In his article on the 2900B Alfa Romeo (Motor Sport, March 1989), GC finds the decision by Alfa Romeo to release one of its cars for sale at the end of 1938 “peculiar”, on the grounds that “they had a factory racing future assured for 1939”.
That is precisely what they did not have. GC has forgotten that after we Brits took the initiative in banning the supercharger from our international sports-car racing for the 1934 season and France followed our lead for 1936, the Italians joined us both for 1939 — the year in which the supercharger finally received its come-uppance for road racing (Le Mans being the only exception).
It was the big French sportscars of 1936 and 1937 which reminded us all that performance is a function of poise and balance rather than sheer horsepower, and showed the supercharger to be redundant. In the latter year, Jean Bugatti rebuilt one of his supercharged 3.3-litre Type 59 Grand Prix cars as an unsupercharged two-seater sports model, and watched in amazement as it lapped the circuits faster than its blown predecessor; the unblown 3.6-litre Delahayes seriously alarmed the blown 2900A Alfas in the Mille Miglia; and the unblown 3.3-litre Bugatti “tanks” were faster at Le Mans than Sommer’s blown works 2.9 Alfa, causing its exasperated driver to hit 8000 rpm and convert its valves into a row of knitting. At one point in the 24-hour race at Spa in 1938, the two works 2900Bs (one of which was the car in GC’s article) were being led on speed by Louis Gerard’s unblown 3-litre Delage.
In 1939 the only Alfas eligible to run as sports-cars were the V12 41/2s and the 21/2-litre Sixes. The works used the former for the GPs of Antwerp and Luxemburg, and the latter in the North African version of the Mille Miglia and Le Mans — though it could have run a 2900B at the latter meeting had it wanted to.
The only other possible theatre for the 2900B in 1939 was Brooklands all-comers handicap racing, so the appearance of one for sale in England is really not “peculiar” at all.
It is a great pity that the lure of easy money from the power game brought the supercharger back forty years later — a dangerous nonsense; driving about with a red-hot turbocharger under the bonnet in close proximity to potential petrol leaks is not my idea of a joke, nor can it possibly lead to any real engineering advances. A toast to Jaguar, for its courage in resisting such folly; and another to some real Formula One racing in 1989. What sort of Grand Prix formula was it which allowed the turbo drivers to overtake the rest by turning a knob and adding the equivalent of an extra litre’s capacity to their engines?
Anthony Blight, Callington, Cornwall
The article on the 1938 AlfaRomeo 2900B (Motor Sport, March 1989) was of considerable interest, not least because of the various references to the car’s enforced rest and preservation in Scotland during the 1950s and 1960s, and the loss of parts of its bodywork.
I am sure you are aware that during that period the car was owned by Major Edward Gordon Thompson. After his death in 1970, his extensive collection of cars was auctioned by Sotheby’s. All the proceeds were donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. During his lifetime, I understand that Major Thompson had been one of the major sponsors of Ecurie Ecosse, hence the presence in the collection of a D-type Jaguar and the explanation of why so many of his cars were painted in Ecurie Ecosse colours.
Around 1973 I purchased a 1930 30hp Lanchester. The roof of its limousine body had been roughly cut off at some time. Apart from that, the entire car was in remarkably sound, original condition. Several years later, I discovered that the father of a business associate had worked on the Thompson estate in Scotland: a catalogue of the auction shows that the Lanchester had been part of his collection.
From the catalogue it is apparent that a very high proportion of the cars had been mutilated. Thus, a 3-litre Super Sports Sunbeam had lost the rear half of its body, an SSK Mercedes had lost its long flowing wings, a Phantom III Rolls was equipped with a two-seater body, my Lanchester had lost its roof and the Alfa its wings and tail!
It was not, of course, coincidence that all these mutilations appeared in the same collection: they had all been perpetrated by Major Thompson for reasons which we will never know or understand. My informant reported that it was a regular task of the estate staff to carry off large pieces of bodywork for disposal in the adjoining woods. I wonder if the Alfa’s tail still survives?
B Yates, STD Register Archivist, Gamlingay, Bedfordshire
A new twist
The contemporary Press at the time of Isadora Duncan’s death quoted the car as a Bugatti. The police records, according to friends on the Blue Coast who have examined them, quote an Amilcar driven by Falchetto, later a Bugatti and Alfa driver.
However authoress Nesta Macdonald is writing a new biography of the American dancer, and has found a source for a new twist to the story: namely that it was a Bugatti, but for reasons which I had better not leak, the Chief of Police arranged for Falchetto and his Amilcar to carry the can. There was no criminality involved and the switch was to avoid a scandal!
HG Conway, London W2
Reference “Too Soft for Soft Tops?” (Motor Sport, March 1989) and the anticipated ending of production of the Bertone Fiat X1/9, I am surprised that the Pininfarina Spyder Europa has not been sought after by UK soft-top enthusiasts. The one I purchased in 1984 has been admired more than any other car l have owned, including a 2600 Alfa Romeo Sprint, which in the early days of this model attracted a great deal of attention.
Hopefully the specialists will keep up the good work, so that we are not all forced to drive around in present-day “FWD look-alikes”.
AR Towers, Ramsey, Isle of Man
The answer to your question as to whether the Tudor House at Bearsted still survives is that it was destroyed by fire some years ago and the site has now been redeveloped.
However I knew it well in the Thirties, when I was at school not many miles away. On Sundays my parents used to drive down from London to take me out, and it was a favourite resort for its delicious strawberry-and-cream teas. It was most beautifully furnished with antiques, Persian rugs and fine silver, and the service was in keeping. I remember being told at the time that it belonged to Short Brothers of Rochester, who used to entertain their VIPs and customers there. In the drive was a kind of sentry-box with a custodian in full armour who attended to visitors and their cars. I was most intrigued by the armour, and one stifling summer’s day asked him whether the weight tired him. He proudly informed me his suit was made of duralumin and was very comfortable!
Later in the Thirties Short’s disposed of the place, and unfortunately all the fine furnishings vanished.
PB Richley, Ashford, Kent