In the interview with Dan Margulies in the April issue of Motor Sport he mentioned that his enthusiasm for motor racing was started in 1937, when he saw Hans Ruesch win the Grand Prix in Bucharest in a 3.8-litre Alfa Romeo 8C/35. For British motor racing enthusiasts this particular Alfa Romeo also holds an important place in history. It was one of the last of the 8C/35 models to be raced by the Scuderia Ferrari at a time when they were changing over to the 12C/35. Prior to the appearance of the 8C/35 the front-line Alfa Romeos in Grand Prix racing were the ultimate development of the Tipo B, the famed “monoposto”, erroneously called the P3 by many people. The eight-cylinder Jano-designed engine was enlarged to 3.2-litres, the steel channel chassis frame had i.f.s. by the Dubonnet system and a rigid rear axle sprung on reversed quarter-elliptic leaf springs, like a Bugatti. The rear axle still retained the Jano divided propshaft and twin crown-wheel and pinion units. Experiments had been carried out, but not in racing, with an independent rear suspension with a chassis-mounted final drive unit on a Tipo B.
All this was leading up to the new Grand Prix Alfa Romeo for 1935, which Enzo Ferrari was to continue to run with his Scuderia Ferrari in Modena. The Alfa Romeo factory in Milan were very occupied with military contracts for the rising Mussolini government so racing projects took a bit of a back seat and the new Grand Prix car was a long time coming. It did not make a race appearance until September 1935, for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, when two cars were entered, for Rene Dreyfus and Tazio Nuvolari. The little Italian “maestro” had engine trouble and retired and when the Frenchman came into the pits to refuel and change tyres, Nuvolari took over and completed a stirring drive into second place behind Hans Stuck’s Auto Union.
The Tipo C/1935 was a totally new design, albeit using some of the experience gained with the Tipo B. The chassis frame was tubular, all four wheels were independently sprung, the gearbox was in unit with the differential and mounted on the rear of the chassis and the front-mounted engine was of the classic Jano straight-eight-cylinder design, with the overhead camshafts driven by a train of gears between cylinders four and five. It was of 3.8-litres capacity, of 78 x 100 mm. bore and stroke, supercharged by two Roots-type instruments and running on a methanol-based fuel gave 330 b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m. Compared to the slim lines of the Tipo B, the Tipo C had a rather bulbous bodywork and the classic Alfa Romeo radiator had given way to an oval “birdcage” cowl. Already under development was a 4-litre V12 engine destined to go into the new chassis. Alfa Romeo fortunes were looking up.
Following the Italian Grand Prix Nuvolari had an easy win in the Modena Grand Prix, driving the only 8C/35 against a field of earlier Alfa Romeos and no Mercedes-Benz or Auto Unions. He retired in the Spanish Grand Prix at San Sebastian but finished second to an Auto Union in the Hungarian Grand Prix at Masaryk. Although the 8C//35 had showed promise it was not really a match for the German cars, but with the 4-litre V12 engine giving 370 h.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. it could be a different story. The 12C/36 model was ready for the 1936 season and the 8C/35 models were used as back-up entries for new drivers in the Scuderia Ferrari. Sometimes there would be two 12-cylinder cars and two eight-cylinder cars, sometimes only one 12-cylinder and three eight-cylinders and at the Italian Grand Prix there were three 12-cylinders and one eight-cylinder.
In the Coppa Ciano at Livorno in August 1936 there were two 12-cylinder cars (Nuvolari and Brivio) and two eight-cylinder cars (Pintacuda and Dreyfus). The only real opposition came from three Auto Unions, hurriedly sent to Italy after the German Grand Prix; Mercedes-Benz were having a bad season and did not enter. Nuvolari was forced to retire in the initial rush from the starting line when the differential of his 12C/36 broke. The immediate reaction of team manager Nello Ugolini was to call in Brivio in the other 12-cylinder car and give it to the team leader, but Nuvolari decided he would rather take over the eight-cylinder car of Carlo Pintacuda. This he did and rejoined the race in seventh place and in a typical Nuvolari drive he caught and passed everyone, including the three Auto Unions, and won the race. It was this 8C/35 car that Hans Ruesch, the Swiss amateur driver, bought from the Scuderia Ferrari as the 1936 season drew to a close.
Ruesch entered it for the 1936 Donington Park Grand Prix and nominated Richard Seaman as his co-driver, but on his way to the Leicestershire circuit he deviated to Worcestershire to take part in the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb, as an initial try-out for the car. He probably wished he had gone straight to Donington Park, for it poured with rain at Shelsley Walsh and all he could do was to flounder up the hill in 47.07 sec. At Donington Park it was a different story for Ruesch and Seaman won with ease, the 8C/35 Alfa Romeo being the latest and most powerful car in the entry. Ruesch drove the first half and Seaman the second half and apart from a slight “coming together” with Bira’s 8CM Maserati when the owner was at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo, it was an effortless and immaculate win. In the accompanying photo of Seaman in the car, the damage to the lower part of the tail can be seen, inflicted by the front of Bira’s Maserati.
Like many Swiss racing drivers Hans Ruesch, who hailed from Zurich, found Britain an agreeable place for motor racing, the simple amateur atmosphere being more to his liking than the hard school of European Grand Prix racing. Ruesch stayed on and raced at the closing BARC meeting at Brooklands track where he finished second to Raymond Mays (ERA 2-litre) in the Mountain Championship race. He complained that Mays had jumped the start, but the Stewards refuted the suggestion. During the winter of 1936/37 he shipped the Alfa Romeo out to South Africa for their summer season, along with many other Europeans, even though the races were handicap events. He netted a fifth place in the Grosvenor Grand Prix at Cape Town and was unplaced in the Rand Grand Prix in Johannesburg.
Returning to Europe Ruesch entered the British Empire Trophy race at Donington Park but was forced to retire with gearbox trouble. Being a “professional” amateur privateer Hans Ruesch picked his races cannily, going to the smaller races where opposition was negligible, rather than trying to compete with the factory teams, though obviously he was duty-bound to enter his own country’s Grand Prix at Berne and it was good for his professional status to run at Monaco and Nurburgring. During 1937 the Alfa Romeo was very active and travelled far, recording wins in the Frontieres Grand Prix at Chimay, the Finnish Grand Prix at Helsingfors, the Bucharest Grand Prix in Rumania (where Dan Margulies saw it in action) and at the end of the season Ruesch returned to Brooklands and this time won the Mountain Championship race. He had intended to race in the JCC 200 mile race at Donington Park, which was due the week after the Swiss Grand Prix, but trouble with the car on the Bremgarten circuit forced him to scratch from the British event. The day before the Swiss Grand Prix he had won th eNational “Prix du Bremgarten” which, for the 8C/35 Alfa Romeo, was more of an ego trip than a serious motor race, but as leading Swiss racing driver of the time he was expected to take part in his country’s major club event.
During the 1937 season Hans Ruesch and the 8C/35 finished 8th in the German Grand Prix on the NUrburgring and 8th at Monaco, in both races among the “big boys”. In the Monegasque race he was placed on the starting grid alongside Pintacuda, who had raced the 8C/35 in 1936, but who was now in a 12C/36. While all this was happening in Europe, back in England in small club speed trials and hillclimbs the name of Dennis Poore was begining to appear in the results sheets with an MG sports car.
In 1938 a new Formula for Grand Prix racing came into use and this limited supercharged engines to a capacity of 3-litres, so the 8C/35 and the 12C/36 were now obsolete, as were all the Auto Unions and mercedes-Benz. Naturally the factories built new cars for the new Formula, but it meant that the privateer no longer had the possibility of taking part in Grand Prix races, so Ruesch’s activities with the 8C/35 were brought to a halt. He entered the car for one meeting at the Crystal Palace, in April 1938, with R.E.L. (Buddy) Featherstonehaugh as driver. It finished 5th in the second-heat, but in the final the well-known saxophone player and dance-band man managed to roll it over.
In 1939 Hans Ruesch, living in Zurich, must have been much more aware of the impending war than anyone in England and the Alfa Romeo remained in London. Ruesch drove it in the Sydenham Trophy race at the Crystal Palace in May 1939, winning Heat 2 and coming 3rd in the final. This meeting was notable for the fact the Ruesch could not find a way past the Swiss driver, and it was obvious that the Siamese driver was being held up. In the final Prince Chula, Bira’s cousin and team-manager, decided to put twin-rear wheels on the ERA, as the circuit was getting slippery and polished. Once again the big Alfa got away first and Bira tried all he knew to get by, but Ruesch would not concede an inch. In the pits Chula was nearly apoplectic with rage until finally, with the ERA leaning on him, Ruesch made a slight error of judgement on one corner and ran wide. Instantly the ERA was by and away into the lead. [Sounds like Jones and Reutemann at Long Beach 1981, doesn’t it? – A.H.]
In July 1939 Ruesch once more entered the car at the Crystal Palace, but he failed to turn up, as by now anyone in central Europe was either digging a hole in neutral country or organising a trip to the United States, away from the impending disaster of a European war. Hans Ruesch sold the Alfa Romeo to Robert Arbuthnot, of High Speed Motors in Lancaster Mews in London, as he could see no further use for it himself. Arbuthnot was an Alfa Romeo specialist and dealer and had been racing a 2.3-litre Monza Alfa Romeo. The British were still believing what Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had told them when he returned from Munich in 1938, and the BARC ran its August Bank Holiday meeting in 1939. Arbuthnot entered the 8C/35 and was leading the 10 lap Campbell Trophy race, ahead of all sorts of famous drivers like Mays, Bira, Whitehead, Ansell, Cotton etc., until he spun off on a corner and had to let them all go by. However, he did have the consolation of recording a new Class C lap record for the circuit.
When the war broke out on September 3rd 1939 the 8C/35 Alfa Romeo was salted away, along with most of the other racing cars of the time and Arbuthnot intended to race it again when sanity returned. Alas, it was not to happen, for he was killed in a road accident in August 1946, having survived the war years. In 1947 the 8C/35 was purchased by Dennis Poore, who it will be recalled, was competing with an MG Midget when Ruesch and the big Alfa were at the height of their fame. Poore sprang to prominence at the second race meeting held on Gransden Lodge aerodrome, when he won the big event of the day, handling the 8C/35 with confidence and ease. From then on he competed in every possible event in the British Isles, from straight-line sprint meetings, through hill-climbs to circuit races at the new Goodwood airfield track to similar converted aerodromes at Boreham, Silverstone and elsewhere. R.D. Poore and the 8C/35 Alfa Romeo was a familiar sight to enthusiasts all over the country in the immediate post-war years. When Ruesch acquired the car it was naturally painted Italian red, and to comply with the International colour code for Switzerland of red and white he painted the nose cowling white. Poore had the car painted British racing green and outwardly it remained unchanged, but a lot of work was done on the engine over the years he raced it. The two Alfa Romeo Roots superchargers were replaced by English Wade instruments and the inlet manifolding was completely revised. In 1950 Dennis Poore won the RAC Hillclimb championship, which was no mean feat with such a big car against the more nimble ERAS. It could still run in National Formula Libre events at the airfield circuits, but there was no place for it in International events and Poore ended its active life by taking part in VSCC Historic racing car events.
By 1953 Dennis Poore was very involved with Connaught racing and Formula 2, as well as with Aston Martin in sports car racing, so the old Alfa Romeo was pensioned off and laid to rest in one of his factories in Southampton. Since then it has only seen the light of day on one occasion and that was for the Castrol 75th Year celebrations, when it appeared at their London Exhibition. After that it returned to its resting place and it is still then today — D.S.J.