Alfa Romeo. The brand with a pedigree unique to the motoring world, shaped by gifted designers, engineers, and racing drivers to count a portfolio of automobiles affiliated with fine arts, leading industry and celebrated sportsmanship, is making its presence felt at the 2008 Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend with six cars taking part drawn from its official museum, Automobilismo Storico Alfa Romeo.

Alfa Romeo. The brand with a pedigree unique to the motoring world, shaped by gifted designers, engineers, and racing drivers to count a portfolio of automobiles affiliated with fine arts, leading industry and celebrated sportsmanship, is making its presence felt at the 2008 Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend with six cars taking part drawn from its official museum, Automobilismo Storico Alfa Romeo.

The half dozen cars shipped over from the museum serve to complement an upbeat effort by Alfa Romeo at Goodwood, with Nick Mason's black Alfa 8C Competizione taking part in the Sunday Times Supercar Run twice today and the brand-new Alfa 8C Spider, first seen at Geneva in the spring, on static display on the Alfa Romeo stand, which, through the sell-out opening day, has been the focus of huge visitor attention with all models from the production range attracting attention.

8C 2300 Tipo Le Mans 1931 & 8C 2300 Spider Corsa 1932

Produced in both road and competition guise from 1931 until 1941, the Alfa Romeo 8C rightly deserves to be regarded as the most influential thoroughbred in Alfa Romeo’s revered history. Following the success of the 1920s 6C models, the 8C myth remains Alfa Romeo’s greatest ambassador and represents the realisation of international success destined for the Milanese brand since the company’s foundation in 1910.

Due to prestigious trackside success and flamboyant coachbuilt road cars for the elite, the 8C arguably defined the first Italian supercar, forming the benchmark for pre-war Italian performance automobiles.

Two models were produced, the 8C 2300 (1931-1935) and the even rarer and more valuable 8C 2900 (1936-1941). The 8C 2300 also spawned the short-wheelbase 8C 2600 Monza of 1933, with an enlarged 2.6-litre engine which was campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari. Another development of the 8C resulted in the groundbreaking Tipo B Monoposto Grand Prix car of 1934.

Named after its in-line 8-cylinder engine, the 8C was designed by Alfa Romeo’s fabled chief engineer, Vittorio Jano. The engine had a common crankcase with two individual all-alloy 4-cylinder blocks, which also incorporated the heads. A central gear tower drove the dual overhead camshafts, supercharger and ancillaries.

The 8C 2300 had a 2,336 cc engine, and was initially designed as a racing car. Despite this 188 units were also produced for road use. In its first years of competition the 8C 2300 dominated the racing scene. Victories included four consecutive wins in the Le Mans 24-hour race (plus a close second in 1935), two wins in the Spa 24 hours, three consecutive victories in the Targa Florio, and three more in the Mille Miglia.

Due to its competitive success, the 8C defined many of the great drivers of the era, in particular Nuvolari, Caracciola and Chinetti. The 8C also assisted in building Enzo Ferrari’s legacy, and established the technological standards of excellence which are internationally affiliated with Italian automobiles to the present day. Due to this excellent pedigree, Alfa Romeo also revived the 8C designation for their latest 8-cylinder supercars, the thrilling 8C Competizione and stunning 8C Spider.

The Goodwood Festival of Speed sees two 8C 2300 models on display. A 1931 8C 2300 Tipo Le Mans is being campaigned up the hill and displayed at the Cathedral Paddock. This particular example was purchased by Sir Henry Birkin in England in 1931. Lord Howe won Le Mans in an identical car that same year. Producing 155 bhp at 5,200 rpm and a top speed of 125 mph, the 8C Le Mans will amply demonstrate to Goodwood visitors why this particular model of Alfa Romeo is regarded as one of the greatest sports cars of all time. A second 8C 2300, a Spider Corsa model with Zagato bodywork from 1932, wis on display at the Alfa Romeo UK stand.

Gran Premio Tipo 512 1940 & Gran Premio 159 Alfetta 1951

The second half of the 1930s marked the rise in popularity for voiturette racing. Placed under Grand Prix racers, voiturettes were divided in two classes with 3-litre and 1.5-litre limits respectively. During the late 1930s, Nazi funding for Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union in the 3-litre class resulted in technological benchmarks far beyond the financial capabilities of Alfa Romeo. Due to this Alfa Romeo decided to focus on the 1.5-litre class, and in 1937 charged Scuderia Ferrari in Modena to design and construct a 1.5-litre racer. The result arrived in 1938, in the form of the 8-cylinder Tipo 158 Alfetta (15 standing for 1.5-litre engine, 8 for the number of cylinders). The small racing car was set to become a winner throughout its prolonged career.

Despite this, Alfa Romeo were faced with a new challenge after the announcement that the 3-litre category was to be discontinued, and that the World Championship was to be campaigned under the 1.5-litre regulations. In 1939 Mercedes-Benz managed to design and construct two new W165 1.5-litre cars in a matter of weeks, annihilating the 158 Alfetta at their maiden race in Tripoli. Despite their successful showing, the W165 never raced again, allowing the 158 to record an easy string of victories for the remaining season.

With the prospect of the new 1.5-litre Grand Prix formula becoming effective in 1941, Alfa Romeo set to work on a replacement for the Tipo 158. Conceived by Wilfredo Ricart and developed together with Giocchino Colombo, the Alfa Romeo engineers were inspired by the hugely advanced Auto Union Typ C and D racers of Ferdinand Porsche, and likewise developed an advanced mid-engine layout.

The positioning of a central engine was not only a first for Alfa Romeo, but the design also resulted in a new method of construction. In order to lower the centre of gravity, a completely new flat 12-cylinder engine was developed. A stroke of 54.2 mm was the smallest ever used in a pre-war Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car. Beautifully casted in Elektron at Alfa Romeo’s Milan Portello foundry, the 1,490 cc engine was fitted with twin superchargers to produce 500 bhp at 11,000 rpm. A five-speed gearbox and De Dion rear axle was directly bolted on the engine. Independent suspension for all wheels was developed for the best possible road holding, whereas massive hydraulic drum brakes offered ample braking capabilities necessary for the top speed in excess of 206 mph. The first Tipo 512 prototype was completed in 1940, however development was prematurely halted after Italy entered war on June 10. A second chassis was built, but never completed.

Facility dispersal at Alfa Romeo was decided at the end of 1942: the Direzione Progettazione ed Esperienze (Design and Experimental Department), under Wifredo Ricart and in charge of racing cars, was relocated in a quiet hamlet on the hills overlooking the Lake of Orta, in Piedmont, while the precious racing cars were stored at the Monza Autodromo.

In February 1943, the Milan Portello factory was heavily bombed and later in the year the Nazi occupants claimed the site of the Monza track as a storage yard for their vehicles. The Alfa Romeo racers were hurriedly mothballed and, together with a pile of spare parts, tools, and supporting vehicles moved to a secret hideout behind a purpose-built reinforced wall in a former cheese storage warehouse in the town of Melzo, a few miles east of Milan.

April 1945 signalled the end of war in Italy. Shortly afterwards, a small convoy of Alfa Romeo trucks drove back to Milan carrying a precious cargo into the few buildings still standing at Portello: the six Tipo 158s and the many crates of related material. In a few days, one car was re-assembled and readied for Achille Varzi to give it an airing around the bomb shelled factory.

The distinctive high-pitch scream of the supercharger, the smell of methanol fumes, the deep tone of the exhaust and the blood red bodywork reflecting the derelict factory must have produced an astonishing symbol of freedom when offset against the reminiscent sounds of air raid sirens and gunfire.

Alfa Corse rapidly resumed their racing programme with the tried and tested Alfetta 158, acquitted from the advanced German teams which had been set back by war. Alfa Romeo’s first return to the track for another victorious era began at the Circuit de St.-Cloud, in the outskirts of Paris, on June 9, 1946 with Nino Farina and Jean-Pierre Wimille. The two experienced drivers carefully nursed the priceless racers in their first outing, however both cars retired due to faulty clutches which were too brittle after years in storage. From then onwards, the Tipo 158 became a no-contest for other competitors, so wide was Alfa Romeo’s superiority.

Skillful development, under the supervision of the new chief of the design and development department, Orazio Satta, raised power output to 350 bhp at 8,500 rpm by 1950 and, in its final form, the Tipo 159, to 425 bhp at 9,300 rpm in 1951. The engine became thirstier and the fuel load increased from 170 litres in 1938 to 225 in 1951: such a load couldn’t fit any longer in the tail and had to be split into side tanks, which gave the Tipo 159 its bulkier shape. A tribute to the effectiveness of engine design and construction is the capacity of the oil tank: 17 litres at the beginning and 18 litres by the end of the Alfetta’s career.

Alfa Romeo won nearly every race it entered from 1946 to 1948. The factory didn’t race in 1949, following the untimely death of their top drivers Achille Varzi, Carlo Felice “Didi” Trossi and Jean-Pierre Wimille. The sabbatical was welcomed to reassemble budget and human resources before the start of the new F1 World Driver Championship, which they dominated with Nino Farina in 1950 and won by a narrow margin with Juan Manuel Fangio in 1951, against the rising opposition of Alberto Ascari and his V12 Ferrari. 

The Alfetta was a winner ever since its first race in 1938 until 1951. With two F1 world championships and 35 victories in major races, it was always the car to beat and was very seldom beaten. The atmospheric wail of the supercharged Alfetta 159 is sounding again at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend as it takes to the hill in dynamic action.

33 Stradale Prototipo 1967 & 33/2 Daytona 1968

The Gran Premio Tipo 512 isn't the only mid-engined Alfa Romeo drawing the crowds at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Two examples of the highly desirable Tipo 33 series are present in the form of the 1967 33 Stradale Prototipo and 1968 33/2 “Daytona”.

Alfa Romeo returned to a mid-engined concept in late 1963 with the Tipo 33 project, with the aim to successfully re-enter endurance sports car racing. The initial Tipo 33 design was created by Alfa Romeo’s Experimental Projects department, and was later handed over to the AutoDelta racing department for final development. The first prototype was completed in 1965 and fitted with a 4-cylinder Giulia-derived TZ2 twin cam engine, however finally acquired a 1,995 cc 90° V8 unit.

This V8 engine block was fitted together with a 6-speed gearbox by Valerio Colotti and axle into the rear of the new purpose-designed racing chassis. This chassis was constructed of three 200 mm diameter aluminium tubes arranged in an asymmetrical “H” pattern with light alloy castings to provide mounting points for the engine, transmission and suspension at the rear, and steering, pedals and suspension at the front. Clothed in fibreglass bodywork weighing only 55 kg, the Tipo 33 had a total weight of only 580 kg. Its 1,995 cc engine developed a maximum power output of 270 DIN hp at 9,600 rpm, a compression ratio of 11:1 and a top speed of 186 mph. There were two spark plugs per cylinder, inclined at 48-degrees. The normally aspirated engine was equipped with a direct fuel injection system using a Lucas pump.

All six of the gears were synchronized and the ratios were altered for each specific race. Both front and rear suspension was independent with coil springs, transverse control arms and stabilizing bars. Ventilated disc brakes were used for the first time by Alfa Romeo, applied all round and activated by twin hydraulic circuits.

In 1967, after repeated testing around the Balocco circuit and modifications in the AutoDelta workshop, the 33 mid-engined prototype debuted on 12 March 1967 at the Belgian hillclimbing event at Fléron, with Teodoro Zeccoli winning the occasion. This first version of the Tipo 33 was named “periscope” due to its very characteristic air inlet protruding above the driver.

In 1968, AutoDelta created an evolution model called Tipo 33/2 which proved more successful, especially at the Daytona 24-hours where it achieved first and second place with Udo Schütz and Nino Vaccarella behind the wheel. Victory was repeated at the Targa Florio, where Nanni Galli and Ignazio Giunti took second place overall, followed by teammates Lucien Bianchi and Mario Casoni. Galli and Giunti then won the class at the Nürburgring 1000km, where the 2.5-litre version finished for the first time, placed 4th in the 3-litre class with Schütz and Bianchi. The 1968 season saw the Tipo 33/2 also used mainly by privateers, winning its class in the 1000km Monza, Targa Florio and Nürburgring races. At the end of the 1968 season Alfa Romeo finished third in the manufacturers championship.

Riding on this wave of success, designer Franco Scaglione of Turin and AutoDelta designed a road version of the Tipo 33. Built by Carrozzeria Marazzi, the 33 Stradale made its debut at the 1967 Turin Motorshow. Only 18 examples were built for a particularly demanding type of clientele.

Built in an attempt by Alfa Romeo to make its racing technology available to the public, it was the most expensive automobile for sale to the public in 1968 at US$17,000 (when the average cost of a new car in 1968 was $2,822). The Stradale is believed to be the first production vehicle to feature dihedral doors, also known as butterfly doors. The Stradale also featured windows which seamlessly curved upward into the 'roof' of the vehicle.

The Stradale also differed from the competition version in its dimensions (wheelbase widened to 2350 mm, front track rose to 1350 mm; 3970 mm long, 1710 mm wide, 990 mm high), its weight (770 kg) and its bore and stroke (78 x 52.2 mm). Its power rating was tuned down to 230 DIN hp at 8800 rpm (with a compression of 10:1) for reliability, however still produced a phenomenal power output of 115 hp/litre and a top speed of 163 mph with 0-62 mph arriving in an estimated 5.5 seconds. The rear drive was fitted with a limited slip differential.

Amongst the 18 Stradales built in total, only 13 were delivered to customers. The first prototype was kept at the Alfa Romeo museum and the remaining 4 examples were delivered as running chassis to Pininfarina, Bertone and ItalDesign to create styling concepts: Bertone 33 Carabo, Pininfarina Roadster P33 and ItalDesign 33 Iguana. Due to its rarity, beauty and exotic technical design, the 33 Stradale remains the most desirable post-war road-going Alfa Romeo and played an influential role in the design of the 8C Competizione.

by James Granger

© 2008 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed