Letter to readers, October 1988


In recent months there have been letters in the columns of Motor Sport decrying the dismantling of a famous racing car from the British motor racing scene, in order to recreate a car that was last seen in one piece in 1937. I refer to Multi-Union II. One of the letters we received (Motor Sport, July 1988) was from Jack Emmott who was one of the group of people who conceived the Multi-Union, and later became the owner.

The idea of the Multi-Union stemmed from Flt Lt Chris Staniland who was Chief Test pilot for Fairey Aviation, and a noted racing driver of the 1930s. In 1935, when the Scuderia Ferrari began to sell-off its obsolete Grand Prix cars, the French driver Raymond Sommer bought one of the 1934 Grand Prix Alfa Romeos. He raced it in many of the Grand Prix races in Europe, and ended the season competing in the Donington Park Grand Prix. Chris Staniland then bought the car and raced it in British events during 1936. By 1937 the car was very out-dated and no longer competitive, but Staniland conceived the idea of using it as the basis for a special. Not a “bit” but a soundly-engineered special Alfa Romeo, with improvements to all the Alfa Romeo components and in particular, the 2.9-litre supercharged straight-eight engine.

It first appeared in 1938 and won the 100-mile race in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, proving to have the legs of any of the cars currently competing in British racing. In 1939 it reappeared as Multi-Union II, the Alfa Romeo suspension, brakes, gearbox, supercharging layout and most other parts being replaced with superior components. In its first form it had set new 3-litre international speed records at nearly 140mph, and in its second form it was even faster, and certainly the fastest 2.9-litre Alfa Romeo-engined car. The 1939-45 war put a stop to further development.

Sadly Chris Staniland was killed in an air crash during the war, and subsequently Jack Emmott sold the Multi-Union II. Various people tried to compete with it, mostly in unsuitable events, but remarkably it remained unmodified from its 1939 state; used recently, that is. The present owner(s) decided that it wasn’t an important car, and certainly not a valuable appreciating asset for the auction world. Various attempts to sell it, even at an honest figure, drew little interest. In the meantime “collectors’ valuations” of genuine old Grand Prix cars began to be pushed up and up, and a genuine 1934 Grand Prix Alfa Romeo Tipo B was given an “established value”. The poor old MultiUnion, which was a far superior racing car to any Tipo B Alfa Romeo, did not have a “collector’s value”. Very soon now there will appear a totally rebuilt, restored, reclaimed, call it what you will, Tipo B Alfa Romeo monoposto 1934. It will be a car that was once part of the Scuderia Ferrari, more than likely raced by Nuvolari and probably the winner of many Grand Prix races. It will not be for sale, of course.

The claim will be that it is the ex-Raymond Sommer, ex-Chris Staniland car, the one that Staniland and his friends “vandalised” to make into a home-made special in 1937. In truth it will contain the chassis side-rails, less the front part which was cut off, the divided prop-shaft rear axle, the steering box, and some of the engine parts. The rest will be new. From the dismantling of Multi-Union II there will remain the special four-speed gearbox, the Tecnauto independent front suspension, the Lockheed hydraulic brakes, the special oil and water radiators, all the bodywork, the superchargers and manifolding and much of the cockpit hardware. These will be mounted on a new chassis frame and a new engine will power the car and it will purport tube Multi-Union II.

As Winston Churchill said, when introduced to the naval chap named Bossom, “Not one thing, nor another”.

Depending on where you are standing and where your interests lie, Chris Staniland and his friends “vandalised” an obsolete Alfa Romeo in 1937, or the present owner(s) have “vandalised” a car that was significant in British motor racing history. I know where I am standing and where my interests lie, even though I am an ardent Alfa Romeo and Scuderia Ferrari enthusiast. Vandalism does not seem to be confined to Great Britain; a similar act of breaking up an historic car has recently happened in Australia. This concerns a record-breaking car built by Piero Taruffi in the early 1950s which he named TARF II. He had built his first TARF around motorcycle components for breaking 500cc speed records and the conception of the vehicle was to present as low a frontal area as possible and the lowest possible drag. There were two cigar-shaped pontoons; one contained the engine and gearbox and the other contained the driver, (Taruffi himself) and the controls. There was a wheel at the front and rear of each pontoon, concealed within the shell. The two pontoons were spaced apart at the desired track measurement, and joined by aerofoil struts carrying pipes and control systems.

So successful was the original TARF that Taruffi embarked on a second one, this time built around racing car components. It was of similar layout, but scaled up to take a Grand Prix Maserati engine, enlarged to 1720cc from its original 1500cc, and using Maserati wheels and brakes and gearbox. This was TARF II and it took 2-litre class records at speeds up to 144mph. It had a maximum in the region of 180mph.

When Taruffi gave up record breaking he gave TARF II to the Monza museum, where it stayed for some 25 years. Not long ago it was acquired by an Australian who took the engine and gearbox out to put into a 4CLT/48 Maserati Grand Prix, of the type from which the unit had come. The resurrecting of a valuable and historic Grand Prix car!

The Australian York Motor Museum acquired TARF II, less its oversize 4CLT Maserati engine and gearbox, and feeling they ought to do something with it, they installed an engine from a production Dino Ferrari. A Rover 2000cc gearbox was mated to the Ferrari engine and TARF II was made mobile, though for no other purpose than to drive it on ‘demonstrations’ though what it is meant to be demonstrating is unclear.

And now, back home, I hear that one of the Vanwall Grand Prix cars has gone to the USA! When GKN, which took over the Vandervell empire, decided to have a clearout it sold the whole Vanwall collection of cars and equipment to Tom Wheatcroft’s Donington Park museum, as being a suitable home for one of Britain’s best Grand Prix teams. One of the original team cars, together with the one assembled recently from spare parts, is said to have gone to an American collector. Is nothing sacred? DSJ