Road cars: Alfa Romeo 8C
When Alfa Romeo's new eight-cylinder won the Targa Florio in 1931, one conjured up visions of a pure racer. But this was not so, for the type was subsequently put into production as a sports model.
One of these cars was acquired by Sir Henry Birkin, who raced it at Phoenix Park in the Irish GP and in the 500 Miles race. Now it is the property of Mr E Kleinwort, who recently gave us permission to make a road test, and bearing the car's history in mind it was with feelings of the liveliest anticipation that we came to his home.
The mere sight of this Alfa Romeo is enough to thrill the heart of an enthusiast. Painted in the Italian bright red, the car is long and low, with delightfully clean lines.
Taking the passenger seat, we set off for Sussex, and were struck by the Alfa Romeo's amazing tractability. Through the crowded streets of South London the car was driven in a perfectly normal manner, no revving up in a traffic block to avoid oiling up a plug.
We then took over the car ourselves, and found a marked feeling of accuracy in control. The gear change is positive. The power available at all speeds is simply staggering: as we accelerated after changing up into third at 50mph, we left long black wheel marks!
How can one describe in mere words the fascination of this superb car? Whether cruising on a straight main road at 70mph, or driving hard on a twisty secondary road, the Alfa Romeo conveys the same feeling of perfection. The steering is in keeping with the rest of the car, taut, vibrant and alive.
So controllable is the car that the sight of a corner ahead encourages one to increase speed. Indeed, we felt that no matter how fast we approached we would always be able to corner safely. The tail just slides a little to be instantly corrected, and the car has that rare attribute, perfect weight distribution.
At the conclusion of our run, we realised that this Alfa embodies all those ideals of the perfect sportscar, in design and material, which every enthusiast carries in his heart.