Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 Le Mans – The 33 with the three-litre V8
In Alfa Romeo’s 110th anniversary year it is pretty difficult to find any one car that stands out from the Italian Carmakers back catalogue, such is the depth of the marques history. From the more recent Alfa Romeo 8C which became an instant modern classic, to the 6C of yesteryear, Alfa Romeo have brought us cars to love and lust over, time and again, so with that thought in mind, thanks to FCA Heritage, for this week in our ‘Throwback Thursday’ series we take a look at one of it’s V8 models…
With the establishment of Autodelta under engineer Carlo Chiti in the 1960s, Alfa Romeo reset its sights on motorsport success, aiming as high as the World Championship for Makes.
In 1951 Alfa Romeo left Formula One to concentrate all its efforts and finances on series production. Nevertheless, the brand’s competitive spirit lingered on, both in its cars and in the people that Alfa employed. Thus in 1964, the design department headed by Orazio Satta Puliga and Giuseppe Busso set about building a racing car to compete in the Sports-Prototypes category. In those years the Sportscar Championship was hugely popular with the public, so participating in it was potentially a sound advertising investment.
The groundwork for the development of the legendary Alfa Romeo 33 began many miles away in the province of Udine, where a small company assembled the Giulia TZ on behalf of Alfa Romeo. The firm would later become Autodelta and was headed by mercurial engineer Carlo Chiti, who had previously worked for Alfa and Ferrari. As its partnership with the ‘Biscione’ brand intensified, Autodelta relocated to Settimo Milanese, near the Alfa Romeo headquarters. Alfa commissioned Autodelta to create the Giulia GTA and subsequently acquired Chiti’s company, which became Alfa Romeo’s official racing department, tasked with the design and management of competition cars.
By the winter of 1965, a first prototype of the rear-engine sports car project was tested at Alfa Romeo’s Balocco proving ground, with an engine evolved from the legendary twin-cam 1.6 L powering the TZ2. This prototype would subsequently develop into the Alfa Romeo Scarabeo, a concept car engineered by Giuseppe Busso. Following the acquisition of Autodelta, the project that had been originally devised by Satta and Busso passed into the hands of Chiti and, from the following winter, Autodelta’s Tipo 33 began to acquire its definitive technical features: from the unconventional H-shaped chassis to a new two-litre V8 engine producing 270 bhp.
The car made a winning début on 12 March 1967 at the Fléron Hillclimb in Belgium, where the new Alfa Romeo 33—nicknamed “Periscopica” due to the ram air intake behind the driver that resembled a periscope—finished first ahead of much more powerful cars in higher classes. The fledgling Alfa Romeo 33 was masterfully driven by test driver Teodoro Zeccoli, who would go on to become a passionate and committed advisor in the evolution and development of the 33. In 1968 the 33/2 (the number 2 refers to the displacement in litres) entered the World Sportscar Championship, collecting victories and excellent finishes in gruelling endurance races. They included a memorable 1-2-3 sweep in the 2-litre class at the 24 Hours of Daytona, which inspired the name of the fully working specimen that is exhibited at the Alfa Romeo History Museum in Arese — the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 Daytona.
The displacement of the Alfa Romeo 33’s V8 engine was enlarged from 2 to 3 litres, but definitive success in the World Championship for Makes came in 1975 with the 33 TT 12, which mounted a 12-cylinder 500-bhp engine.
As the saying goes, “the more you get, the more you want”: class victories were no longer enough for Alfa Romeo’s senior management. In a bid to secure the overall constructors’ championship, the 33 was redesigned with a new boxed-frame chassis derived from aeronautical technology, a new 6-speed gearbox and an enlarged 3-litre V8 engine delivering 400 bhp. Thus in 1969, the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 was created. Thanks to its lightweight fibreglass body, the car’s configuration could be changed frequently to suit the needs of each competition: the rear end was given a long or short tail depending on the aerodynamics of the different tracks, and the front end and front spoilers were similarly adjusted.
In the 1970 season, a quartet of 33/3 cars participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All four official Autodelta team cars sported a red finish, the traditional colour of Italian racing cars, but to make them instantly identifiable from afar as they approached the pits, the front ends were painted in different colours: yellow for the No. 35 driven by Nanni Galli and Rolf Stommelen; white for the No.36 driven by De Adamich-Courage (the stunning specimen that is preserved in the Alfa Romeo History Museum in Arese) and blue for the No.37 of Hezemans-Gregory, while the No.38 of Zeccoli-Facetti was all red. Actual footage of the race was immortalised in the legendary documentary-drama film “Le Mans”, starring a young Steve McQueen. In October, at the 1000 km Zeltweg in Austria, the pairing of De Adamich-Pescarolo won the class title by coming second in the overall ranking.
The winning qualities of the project became glaringly evident in the 1971 season, when the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 brought numerous gratifying successes to its drivers, the Autodelta team and Alfa’s top management. Power output was boosted to 420 bhp and the gearbox reverted back to five gears, which helped to minimise the car’s overall weight. In several races the agile Alfa Romeo 33/3 got the better of much more powerful cars, notably at the Brands Hatch 1000 km with De Adamich-Pescarolo, the Six Hours of Watkins Glen with De Adamich-Peterson, and an immensely satisfying 1-2 victory in the Targa Florio by Vaccarella-Hezemans ahead of De Adamich-Van Lennep. The most impressive results at European level were accompanied by numerous hillclimb victories, even on the shortest circuits, where power, agility and lightness mattered most: these were qualities that the 33 had in abundance and enabled the driver to exploit all of the car’s potential from the outset.
Alfa Romeo clinched the international crown in the 1975 season, claiming the World Championship for Makes by winning seven of the eight races on the calendar. The groundwork for victory had been laid with a 1-2-3 finish in the 1000 km of Monza in 1974. The lead car was the Alfa Romeo 33 TT 12, featuring an aluminium alloy tubular chassis (hence the abbreviation TT, which stands for Telaio Tubulare) and a three-litre flat-12 cylinder engine capable of producing 500 bhp, which Alfa Romeo would also use in the 1979 Formula One championship. The main men behind the wheel were great drivers such as Arturo Merzario, Nino Vaccarella, Jochen Mass, Jacques Laffite and Henri Pescarolo.
*Special thanks to FCA Heritage