Trial by media
DSJ’s “Letter” (Motor Sport, October 1988) reeks of trial by media, and suggests sour grapes, in impugning the motives of enthusiasts. In my opinion the owners of the Multi-Union should be congratulated for saving an important historic car.
A genuine and historic GP car, the most effective model of its time, is being returned to original form with almost all of its original parts, not just the parts remaining in the Multi-Union. I believe no other early Tipo B in the intermediate configuration with medium body and louvred “skirts” exists outside Japan. There are many who will rejoice to see it in action. The facts are clear that it was a Scuderia Ferrari team car, modified for 1933-34 and sold to Sommer in 1935.
Details of the parts will undoubtedly, and properly, be taken up by the VSCC, but many GP cars have been resurrected and accepted from far less.
On the other hand a great British effort of the late 1930s in attempting to match the continentals is still preserved in its final form, and the parts unique to the Multi-Union, which make it an important and much-admired car, are intact. What made the Multi-Union was not the bit of Tipo B frame remaining but the special parts noted by DSJ: some were necessary for bumpy Brooklands such as the Tecnauto ifs, but some, such as the gearbox with its poorly-stepped ratios, were inferior (compared to the later constant mesh Tipo B box).
The long blowers admittedly improved the performance of the engine. However, these and stronger rods were paralleled by Alfa in the 308, and the latter GP car with its speed and independent suspension would certainly have outperformed the Multi-Union in 1939.
The above special parts, together with the special body, radiators, and all the accessories and fittings are what made the Multi-Union, and they are all intact.
But superior? ! think not. Even though the car did indeed win at Phoenix Park in 1938, it was only marginally quicker than 11/2-litre ERAs and, as far as I can determine, slower than Maserati and 2-litre ERAs. Ah, you will say, but that was before the ifs! But as one who has driven both cars on the race circuit, I strongly refute DSJ’s contention of superiority of the Multi-Union over the Tipo B. At Brooklands, for which it was built there is no doubt, it is quick. But so too is a Tipo B with long blowers. More to the point is the handling: where the Tipo B is a thoroughbred, responding with great precision and delicacy and never letting the driver down, the MultiUnion is exactly the opposite: a pig to drive.
In my mind restoration of a Tipo B is not only justified, it is the necessary thing to do, especially when the Multi-Union remains intact as to its unique features. Despite the new chassis rails we will still be able to enjoy watching it race in present-day events, unlike many of its contemporaries which are now in museums. Had that happened, or had it been broken up, that would have indeed been vandalism. Nor do I agree with DSJ’s barely veiled implication that the underlying motive was commercial. I know the “owners” well and share their long-time enthusiasm for Alfa Romeos, and I am convinced that the project was done with the objective of resurrecting a great car and saving an interesting and important one. It is clearly a fact that “collectors’ valuations”, as DSJ has it, have been pushed up and up, and the entire vintage scene has been profoundly and sadly distorted. While it is still possible to race our cars with enjoyment (as Neil Corner said, “It cost only X pounds”) it is not possible to ignore the other implications of such value. Most of us are compelled to reconsider our priorities: only the very wealthy can remain immune to this change. It is simply much harder to use and enjoy our cars.
HW Wessels, Paoli, Pennsylvania, USA
Henry Wessells recently sold his own Alfa Romeo Tipo B, the ex-Dick Shuttleworth car, for a “collectors price”, so he should know the value of a “genuine” car as compared to an English special. As an American Alfa Romeo enthusiast he no doubt finds it difficult to understand the true feelings of a lot of English people, to whom Chris Staniland and the Multi-Union meant a great deal more than merely a racing driver with a modified Italian racing car — especially to those who knew him personally. The Multi-Union was not built expressly to race at the Brooklands Track. It was intended for long distance road-racing at places like Donington Park and in Irish road-racing events, and would have probably gone to a Grand Prix or two, had war not broken out. To say that the “reclaimed” Tipo B will have “almost all of its original parts” is a travesty of the truth and reality. DSJ