Although many years have passed since Alfa Romeo‘s glorious heyday, the name is and will always remain one of the most evocative. To many people Alfa Romeos just seem to have that certain something others cannot offer… as if they’ve been sprinkled with the stardust.
One of the key cars that earned Alfa Romeo this irreversible place in the motoring firmament is without doubt the star of this weeks Goodwood Greats; the Alfa Romeo P3 Tipo B.
Designed by the great Vittorio Jano the Tipo B simply decimated the field when it was introduced to Grand Prix racing in 1932. It is considered to be the first proper single-seater Grand Prix car and run by Scuderia Ferrari it won on its debut in the hands of none other than Tazio Nuvolari. Then it won the second race, then the third… In fact, over the course of the season the P3 was defeated only once when heavy rain spoiled the ignition system in Nuvolari’s car and he had to settle for third.
The magnificent machine you see here, which we photographed during the 73rd Members’ Meeting, is one of the later 1934 2.9 litre models, the previous P3s displacing 2.6 litres. These were built in limited numbers and reputedly sold new only to Italian customers, so as to make them available to Enzo Ferrari’s works Alfa Romeo team.
It was driven that year by Algerian Guy Moll, who contested with it every Grand Prix in ’34 except Monaco. In the process he won the Italian and German Grands Prix. Later that year he tragically lost his life after a racing accident with the car, and according to Enzo Ferrari the world had lost one of the best drivers he’d ever seen.
A year later and the rebuilt car had been acquired by Dick Shuttleworth who won apparently the first Grand Prix at Donington Park with it. Shuttleworth then went on to have it painted green (!) and then broke Sir Malcolm Campbell’s speed record at Brighton.
Save for a stint in the States, it’s first year in the hands of Scuderia Ferrari, and some time in Paris (where it was found in a lock up in the Sixties) the car has spent all its time in the British Isles, and about 25 years ago was acquired by Genesis manager Tony Smith who so kindly allowed us to take the photographs you see here. It has a starter motor fitted nowadays for practical purposes, but apart from that is very close to its 1935 specification.
Supposedly capable of 150mph with it’s tallest gearing, we’re assured that by the time it’s at about 130mph it’s properly frightening. Speaking of gearing, see if you can spot the photo showing the differential casing and the markings on it which we’re told were put there under the orders of Enzo Ferrari and denote the correct gearing for the Nurburgring.
Such a magical car. Just standing next to it is enough to give you goose bumps. Hopefully it’ll be invited to the Revival in September and you can experience this effect for yourselves.
Photography: Antony Fraser