As Alfa Romeo heads towards it’s 110th anniversary next month, we delve into the FCA Heritage archives and take a look at a mythical racing model created in the 1930s, the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300…
Four consecutive victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans: a legendary historical result.
In the early 1930s, boosted by the racing and commercial successes notched up by the 6C model family, the directors of Alfa Romeo decided to develop a new straight-eight cylinder engine, designed to power even more luxurious high performance cars, and to succeed in expressing and symbolising the brand’s technical sophistication.
Vittorio Jano – the engineer in charge of the planning department – set to work, and in 1931 the new Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 made its momentous debut.
This dual block 8C engine was highly advanced for its time, boasting light alloy cylinder heads, a carburettor and a lobe rotor supercharger, plus distributor ignition and forced lubrication. It continued with the same unit displacement as the engine that had equipped the previous 6C 1750 GS – 65×88 mm – but the increase in cylinders from 6 to 8 brought the displacement up to 2336 cm3 and the power output soared: the “Spider Corsa” version, the most powerful 8C 2300 model, generated 155 HP at 5200 rpm, almost double the 85 HP of the 6C 1750.
Tazio Nuvolari’s triumph in the 1931 Targa Florio race was only the first of a long series of racing successes conquered by the 8C 2300 in its various versions: a few months after the Targa Florio, Campari and Nuvolari won the Italian GP in Monza, while the first successes in the 1000 Miglia came with two consecutive victories in 1932 and 1933.
Meanwhile, Prospero Gianferrari, the general manager of Alfa Romeo, was determined to conquer another prestigious international competition: the 24 Hours of Le Mans, until then consistently dominated by British car manufacturers. In order to comply with the rules of the French race, a long-wheelbase four-seater competition car with torpedo-race bodywork was prepared, in collaboration with the Touring coachbuilders in Milan. The 8C 2300 Le Mans, weighing roughly 1000 kg, could reach 200 km/h and immediately showed itself to be a supremely sophisticated and unbeatable racing car.
Over the four years from 1931 to 1934, 188 exemplars of the 8C 2300 were produced, of which only nine in the “Le Mans” version.
In 1931, three 8C 2300s entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans: two official cars – driven by the Campari-Marinoni and Minoia-Zehender teams – and a third driven by an English gentleman driver, Lord Howe, teamed with Sir Henry Birkin. The British-driven car was provided with assistance by the Alfa Romeo racing squad, and emerged victorious. This was a victory of epic proportions: establishing a margin of 112 km over the second-placed team, and setting a then incredible average speed record of 125.735 km/h.
A year later, the 1932 edition featured no less than six Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Le Mans models on the starting grid. After a difficult start to the race, the Sommer-Chinetti team fought back to win a thrilling victory ahead of the Cortese-Guidotti team. Two 8C 2300s in the first two places!
But in 1933 the triumph was even more total: three Alfa Romeos occupied the podium! The winning Sommer-Nuvolari team set a new average speed record of 137 km/h… thanks also to a vital improvised intervention by Alfa Romeo mechanics who managed to seal a fuel tank leak with chewing gum! The Chinetti-Varent duo and the Lewis-Rose-Richards team took second and third places.
After three years of domination, the 8C 2300’s unquenchable thirst for victory was satisfied for the fourth consecutive time in the 1934 edition. The 8C 2300 Le Mans model driven by Chinetti-Etancelin won, 180 km ahead of it nearest pursuers. Thanks to further engine evolution, power had risen to 180 HP, and maximum speed had reached 215 km / h.
The model belonging to the FCA Heritage collection and exhibited at the Alfa Romeo Museum in Arese is the car that triumphed at Le Mans in 1931, driven by Lord Howe and Sir Henry Birkin. After its victory at the French circuit, it was bought by a private collector and stored for years in a tin mine in Nigeria. It was eventually re-purchased by Alfa Romeo and became part of the historical collection in 1966.
*Special thanks to FCA Heritage