Souvenir of the Alfa Romeo P3, the first true single-seater Grand Prix racing car

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The story begins in 1931 when designer Vittorio Jano was commissioned to create a worthy successor to the Tipo A, the manufacturer’s first successful racing car which debuted in 1924 and has become obsolete.

Jano returned to the drawing board and came up with a whole new design after an arduous development process. While the Tipo A had a complicated powertrain, consisting of two parallel in-line engines mated to a few gearboxes, the new car, originally dubbed Tipo B, featured an in-line eight cylinder consisting of two cast iron blocks with Fixed heads made of aluminum alloy, each with its own overhead camshaft. The unit was powered by two carburetors and propelled by two Roots compressors operated by a gear train mounted centrally between the two blocks. Initially, it displaced 2.6 liters (2,654 cc) and delivered a maximum power of 215 hp at 5,600 rpm.

The four-speed gearbox was mated to the front-mounted engine via a dry multi-plate clutch. Two drive shafts arranged in a V-shape protruded from the differential which was installed next to the transmission and drove the rear wheels through pairs of bevel gears.

This innovative design allowed Jano to place the driver’s seat centrally between the two drive shafts, a solution that exponentially lowered the center of gravity and improved weight distribution. Coupled with a total weight of just 1,543 pounds (700 kg), it could easily reach a top speed of 144 mph (232 km / h), but more importantly, it was much more agile than its predecessor.

With all these improvements, the car subsequently renamed P3 was introduced in the middle of the 1932 Grand Prix season. It made its home debut on the original Monza circuit, which at the time included the road track and the high-speed loop, for a total of 10 km per lap. In the five-hour race, Tazio Nuvolari dominated from the start, managing to overtake Fagioli’s new 16-cylinder Maserati V5, which finished second.

The resounding victory proved the P3 to be a successful design, but the victories didn’t end there, as Alfa Romeo won six more races that year, including all three major events in Italy, France and Germany.

In 1933, the Italian manufacturer was hit by financial difficulties and initially decided to withdraw his Alfa Corse team from the European Championship. This left the door open for Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia to continue to compete as Alfa’s de facto factory team, albeit with older and less efficient cars.

In August, the team was finally allowed to use the P3s that had been locked in a garage for the first 25 events, and after receiving some minor tweaks along with a few Ferrari logos, the cars won six of the last eleven races in the season.

For 1934, new regulations brought greater body constraints, so to counter this, the powertrain displacement was increased to 2.9 liters (2905 cc), which led to a performance increase of 40 hp. .

That season, Louis Chiron won the French Grand Prix at Montlhéry, one of the most prestigious races on the calendar and the P3s crossed the finish line the first eighteen more times.

The following year, the complete management of the cars was entrusted to Scuderia Ferrari, which made several modifications to the suspension as well as to the now hydraulic brakes. Despite this, the P3s were definitely not competitive against the top Mercedes and Auto-Union racers.

However, for the German Grand Prix which took place on the legendary Nürburgring, the engine that powered Tazio Nuvolari’s car was bored to 3.1 liters (3,165 cc), resulting in an output of 265 hp. . The Italian driver managed to surprise the Germans at home after an incredible performance, despite a tire puncture at the start of the race. Although inferior to the more recent cars in the competition, the legendary Alfa Romeo still won fifteen other events that season.

Despite a tumultuous career that lasted only three years, the P3 notched 46 wins in total, earning its place among the greatest racing cars of all time. The innovations implemented by Vittorio Jano made it extremely agile and the first true single-seater, inspiring other engineers to do the same and paving the way for racing cars of the modern era.

Thirteen of the fifteen units built between 1932 and 1935 have survived to this day with chassis number 50006 auctioned by RM Sotheby’s in 2017 for well over $ 4,000,000. Other private chassis make occasional appearances at classic car events, such as the Chateau Impney Hill Climb where one of them was driven rough by Matt Grist several years ago, as you can see in the video below.

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