Alfa Romeo Tipo B Mick Walsh gets behind the wheel of a Milanese dream machine at Goodwood. Aviation hero Richard Shuttleworth owned this beautiful, 1935 Donington GP-winning Alfa Romeo Tipo B, the greatest racing car design of its era… Words Mick Walsh. Photography Tony Baker.
EXCLUSIVE! FLAT-OUT IN A GRAND PRIX ALFA Magnificent Flyer’s Machine
As it sits silently, basking in the spring sunshine, it’s easy to see why designer Vittorio Jano was so proud of the Alfa Romeo Tipo B. After the dead-end of the twin-engined, 12-cylinder Tipo A and the stopgap 8C Monza, he started with a clean sheet for the famed monoposto Tipo B. Even in its later, wider-bodied form, the red thoroughbred has a true purity of line, the ultimate live-axle Grand Prix machine before the Silver Arrows dominated with their streamlining and independent suspension.
Compared to the two-seater Monza, which manfully doubled as a sports car, the Tipo B was a pure GP racer and no components were interchangeable with the earlier car. Even the iconic 8C engine was transformed into a monobloc design, with narrower crankcase and twin superchargers fuelling individual ‘fours’ flanking Jano’s signature central gear tower. At a stroke, the testa fissata (fixed head) resolved any gasket problems for the more powerful 2.6-litre.
The Tipo B looks like a conventional early 1930s GP car with its solid axles, rod-operated drums and high central seat, but a glance into the cockpit reveals its novel split propshafts. Encased in torque tubes, they spread from the differential at the back of the gearbox in an isosceles triangle to the rear axle. Although complex, with power passing through two pairs of meshing gears, the design reduced unsprung weight over a conventional diff, with a further bonus of extra rigidity. One thing it didn’t do was lower the seat, though it’s often believed that was Jano’s plan.
Entry, particularly for my short build, is best from behind the left-rear wheel, stepping on the quarter-elliptic spring, swinging over the steel fuel tank and down into the corduroy-trimmed bucket seat. The roomy cockpit boasts several innovations, including twin rev counters, one on each side of the cord-bound, walnut-rim, four-spoke wheel. Story has it that Jano wanted to make it easier for the driver to see the instruments, particularly with the eager-revving ‘eight’, but in the heat of the action it’s unlikely that Nuvolari, Chiron or Campari had time to check. Over rough tracks, both hands were needed for the wheel and eyes for the road.
Another major adjustment for top aces was the centre gearchange, its hooked lever cranked back behind the steering wheel. First-series cars had four speeds, but this was reduced to three wider ratios to cope with the car’s mighty torque. Once away you only need second and third, which conveniently face each other in the gate, with a dog-leg first to the left. Pedals are separated by the gearbox, throttle paired with the brake to the right, and clutch on the left. With a starter fitted and running on petrol, firing up is a simple operation with no need to swing the beautifully made starting handle. Turn the master under the seat, open the fuel, switch on the ignition and, from a button under the dash, it’s ready to roar. Resist pressing the throttle, and the engine catches after a few churns with a deep rasp. Anticipation builds just warming this mighty ‘eight’ in the pitlane, enjoying the view seen by heroes past down that elegant, tapering bonnet. This is a moment I’ve fantasised about for decades, after gazing into Tipo B cockpits and watching the likes of Neil Corner, Alain de Cadenet and David Black in action.
Although this chassis has no link to Goodwood, Tipo Bs driven by Ken Hutchison and Antony Powys-Lybbe did run here in early post-war events. This car, chassis 50007, knows its way around after regular outings at Revival Meetings with owner Tony Smith, who reports that the fast-flowing circuit really suits the Tipo B.
For the first couple of laps, I’m consciously looking down into the cockpit to check the gear engagement because the slick, short action is so fast and light. At 70mph the front wheels start to leap around, but with more speed this thankfully clears. Power delivery is mighty, with smooth, continuous punch that makes exiting corners a glorious experience. Combined with light, direct steering, the Tipo B feels more responsive and powerful than a Monza. With hard old Dunlops (new rubber is no longer available), it’s easy to break traction and steer on the throttle, but the double-apex Madgwick and Lavant are ultimately frustrating. Down into Woodcote, the limitations of the tall drum brakes require respect and progressive application to avoid locking dramas, but powering out with a touch of opposite lock is fantastically invigorating.
As our pace increases, the car demands more strength and commitment to get the best out of it. Too fast into corners and the front wants to understeer, so power is the only way to balance the situation. Quickly everything gets more physical, and after just a few laps I feel exhausted yet exhilarated at the same time. At speed the scream of the gears drowns out the motor’s mighty roar, and only those in the pitlane get to appreciate the Tipo B’s strident exhaust.
Back in the paddock with the engine silent, I’m full of awe for those who raced hard for five hours in these machines. The combination of instant power, hard suspension and natural balance make for a unique driving experience that calls for natural skill, grit and strength to set the pace. Nuvolari et al were valiant and fit men. “These Alfas have terrific solidity and seeming stability,” concluded late World Champion Phil Hill after a Donington test for Road & Track, “but at the same time the capacity to leap all over the place. They were not toys.”
Amazingly, this famous Alfa was registered for the road after WW2. With its wider body and the steering column moved to the right, it could be entered for the Mille Miglia if a future owner desired. I can’t imagine how Carlo Pintacuda felt after 14 hours flat-out on rough Italian roads, powering to his 1935 win, but it clearly inspired this car’s two-seater conversion in 1948.
The early history of this great car is unclear, but it’s believed to be chassis 5007 from which the Avus streamliner was developed by Gianbattista Guidotti in the Scuderia Ferrari workshops in early 1934. The body was designed in association with Caproni Aviation and, after testing on the Milano-Lago di Garda autostrada, the futuristic machine was driven to victory ahead of the Auto Unions by Guy Moll at the Avusrennen.
Back at Scuderia Ferrari, the streamliner was converted into a second-series Tipo Band eventually sold to England. After Brian Lewis proved the dominance of the Tipo B with victory in the Mannin Moar in ’1934, there was strong demand from wealthy enthusiasts including 26-year-old Richard Shuttleworth and later Luis Fontés.
With a fortune inherited after his father’s death in ’1932, Shuttleworth indulged his passion for flying and motorsport. After several years with a Bugatti Type 51, he gained a reputation for hairy driving and was nicknamed‘ Wild Jack’.
For ’1935, Shuttleworth secured the Tipo B from Scuderia Ferrari and, painted green, ‘5007’ made its debut at Brooklands on 16 March but failed to finish. At the International Trophy in May, Shuttleworth complained about the steering and later the heavy ‘fishtail’ silencer caused the exhaust to collapse. During a lengthy pitstop, Shuttleworth had hoped the problem would be terminal so he could fly back to his Bedfordshire estate to present the prizes at the Jubilee fête. But the exhaust was fixed by Thomson & Taylor mechanics and he roared back to finish fifth.
The car’s first major event was Mannin Moar, where he faced three freshly imported Bugatti Type 59s, including best buddy Charlie Martin, and two ERAs. With scuttle cover removed to cool the cockpit, and wearing a crash helmet as demanded by his mother, Shuttleworth made an impressive start chasing Lewis’ T59 and eventually overtook the flying Baronet on lap two as they roared past the grandstand. Reports relate that the leading Alfa looked ragged, with Shuttleworth locking the brakes into the tighter turns and kicking up gravel. On the seventh tour of the tight Douglas streets, Lewis was injured by a flying stone in the face. The green Alfa roared on, setting ever-quicker laps and extending the lead to 200 yards over the stunned Lewis, who was getting frustrated by the dust and gravel being thrown up. The Alfa eventually cried enough from its young driver’s punishment, and retired on lap 14 with driveline trouble.
Shuttleworth relished the performance of the only Tipo B in British hands, and after two frustrating sorties to France – fourth in the Dieppe GP and retirement in Nice, when a mechanic left the radiator cap open at a pitstop – the results started to come good. The undoubted highlight was the Donington Grand Prix, where both Gino Rovere’s Maserati and Martin’s Bugatti suffered brake problems, and Shuttleworth claimed victory from Lord Howe’s Type 59.
As his driving matured, so results improved and after two successful outings at Brooklands – where the Alfa Romeo took a class record on the Mountain Circuit – Shuttleworth was excited about an end-of-year trip to South Africa for the 1936 GP. The handicap event attracted a strong British contingent, and a works Bugatti for Jean-Pierre Wimille. Shuttleworth flew out to South Africa by Imperial Airways and loved the challenge of the fast Alfa around the 12-mile East London road circuit, which passed the Indian Ocean and undulated over the hills.
More than 100,000 spectators turned out for the race on New Year’s Day, with Wimille and Shuttleworth starting last as ‘scratch’ men. After a sunny, cloudless start, a breeze developed in the race. The Tipo B had always been susceptible to crosswinds, so the exposed course proved a challenge. Roaring along a fast stretch with a 50-yard gap between rows of houses, the wind unsettled the Alfa and knocked it off the road into the scrubland, where it hit a boulder. Shuttleworth was thrown clear and knocked unconscious. The Tipo B came to a rest upside-down in a ditch, and its stunned driver was rushed to East London hospital with serious head and leg injuries. A specialist was flown in from Johannesburg to save Shuttleworth’s life, but the Englishman remained in Africa for several months before returning to Old Warden to convalesce.
After Shuttleworth’s recovery, Thomson & Taylor advised him to send the bent Alfa back to Italy to be rebuilt. It’s unclear whether the work was carried out at the Portello works or, as 8C expert Simon Moore suspects, it went to the old Scuderia Ferrari workshops in Modena where more spares would be stored. At this point the chassis was updated to strengthened second series specification, and the rear suspension was re-drilled for later quarter-elliptic springs to combat the alarming effect of crosswinds.
Moore believes the addition of an extra digit on the chassis plate – from 5007 to 50007 – was probably a mistake by an Italian mechanic, or simply to match replacement import papers. When the Alfa returned to England in ’1939, the body had been repainted red and Shuttleworth decided to race it at the August Brooklands meeting, which hosted both the last-ever race at the track and the popular driver’s final appearance. He entered two races, non-starting the 10-lap Campbell Trophy but starting from scratch and blasting through to finish fourth in a short handicap on the Mountain Circuit.
With his aviation experience, Shuttleworth enlisted with the RAF Volunteer Reserve at the outbreak of war, but lost his life on 2 August 1940 when his Fairey Battle crashed into the Chiltern Hills on a night exercise near Ewelme.
The Alfa was sold to Geoffrey Barnard, who decided to convert theGPtitan into a sports car. Modification into a two-seater was carried out by tuner Vic Derrington in his Kingston garage, the roadgoing sensation featuring a wider cockpit, flowing wings, an ugly exhaust system and a heavy dynamotor mounted ahead of the radiator.
Painted black and registered MPH 374, it joined an elite group of converted racers – including the ex-Brian Lewis Bugatti Type 59 – that regularly blasted down the old A3. Just imagine these two old rivals meeting again on the open road.
The Tipo B was owned by Denis de Ferranti before 8C dealer Jack Bartlett sold it to America in ’1959, when it was acquired by well-known Alfa fan Henry Wessells III. He’d been introduced to Milan’s finest by neighbour Frank Griswold, who entered a Tipo B for the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and ’1940. Inspired by Pintacuda’s 1935 Mille Miglia-winning Tipo B, Wessells replaced the wings with cycle-style mudguards. After a friend crashed the car, he also removed the dynamotor, which he reckoned caused understeer. Wessells continued to drive the GP great on roads around his home near Philadelphia, where the Tipo B kept company with an exotic Tipo 33 Stradale. In later years when his unitary construction work with Budd took him to Europe, Wessells relocated to Paris and kept 50007 in an underground car park. What a car for early Sunday morning blasts around the capital!
After Wessells met Chris Mann on the Targa Florio in 1973, the two Alfisti became good friends. “I always wanted to race a Tipo B and convinced Henry that it should be restored to monoposto form,” recalls Mann. “The car didn’t run and the two-seater body was an ugly affair, where you sat on the chassis rail like a pimple.”
In Mann’s Kent garage Dick Knight did a fine job of the rebuild and Mann couldn’t resist a test run of the finished car on the A2: “After a blast down the carriageway, I got to the roundabout and spotted a police car. They chased me back and claimed I was doing 100mph. I was running on a light throttle and didn’t believe them, so on the run back they checked the speed when I raised my hand.” This wasn’t the only time Mannattracted police attention: “After racing at the ’Ring we drove to Adenau for dinner. By the time we left it was dark, but I could see enough by the light of the moon to drive back. A police car followed me to my guesthouse and it took some persuasive talking to avoid arrest!”
Mann and Wessells raced 50007 enthusiastically for 15 years, including a 100 Mile Race at Donington: “Our first big event was a support race at the French GP. Around Paul Ricard the performance was fantastic; with methanol you got 25% more power. We ran on 19in wheels and the car felt so sharp and ran beautifully. The only trouble was the Bosch magnetos. It’s a safe car that I never spun. With super steering and efficient brakes, it gave enormous confidence. The Tipo B survival rate says it all – for me it has everything: provenance, looks and performance. It’s the ultimate 8C. Jano put right all the flaws of earlier designs, and that engine was developed right through to the 308 with over 400bhp.”
In the late ’80s, 50007 was acquired by Jeffrey Pattinson, who found the Tipo B a struggle after his ERA and sold it to rock manager Tony Smith. A rebuild was commenced by talented mechanic George Fowles, who transformed the great car. “It’s a fantastic bit of kit,” says the former Le Mans mechanic and respected historic specialist. “It’s beautifully made, right down to the bonnet catches, with numbers stamped all over it.”
While Fowles rebuilt the chassis, the engine was sent to Jim Stokes, using the original crankcase and crank but with new blocks: “We’ve always run on petrol which still produces around 230bhp with loads of torque. Running on methanol is a pain: the oil has to be regularly drained and it eats away at the magnesium sump.”
The weakest point of the design is the short driveshafts, which caused the most retirements in the ’30s: “They are only 15in long and have no capacity to wind up under power. The car will pull 90mph in first, and you can’t break traction except in the wet or on old rubber. As a result, they regularly sheared at the inboard spline so we remade them in hardened steel and they’ve lasted 30 years. Many of the most beautiful parts are hidden, such as the small differential that splits drive behind the gearbox.”
For the past 28 years, the Alfa has been a favourite for Smith, who has extensive experience of historic racing from Ferrari Dino to Williams FW07. Running on authentic narrow tyres, he saves the Alfa for favourite meetings such as Goodwood, Monaco, Spa and the Oldtimer-GP at the ’Ring: “It’s a wonderful car but hard work at high speed. A few laps of Spa is better than a workout. Those who raced them in the ’30s were real heroes and really strong.” Highlights have included great battles with the Louwman Museum’s Maserati 8CM, driven by friend Robert Brooks, and races at Monaco: “The Maserati and the Alfa seemed perfectly matched and we still laugh about those dices. Taking such an iconic machine back to Monaco was special because you can really sense the history, but it feels a big car on the streets.”
Smith says there’s only one way to get the Tipo B through a corner quickly, and that’s sideways: “If you try to steer into the apex it’ll just go straight. It’s progressive, and slides beautifully on the throttle. On those skinny tyres it’s great in the wet. You have to really lean on it through Eau Rouge, but I love racing at Spa because you can really stretch the power. At high speed the wheels flap about, which is a little disconcerting – particularly sitting so high with such a clear view of them. The Alfa is really quick, and with the taller gearing it’s good for 150mph. It’s the ultimate of its era, and I love it.”
Glorious from every angle: overhead view shows later, wider cockpit required by new GP regs; chassis no was changed after rebuild; aviation-style filler cap.
‘Anticipation builds just warming it up, enjoying the view seen by heroes past down that elegant, tapering bonnet’
‘With smooth, continuous punch matched to light, direct steering, the Tipo B feels more responsive and powerful than a Monza and it’s easy to steer on the throttle’
THE HEIR WHO TOOK TO THE AIR
Having inherited a huge family fortune at the age of just 23, Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth could have turned out a spoilt squanderer, but a visit to the superb Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden Aerodrome, Bedfordshire shows what a passionate and dedicated enthusiast he became during his 30 years.
Through his short life, Shuttleworth had a wide range of interests. As well as contemporary aviation and motor racing, he searched out and saved historic machines including cars, steam vehicles, farm machinery, bicycles, motorbikes and early aeroplanes. A regular on the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run during the ’30s, he was a leading light in preservation and rescued many important machines from scrap. When the first contests for ‘old crocks’ ran at Brooklands, he competed with his prized 1903 De Dietrich. As well as mechanical hobbies, Shuttleworth was dedicated to the family estate, advancing agriculture and forestry. Among other ventures he was co-director of Railton; ran an aviation charter business at Heston; and produced a small-wheeled collapsible bicycle. His many aviation adventures included flying a 75hp Comper Swift monoplane from Old Warden to Delhi, and twice competing in the King’s Cup Air Race.
After his death during WW2, his mother founded the Shuttleworth Trust in memory of her son. The museum, aircraft restoration and air shows at Old Warden are a wonderful legacy to this popular man.
For details of the museum, see www.shuttleworth.org