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Lord K's Garage #163: Rear-Engine Alfa

Back in 1940, a really hot car emerged from the Alfa Romeo workshops. Meet the 512 Gran Premio, a wannabe rival of the German streamline racers.

1940 Alfa Romeo 512

In the second half of the 1930s voiturette racing became increasingly popular*. As the name suggests, voiturettes were smaller Grand Prix racers; there was a 3-litre limit for the big boys and 1.5 litre for the voiturettes. The spiraling costs of the 3-litre racers and the dominance of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union made the 1.5 litre class an interesting alternative for the Italian teams. Alfa Romeo's first voiturette racer, the 158 (below), was launched in 1938.

1938 Alfa-Romeo Tipo 158 cutawayWhen it was announced that the 3-litre category was to be scrapped and the World Championship to be run under the 1.5 litre regulations, work was started on a replacement for the 158 by Wilfredo Ricart and Gioacchino Colombo.

1940 Alfa Romeo Typo 512Inspired by the Auto Union racers, Alfa Romeo opted for a mid-engined layout for the 158 replacement. The mid-mounted engine was not the only first for an Alfa Romeo**, the construction of the engine was completely new as well.

1940 Alfa Romeo 512To lower the centre of gravity of the 512, a completely new flat 12 cylinder engine was fitted (Image below: Ultimatecarpage.com).

Its stroke of just 54.2 mm was the smallest ever used in a pre-war Alfa Romeo Grand Prix racer. Helped by two superchargers, the 1490 cc engine pumped out an incredible 335 bhp, which was over 200 bhp/litre. Directly bolted on the engine was a five speed gearbox and a DeDion rear axle. The front wheels were independently sprung for razor-sharp handling. Big hydraulically operated drums took care of braking.

1940 Alfa Romeo 512A first prototype was completed in 1940, but development was cut short by the Second World War. A second chassis was built, but the car was never completed.

1940 Alfa Romeo 512 (rear-engined)During test runs at Monza, the 512 prototype piloted by Ricard sped up to 305 km/h.

1940 Alfa Romeo Typo 512After the War Alfa Romeo started racing again with the 158 and ironically it was the 158 that won Alfa Romeo the first Formula 1 World Championship, for which the 512 was originally designed. Wilfredo Ricart returned to Spain to start his own car company, Pegaso. Colombo left for Ferrari and designed a V12 engine that would be used up into the Sixties.

Both 512s are preserved in Italian museums.

Another mid-engine Alfa concept was the Tipo 163 (above, an artist's impression by Rens Biesma), a street-legal car. It was conceived by the team of Alfa Romeo headed at that time by W.P. Ricart in 1941, around the Tipo 162 GP engine. The 135º V16 3 litre, centrally placed behind the driver, gave some 190 hp @ 7450 rpm devoid of the two blowers. Independent front suspension and a modified De Dion layout supported the rear transaxle with a five forward speed gearbox.

1941 Alfa Romeo 2VChassis was tubular. With a WB of 255 cm and a track of 132, the three-seater had a streamlined body and was a clean forerunner of the late sixties sport- prototypes designs.

1941 Alfa Romeo by Rens BiesmaWW II ended T-162 (GP car) and T-163 (street car) development. The only Tipo 163, unfinished, was scrapped in early 1950s. You can get some additional info on Alfa Bulletin Board.

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* Article by Wouter Melissen, Ultimatecarpage.com

** One can argue that the first mid-engine Alfa was designed by Vittorio Jano and built by Jankovits in Fiume as early as in 1935 - see Aerodinamica Spider article.

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Comment by lord_k on December 14, 2012 at 9:29pm

The pleasure is all mine.

Comment by Pablo J. Alvarez on December 14, 2012 at 7:20pm

Really nice and plenty of details. Thanks for this amazing photos

Comment by Docneg on December 14, 2012 at 12:50pm

Beautiful! Thanks!

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