At Brooklands I knew A F Ashby, who had tuned his side-valve 1½-litre Riley into a race winner, able to lap at over 80mph in 1927. In 1937 he acquired a 1935 2.9-litre Tipo B Alfa Romeo monoposto, a late independent front suspension version of the car which had dominated GP racing until the German racing machines arrived.
But Ashby audaciously ignored the brilliant engineer Vittorio Jano. New steel cylinder blocks were cast, maybe because the alloy ones had corroded. The crankcase and crankshaft were original but new pistons, cylinder heads and valve-gear were made, the water jackets round the valves and sparking plug were improved, and separate water jackets directed water round the exhaust valves through separate manifolds between the plugs. The cylinders had ports smaller than Jano’s, and the inlet valves were larger than the exhaust valves, the plugs now 14mm not the 18mm size, with redesigned base chamber baffles to keep out oil. He altered the way the supercharger fed the cylinder blocks, and there were now twin outside exhaust pipes and a new clutch. The brakes were improved, with help from Lockheed.
Ashby shared it with R L Duller in the first race over the Brooklands Campbell circuit, in 1937, but the rear brakes had to be adjusted and after a good start it was in the end flagged off. In another Campbell circuit race it broke a valve guide, a piece of which then re-emerged in practice for the JCC International Trophy and wrecked a piston.
Ashby wore a surgical boot on his right foot, which jokers said explained why he would lead other competitors along a straight but they would come past at a corner.
When the modified Alfa Romeo was practising for the 1938 JCC 200-mile race it set a new Class-C lap record, but in the race burned a piston. He won a Campbell ‘road’ circuit event the same year at 69.16mph (best lap 74.8mph), from an Alta.
Ashby then put the Tipo B into storage throughout the war, when it deteriorated. It was acquired in 1946 by Ken Hutchison for whom the capable Robin Jackson worked on it. Eventually it went out to New Zealand, where it was rebuilt, the body being given the original wide cockpit. It then moved to Japan and the USA before finding its way home to Italy.