An Alfa Romeo story

A reader in Australia, Mr. Earl Davey-Milne, wrote to us recently to say that he was in the process of rebuilding the 2.3-litre Monza Alfa Romeo he has owned since 1953. He admits that it has got into “a bit of a state” due to its remarkable reliability, for it just went from one race to another without being touched or serviced. This particular Monza Alfa was imported into Australia in 1938 by Alf Barratt, who bought it from A. P. Hamilton in England and Davey-Milne bought it from Barratt in 1953, so it has had remarkably few owners, for Hamilton bought it in the London motor trade in 1933 when it had been imported from France, the original owner in 1932 being Raymond Sommer.

On stripping the car down to the bare metal the present owner found that the original colour was blue, and at some point this had been over-sprayed red. the interesting thing was that there was no trace of blue on the chassis sidemembers or crossmembers, though all the other parts had started life blue. This is probably accounted for, says Davey-Milne, by the fact that Hamilton had an accident with the car in the Isle of Man in 1935, which bent the front of the chassis severely, so either the car was fitted with a new chassis frame when it was rebuilt, or it was stripped completely and re-straightened by heating, when the paint would have all been removed.

Delving into the bound volumes and the archives, as well as Peter Hull’s Alfa Romeo history, produced an interesting history for the car, which was numbered 2211134. It would appear to be a 1932 car, only four numbers later than another famous Monza raced by the Hon. Brian Lewis, John Cobb, Louis Fontes and Powys-Lybbe and today owned by the Hon. Patrick Lindsay. In December 1933 there was an article about 2211134 in the Autocar in which it was stated that Mr. A. P. Hamilton had just bought the car and it was ex-Raymond Sommer. It went on to say that Sommer had won the Grand Prix de France with this car on September 17th 1933 and concluded by saying that Mr. Hamilton regretted that he didn’t think he could afford to keep the car, so it was now for sale!

Now nowhere in the various race records is there any mention of Sommer winning a race in 1933, let alone on September 17th, and in 1933 there was no Grand Prix de France at Montlhery in September. There was the Grand Prix of the Automobile Club de France (loosely called the French Grand Prix) but Sommer did not win it. A short Grand Prix of France was held at Montlhery in September 1934, one year later than the claimed victory and nine months after the article was published! What Raymond Sommer did do, however, was to win the Marseilles GP on the Miramas track on September 25th 1932 at the respectable average speed of 109.75 m.p.h. (or thereabouts for the figure was converted from k.p.h. no doubt). In 1932 Sommer raced this Monza Alfa Romeo at Nice, where he was 5th in his heat and 2nd in the final, having led briefly at the start. He was 3rd in the Comminges GP after bouncing off a wall, and 2nd in the Circuit de Garoupe near Juan-les-Pins. In 1933 Sommer joined forces with Freddy Zehender to race Maseratis, and presumably sold the Alfa, or returned it to the Milan factory. Before the season was very old the fiery Sommer fell out with his partner and turned “independent” again, ordering a new Monza Alfa in time for the French GP where he finished 4th. This car was later reported to have been enlarged to 2.6-litres, which was a popular thing to do to Monza Alfas in those days.

Returning to 2211134, it first appears in a British race in April 1934 when it was driven into 6th place in the International Trophy at Brooklands by Kaye Don, presumably bought or loaned from A. P. Hamilton, for there is nothing new in “Rent-a-drive” motor racing. At the Whit-Monday meeting at Brooklands Hamilton drove the car in the Merrow Senior Long Handicap and was leading when the engine packed up. In passing it is worth noting that the Hamilton in question, known to his friends as “Ginger”, should not be confused with Hugh C. Hamilton who raced MGs so successfully and drove for the Whitney Straight team. A. P. (Ginger) Hamilton was connected with the motor trade and a garage business in Surrey.

At the end of May Kaye Don was in the Isle of Man, and Hamilton was with him, for the Mannin Beg and Mannin Moar races round the streets of Douglas. The Mannin Beg (“little man”) was for supercharged cars up to 1,100-c.c. and unsupercharged 1,500 c.c. and the Mannin Moar (“big man”) was for Grand Prix cars. Don was entered for the first race with an MG Magnette and the second rate in the Monza Alfa, but trying out the MG after official practice he crashed badly so missed the Beg and was not fit enough to take part in the War, so A. P. Hamilton took his place. Once again the car went well, but the exhaust pipe came adrift and before the driver could get to the pits to have it fixed it fell off and he ran over it, having to retire with a healthy motor but no exhaust system.

The Alfa Romeo was entered for the Empire Trophy at Brooklands on June 23rd but with Don now out of action, Hamilton again drove the car, but retired when a camshaft broke. This blow-up took time to repair and the car did not appear again until the BRDC 500 Mile race on the Brooklands Outer Circuit, where Hamilton shared the car with Norman Black (another car dealer, the “trade” being the easiest way into motor racing in those days). The rigours of the rough concrete track were too much for the Alfa and the chassis frame broke, causing it to retire.

In 1933 A. P. Hamilton continued to race the car in all the major British events and it was in June of that year that he had a monumental accident in the Mannin Moar, bending the front dumb-irons almost at right-angles. It was repaired in time for the BRDC 500 Mile Race at the end of the season and Hamilton, in company with R. Gibson, ran extremely well to finish 4th at 112.36 m.p.h. The following year the Alfa Romeo excelled itself again in the 500 Mile Race, finishing 4th once more, this time Hamilton sharing the drive with the Marquis de Belleroche, at the slightly slower speed of 111.05 m.p.h. although at one point it lay 2nd at 116.09 m.p.h. In 1937 Hamilton took 2nd place in the Broadcast Trophy on the Brooklands Outer Circuit, making one flying lap at 129.36 m.p.h. This creditable performance was rather overshadowed by the winner, John Cobb, with the 24-litre Napier-Railton, who averaged 136.03 m.p.h., the fastest race average at Brooklands at the time, and his fastest laps were at 139.9 m.p.h. on three occasions during the ten-lap race, so that the 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo at 129.36 m.p.h. seemed slow by comparison. For a well-used 1932 car this performance was remarkable and Hamilton had certainly had good value from the car. In the 1938 International Trophy it was unclassified, but still running at the end and that was the year it was sold to Alf Barratt, who raced it regularly in Australian events until he passed it on to its present owner. Sadly, A. P. Hamilton was killed a year or two ago, when he was knocked down in a road accident, but it is nice to know that his faithful old Monza Alfa Romeo is still in good hands.—D.S.J.

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The STD Register, which last month recruited eight new members, reports that a Talbot 75 saloon in poor condition, in danger of being scrapped, could well be the first production-model of this type. In view of what we have said recently about motor-car advertising, it is interesting to find that the high-class American publication Automobile Quarterly, edited by that remarkably knowledgeable lady, Beverly Ray Kimes, has been looking into the early advertising layouts of Pierce-Arrow, a Company that employed real artists for their publicity material,