Alfa Romeo GTA On track in famed racer… Slotemaker Alfa Romeo GTA. Forgotten championship winner restored and on track. Light fantastic… This Alfa GTA took its driver to victory in the 1966 Dutch Touring Car Championship, then disappeared into obscurity. Glen Waddington uncovers its past – and its reincarnation. Photography Mitch Pashavair.
South of the Cotswolds and just through the village of Tiddleywink nestles Castle Combe Circuit. Like so many of its ilk (Goodwood included) it’s a former airfield, and it’s fast and open rather than tight and technical. Today it’s empty bar one car, one car I can hear before I’ve even parked and got out of my old Porsche 944. The Team Slotemaker 1965 Alfa Romeo 1600 GTA Corsa has been let loose and its restorer Max Banks of Alfaholics sounds like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.
I remember Max’s infectious enthusiasm when I bumped into him in the paddock at Laguna Seca during the Monterey Auto Week in 2014. Work on the Slotemaker car was well under way, and the Alfaholics guys had been doing some digging into its history.
‘The owner knew only that it was a 1600 GTA with many Autodelta parts fitted – he had no idea of its famous history – but all those Autodelta components meant this was certainly not just an average 1600 GTA. We researched its chassis number and confirmed it to be the 1966 Dutch championship-winning Team Slotemaker car, driven by Wim Loos.’
The research didn’t end there. Says Max: ‘We noticed other details, such as the “Rob Slotemaker’s Anti- Slipscholen” sticker [it refers to Slotemaker’s famous skid-training school] still in the rear screen and even the green thumb protection pads on the steering wheel spokes, which matched what we’d seen in old photos.’
But while this is a car clearly worth celebrating, it turned out that there was tragedy in its past too. The GTA (chassis number AR 613486; registered ROMA 854273) was supplied in Rome and bought by Rob Slotemaker in the spring of 1966, along with AR 613099, to form a two-car team that would compete in the Dutch Touring Car Championship. Rob chose 613099 for himself; this one went to the up-and-coming Wim Loos.
‘During the 1966 season, Loos won three races and scored two second-place finishes, enough to crown him Dutch Touring Car Champion at first attempt,’ says Max. ‘His 1967 campaign got off to an even better start, with four wins from four starts, but he was killed mid-season in a nasty accident during the Spa 24 Hours race, where he was entered in a friend’s Giulia Sprint GTV.’
It turns out that Loos had suffered chest injuries when he’d been trapped under a car while repairing it, which made wearing a seatbelt uncomfortable. Shortly before midnight on 22 July 1967, Loos lost control in a bank of fog as he fought to avoid rescue vehicles attending the fatal accident of Eric de Keyn. He died a few days later in hospital. It’s reckoned that he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt and that, if he had, he might have survived. ‘Loos was well-known for his successes driving this GTA,’ says Max. ‘It was used to take his funeral casket to the church, which rested on the roof as the car was pushed along the high street. The number of people present to bid him a final farewell is testament to his achievements and popularity.’
Seeing the finished article in the metal not far from Alfaholics’ West Country HQ – Max and co regularly host their own customer trackdays here at Castle Combe – it soon becomes apparent that the Slotemaker GTA’s restoration has been extraordinarily respectful to its past. It’s beautifully presented, of that there is no doubt, but it is far from the over-polished, new-for-old spectacle of some restorations. ‘Nothing has been replaced for the sake of it,’ says Max, when I collar him as he brings the Alfa off the track and into the paddock. It’s an opportunity to learn a little more of the car’s story.
Soon after Loos’s death in 1967, the Alfa was sold and went to America. There it was repainted and partially restored, losing all traces of its history – as well as its striking orange-and-white Slotemaker paint scheme. ‘Our customer had owned the car for several years and taken part in a few events but suffered a number of mechanical issues, including a brake failure, which dented his confidence in it,’ says Max. ‘When we told him the amazing news about its history, the decision was made to sensitively restore the car back to its 1966 championship-winning specification. The odometer read just over 12,000km, which was likely to be genuine, considering its short racing career and what seems to have been limited use in America after that.’
Stripping the car down revealed no real horrors and supported the apparently low mileage. ‘The shell was in remarkable condition, with no damage. We found some non-original fittings and overspray, confirming that the car had been repainted and partially restored. We also found that it had been undersealed – applied over original Autodelta parts such as the sliding-block brackets for the rear axle,’ says Max.
The underseal was starting to peel off where it had been sprayed on dirt and grease, and the raw areas had been hastily sprayed with aerosol paint. Inside, the floors had been treated with a textured paint. To bring the shell back to factory specification, it had to be stripped bare and painted in the correct AR 501 red throughout, before the outside could be finished in the Team Slotemaker scheme. ‘We knew from period photographs that the car was painted white under the wheelarches, so the red paint there could not have been original. Where we did find the original red paint was under the front bumpstops – parts that had never been removed during previous restoration work,’ says Max.
The aluminium body was chemically stripped back to bare metal once all the underseal had been removed. A couple of small areas of corrosion were addressed and previous repairs attended to that had been made to the corners of the front floorpans. ‘Retaining those original panels, without changing complete sections for the sake of it, was crucial to maintaining originality,’ says Max.
With all the bodywork stripped and prepared, new paint could be applied. ‘As we intended to return the car to its Dutch Touring Car Championship-winning Team Slotemaker colour scheme and specification, we didn’t set out for a full wet, flat, mirror finish inside and out,’ says Max. ‘The paint is purely out of the gun with a light machine polish, much as it would have been in period, but inevitably to a higher standard than the original rush job to go racing.’
Max was also happy to let the car wear its history with pride. ‘We were careful not to fill and hide original dings and marks in the internal panels and chassis parts – these are all part of the racing history of the car. We developed a special paint formulation for the internal panels to achieve the same finish as Autodelta. It’s dulled, not shiny. As the car left the factory in red, we painted it red in all the negative areas, with only the exterior painted in the Team Slotemaker colours, just as was done when the car was sent to Holland in 1966.’
Under the bonnet, everything is clean and functional, though not mirror-bright, and nothing has been replaced that didn’t need to be. Says Max: ‘Although the mechanical components were low-mileage, they were still 50 years old and were therefore dismantled and examined to see if they could simply be reassembled in order to retain the car’s extraordinary originality.’
The engine was stripped, crack-tested, and reassembled with new bearings and reshimmed valve springs, but the original pistons and their original rings. Similarly the gearbox was stripped and its magnesium casing X-rayed, which revealed a bellhousing crack that was welded before the ’box was rebuilt with new bearings and synchros. Underneath, all the Autodelta castings were refinished to remove previous sandblasting damage and then reassembled.
‘We removed the incorrect ATE brakes and fitted the correct Dunlop ones, and we have retained the modified axle casing,’ says Max. Like all GTAs, this one is fitted with a sliding block mechanism, which attaches to the differential and allows the axle to move up and down but not skip sideways under cornering loads, so the tyres maintain their grip. All the suspension castings were blasted and powder-coated before being reassembled with re-coated original LOBO fasteners.
Time to try it out. You notice a sheen rather than a shine on stainless trim around the windows – ‘we cleaned it with wire wool rather than mirror polishing’ – and the lamps are genuine factory-fitment first series Carello units, cleaned and re-installed. The door swings open easily, thanks to its lightweight construction, so it’s surprising to see how neatly trimmed the cockpit is. ‘The foam padding in the doorcards and quarter-panels had disintegrated,’ says Max, ‘so we carefully removed the original vinyl, cleaned the hardboard backing, attached new foam and then refitted the vinyl.’
The dashboard has been stripped and cleaned, but is the same one Wim Loos sat behind; the wood-rim steering wheel shows evidence of wear, but you instantly understand why Loos attached a couple of small foam strips to the upper sections of the spokes with green insulation tape: they stop your thumbs catching on the hard edge of the aluminium. Under your feet is clean vinyl matting. ‘It’s not original,’ says Max, ‘but it’s correct and gently worn. There seemed no point in replacing it.’
Firing up the engine – merely a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, don’t forget – results in a joyous noise from the side-exiting exhaust pipe. Loud barely covers it. The bucket seat keeps your torso well-planted, the wheel is a delight to caress, and the gearlever – quite long, though with a deliciously oiled, slick action – finds first easily. A tickle of the throttle and you’re away on generous torque, the engine soon hitting stride and stretching up through the revs with a seamless blare.
This engine is at the heart of the Alfa’s appeal. Yes, the lack of weight has much to do with the GTA’s on-track success (Aforalleggerita – ‘lightweight’, no less), but few engines are as generous as this one. Only four cylinders yet the voice is richer than many with more; only 1.6 litres, yet there’s torque to mine and power to plunder. It will rev, and it thrives on a heavy right foot, yet it’s hardly cammy. Instead, the power comes on stream as low as 2000rpm, so you don’t wait an age to get past the popping and spitting, and nor are you ever dropped into an empty lot if you fluff a shift and land yourself with a labouring engine.
Not that you’re likely to get things wrong with this gearbox. The lever moves with accuracy, yet it’s so refined in action. Similarly the steering, which is never heavy, even when manoeuvring, yet comes alive the moment you’re rolling, feeding back plenty of information from the tarmac and responding to every millimetre of lock applied.
Despite the car’s small proportions (it’s not much more than 13ft long or 5ft wide), it’s immensely stable on track, that well-secured rear axle keeping the tail nice and tight, yet you’re never aware of understeer building. Instead, the GTAfeels largely neutral, and unthreatening; it’s an easy car in which to gain in confidence, pushing a little harder with each lap.
That noisy exhaust means we don’t have all day to enjoy it, though. Castle Combe is a fantastic track but it’s had many events denied it for the last couple of decades because folks round here like to keep things sleepy. We don’t want to upset anybody so, once the Alfa has been properly warmed, we wind things down and head back to the paddock, where the day started.
Gently, I click the driver’s door shut behind me. That exhaust note is still ringing in my ears. What a lovely car. What a back story. What a temptation to get back out for just one more lap…
THANKS TO Alfaholics, www.alfaholics.com.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA Corsa
ENGINE 1570cc four-cylinder, DOHC, twin spark plugs, two Weber carburettors
MAX POWER 115bhp @ 6500rpm / DIN
MAX TORQUE 110lb ft @ 4000rpm / DIN
TRAMSMISSION Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
STEERING Worm and roller
SUSPENSION Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, radius rods, sliding block, coil springs, telescopic dampers
PERFORMANCE Top speed 120mph. 0-60mph 8.5sec
Left, clockwise from far left First stage of the restoration: the Alfa is disassembled; bodyshell is stripped and found to be remarkably intact; Team Slotemaker colours applied; the Autodelta sliding block castings were cleaned but are original. Clockwise from right Despite its age, the engine needed only the lightest of rebuilds – even the original piston rings remain; interior is highly original; exhaust exits on driver’s side, just below the door.
‘The owner knew it was a GTa with many autodelta parts – he had no idea of its famous history’
‘This engine is at the heart of the Alfa’s appeal: four cylinders yet a voice richer than many with more’
The life of Rob Slotemaker
This bright light in the racing world was extinguished all too soon. Words Mattijs Diepraam.
He was known for running into trouble with authority – as he might, being the son of a magistrate. Out on the circuit, though, few people could live with him. ‘Sloot’, as Rob Slotemaker was affectionally nicknamed, began work as a fighter pilot but made racing his career.
Slotemaker was born in 1929 in Batavia, the capital of the Dutch Indies. Having survived separate prison camps during WW2, the Slotemaker family repatriated to Holland after peace was declared. Instead of following his father into law, Rob chose to become a fighter pilot and went to the United States for training. In between flights, he was soon exploring the grip levels of an ancient Buick. Back in Holland, this habit continued on Volkel airbase, where Sloot used to entertain his fellow aces by skidding his car around the frozen runways.
When a series of low-flying stunts got him suspended, Rob’s attention shifted towards cars. He debuted in a Ford Zephyr in the 1954 Monte Carlo Rally and followed that with his first Zandvoort outing, racing a DKW. After leaving the Air Force in the mid-1950s, he opened a school for advanced driving techniques, specialising in anti-skid courses.
Racing Team Holland was founded in 1964, with Ben Pon and Rob Slotemaker as drivers. Pon brought the money, so it was agreed that he would be handed the lead if their Porsche 904s scored a 1-2 finish. Pon was outraged when Sloot broke their agreement at Monza, and it soon led to his separation from the team.
Slotemaker kept on racing until his untimely death, often spreading his talent too thin across many disciplines. His Formula 1 career went no further than driving an Ecurie Maarsbergen Porsche in the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix. He pioneered DAF’s Formula 3 efforts with the company’s groundbreaking Variomatic gearbox, and finished 17th on the London-Sydney Marathon in a DAF 55, but fell out with co-driver Rob Janssen along the way. The holes pierced into Janssen’s passenger door – the result of Slotemaker crashing into a parked lorry to give Janssen a scare – were testimony to that.
Slotemaker was the guiding light for new generations of racing drivers, among whom Wim Loos and Jan Lammers were most prominent – Loos was due to test for Ferrari’s F1 team when he was killed at Spa. Slotemaker took a second mortgage on his house to help finance Lammers’ Formula 1 career, and lived just long enough to see him make his F1 debut with Shadow in 1979.
Sloot survived many accidents by sheer virtue of his car control, but his luck ran out on 16 September that year, when his Chevrolet Camaro skidded on an oily patch during an insignificant Touring Car race at Zandvoort. He controlled the slide but broke his neck on impact with Michael Strauch’s similar Camaro, which just happened to be stationary at the wrong spot at the wrong time. Zandvoort named the corner after him. Slotemaker was only 50 years old.