There are more iconic model names and cars with a greater fanbase in the Alfa Romeo back catalogue, but few are as revolutionary as the mighty Tipo B P3 Monoposto.
Going into the 1932 season, the racing regulations no longer required teams to race with a driver and a mechanic on board, so Alfa’s chief designer Vittorio Jano didn’t provide space for one. With the driver positioned amidships, the car quickly became known as the Monoposto (meaning “single seat”) and was, as a result, the world’s first centre-line single-seater racing car – a design format that is still very much in use today.
Thanks to the supercharged 2.6-litre straight-eight producing nearly 200bhp and a unique driveshaft system that sent power to each rear wheel individually, the P3 Monoposto had a supreme power-to-weight ratio. Jano also designed the car in such a way that both driveshafts ran alongside the seat, which meant it could be lowered, enhancing the car’s centre of gravity, weight distribution and aerodynamics.
The P3 won multiple races in the 1932 Grand Prix season with Tazio Novolari and Rudolf Caracciola behind the wheel. In 1933, a larger body and more powerful 2.9-litre engine were added to comply with the 750kg formula rules, and the results had an immediate impact: a 1-2-3 finish in the French GP.
The P3 would surely have gone on to achieve even greater success, had the all-conquering Silver Arrows not arrived on the scene. However, the P3 still had one last hurrah: in the 1935 German GP at the Nürbürgring, more than 250,000 German fans and a host of Nazi officials flocked to the circuit to witness what they thought would be certain victory.
But Alfa’s Tazio Nuvolari had other ideas. Despite racing against faster and more powerful cars, he soon found himself in second place and chasing down the Mercedes of Manfred von Brauchitsch. He was gaining fast, but the laps were running out and as the two drivers started the last lap, Nuvolari was still 35 seconds adrift. And yet the man from Mantua never gave up and as von Brauchitsch pushed harder and harder, his tyres gave way and exploded in a cloud of disintegrating rubber. Nuvolari seized the opportunity and scored his most famous victory.
This particular P3 Monoposto was built in 1933 and has come to Goodwood all the way from Alfa Romeo’s Museo Storico in Italy.
25 June 2014