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The Alfa Romeo 16C Bimotore – Sixteen cylinders in two engines

Looking for this week’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ feature, it’s not unusual to find cars from either Alfa Romeo or Ferrari that are somehow intertwined with each other, as the two carmakers have a long history in motor racing but an Alfa Romeo with Two engines being raced by Ferrari, now that is interesting…

In 1935, Scuderia Ferrari was still the official racing team for Alfa Romeo, which provided it with the cars to compete in races all over the world. Enzo Ferrari, who wanted to give his drivers an outstandingly powerful car, decided to have one designed and built with two engines.

Time was short and Luigi Bazzi had only a few months to prepare the Alfa Romeo 16C Bimotore. The idea was as ambitious as it was complex, but Bazzi, starting from the chassis of an Alfa Romeo P3, managed to find space for two straight eight engines of 3165 cc each, one in the usual place in front of the driver and the other behind him, and create one of the most original racing cars of any era.

The car had rear-wheel drive, with the rear axle powered by a differential mounted at the output of the three-speed gearbox, and two long half-shafts in a “V” configuration, driven by final drives and acting on the rear wheels. The rear engine driveshaft passed “straight through” the gearbox and connected to the flywheel of the front engine and the single clutch, which thus controlled the power from both the straight eights. Two fuel tanks were mounted along the sides of the car, replacing the one normally fitted behind the driver, in the space now occupied by the second engine.

The mathematical sum of the 270 horsepower generated by each eight-cylinder engine, supercharged by volumetric compressors, was 540 HP: an extremely high value even for a Grand Prix car.

The “Bimotore” was to go down in history for the records it set for the flying kilometre and flying mile.

In the Modena workshops, Bazzi managed to prepare two cars: one for Louis Chiron and one for Tazio Nuvolari. The car made its debut at the Tripoli Grand Prix on 12 May 1935. The long straights of the Mellaha circuit in Libya appeared to be the ideal terrain for testing the car and giving all this horsepower its head: Nuvolari and Chiron finished fourth and fifth respectively. Alfa Romeo tried its luck again at Avusrennen on 26 May, and Chiron succeeded in gaining second place.

On 15 June 1935, on the Altopascio-Lucca section of the new motorway from Florence to the coast, “Nivola” once again climbed into the cockpit of the Bimotore for an attempt at the flying kilometre and flying mile land speed record. The figures from the chronometers were an average speed of 321.428 km/h over a kilometre, with an average time of 11.20 seconds, and an average speed of 323.125 km/h for the mile, with a time of 17.93 seconds: the maximum speed was around 364 km/h. Nuvolari received congratulations from many sides, including from his great rival Achille Varzi, who insisted on being present and was unstinting in his praise for the record-breaker.

This beautiful car, a milestone in the racing partnership between Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, belongs to the FCA Heritage collection and can be found on display at the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo in Arese, it bears the Alfa Romeo badge of the period on its bonnet, and the Ferrari Prancing Horse on its sides.

ALFA ROMEO GP 16C BIMOTORE
ENGINE: Two 8 cylinder in line Otto cycle, one anterior longitudinal, one posterior longitudinal, both with compressor, 2 x 3165 cm³
POWER: 540 (2×270) HP @ 5.400 rpm
SPEED: 325 km/h
WEIGHT: 1030 kg
DESIGN: Alfa Romeo (Luigi Bazzi)
TYPE OF BODY: GP car
*Special thanks to FCA Heritage

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