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  Alfa Romeo 308C

  Article Image gallery (30) Specifications  
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Country of origin:Italy
Produced in:1938
Numbers built:4
Predecessor:Alfa Romeo 12C 37
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:March 26, 2007
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Click here to download printer friendly versionWith the arrival of the government backed German Grand Prix teams, Alfa Romeo's stronghold on motor racing started to weaken. In sportscar and Grand Prix form, Vittorio Jano's marvellous eight cylinder had dominated in the early 1930s resulting in four consecutive Le Mans wins for the 8C 2300 and many Grand Prix victories for the Tipo B P3. The Tipo B combined the supercharged straight eight with a revolutionary chassis and is considered by many as the first true single seater. There is no doubt that the managing skills of a young Enzo Ferrari and the driving talents of Tazio Nuvolari, 'The Flying Mantuan' contributed much to the success as well. Unstoppable in its introduction year 1932, the Tipo B was showing its age by 1935 and despite the gradual increase of displacement from 2.6 to 3.8 litres, it was rarely able to match the advanced German racers. Nuvolari did manage to take a very important victory in the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in front of a large number of Nazi officials. While the Alfa Romeo drivers struggled on in 1935, the factory was busy building a new chassis and engine.

The biggest problem Alfa Romeo faced was the huge amounts of power the German eight, twelve and sixteen cylinder engines produced. At 3.8 litre the Jano's eight cylinder engine had grown to its maximum displacement, so work was started on an all new V12. In the mean time Ferrari attempted to bridge the gap with the hugely complex 'Bimotore', which as the name suggests sported two engines and was designed for high speed tracks like Avus. Remarkably the Bimotore did manage to finish second, although most of the credits for that result have to go to driver Louis Chiron who was very careful with the tyres. He gained many positions as drivers ahead of him dropped out with blown tyres. The Tipo B Nuvolari drove to take that memorable win in Germany did not only sport the latest specification engine, but also a new independent front suspension through swing axles. Both were carried over to the new Tipo C chassis under construction in Jano's workshop. For the new car he went one step further and followed the German example set in 1934 by fitting independent suspension all-round. The package was literally rounded off with an curvaceous aerodynamic skin, which was quite a departure from the simple, square body panels fitted on the Tipo B.

While originally dubbed the Tipo C, the cars are now commonly referred to as 8C 35 and the later twelve cylinder variant as 12C 36. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September 1935 saw the introduction of the new 8C 35, but Nuvolari was still not able to match the Germans for outright performance; there was still a gap of 100 bhp to bridge. The introduction of the 4.1 litre 12C 36 at the Tripoli Grand Prix in May 1936 brought the deficit down to 60 bhp and brought Alfa Romeo somewhat in contention again. Although mostly in minor races, both the 8C and 12C models were driven to several wins in 1936, highlighted by victories in the Donnington Grand Prix and the Vanderbilt Cup in New York. In races with the German cars present a second place at Monza and a third at the Nürburgring, both with the V12 car, were the best results. With renewed confidence work was started on an evolution of the 12C for 1937. Subtle changes were made to the chassis to improve the handling, but most time was spent improving the engine's performance. The displacement was increased to 4.5 litres and with the help of newly developed twin-stage Superchargers the 12C 37 produced a hefty 430 bhp. Before 1937 was over both Jano and Ferrari had left the Milanese company and in 1938 Nuvolari also took off to join Auto Union.

The 1938 season saw some dramatic changes at Alfa Romeo as the company had decided to return to racing as a full Works team. They offered Enzo Ferrari to stay on as an advisor, but he refused and left the company at the end of 1937 and took Jano with him. Alfa Corse was immediately faced with big challenges as the governing body had set a new displacement limit of three litre for supercharged engine, leaving all the cars built by the Scuderia Ferrari obsolete. To bridge the gap, the Milanese company used the Tipo C and fitted it with a downsized version of the straight eight engine to create the 308C. For later that season twelve and sixteen cylinder engined machines were readied, again using the Tipo C chassis. With 295 bhp, the four 308Cs were not likely candidates for Grand Prix wins against the 425+ bhp German competitors. Nuvolari suffered a fuel fire at the 308C's debut and subsequently left the team. A victory was scored in the non-championship Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix in the hands of Carlo Pintacuda. After the War one of the surviving 308Cs was brought to the United States and between 1946 and 1948 scored three top-ten finishes.

Featured are two of the four 308Cs constructed. The car pictured in the first shots wears Alfa Corse number 79 and like so many other racing Alfa Romeo was sold to South America after the War. It was found in the 1970s and was brought back to Europe. Today it is in full running order and sports a 3.2 litre engine. It is seen here at the 2006 Goodwood Revival meeting. The brightly livered machine shown in the remaining shots, is the 308C that was sold to the United States in 1940. In the hands of Louis Durant it finished sixth at Indy in 1946, a year later Walt Brown finished seventh and at the car's final appearance Johnny Mauro ended the race in eighth place. It was raced until 1951 in the United States and today is part of the vast Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The striking racer is pictured on the Pebble Beach golf course in 2005, when Alfa Romeo was the featured marque the annual Concours d'Elegance.

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  Article Image gallery (30) Specifications