A sportscar great

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A sportscar great

ONE OF THE GREAT CARS OF 11 II: PRE WW2 PERIOD

must be the 2.9-litre Alfa Romeo which won the 1938 Mille Miglia driven by Biondetti. It came to England later that year, when the late Hugh Hunter bought it and had it registered1ML 1′. The axle ratio and compression ratio used for the race had been lowered but the performance was still impressive.

On the road, this Alfa Romeo was still capable of 65mph in second gear, 90 in third and it could reach 110mph. The only other short-chassis 2.9 Alfa Romeo of this kind imported into this country was that owned by Anthony Crook, acquired after war had broken out in 1939; it differed from Hunter’s in that it had a ‘crash’ instead of a synchromesh box. The reason why the Mille Miglia winner was sent to the London Motor Show was for it to entice

people into buying the standard 2.9 model. In fact, this Superleggera two-seater was not for sale — until, that is, Hugh Hunter persuaded Thomson and Taylor otherwise, with his charm and chequebook. He then took delivery of a car of which the only others were those which had finished second and third in the Mille Miglia, driven by Pintacuda and Dusio.

What Hunter had acquired was a competition car with a box-section 9ft 2in wheelbase chassis, all-round independent suspension and that shapely lightweight body by Carrozzeria Touring. It had aero-screens, but Hunter had a full-width screen made by Ranalagh, plus a hood and tonneau. A Burgess silencer subdued the former open exhaust, and blower pressure and water heat gauges were added. The tail held just a 38-gallon fuel tank

and a five-gallon oil tank, for the P3-type twin-cam straight-eight dry-sump, supercharged engine; luggage space was entirely nil. With some 10Ib boost the power output was estimated at 180bhp or more. But in the race at Brooldands to find the fastest roadgoing sportscar, Hunter just beat the unblovvn, but 3g-litre Delahaye of Arthur Dobson on the Campbell circuit, before retiring with gearbox trouble in the heat on the Mountain Course.

Hunter then sold the car to Tony Crook, before he in turn sold it to someone in Scotland who cut down the elegant body and fitted skimpy mudguards. Today it has been returned to its proper form and resides in America. As a well-sprung, comfortable, very fast and useable car, Alfa Romeo JML 1 must be one of the memorable ‘greats’.