Since Edwardian days the business of swapping registration numbers and number plates has been a popular pastime, either for convenience or to cover up some movements or to sell something for a better price. In the industry it often happens during a PR exercise and in competitions it can save a lot of time and trouble. In most cases it is illegal, but that is by the way. In this new series I intend to deal with registration numbers that effectually were more important than the car in that they were a recognition mark for a particular car and if they appeared on another car the change would be obvious for all to see.
In 1938 Alfa Romeo took over their racing activities from the Scuderia Ferrari, under the title “Alfa Corsa” and for the 1938 Mille Miglia they fielded an impressive quartet of supercharged 2.9-litre 8-cylinder cars. These were the model 8C 2900B with an all-independently sprung chassis straight-eight engine with twin-superchargers and two-seater bodies by Carrozzeria Touring of Milan. Mechanically they were an amalgam of knowledge gleaned from the 2.9-litre Tipo B “monoposto” of 1934/35 and the 3.8-litre Grand Prix car of 1936/37. The bodywork was fully enveloping with the mudguards flowing into the body in a really smooth profile. Of the four entries two retired and the remaining two finished first and second, only two seconds apart. Two of the cars appeared again in the Spa 24 Hour race, one retiring and the other finishing first.
At the 1938 London Motor Show the Mille Miglia winning car was on display on the Alfa Romeo stand and was said to be “not for sale”. However, before the year was out Hugh Hunter, an amateur racing driver, had bought it and an article in The Autocar in early 1939 described a brief run in the car. It had been registered JML 1, and by that number it became known. In the article the author, John Dugdale, suggested that it was probably the fastest road car in Great Britain at the time. In the Mille Miglia it was certainly fast, for Biondetti averaged 112 m.p.h. on the leg Brescia — Cremona — Bologna and it was reckoned to have a maximum speed of about 140 m.p.h. In his book on the Mille Miglia Count “Johnny” Lurani says that it was fitted with a pure Grand Prix engine for the race, but by the time Hunter bought it a normal “sports” engine had been installed.
Dugdale’s article caused a lot of interest and various claims were put forward for cars that would “see off” the Hunter Alfa Romeo. Meanwhile the new owner was competing in speed trials and club racing events and there is no doubt that JML 1 was a very impressive car and undoubtedly the most exciting Alfa Romeo ever to come to England. It was painted typical Italian red with chrome trimmings here and there and I can recall the first time I saw it in 1939. I drooled over it like young lads subsequently drooled over D-type Jaguars, Ferrari 375 GTBs, Porsche 917s or a Lamborghini Countach. I have no doubt that similar young lads drooled over Type 43 Bugattis or blower Bentleys.
The controversy over the “fastest sports car” tag led to a competition at Brooklands that unfortunately misfired and only proved who was the best driver and not which was the fastest car. At the time I never did understand why the competitors were not timed for a flying lap of the Brooklands banked Outer Circuit, where maximum speed was all that mattered. Instead, they took part in two races on “road-type” circuits in which the driver was more important than the car. JML 1 blotted its copy book by breaking its gearbox so the outcome was very unsatisfactory. Subsequently Hunter did a lap of the Outer Circuit at 122.97 m.p.h., which was pretty fair for a fully-equipped road-going car running on normal petrol/benzole pump fuel.
After the war JML 1 reappeared in club racing, driven by T.A.D. Crook and he destroyed some of its visual appeal by removing the front mudguards and fitting small cycle wings. It was then sold to a car collector in Scotland, where it languished for many years until the owner had an auction sale to dispose of all his cars. It was bought by an American Alfa Romeo enthusiast and today resides in the USA, I hope still carrying its number JML 1. — D.S.J.
Lotus Parts in Sussex
Fibreglass services have recently been appointed official Lotus service and parts dealers for Sussex and now hold large stocks of spares for these cars. The address is Charlton Saw Mills, Charlton, near Chichester.
Swansea slips up again
A reader has sent us a photocopy of the old and new registration documents for her 1930 D6 Delage. The old Iog book, issued in 1945, is quite clear that the vehicle is a Delage with a maroon and black Weyman (sic) saloon of 22 h.p., RAC Rating. On The other hand, Swansea thinks it is a “2-axle-rigid body saloon Weymandgl”, coloured maroon and black and fitted with a 22 c.c. engine: interesting to see how well it goes!
Does the DLVC do it on purpose to keep us amused?
Dry Cleaning — for hands
Bars Motor Products are well known for their preparations to help the DIY motorist repair radiator leaks. Now they have added a hand cleaner to their range of products, but a hand cleaner with a difference — no water is required. Is comes in a simple aerosol can, is simply rubbed in and then wiped off to leave the hands clean, and the smell is not unpleasant. A very useful product to carry alongside the spare wheel.
RAC Rally — Results
(see page 64 for story)