Simanaitis Says

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ALFA ROMEO 8C 2900B SPECIALE TIPO LE MANS

RAYMOND SOMMER’S straw-hatted participation in the 1938 Le Mans race was cited two days ago. Today I am delighted to follow up with an essay on the car he drove, an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B specifically built for Le Mans.

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The Alfa Tipo Le Mans during construction at Carrozzeria Touring. This and the following images from primotipo.com.]

Carrozzeria Touring employed its Superleggera (superlight) technology in fabricating aerodynamic berlinetta coachwork for this Alfa 8C 2900B. Others of the series, no more than 40 in total, were open spyders including the pair finishing 1-2 in the 1938 Mille Miglia. Furthermore, another berlinetta with less streamlined coachwork later garnered fame by placing first at the inaugural Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1948.

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Raymond Sommer and Clemente Biondetti co-drove the Alfa Tipo Le Mans at the 1938 event.

In addition to his first-lap lead and crowd-pleasing tip of the hat, Sommer later posted the race’s fastest lap in 5 minutes 13.8 seconds, an average 96.1 mph. By the 19th hour, he and co-driver Biondetti had built up a lead of 11 laps, 1 hour or almost 100 miles.

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A routine pit stop for the Alfa before things deteriorated.

A blown tire took away part of the Alfa’s bodywork, necessitating lengthy repair. This was followed by a succession of mechanical problems, perhaps over-revving that led to failed valve gear.

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After its domination, mechanical ills put paid to the Alfa’s chances.

The Sommer/Biondetti Alfa retired after 20 hours and 219 laps. Though a DNF, the car’s accumulated 1835 miles were a greater distance than any but the top three finishers. The Delahaye 135 CS of Eugéne Chaboud and Jean Trémoulet won.

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The Alfa Tipo Le Mans in its current home, Arese, Italy. Image from Museo Storica Alfa Romeo.

The 8C 2900B Speciale Tipo Le Mans resides today in the Museo Storica Alfa Romeo in Arese, Italy, just north of Milan. It has been featured in several magazine articles, including an R&T “Salon” piece by John Lamm in July 1991.

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The Vittorio Jano-designed 2905-cc straight-eight. This and the following images by John Lamm from R&T, July 1991.

For 8C 2900 power, engine wizard Vittorio Jano essentially aligned a pair of inline-fours, with their dual overhead camshafts and twin Roots superchargers driven off the center of the crankshaft. (One benefit of this was avoiding the whippiness of a long crank.)

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Cockpit of the Alfa 8C 2900B Speciale.

The cockpit of the Alfa is not overly roomy, its twin bucket seats separated by a leather-covered divider to help hold the driver in place. The driver’s view to the rear was all but nonexistent.

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The Alfa driver’s sole view to the rear comes through a small window perched high on the car’s aerodynamic tail.

When you’re pulling away from the competition, what does it matter?

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Alfa Romeo Through the Shasta Daisies by Sue Steele Thomas. Image from primotipo.com.

This particular Alfa wasn’t as supremely successful in its racing career as some others of the marque. However, success can be measured by a different metric. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

4 comments on “ALFA ROMEO 8C 2900B SPECIALE TIPO LE MANS

  1. Gene Herbert
    May 18, 2016

    Great article, Dennis.
    Can only imagine what it must have sounded like inside.

    • simanaitissays
      May 18, 2016

      Many thanks, Gene. Agreed, I’ll bet the Superleggera bodywork made music in concert with Jano’s engine.

  2. Michael Rubin
    May 18, 2016

    Thanks, Dennis. I miss Salon and appreciate your filling some of the empty spaces in my reading about the classics. The San Francisco Art Insitute car collection has (or had) a car very much like this Superleggera. Same pre-war body style, though with a more traditional roofline and rear window. It was stored downstairs, rather than on public view on the first floor in an old car dealership on Van Ness. They said it was a replica, but of which Alfa vehicle and when it was made they couldn’t say other than it lacked provinence. Some in our Morgan group thought they saw more contemporary bits but no details were available. Per my love of pre-war design, it was my favorite of the cars we saw, along with a beautiful Squire Corsa.

  3. Skip Cusack
    May 25, 2016

    Dennis, great piece. What an interesting body design. In accordance with the old saying, “If it looks right, it is right….” I have to say by today’s standards this car was “probably mostly right.” But it’s not fair to view it by today’s standards. Car designs that predate advanced analytic modeling and aerodynamic testing are the most rewarding to study. They are a blend of what could be measured, and what just “looked right.” This car gives us a great view backwards to what the pre-war Maestro’s saw.

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