GRR

The Alfa Romeo 158 was the original dominant force in F1

04th October 2022
Andrew Willis

First things first, Goodwood Revival is always bursting at the seams with exquisite pieces of automotive engineering. Beauty is everywhere. So when a car prompts animalistic, audible moans, even a bit of lip-biting, you know it’s a looker. In the case of this 1938 Alfa Romeo 158, or ‘Alfetta’ – meaning little in Italian – it was my pick of all entrants at the 2021 Revival. Admiring the workmanship of the build up close reinforces that opinion tenfold. It is sublime. 

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As one of the most successful, many say dominant, racing cars ever to compete, it’s also historically significant. Looks and personality like this make for a very dangerous combination indeed. 

The 158 and 159 Alfettas chalked-up 47 wins from 55 grands prix entered. Driven by icons of the post-war era such as Giuseppe Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli, it absolutely steam-rolled the first two seasons of the world championship, securing its rightful place as one of the greatest chariots of all time.

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Named 158 because of its 1.5-litre engine and eight cylinders, this Alfa is much larger than its Alfetta nickname suggests. Long and low with smooth lines, the car looks almost like a torpedo. Aerodynamic and purposeful, without the busyness of modern racers. Its four large and fully exposed wire spoke wheels, family arm-chair-inspired seat and oversized steering wheel point to its 1938 origins. 

Standing alongside the car, I manage to spend some time talking to owner/driver Mr Peter Greenfield and the man responsible for the exemplary condition of the car, Mr Jim Stokes of the highly-respected Jim Stokes Workshops Ltd. 

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“Back in the early ‘90s when Alfa was closing down their facility, they were essentially throwing all this old stuff out. I guess an employee grabbed all these parts. Thanks to that, this car was rebuilt by Jim Stokes with 70% original parts. The project started back in 2013 and was completed at the beginning of 2019.” Says Mr Greenfield. 

“It was originally owned by a good friend of mine Peter Giddings. He passed away in 2019. Jim Stokes and Peter’s widow asked me to do a demonstration with it before it went into a museum in Portland Oregon for a year or so. Then Peter’s widow and Jim both suggested I was the guy to own the car.” 

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At this point, the engineer responsible for bringing this superstar back to life and presenting it this weekend steps in to join the conversation and run us through the particulars. 

“Originally the 158's engine by the end of its evolution in 1951 produced 425hp, over 250lb ft of torque, 9,300rpm. They’re running close to 50lbs of boost and they’ll do 190mph at 1.5 miles to the gallon on methanol.” 

It’s an enormous amount of power, and a real challenge for Peter to deliver effectively on what is turning out to be a very greasy Goodwood circuit this year. But it was this clout which saw a 1938 piece of engineering race successfully right up to 1951. Even though the 1951 cars were called 159s, they were all still 158s with minor tweaks such as new superchargers, downdraft carbs and a De Dion on the rear to help manage the 330 litres of fuel they were carrying in tanks situated either side of the driver and steering wheel. 

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“There’s only two of these in private hands around the world, and we’ve done both of them” says Stokes, with an authority that is more than deserved. “Out of those 55 GP starts, they had 98 classifications as first, second or third place finishers. These things were invincible.” 

It was an invincibility that even changed the history of the Goodwood Motor Circuit, because our now famous chicane was originally placed on the pit straight in an attempt to try and stifle the speed and fury of these monstrous world-beating Alfas. Thankfully, no chicane will ever be capable of stifling the seductive power of this alluring and life-affirming piece of automotive perfection. 

Photography by Joe Harding and James Lynch.

  • Revival

  • Alfa Romeo

  • 158

  • Alfetta

  • Formula 1

  • F1

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