My Alfa Romeo 'bitsarrini' special (so named coz' it's a bit of this and a bit of that!)
I have always dreamed of owning a 'proper' sports car, one that provides wind in the hair AND flies in the teeth motoring. My 'ultimate' car being the 1936 Mille Miglia-winning Alfa Romeo 8c 2900A. The idea of a two-seater racing car being driven on real roads appeals to me, but as I don’t have the necessary millions to buy an original I’ve tried to make my own interpretation – a tribute to one of history’s greats.
Whilst it’s not an original Alfa Romeo racing car, neither is it a replica nor a kit car but a one-off evocation. I like to think of it this way: although you’d love to see the 'real' Beatles or the 'real' Elvis Presley, obviously you can’t – so why not substitute a tribute band and just enjoy at that level?
So back in 1989 I fancied a vintage car but was put off by the thought of hours spent lying underneath a rusty wreck at the side of the road, missing some obscure part that would need to be made specially. I opted for a special combining retro styling with new bodywork and reasonably modern mechanics. A company called Classic Specials did a brilliant job of constructing a bespoke chassis utilising MGB mechanics and a Lenham Healey bodyshell. Unfortunately, in 1999, at the Castle Combe Classic Action Day I 'blew' the engine which was a turning point. I mean, at some point – surely – all car enthusiasts must have dreamed about designing their own car. But amongst all the dreamers are us fantasists; a very small, deluded, minority who actually believe that we can engineer a car as well as Vittorio Jano or Enzo Ferrari...... and some of us actually put our spanners where our mouths are!
Utilising the MG-Lenham chassis and Lenham Healey rear bodywork I replaced the MG engine/gearbox with that of a 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV. I then constructed a buck from the aeroscreens forward and used this to make a mould and moulding. Although my bodywork is in no way accurate, I hope it reflects the spirit of the original. Was it worthwhile? Yes. Finished just in time for my birthday five years ago, it was a wonderful present – even if I did pay for it myself!
My car’s first run was a ‘lap of honour’ down Bath’s main shopping street and I was soon joined by 30 affluent-looking Italians who spilled out into the road, blocking all the traffic, pulling out cameras and waving, clapping and cheering: “Bello”, “Magnifico”. Three of them (all old boys in their 70s) got down on their knees, in the middle of a busy shopping street and mock worshipped me (well the car actually). My last sight of them, through tears of laughter, was through the rear-view mirror as I drove off, each one being helped to their feet by a pair of female ‘silver-tops’. I think I made their day; they certainly made mine!