ALFA ROMEO HAS RACING at its heart. Look at the company’s badge between 1925 and 1975 and you will see a wreath round the outside, which was added after the marque won the first ever Automobile World Championship. Of course, after a hiatus of over 30 years, the Alfa badge is now back in Formula 1. However, its appearance in the paddock is via a sponsorship deal with the Swiss team formerly known as Sauber rather than through a proper factory tilt at a title. It’s better than nothing, but it seems a shame that the latest generation of F1 fan may not realise just how very important Alfa is in the history of motorsport…
Asked to pick my three favourite Alfa race cars from down the years, I couldn’t start anywhere other than the 1930s and the P3. Vittorio Jano was the Gordon Murray or Adrian Newey of the day, except he was arguably even more successful. His second car for Alfa, the P3 (pictured on the previous spread) was the first-ever genuine single-seat (monoposto) race car. Amazingly light at around 700kg, it was powered by a supercharged straight-eight.
After a hugely successful first Grand Prix season with the P3 in 1932, the financially stricken factory team pulled out of the 1933 season, leaving a certain Enzo Ferrari to run a satellite team of P3s. But it was the German Grand Prix in 1935 that cemented the legend of both the car and one Tazio Nuvolari. By ’35, the P3 was recognised as being outclassed by the newer Mercedes and Auto Unions. Nevertheless, the 42-year old Nuvolari led early in the wet race at the Nürburgring. He then fell back due to a bungled pit stop before racing back brilliantly through the field and gaining victory on the last lap ahead of no less than eight Silver Arrows – something that the Third Reich was less than happy about. It was known as ‘The Impossible Victory’.
Second on my list of favourites is the T33/3. This is not the sensuously curvaceous Tipo 33 from the mid’60s, but the later 3-litre V8 sports prototype from 1971. I think it’s a fantastically simple but beautiful example of the cars from that era. Small and chunky, with its bluff nose, and the single mirror sitting high on a spindly tripod, it looks wonderful to me. Especially on the rough and tumble roads of Sicily.
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