For three years this invincible car stood for Italian
dominance on the race track. Just as Adolf Hitler had backed Mercedes
and AutoUnion, the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini poured the funds
of his Fascist state into the Alfa-Romeo factory. Both dictators wanted
prestige in the sporting world, but by 1935 the Nazis pulled ahead. Not
until the flames of World War II were extinguished did Alfa-Romeo
triumph again, but 1935 provided one final thrill.
At the Nurburg Ring race in Germany, Tazio Nuvolari
wheeled his outmoded P3 Alfa into the starting line. Next to him were
the shining silver cars of Auto-Union and Mercedes-Benz, each one faster
than his Alfa. But even in 1935 the name of Nuvolari was a legend. Any
car with the fiery Mantuan in the driver's seat was a potential winner.
It was Nuvolari who practically established modern road racing
techniques. He was one of the first to deliberately use the full
four-wheel drift as a method of navigating tight corners, and in his
hands a car seemed to take on his own flashing temperament.
When the race started, the old P3 Alfa was lost among
the thundering German machines, but Nuvolari's split-second timing on
the turns took him past one car after another. By the tenth lap the
Mantuan was leading, but a disastrous pit stop put him back to fifth
place. The gasoline pump in the pits had broken down and the Alfa had to
be refueled by pouring the gas directly from the cans. Over two minutes
were lost, and when Nuvolari pulled out on the fourteen-mile course it
was as though he had a brand new race to run.
But now the Italian master's skill at sliding a car
through corners began to be demonstrated. He whipped his Alfa precisely
through the 180 turns on the Nurburg Ring track, and lap after lap
brought him closer to the front-running car. It was a Mercedes with Von
Brauchitsch driving a confident race. Suddenly his pit chief flashed him
a signal warning of the approaching Nuvolari. Von Brauchitsch opened the
Mercedes to the limit but the cagy Nuvolari, still slicing seconds from
his lap time, came nearer and nearer.
The German slammed his car through turn after turn,
stripping rubber from the tires, but Nuvolari's precise driving sent the
Alfa around the corners even faster and. smoother. He knew that there
were not enough laps left for him to catch the swift Mercedes, but he
calculated that relentless pressure would force Von Brauchitsch to drive
beyond the limits of his Mercedes. During the final lap the German
driver, now taking the Mercedes through the turns in wide screaming
slides, finally stripped a rear tire. Nuvolari roared past in the old
Alfa P3 and won. The contest proved that speed alone does not win races.
Give a fine driver a car that will handle precisely and he will pass
faster but clumsier machines.
This race was the last fling of the pre-war
Alfa-Romeos but shortly after World War II a successor to the P3 Alfa
appeared. This was the 158 Alfa and it immediately proceeded to win
everything in sight. In 1947 and 1948, 158's won almost every major
event, and in many races monopolized the first four places. By 1949 the
firm decided to retire from racing and concentrate on consumer models.
They returned to competition in 1950, raced through 1951 with the 159
Alfa and retired again. By 1960 there had not been another official
Alfa-Romeo team fielded, and Alfa had not produced another Grand Prix
car. But the Milan factory has turned out some of the finest sports and
touring cars in the world. The Guilietta and Veloce models dominate
their class in sports-car racing in much the same fashion as the old
1750 cc. did in years past.
Throughout the history of the Alfa-Romeo firm there
has always been a close relationship between the racing cars and the
production models. The only major differences were in the bodies.
Engines remained practically the same, with road models slightly detuned
for low-speed performance. Even today, the little Giulietta with its
1300 cc. engine needs only a few adjustments to turn it into a racing