Mille Miglia Winning Alfa Romeo 2900A – Car Profile Page Two
Paul Grist related the tale of the time they took the car on the Mille Miglia Retro some years ago. They made a roadside halt near Modena, and an old man in suit and dark glasses got up from his chair at the cafe to come over and reminisce about the car and the ‘old days’. As they drove off, then young Matt asked Paul who the ‘old geezer’ was. The answer – Enzo Ferrari.
It was during the Grist ownership, with help from Simon Moore, that the real identity was confirmed. The car had the original engine block and was essentially unmolested, despite its transformations. None of the original Botticella bodies had survived but the Grists built one, liking the idea of being able to remove the bits when necessary.
My first acquaintance…behind the wheel…took place appropriately enough at the Brooklands circuit where most of the significant British pre-war racing took place. Though the circuit never re-opened for racing after WWII, much of the original premises survive, along with sections of original track, including the fabulously steep banking. The Alfa never ran here but it was wonderful to be able to test it on this ‘holy’ ground.
If you have never heard the whine and whoosh of a pair of superchargers on a larger, pre-war Alfa engine, then you have clearly missed out. The sound that escapes from a Bugatti or a Bentley is intriguing, but give me an Alfa every time. This car is incredibly visceral. There is a huge three-spoke wheel right in your face, no more than fourteen inches away, behind which is located one of the twin aero-screens as fitted on the car in 1936. If you ask yourself which cars can offer such a physical and sentient experience, the 2900 has to be near the top of the list.
I had to be on my toes, having been told that at the moment it would jump out of first gear if the gear lever was not held in place. Once the eight cylinders have burst into life, you settle in, trying to get used to being so close to the steering wheel. Then there are some surprises. What on the surface looks like a pretty heavy car turns out to handle and respond as if it was several hundred pounds lighter. The gear pattern is slightly unorthodox, with first being over to the right not the left, and reverse takes some practice but the box is a miracle of engineering strength. Once the first gear glitch is remembered, the box is easy to use, changes being easy and straight-forward. This means the car’s very considerable torque is accessible, and the car’s acceleration is stunning.
My second drive was near the Grist workshop, on proper country roads where the handling and braking could be tested…if not fully…at least to a very satisfying degree. The big Englebert racing tires give good grip, and on damp and bumpy roads, the 2900A could be truly wound up, even producing a hint of rear end slide which I had seen the Grists do so well through Arnage at Le Mans in 2002.
Good old days indeed….thanks Matt and Paul.
[Source: Ed McDonough; photo credits, Alfa Romeo and P. Collins]