The Goodwood Trophy at last year’s Revival meeting was the usual lively affair for ERA, Maserati, Bugatti and Alfa Romeo single seaters amongst others…
We’re always particularly keen to witness the Goodwood Trophy races, because not only are the cars beautiful, powerful and dripping with motor racing provenance, but it is required that they are driven without any form of harness. In the case of this week’s Goodwood Great, the driver – Andy Wolfe – had at least 350 methanol-fuelled horsepower to deal with… on bicycle tyres… and with nothing holding him inside the car… It takes a certain breed and no little experience to tame one of these machines.
‘More often than not it feels like the car is driving you!’ Andy says of his experience at the helm of the V8Ri. ‘There isn’t much in the way of braking. Come to think of it there isn’t very much in the way of steering, either. Most pre-war cars have some vices, and this one has more than most. But it is very, very fast in a straight line. It was still accelerating hard at the end of the Lavant Straight.’
A gearbox problem meant that the car had to be raced in top gear, but this was apparently not much of an issue. ‘No, it wasn’t really’ Andy admits, ‘because it has so much torque. It was still lighting up the tyres coming out of the slower corners in top!’
The Maserati V8Ri Andy was driving is one of just four cars built and was one of two which took part in the Goodwood Trophy. All four cars are known to still exist. The engine; a lightweight supercharged V8 was something of a departure from racing engines of the time and developed shattering horsepower and torque. The ‘i’ part though referred not to an early incarnation of fuel injection, but to the car’s innovative independent rear suspension. However it didn’t work as well as intended, and from 1936 this car was run with a rigid rear axle to improve stability.
The innovation continued in the gearbox department, where the transmission was housed together with the differential unit aft of the rear axle (although this car reverted to the traditional gearbox-behind-engine layout when the rear axle was replaced.) Further still, it is understood that the V8Ri was the first V8 engined Grand Prix car.
This car is chassis number one of the four. It was a very brave but, frankly, futile attempt to compete with the dominant Silver Arrows cars which benefited from a relatively-unlimited budget. Hard to imagine that a 350bhp car weighing just 750 kilos (bone dry) and with a claimed top speed in the region of 300kph could be uncompetitive in the mid-Thirties … But ultimately uncompetitive they were and all four were shipped over to the States to take part in the prestigious Vanderbilt Cup races in Long Island, New York. Sadly though, due to an ownership dispute ‘our’ car didn’t race.
But all four V8Ris stayed Stateside and this one, towed by a Duesenberg no-less, was a successful Formula Libre car until it was parked-up in the Fifties. And parked-up it stayed until acquired by another American in 2003 who sold it to its current owner in 2005. He tells us: ‘The car was sent to Italy for a lot of work before it was handed over to Andy Wolfe at Wolfe Manufacturing to get it to work properly! It’s going to take some time before we get the full potential out of it, but we’re committed. It’s a real labour of love.’
We reckon that the pictures Antony Frazer snapped of it at last year’s Revival are amongst the best of our Goodwood Greats series. Click through the full gallery at the top of the page to see if you agree.
Photography: Antony Frazer