The legendary supercharged Alfa Romeo 8C designed by the brilliant engineer, Vittorio Jano, is regarded by automotive connoisseurs as the ultimate pre-war sports car. This 1931 thoroughbred dominated the sport with multiple wins at Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, and in Grand Prix racing with the fastest Monza model. When Jano came to develop a new racing car for the 1932 season to challenge Maserati, the 8C evolved into the single-seated Tipo B – the ultimate incarnation of this glorious automotive dynasty.
In the hands of the great Italian ace Tazio Nuvolari, the Tipo B won its first outing at the Gran Premio d’Italia, where it averaged 104 mph for 520 miles around Monza. With its unique twin split-prop shaft transmission running under the driver, and twin supercharged monobloc engine, the Tipo B had the performance to match its elegant form. With the greatest drivers of the era at the wheel, including Nuvolari, the handsome German Rudi Caracciola, the sinister-looking Achille Varzi and the dashing Monégasque Louis Chiron, the Tipo B dominated Grand Prix racing until the arrival of the Silver Arrows.Nearly three years after that historic debut, it amazingly achieved its greatest victory when a 42-year old Nuvolari beat the mighty Silver Arrows at the Grosser Preis von Deutschland. Against all odds, the wily, determined Italian ace gunned the old Alfa to the limit around the famous 14.2 mile Nordschleife in a 22-lap thriller. Jano had enhanced the Tipo B and now with its independent front suspension and 3.2-litre engine, it looked no match for the advanced, streamlined titans from Stuttgart and Zwickau. But the combination of tricky wet conditions and Nuvolari’s driving skills resulted in one of the greatest surprises in motor racing history. After a disastrous pit stop, when Scuderia Ferrari’s refuelling pump broke forcing the mechanics to fill the Alfa’s tank manually with five cans, Nuvolari’s hopes looked impossible. But the Flying Mantuan never gave up and roared back to catch Manfred von Brauchitsch’s Mercedes-Benz W25 on the last lap. With both rivals running on tyres worn down to the canvas, the Mercedes suffered a dramatic blow out, and a relieved Nuvolari stormed to victory.Historians have long struggled to analyse the win, but English reporter Rodney “Grand Vitesse” Walkerley, who witnessed the race, claimed the Italian’s skill was unrivalled that day. “Give Nuvolari a corner and he will hurtle round it faster than anyone else on earth. He was a magician at the wheel, and the Nürburgring, of course, is little more than a lot of corners. In the wet, the easily spun wheels of the Mercedes needed more careful management than the rock-steady old Alfa.”
The super-elegant Tipo B featured here is the chassis 5006, one of the first series run by Alfa Corsa, and later by Scuderia Ferrari. Later cars had a wider body to match the new Grand Prix regulations, but this beauty still features the elegant narrower lines. It’s believed that Guy Moll drove this very Tipo B to victory at Monaco in 1934, and Varzi later won with the “5006”at the Grand Prix de Nice.When Alfa’s replacement 8C-35 became available to Scuderia Ferrari, the older Tipo Bs were sold off to privateers. Still a very competitive machine, the chassis 5006 was acquired by Raphael Bethenod, a wealthy Argentinean Count, who raced under the pseudonym “Raph”. Later in the1930s, this famous Alfa was sold to England where it was acquired by Jill Scott-Thomas, a popular female ace at Brooklands (who’d bravely lapped the banked circuit at 128 mph in 1928). Scott-Thomas raced the Tipo B several times at Brooklands wearing her stylish red suede Italian jacket and matching linen flying helmet.
During World War Two, the Alfa was stored by Thomson & Taylor on a secret farm in Sussex, where it shared barn space with the famous Napier Railton. After the war, it was bought by Anthony Powys-Lybbe, a pre-war English gentleman racer, to replace his old Alfa Monza. Powys-Lybbe greatly enjoyed racing in Ireland and with his new acquisition he won his first appearance in the Wakefield Trophy at Curragh, County Kildare. Right up until 1953, Powys-Lybbe continued to race the Alfa with only his back-to-front tweed cap and a pair of goggles as protection. Now 20 years old, the Alfa was still very fast and could match the latest Le Mans Jaguar C-types for speed. Often, Powys-Lybbe would send the Grand Prix Alfa by rail to Ireland for events as he discovered first class travellers could send a car to Dublin at no extra cost! With no lights, wings, or license plate and only a race number, the local police would turn a blind eye when Powys-Lybbe drove it on public roads to Irish events.In later years, English owners including Bill Summers and Neil Corner prized this great original Alfa but continued to compete in historic events. Summers raced the Tipo B at Rouen in 1966, where with high-ratio gearing it was faster down the long straight than Jack Brabham’s Formula 2 Honda. “The Alfa pulled well over 6000 rpm in top gear which was probably 160 mph. The car was awesome around that five-mile road circuit,” recalls Summers. “At one point I waved to someone in the pits and at 140 mph, I soon regretted it, as my arm was nearly torn off by the slipstream.” After many years in Japan and America, this magnificent monoposto is back in Europe and is now maintained by the foremost English specialist, Jim Stokes, who has worked on a wide range of engineer Jano’s designs, including the Lancia D50 and Ferrari Dino V6 Grand Prix cars. “The Tipo B is a phenomenal piece of engineering and it’s easy to appreciate why Jano was so proud of it,” enthuses Stokes. “The lines are perfect but under the body it’s just as beautiful – particularly the engine. Although it was developed from the 8C Monza, the Tipo B’s monobloc engine with narrower crankcase is much more compact.It’s a very modular design and performs as well as it looks. On methanol fuel it now reaches 330 bhp but its great performance is all about torque. The weakest point of the car in the 1930s was the short half shafts, which just couldn’t take the power, particularly with Nuvolari driving. They are only 15 inches long and have no capacity to wind up under acceleration. Today, we make them from exotic aviation-standard maraging steel, which solves the problem of reliability.”
The man lucky enough to race this fabulous Alfa Romeo today is Christian Gläsel, who has vast experience with high-performance machines but hadn’t competed in a pre-war Grand Prix car before he drove the Tipo B. “I tested it for the first time at Goodwood last summer. It was the only pre-war car at the circuit that day and initially all the Cobra and Listers drivers were joking about it. But that view was much changed after I’d done a few laps, as it’s very fast,” says Gläsel.
“After a few cautious runs to get a feel and check the car, I tried harder. After a few quicker circuits I returned to the pits feeling really knackered. I’m now full of respect for aces like Nuvolari and Varzi who drove these machines in four hour races. For me it was back to the gym to prepare for the Goodwood Revival.”
On narrow tyres, the Alfa Tipo B demands an ultra-smooth driving style. “You have to keep clear of the kerbs, and on the straights it’s greatly affected by cross wind. At Goodwood, the Alfa clocked 135 mph, which feels very fast, particularly sitting up so high and exposed in the cockpit. The brakes aren’t great and going into the corners you scrub the entry speed with a little understeer, but powering out it goes a little sideways. At Goodwood you only use third and fourth gears as the engine has fantastic torque.”
The challenge hasn’t deterred Gläsel from racing this highly original Alfa. In March, he’s back at Goodwood at the Member’s Meeting to take on a group of pre-war Maseratis for the Varzi Trophy and will later race at Donington in the Nuvolari Cup. No doubt the heroes of this great car’s history would approve of the fact that the “5006” is still being used for what it was conceived. Too often historic designs turn into relics, but there’s no chance of that yet with this beautiful red thoroughbred.
Noch mehr exklusives Bildmaterial vom Alfa Romeo Tipo B finden Sie in der ramp #37.