Memory of an Alfa Romeo

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It was in 1939 that a contest was arranged at Brooklands to decide which was the then-fastest road-equipped sports-car. It arose from a suggestion made by John Dugdale, and before it took place he went out in one of the contenders, the 2.9-litre Alfa Romeo owned at the time by Hugh Hunter. It was the red short-chassis straight-eight supercharged Alfa with which Biondetti had won the 1938 Mille Miglia at 84.45 mph, the only one of its kind in Britain.

It was waiting for Dugdale in T & T’s Paddock shed at the Track, with 38 gallons of pump-alcohol fuel in its tank, to which a little oil had been added to appease the blowers, and 41/2 gallons of lubricant in the dry-sump tank. After the small radiator header-tank had been topped-up they were off, Hunter driving. The clutch took up with a jerk, an apparently incurable habit of this component (made to transmit over 180 bhp).

The axle-ratio and compression-ratio had been lowered since the Mille Miglia, but speeds of 65, 90 and 110 mph were seen on the carefully calibrated speedometer along the Denham By-Pass in the three higher gears, and the Alfa was still accelerating beyond 4500 rpm in top gear when Hunter eased off for a bend. Light steering, a very comfortable ride on the all-independent suspension, and first-class roadholding were noted by Dugdale after a short drive. A huge Burgess silencer quietened the engine, and fuel thirst was quoted as 11 mpg.

Dugdale was clearly impressed and said he would back this Alfa Romeo against Lycett’s 8-litre Bentley, a short-chassis 38/250 hp Mercedes-Benz, Craig’s 4.9 Bugatti, a good 3.3 Bugatti, or the 2.9 Maserati which Straight had converted for road use. In fact, when the Brooklands’ contest took place this prediction was not far wrong, allowing that some of the cars Dugdale nominated did not take part. It was decided on the aggregate times in two races, over the Campbell and Mountain circuits. Hunter in the Alfa won the former, with best lap at 68.12 mph, but stopped on lap one of the second, with gearbox failure. Arthur Dobson in Count Heydon’s 31/2-litre Delahaye was declared the winner. WB

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