in the back of the boy.
A few details of the chassis may now be given. The engine, which has only run 1,500 miles since being rebored, is of course, a straight-eight, bore and stroke 65 by 8$ mm., giving a capacity of 2,336 c.c. and an R.A.C. rating of 20.8.
The crank-shaft runs in ten main bearings, and from the centre a train of gears drives the two overhead camshafts and also the supercharger. The carburetter is a pump-type Memini, and is fed from a two-gallon Autovac, which
also acts as a reserve tank. Ignition is by coil. The gear-box is built integral with the engine, and the propeller. shaft is enclosed in a torque tube. The engine follows Monza specification, with a geared-up blower, but the compression ratio has been lowered to the
middle of the three standardised on the “2-3.” The blower pressure is about 9 lb. The petrol consumption worked out at 15& m.p.g. running at 65-70 m.p.h. Esso Ethyl is used for ordinary touring, 20% benzol being added if the car is to
be driven hard for long periods. Dry sump lubrication is used, and the oil tank which holds over two gallons is carried on the near side. The wheelbase is nine feet and the total weight one ton.
Properly maintained and looked after, the life of a hand-built car like the Alfa-Romeo should be a long one. At ,any rate after three years of road-work this two-thousand-pound car which is now for sale at goo, appears as “good as new,” and an attractive proposition at the price asked. The owner is Mr. G. W. J. H. Wright, whose name will be remembered in connection with M.G. Magnettes at Brooklands a couple of years ago, and we owe him our sincere thanks for a highly diverting week-end.