Alfa Romeo racing and production cars—1910-1940
By Sir Anthony Stamer.
(Continued from the November issue)
To revert to production models, the year 1927 saw the birth of Jano’s Tipo 6C 1500 6-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft 1,487-c.c. (62 x 82 mm.) touring car, giving 44 b.h.p., max. revs 4,200, and top speed 68 m.p.h. This beautifully balanced car had an engine largely constructed from aluminium alloys and of monobloc construction, with gear-driven camshaft and five main bearings. The multiplate clutch and 4-speed gearbox drove the rear axle via a torque tube. Suspension was by 1/2-elliptics all round, and the rod-operated four-wheel-brakes were fully compensated. Electrics were by Bosch, with coil ignition. The front axle was of C-section, the front springs passing through holes in the actual beam. Small rods forming part of the front brake actuation passed upwards through the centre of the king-pins.
This model inaugurated the Alfa system of tappet adjustment by means of a collar threaded onto the actual valve stem which could be rotated by a special key—a system retained until the current Giulietta. It also introduced the typically Alfa finger-light steering.
The next year saw the introduction of a twin-cam version of this engine, the 6C 1500, giving 54 b.h.p., max. revs 4,500, and top speed 78 m.p.h. This in turn was followed by a Roots-supercharged 6C 1500 Super Sport model giving 76 b.h.p. and max. revs of 4,800. Here the engine was mounted 15 in. further back in the frame and the blower was driven by gears from the nose of the crankshaft at 1 1/8-engine speed, giving 5 lb./sq. in. boost. The compression-ratio was 5.25 to 1 and a top speed of 93 m.p.h. was obtainable from this excellent 15 1/2-cwt. sports car. In it, Campari and Ramponi won the 1928 Mille Miglia at 51.9 m.p.h. for 1,004 miles. The British concessionaires also raced this latter model, and in 1928 Giulio Ramponi won the Essex M.C. Six-Hour Race at Brooklands at 69.51 m.p.h. for 417.4 miles.
In 1929, apart from numerous successes in Europe, Ramponi won the “Double 12” from Davis’ 4 1/2-litre Bentley at 76 m.p.h. for 1,824 miles, while Ivanowski won at Phoenix Park, Dublin, at 75.02 m.p.h.
Finally, in 1930, a team of 6C 1500 Super Sports were entered at Phoenix Park and in the handicap for 1 1/2-litre cars Eyston finished second at 74.83 m.p.h., Kaye Don fourth and Ivanowski sixth.
In 1929 a logical and very popular development of the 1 1/2-litre cars commenced—the marketing of a 1 3/4-litre in a basically similar chassis. First came a single o.h.c. model, the 6C 1750 Turismo, of 1,752 c.c. (65 x 88 mm.), giving 45 b.h.p., max. revs of 4,000, a top speed of 62 m.p.h., and weighing 21 to 23 cwt. with a closed body. An open 4-seater was also available.
It was followed that year by the twin-cam 6C 1750 Gran Turismo, giving 55 b.h.p., revving up to 4,400, with a top speed of 75 m.p.h., and then by that wonderful little sports car, the supercharged twin-cam 6C-1750 Gran Sport which had a Roots-type blower driven at 1 1/2-engine speed from the nose of the crankshaft. Top speed of the latter was 81 m.p.h., max. revs 4,500, and the Zagato 2-seater was particularly attractive. This model could be distinguished from the unsupercharged version by its sloping-front radiator. Eventually a 6C 1750 Gran Sport appeared, having a larger blower revolving at engine speed, a compression-ratio of 5.75 to 1, and weighing only 16 cwt. A larger multiplate clutch was fitted and top speed was quoted as 90 m.p.h.—though many owners extracted very considerably more. These cars were often known as the “10 million” Series, from their chassis and engine numbers.
The standard carburetter on these blown Alfas was a Memini, the tuning of which was a specialised art and necessitated a stock of unusual jet holders and small cylindrical jets—the average “bodger” tried to achieve results by using reamers, the end result invariably being chaos!
The British concessionaires had considerable racing success with the 6C 1750 Gran Sport, Ivanowski winning the 1929 Irish Grand Prix at 76.4 m.p.h. from Kidston’s Speed Six Bentley, while in the 1930 Tourist Trophy a 1, 2, 3 victory was gained by Nuvolari (70.88 m.p.h.), Campari and Varzi. Campari also won the 1929 Mille Miglia. Meanwhile, on the Continent Varzi had won the 1929 Rome and Monza Grands Prix in a P2, while Brilli Pen scored a number of successes.
In 1932 a development of the 6C 1750 appeared, with a longer stroke engine. This was the 6C 1900 of 1,917 C.C. (68 x 88 mm.), giving 68 b.h.p. and max. revs of 4,500. The specification included such developments as synchromesh gears and a freewheel. This model is relatively little known, and production was presumably fairly small.
Meanwhile, more and more Governmental pressure was being brought to bear on Alfa Romeo to produce assorted machinery likely to help in the building of Italian prestige and power, and their chances of concentrating on motor racing rapidly dwindled. Much of the organisation of their racing had been in the capable hands of Enzo Ferrari, and it was decided to hand over to him the whole of the factory’s racing material, plus the responsibility for tuning and maintenance of customers’ racing and sports cars, and to trust him generally to keep the name of the Milanese firm in the public eye. Thus, on December 1st, 1929, the Scuderia Ferrari was founded at Modena, the basic team being two 6C 1500 Super Sports, three 6C 1750 Gran Sport, and one P2.
The factory also passed a P2 to Varzi, who proceeded to modify the chassis and engine, and a further P2 to Brilli Peri (Scuderia Materassi).
For the 1930 Mille Miglia Ferrari relied upon 1,750-c.c. supercharged cars to defeat the 6-litre Mercedes of Caracciola and Werner, and obtained a sensational 1-2-3 victory (Nuvolari, Varzi and Campari).
In the Targa Florio the P2 in modified form made its last appearance in the hands of Varzi, who won at 48.48 m.p.h., breaking the record by over twenty minutes for the 336 miles. What would appear to be Varzi’s P2 is now preserved in the Biscaretti Museum at Turin, a larger radiator than normal being fitted, while a spare wheel is mounted vertically in the tail, forming a rudimentary rear bumper. During the Mille Miglia this wheel broke away, leaving Varzi without a spare; fortunately the petrol tank was undamaged at the time, and he did not sustain a puncture during the race.
It appears that the majority of the P2s were sold to the Argentine, and it is doubtful if any more are still in existence.
It was evident that Alfa Romeo would be hard pressed in the 1931 season by the Type 51 Bugatti and the 2.8 Maserati, not to mention the 7-litre Mercedes, but they were ready to accept the challenge. Ing. Jano had produced the brilliant Tipo 8C 2300 Monza, a straight-eight with supercharger mounted on the right-hand side of the block, at the front. A feature of this engine was that it comprised two separate blocks of four cylinders on a common crankcase, united on top by a common 8-cylinder head. Between the two blocks ran a train of gears from the crankshaft, driving the twin o.h. camshafts, the blower and water pump, and the dynamo—this central driving minimising torsional vibration. This racing 2-seater developed 178 b.h.p., revved up to 5,400, and had a top speed of 130 m.p.h.
The Scuderia Ferrari entered two of these cars for the 1931 Mille Miglia (Nuvolari and Arcangeli), but the cars were only available at the last moment, and there was insufficient time, therefore, for their proper preparation. They suffered from chronic tyre trouble and it was really Campari and Borzacchini in well-tried 1,750-c.c. cars who put up the main opposition to the 7-litre Mercedes of Carraciola, which eventually overwhelmed Campari on the long straights leading to Brescia.
For the 1931 Grands Prix Bugatti and Maserati both had cars developing over 230 b.h.p., and Ferrari decided he must give them a run for their money. Jano therefore evolved a fearsome machine consisting of two supercharged 1,750-c.c. Alfa power units mounted side by side in a chassis with 9 ft. 6 in. wheelbase and 4 ft. 9 in. track, each engine possessing its own radiator, clutch and gearbox, torque tube and 3-to-1 differential (a solid axle had been tried but rejected). These two power units were “handed” and positively geared together, so that their crankshaft revs remained constant. The driver sat centrally, the two gearboxes each having a gear-lever, though they were of course coupled; he could therefore change gear with either hand. Each front wheel was steered by its own drop-arm and steering rod from the central steering, there being no track rod. Total weight was 23 cwt. This model was the Tipo A of 3,504 c.c., quoted as developing 220 b.h.p., with max. revs of 5,000 and a top speed of 146 m.p.h.
One of these cars was entered for the Italian Grand Prix in May 1931 but did not finish; Campari however gained first place in the Coppa Acerbo. In September, two were entered for the Monza Grand Prix (Nuvolari, Campari) but during practice Arcangeli insisted on demonstrating his ability with one. He lost control in a fast bend, was flung out, and killed, though the car only sustained superficial damage. The team, naturally, were very shaken, and intended to withdraw this unproved car. However, this was not to be—a cable was received from Mussolini himself: “Start—and win.” One can imagine the feelings of the drivers and their relief when both cars were eliminated by mechanical derangements (gearbox and piston failure). No more was heard of this freak model.
Meanwhile, the Tipo 8C 2300 straight-eight was being developed as a road car, as distinct from the racing Monza, Nuvolari winning the 1931 Targa Florio, while Howe and Birkin triumphed at Le Mans. From then on, this model’s successes in competition were too numerous to list in this brief history.
The 8C 2300 had the same bore and stroke as the well-proven 6C 1750 Gran Sport (65 x 88 mm.), giving a capacity of 2,336 c.c. and an output of around 150 b.h.p. The 10-bearing crankshaft comprised two halves, joined at the centre to the gear which in turn drove those coupled to the blower, twin camshafts, dynamo, and in some cases a magneto. The mechanically-operated brakes had huge 18-in. drums, which filled in the back of the wire wheels and were heavily finned. The clutch had the familiar Alfa multiplate “all or nothing at all” action.
The 8C 2300 appeared in three chassis lengths: (a) 10 ft. 2 in., usually termed the Le Mans type, with 4-seater body; (b) 9 ft. 0 in., the Mille Miglia, with 2-seater body, and (c) 8 ft. 8 in., the Monza racing 2-seater, which had higher compression, higher blower r.p.m., and “hotter” camshafts than (a) and (b). The track of all types was 4 ft. 8 in.
Apart from chassis lengths, the 8C 2300 appeared in three series:
“First Series” cars had the rear ends of the front springs sliding in trunnions; the carburetter was the smaller type S1.36 Memini fed by gravity from a bulkhead reservoir of 2.6 gallons, which in turn was filled by twin Autovacs; the dry-sump reservoir was situated under the passenger’s seat; a single pair of Siata shock-absorbers was fitted at the rear; the front four and the rear four exhaust ports each had a separate manifold, the two pipes therefrom joining before the silencer.
“Second Series” cars had front springs shackled at both ends; the larger type S1.42 Memini carburetter was fitted, fed direct by an electric pump situated near the rear tank; twin pairs of rear shock-absorbers were fitted; exhaust ports were paired off in manifolds before the four pipes joined into one.
“Third Series” cars were similar to the second, except that the dry-sump oil reservoir was situated below the driver’s seat, where it was free from any tendency to be heated by the exhaust pipe, and where the driver could also see that the external filler cap had not blown open (as sometimes happened, rapidly lubricating one rear tyre and brake!).
By 1932 most of the Monza cars and a number of the Mille Miglia type had been bored out to 69 mm., to give a capacity of 2,632 c.c. In this form The Autocar obtained 0-60 m.p.h. in 6.9 sec. and 0-100 m.p.h. in 24.8, while top speed was in the vicinity of 130 m.p.h.—yet the engine would idle at 700 r.p.m. in traffic without any fuss or oiling-up. Not bad for such a “hairy” Grand Prix car of that period!
One point had to be watched very carefully on the 2.3 and 2.6 Alfas—a slightly rich mixture was essential. A weak mixture invariably led to cracking of the aluminium-alloy head, and although phosphor-bronze valve inserts were an early modification there is hardly a 2.3 head in existence that hasn’t a number of hairline cracks. These cracks virtually close up when the engine is hot and they give no trouble unless—through bad luck—one forms in the vicinity of a water jacket; the owner is then in hot water in more ways than one, because there just aren’t any replacement heads available these days. When buying a 2.3 or 2.6 it is highly advisable to pay for the removal and checking of the cylinder head before signing on the dotted line; also drain the dry-sump reservoir and see if it contains any trace of water—or “Wondarweld”!
It seems strange that there is no example of the Tipo 2300 anywhere in Southern or East Africa, where the writer has lived for the past ten years. There are, however, two examples of the 2.6-litre Monza racing 2-seater. One was a Scuderia Ferrari car which eventually became Nuvolari’s personal road car. Later it was the property of Austin Dobson in England, who brought it out to South Africa for the 1936 Grand Prix, in which it was driven by T. P. Cholmondeley-Tapper. It suffered from electrical defects, quite apart from Tapper’s suffering from a severely cut right hand. This car remained in South Africa, and was driven in the 1937 and 1938 Grands Prix, without success, by W. H. Roderick, then had two doctor owners, before being purchased by Hugh Gearing of Johannesburg, who has rebuilt it throughout. The second local example was raced in Europe by Count Carlo Castelbarco and was brought to England in 1947 by David Lewis, from where it found its way to Northern Rhodesia in 1956. The writer purchased it in Lusaka in 1958 and brought it down to Cape Town in 1959; however, it was in very poor mechanical condition, having passed through unsympathetic hands. It now belongs to Jan Hugo of Loxton, Cape Province, who is engaged in a complete rebuild of this historic car.
Early in 1932, the Monza was still winning Grands Prix (Monaco and the Eifelrennen), while 8C 2300 victories included the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio.
This year saw the appearance of the legendary 2,653-c.c. (65 x 100 mm.) Monoposto Tipo B 2600 straight-eight Grand Prix car, a model which still epitomises what many enthusiasts feel to be a “real racing car”; here was Ing. Jano’s finest creation. In many circles this model is referred to as the “P3”; in fact the Alfa factory never used this designation until recently, when it had become commonplace.
The current A.I.A.C.R. formula was Formule Libre, which also stipulated that no riding mechanic could be carried, and that all races must be of between five and ten hours’ duration.
On its first appearance, a Monoposto in Nuvolari and Campari’s hands won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza at 104.13 m.p.h., and from then on its Grand Prix successes were legion. The wheelbase was 8ft. 6 in., track 4 ft. 5 in., overall length 12 ft. and scuttle height 4 ft. 4 in. Weight 13.75 cwt. Top speed 143 m.p.h.
The 215-b.h.p. power unit was clearly derived from the 8C 2300, but each group of four cylinders had its own Roots blower situated low down on the left side of the block (visible through an aperture in the bonnet side) while the exhaust manifold was on the right-hand side. To obtain a low centre of gravity Jano abandoned the normal central propeller shaft and employed two diagonal shafts in vee-formation, each within a torque tube, the driver sitting between them. To allow the convenient location of the differential housings within the arch of the frame side members, the gear reduction was at the front end of the propeller shafts, the final reduction on the actual axle being small and permitting housings of very reduced overall diameter.
The 2600 Tipo B scored the last of an impressive list of wins in 1934, when the Hon. Brian Lewis was victorious in the Mannin Moar Race (Isle of Man) at 75.34 m.p.h., though the Alfa factory had, surprisingly, virtually retired from racing in 1933, following their overwhelming successes in 1932. During 1933, therefore, most Alfa racing was by the Scuderia Ferrari running the old Monza model, bored out to 2.6-litres, which obtained only moderate success until, late in the year, Ferrari prevailed upon the factory to release the Monoposto to him, Fagioli immediately beating Nuvolari (now 2.9 Maserati mounted) at Pescara and again in the Italian Grand Prix.
In 1934 a new A.I.A.C.R. formula was introduced, limiting dry weight to a maximum of 750 kg. and body width to 34 in. Alfas, who continued to race via the Scuderia Ferrari, altered the Tipo B Monoposto somewhat to comply. The 2900 Tipo B model which resulted had a 2,905-c.c. (68 x 100 mm.) engine, giving 255 b.h.p. and a top speed of 162 m.p.h., a wheelbase of 8 ft. 10 1/2 in., front track of 4 ft. 7 1/2 in. and rear track of 4 ft. 5 in., while the body width around the cockpit was extended outside the actual chassis to increase it from 26 in. to 36 in. In this form, the Tipo B proved to be not quite as successful as the original 2600 version, yet opened the season with wins at Monaco (G. Moll) and Alessandria (Varzi). At this stage there appeared the German Government-sponsored Mercedes W25 and the Auto-Union P-wagen, competition becoming “hot,” to put it mildly. Initially, however, the Germans had teething troubles, and the Tipo Bs continued to achieve a fair measure of success (Avus, Penya Rhin, French Grand Prix at Montlhéry) before becoming somewhat outclassed.
The Tipo B was bored out to a maximum of 3.2-litres, giving 270 b.h.p. eventually, and road-holding was improved by the incorporation of Dubonnet independent front suspension, together with Bugatti-like 1/4-elliptic leaf rear springing and hydraulic brakes. Later the rear suspension was altered again for a transverse leaf-spring under Porsche patents, but even then the German machines were more than a match for Alfa.
The 1935 German Grand Prix, however, was the exception to the rule. Nuvolari on an experimental 3.8-litre-engined Tipo B, puffing up what was probably his finest performance ever, proceeded to beat the might of Germany single-handed at the Nurburgring at 75.24 m.p.h. for the 312 miles—his run having been seriously impeded by a pit stop, when the over-enthusiastic Ferrari mechanics broke the handle off the refuelling pump and had to use churns!
It was clear that the 3.2 Alfa could not normally compete with the 280-b.h.p. Auto-Unions and Mercedes and for the 1935 Tripoli Grand Prix the Scuderia Ferrari came up with a formidable brain-child of their own, constructed by L. Bazzi and A. Roselli—the Alfa Romeo (or perhaps more correctly—Ferrari) “Bimotore,” of which two were built. These were virtually Tipo B cars equipped with two 8C engines, one in the normal position and the other behind the driver’s seat, there being pannier fuel tanks along the cockpit sides. The two engines were coupled to a central gearbox and drove the rear axle via a Tipo B divided propeller shaft. One version had two 3,160-c.c. engines (6,320 c.c., giving 540 b.h.p.) and the other two 2,905-c.c. engines (5,810 c.c., giving 510 b.h.p.).
That these cars had speed there was no doubt; on the Firenze autostrade Nuvolari attained 201 m.p.h. with the larger version. But when they were entered for the Tripoli Grand Prix their handling characteristics gave rise to rapid tyre wear. Nuvolari and Chiron were unable to make use of their full performance and were constantly in their pits for tyre changes. Nuvolari changed 13 wheels to finish fourth at 116.56 m.p.h.
The smaller of these two cars found its way to England, where it was raced on the Mountain circuit at Brooklands by Austin Dobson. But it was never a success and the fitting of the regulation silencers necessary at Brooklands did not help it to maintain its tune. It was eventually broken up, and the “front” engine and chassis appeared as the unsupercharged 8-Amal carburetter Alfa-Aitken after the war, tuned by the late Freddie Dixon for Tony Rolt; its ultimate fate is unknown to the writer.
To return briefly to the normal sports cars, the 2.3-litre in long and short chassis form, and the blown and unblown 1,750-c.c. models had become firm favourites throughout the world, but they gave place in 1934 to the 6C 2300, and in 1935 to the 6C 2300B. Here there had been a considerable advance in chassis design, with independent suspension all round—at the front by parallel trailing links whose movement was restricted by large Alfa hydraulic damper-cum-vertical coil-spring units, and at the rear by swing axles controlled by longitudinal torsion rods with telescopic dampers. Hydraulic brakes appeared on this model.
There were two chassis lengths, giving 10 ft. 8 in. wheelbase for the 6-seater saloon, and 9 ft. 10 in. for the 4-seater saloon and the Pescara twin-carburetter sports version. The track was 4 ft. 9 in. in all cases. Brake horse-power was 68, 76 and 95, respectively, and weight 31 1/2, 28 1/2 and 21 1/4 cwt.
The 6-cylinder twin (chain-driven) o.h.c. power unit revved up to 4,400 r.p.m. (4,500 in the Pescara and 2300B) and was of 2,309 c.c. (70 x 100 mm.). A single-plate clutch was coupled to the 4-speed gearbox which had synchromesh on 3rd and top.
To the dyed-in-the-wool Alfa Romeo enthusiast this model had not the same appeal as the 2.3 and 1750. The saloon bodywork tended to be heavy and bulbous compared with the stark, efficient simplicity of former Zagato and Carrozzeria Touring creations, while the instrumentation was flashy and Americanised. Performance just didn’t compare, though a much softer ride was provided. Frankly, this car was a compromise, it being essential to produce an Alfa in a lower price bracket at this time.
One ray of light, however, pierced the gloom. The rapid outdating of the Monoposto had caught the factory with a stock of 36 new and highly expensive 8C engines on their hands. It was decided to install these, suitably detuned, in road cars and market them for a discerning public. Thus was born the fabulous 8C 2900B model in 1937, one of the finest road cars of all time. With a capacity of 2,905 c.c. (68 x 100 mm) these engines were fitted with camshafts of less aggressive profile than in the Monoposto, giving maximum revs of 5,000 and 180 b.h.p. Open 2-seater bodywork was provided on either the short chassis of 9 ft. 2 1/4 in. wheelbase or the long of 9 ft. 10 1/8 in., the track being 4 ft. 5 in. In addition, a coupé was available on the long chassis.
The twin Roots-type superchargers were fitted with Weber carburetters, and ignition was by Vertex magneto. The clutch was a dry twin-plate with typically positive action. The 4-speed gearbox was integral with the rear axle, hydraulic brakes were fitted (17 in. x 2 1/2 in. drums) and there was independent suspension all round (wishbones and torsion bars at the front, swing axles with a transverse leaf-spring at the rear).
The makers, with typical reticence, claimed a top speed of 115-118 m.p.h., but performance was breathtaking, and with different compression and rear-axle ratios owners obtained speeds around 130 m.p.h. The writer remembers some four open cars and one coupé in England at the outbreak of war, since when it seems that all have fallen victim to the lure of the almighty Dollar….
To complete the list of Alfa Romeo models available to the public up till the year 1940, when Italy entered the war, there appeared in 1938 a second series of the 6C 2300B, comprising a long chassis (70 b.h.p., 4,400 r.p.m., 75 m.p.h.), a short chassis (76 b.h.p., 4,400 r.p.m., 81 m.p.h.) and a Mille Miglia short chassis (95 b.h.p., 4,500 r.p.m., 96 m.p.h.).
In addition, the 6C 2500 was introduced which had three forms: the Turismo, the Sport and Super Sport, in addition to a special Colonial model designed with an eye to use in the rugged conditions of North Africa. The chassis of this model was a logical and improved version of the 6C 2300B, while the engines were 2,443 c.c. (72 x 100 mm.) with chain-driven double overhead camshafts. The Sport, with twin-choke Weber carburetter, gave 95 b.h.p. at 4,600 r.p.m., using a 7.3-to-1 compression-ratio. The Super Sport, with three Weber carburetters and 7.5-to-1 compression-ratio, put out 105 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. In a Super Sport, Mussolini’s chauffeur Ercole Boratto won the 1939 Tobruk-Tripoli race at 88.3 m.p.h., Biondetti and Pintactula being second and third.
The majority of 6C 2500s were fitted with heavy and bulbous saloon bodies, while the gear-change had degenerated to a lever mounted on the steering column. Though beautifully designed and constructed, they were relatively cumbersome and possessed of only average performance. The writer, having rebuilt one in 1957, sold it without any of the bitter pangs felt when disposing of any of his older Alfas, but maybe he is just getting old….
To revert to the racing scene, which we left at 1935 when the Ferrari-built “Bimotore” was proving a handful to its drivers—the Italian Grand Prix at Monza saw the appearance of Nuvolari in a new Tipo 8C 35 car. This was a new chassis with independent suspension all round, of similar basic design to that used on the 8C 2900B at the front, and with a transverse leaf-spring at the rear, plus hydraulic brakes and a gearbox integral with the rear axle, powered by the same 3,822-c.c. engine that won the 1935 German Grand Prix (78 x 100 mm., giving 330 b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m.).
This model is familiar in Britain as an example was raced by Dick Seaman, appearing after the war in the hands of Dennis Poore at Goodwood and numerous hill-climbs.
During 1935 the Tipo 8C 3000 also appeared, having Dubonnet front suspension, the power unit being 3,080 c.c. (70 x 100 mm.), giving 270 b.h.p., max. revs of 5,500 and top speed of 165 m.p.h.
In the Italian Grand Prix, Nuvolari’s car led the field till half-distance, but then blew up, when he took over Dreyfus’ Tipo B which was lying fourth, and finished in second place, behind Stucks’ Auto-Union.
For 1936 Alfa continued to use this chassis, mated either with the 3.8-litre engine, now possessing a single larger supercharger which drew from two carburetters, or a new 4,064-c.c. (70 x 88 mm.) V12 engine reported to give off 360 b.h.p. (when it was termed the 12C 36). In these cars the Scuderia Ferrari led by Nuvolari put up spirited opposition to the powerful Auto-Union and Mercedes teams, and frequently beat them by superior tactics. In it, Nuvolari won the Vanderbilt Cup Race in America. His last win was at Leghorn, where he broke the transmission of his 12-cylinder car on the starting line, took over Pintacuda’s 8-cylinder some laps later, and proceeded to overhaul the field, giving Ferrari the first three places.
In 1937 Alfa Romeo hadn’t a chance against the State-subsidised might of Auto-Union and Mercedes, which had 600 b.h.p. per ton available, could achieve 0-60 m.p.h. in four to five seconds, and 0-140 m.p.h. in about eleven seconds! Scuderia Ferrari therefore closed down, the current 4,500-c.c. (72 x 92 mm.) Tipo 12C 37 car being outclassed on the European circuits (it gave 430 b.h.p., max. revs 5,800, top speed 193 m.p.h.).
However, in the sports-car field, the Alfa star still shone brightly, for the 1938 Mille Miglia was won by Biondetti on an 8C 2900B at 84.13 m.p.h., similar cars being second and third.
For 1938-40, the Grand Prix formula limited cars to 3-litres supercharged or 4 1/2-litres unsupercharged, with a maximum weight of 850 kilogrammes.
Alfa Romeo themselves resumed racing, taking back all Scuderia Ferrari’s equipment and forming a special racing department entitled “Alfa Course.”
In 1938 they produced the 8C 308, which was their new low chassis accommodating an 8-cylinder 2,991-c.c. (69 x 100 mm.) supercharged engine developing 295 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m.—still 100 b.h.p. less than the Mercedes! Alternatively, this chassis became the 12C 312 using a new V12 2,997-c.c. (66 x 73 mm.) power unit developing 320 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m., and was first entered at Pescara (Coppa Acerbo). Here Alfas finished second and third (Farina and Belmondo) in terrific heat, all the Auto-Unions dropping out with mechanical misfortunes.
Finally, they made a V16 16C 316, 2,959 c.c. (58 x 70 mm.), which gave them 350 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m.—but it was a losing battle, and it was seldom that even a third place was achieved. The Alfa chassis had, however, been greatly improved, both in handling, road-holding and wind resistance. It had a tubular frame with independent suspension back and front on the old lines, and weighed in all 17 cwt.
After due consideration, Alfas decided that there was more future for them in the “Voiturette” class and, in 1938, with the assistance of Scuderia Ferrari, they built a 1 1/2-litre racing car, the Tipo 158, which was to become a world-beater.
Designed by Colombo, the typically Alfa engine of eight cylinders had twin o.h. camshafts driven from the rear end, and a single supercharger mounted low down on the left. The initial b.h.p. was 190 at 6,500 r.p.m. from the 1,479-c.c. (58 x 70 mm.) power unit. The chassis was modelled on the 3-litre types, having transverse leaf independent front-wheel springing (with trailing links) and a complicated arrangement at the back with single transverse leaf-spring below the main axle housing, and long torque arms articulated to the frame well forward.
Their first outing was the voiturette race at Leghorn on July 31st, 1938, when Emilio Villoresi and C. Biondetti scored a convincing 1-2, separated by only 2.8 sec.; yet in the Coppa Acerbo two dropped out (“plugs”) and only F. Severi finished.
Next was Monza, where E. Villoresi won again, followed by Severi, yet in the closing meeting of the year at Modena the team retired.
In view of Germany’s supremacy in Grands Prix, Italy’s interest had shifted to 1,500-c.c. events, and high hopes for 1939 were pinned on the “Alfettas,” as they had been nicknamed. They now had a roller-bearing crankshaft and developed 225 b.h.p. at 7,500 r.p.m. The racing year opened at Tripoli, for which six Alfas featured amongst the 30 starters. However, two brand new V8 Mercedes made an unexpected debut and walked away with the first two places, E. Villoresi having to be content with third place.
A further blow was the death of E. Villoresi while practising at Monza shortly afterwards.
In July 1939 G. Farina won the Coppa Ciano at Leghorn, Alfas also taking third and fifth places, while at Pescara two weeks later Biondetti headed a 1-2-3 victory in the Coppa Acerbo. The Prix de Berne followed, Farina and Biondetti scoring a runaway 1-2.
War broke out on September 3rd, but Italy was then a neutral and a 1940 racing season was planned, opening with the Tripoli Grand Prix on May 12th. For some reason, German participation was expected again despite hostilities, and a “hack” Tipo 158 was flogged unmercifully around the circuit during the previous weeks in an effort to find out weaknesses. In fact, the field was four Alfas versus a pack of Maseratis led by G. Villoresi, despite whose efforts the 158s finished first, second, third and fifth. In winning, Farina recorded the excellent speed of 128.2 m.p.h. for 244 miles.
Italy now entered the war, but the Alfa Romeo Tipo 158s must have been hidden away in the country, for although the factory was completely wiped out by Allied bombers in 1943 and ’44, these cars were ready to race once again at Nice at Easter, 1946.
But that is another story….
N.B.—A printer’s error in the caption to the picture of a P2 Alfa Romeo in the first part of this article put the 1925 Championship of the World on a par with today’s F.2 Manufacturers’ Championship. It was, of course, equivalent to the present F.1 Championship, won this year by Ferrari—the very highest form of manufacturers’ achievement in G.P. racing.—Ed.