A Day with J. V. Bowles’ ex-Bagratouni 2.6-litre Alfa-Romeo

ONE day last month we invited ourselves Out in the ex-Bagratouni

2.6-litre, Straight eight supercharged Alfa-Romeo, now owned by .1. V. Bowles.

Bowles will be remembered for his beautifully turned-out. Cozette-blown ” Ulster ‘ Austin, in which he put up so many excellent performances at Prescott and elsewhere. Last winter he decided to do less competition motoring and sold the famous black-and-silver Austin to a young enthusiast from Edinburgh University, acquiring in its plate the ” 2.6 ” Alfa

Romeo driven before the war by G. Ilagratottni.

The history of this beautiful red motor car is somewhat obsoure but Bowles believes Butt he can truthfully say he has ” one of the team ears, old boy,” for this Alfa-Romeo is thought to have run in the 1934 Mille Miglia. The puzzle is, winch ” Mille Miglia ” car is this—its engine number is 2111035 and any information on this point will be appreciated by the present owner.

Subsequent history is also rather sparse. Bagratouni seems to have brought the car to this country. where it was registered AMO 999. It ran with considerable Wm in sprints, taking t he 2to 3-litre class records at Hat•I: well (27.8 see.), Bo’ness (35.2 see.), and Prescott (51.14 see.) in 1939.

George Abecassis owned the car for a time, as he told us in his ” Cars I have Owned ” article in the February issue, and I). L. I tennett offered it for sale in 1947. I ant nflail to find, incidentally, that Foolis have used a nice picture of it as frontispieee to my latest book ” Continental Sports Cars.” Bowles bought the car from Jack Bartlett. It has a number of notably special features. The straight-eight engine follows normal Alfa-Romeo practice, with the drive for the twin o.h, camshafts

between the two cylinder blocks and a heavily-finned Roots blower on the off side, drawing from a forward-placed Memini twiti-eltoke carburetter with accelerator pimp, and delivering via finned manifolding. The cylinder head, however, is detachable, unlike that of contemporary racing Alfas, probably to facilitate easy verification of bore and stroke after race-winning ! The valve gear is thought to be of ” Monza ” type, and the supercharger is driven at 1.6 times engine speed instead of the more usual 1 it It times. The compression-ratio is 6.2 to 1 and tIte boost approximately 9-10 lb./sq. in., which compares with the 6 to 1 oompression-ratio and 10 11). boost (front the doul de !slower) of the racing ” P3.”

The short chassis is used. with -elliptic suspension, the front springs sliding in trunnions at the bock find being shackled at the front. Siata friction shockabsorbers are fitted, those at the rear controlled by a knob in the cockpit that varies the damping via cable-and-pulley eonnections.

Reverting to the beautifully finished and maintained engine, this is lubricated on I he dry-sump system from a 51-gallon oil tank beneath the passenger’s scat, filled through a filler in the near-side ruining-board. There is an oil-level indicator set against the front edge of the passenger’s seat. A big Bosch distributor sticks up from the centre of the head and at the back of the engine is an odd-looking ,Bosch coil. Safe speed is 5,200 r.p.m., but 5,500 r.p.m. is permitted for brief spells, and Bagratouni apparently went to 5,700 when in search of coarse-records. The tooling system holds 21 gallons of water. llowleS maintains the engine in spotless condition and good Oil-seals make their own contribution to this conscientious maintenance. The front axle, of the traditienal Alfa-Romeo ” D “-Si!etion, and brakes are

like those on the •’ P3.” The brake drums carry alloy lins and have an inside diameter of 151 in. The front wheels carry 5.50. by In. the rear wheels 6.00 by 18 tyres. The bid tank holds 32 gallons, the rear axle 1 of a gallon of oil, the gearbox 1 of a gallon of oil. The long central, visible-gate gear-lever, central hand-brake and central accelerator conform to normal Alfa-Romeo practice, as does the sober non-spring steering wheel with advance and retard lever above it.

The body is a very beautiful two-seater by Touring of Milan, with a delightful driving position front which one looks dozen on the long bonnet, and both front wings, eyes above the top of the windscreen. The leather-upholstered driving seat is a proper snug fit, as on a racing car, and the passenger is equally comfortable. Two spare wheels grace the tail and the headlamps carry streamlined metal covers. There was once is tail-fin but it has been removed.

Needless. to say, the facia is well stocked with dials and controls. These include a clock, water thermometer, Bosch push-button ignition switch (conveniently before the passenger !), oil .gauge, oil thermometer, big hand-tltrottle knob, a lever to control a radiator shutter, not now used, and a Nivex fuel gauge. A big 130-m.p.h. speedometer and rev.counter reading 1.0 6,000 r.pan. flank the Bosch ignition, lamps and starter-switches panel. The layout, is complete yet Oncongested, and the dials delightfully proportioned, one to the Other.

A horn-pusIt in the wheel-centre sounds an apologetic warning and a tiny lever OIL the cockpit Iloor serves to clan one of the three petrol filters. Quick-act ion caps .are found on fill tank fillers, radiator included, and flu’ radiator grille curves out at: the bottom. Bowies believes Butt of the three team ” ‘2.6s,” only this one left Ihtly. It is a beaut Hui car wills which, not surprisingly, lie communes for hours it a thne in its heated garage. The healthy condition of the car is evidenced not only by its ” Concours ” external appearance but by such facts as its ready response to the startinghandle, firing with one pall-up, and the oil pressure, which is 25 11,./sq. in. at tick over and never below 40 lb./sq. in. at other times, whereas trtinimtuns of 4 and 6 lb./sq. in. are actually permissible: On the road this Alfa-Romeo is equally eovetable. And so it should 4c:, for its specifications suggests that acceleratively it would not be lost by so very much by monoposta ” P3 ” of equivalent size. You see, the thy weight is quoted as 191 cwt., and the engine obviously develops some very healthy horses, while pulling an axle ratio of 16/54. Equally

impressive is the docility, as you shall learn.

Bowles drove me steadily along the Essex by-ways, past acres of flooded fields, to the Southend Arterial, what time the oil thermometer needle gradually assumed a place in the sun—or at any rate indicated a few degrees of heat. He then turned on the taps and 105 m.p.h. showed up anywhere he wanted, the revs, at a mere 4,000 or so. No real attempt was made to extend the car, for Bowles is considerate to his passenger while still acquiring the correct technique for combating a distinct tendency of this Alfa to snake when it should be travelling in a straight line. On a solo occasion he got 122 m.p.h., and Bagratouni is believed to have exceeded 130.

But there was no denying the smooth, effortless running. Eighty miles per hour was a slow, ambling gait, when the familiar ” Alfa-noises ” from the engine were carried away in the wind and only the whine of the straight-tooth Thomson and Taylor back axle sang a king. Pressing slightly harder, 100 m.p.h. came up just as effortlessly ; indeed, this speed should be attainable in third gear.

The gear-ratios are not known, but they represent 11, 14, 20 and 24 m.p.h. per Impo r.p.m., respectively. But the docility of the car is as impressive as the speeds of around 70 in second and 100 in third. The fuel used is plain ” Pool,” the plugs were Lodge C3, such as you would put into an Austin Seven—Champion 1(17 were used for racing—yet not only would the tar run in top at: 12 m.p.h. without snatch, but it would accelerate away without protest, and seemed quite happy idling along at 700 r.p.nt. or less, ignition retarded. For twenty miles or so we drove it unashamedly as a top-gear machine without fouling plugs or occasioning any distress, and for a car developing such high 1).11,1). this docility is really quite extraordinary.

Other impressions are that the snaking on the straight calls for a bit of nerve to keep the foot at. advanced throttle openings. but is diminished by holding the wheel lightly, that on corners the merest. wrist movement takes the car round, that the brakes are firm and adequate and the antithesis of spongy, and that when the accelerator is depressed things happen in big measure, accompanied by all the right sounds and sensations. Tile sitspensioil gives a comfortable ride but. the front-end gets a bit lively at times. The clutch likes to la! fully engaged before t he power is put t Itrough it but doesn’t appear to mind being slipped, and gear-eltanging is a firm, precise Imsiness calling for good judgment. Altogether, during my brief’ drive I was captivated by this Italian-red Alfit-Romeo and hope to renew acquaintance with it on a day when there is more sun and fewer showers. As it was, no performance figures were taken. but. I was assured that the steady, clearly calibrated speedometer is accurate at. :10 and quite a lot slow at 60 m.p.h. A previous owner has quoted acceleration figures of 0-60 in 6.9 see., 0-90 in 18.2 sec., 0-100 in 24.5 seeztrat 0-115 m.p.h. in 35.7 see., and fuel consumptions of 12 m.p.g. at 50, 9 m.p.g. 4it 60 and 6-8 m.p.g. at 80-90 m.p.h. Bowles calls it 11-12 m.p.g. on his average

runs. After our 105 m.p.h. runs the water thermometer recorded under 80 deg. C., by the way. AM() 999 is run on Castrol XL oil and gets a shot of Redex in the airintake, through a convenient little hole in the big giltite air-cleaner, before the starter is pressed.

Every inch an Alfa, this splendid motor car has the added allure of being a car with. a Itistory, a team-car, and I could have spent a happy afternoon just studying the beautiful detail-work–the special mounting brackets for the front shock-absorbers to name only one.

But Bowles tore me away from the garage where the Alfa-Roineo keeps company with his Austin Seven maid-ofall-work and his Erskine-engined Maren(Liz-Special, to show me other things. We went, in fact, to the garage of those enthusiasts, the Heywards. First we admired the single-seater Austin which C. W. Ifeyward is building under the aegis of Bowles. This car has an engine once used in Bowles’ ” Ulster,” with ” Grasshopper ” head, a No. 4 Cozette

blower, Solex.carburetter, ” Ulster ” crankshaft and racing M.L. magneto. This is the only genuine ” T.T. ” Austin Seven engine now in existence, it seems. Later a 20-lb. boost No. 8 Cozette blower will be used, which should produce quite something. The eilittiSiS has a ” Grasshopper front axle with very strong radius-arms and at the back normal Austin springs have been reassembled upside down and mounted within the channel-section of the chassis to lower the car. The driver sits above the propeller-shaft; with clutch pedal to the left, brake pedal to the right. of the gearbox, which is it close-ratio four

speed with Cambridge Engineering Co. remote control, the clutch shaft being hollow at the end to carry the brake-pedal shaft. Naturally, the steering is centralised. The brakes are rod-Operated, an ” Ulster ” 4.9 to 1 back axle is used, and the car will have a very neat., professionally-built body. But we are supposed to be thinking of sports cars, so I will digress to refer to 11. L. Heyward’s unblown ” Ulster ” Austin, which he will run in 750 M.C. Formula events. and to Trowbridge’s Austin .• Nippy,” which I ant told is quite a car, for it has an unblown ” Grasshopper ” engine. Austin fans may care to know that this potent power-unit has a threebearing crankshaft with Nos. 1 and 2 big-ends pressure lubricated from an ” Ulster ” snout and Nos. 3 and 4 bigends fed from the centre main bearing. This contrasts with a 1938 ” Works ” Paris-Nice Austin Seven engine owned by Trowbridge, whictt has all big-ends fed from the centre main. His ” Grasshopper ” unit retains the special geartrain that once drove a Type 125 Centric supercharger, and the double clutch springs. Incidentally, its valve springs measure 71 in. uncompressed and a special valve-tool has been devised for fitting them Iii t he same garage we saw the NorrisSpecial sprint car. I was surprised to learn that its blown F.W.D. Alvis engine is raced on ” Pool ” and that Heyward lent never lost a chain from the FrazerNash transmission, and never had to change a plug daring a meeting, a splendid example of dependability from an antateur-built racing car. The Aikens Continued on page 232

500, the T.T. Rudge Ulster engine of which was once part of a plot of four such engines powering one special, was also present. Brian I feyward intends to gain experience with the latter car when the Army can spare him from compulsory service. Finally, a glance at a special Austin Seven BOWICS has built for that staunch

Austin advocate, Harold Biggs. A very trim car this, in its correct Austin orange, with fuel tank from a racing Mallory, divided front axle, Whatmough-Hewitt alloy head, Scintilla Vertex magneto, etc. It may surprise you, while on the subject of Austin Sevens, to state that one of the ways in which Bowles kept the engine of his ” Ulster ” together, even when its Cozette blower (with (“mate carburetter) gave a 20-1b. boost, was to drain the Castrol R from its sump every 100 miles. When did you last drain your engine ? Answer, guilty or not guilty !

So you see, ” J. V. B.” hasn’t forsaken Austin Sevens, as he might well be excused for doing now that he has such a very nice Alfa-Romeo. We enjoyed driving the latter, we enjoyed true hospitality from Bowles and his enthusiastic wife (who goes shopping in the Alfa), and there was a satisfactory run home in the willing Morgan ” 4/4 ” from Epping to what is virtually Aldershot, in 1 hours. Yes, a good day and one very close to the heart of an enthusiast !—W.B.