1924 Alfa Romeo RL Targa Florio
According to FIVA, this is the sole survivor of the Alfa Romeo works team that raced in the 1924 Targa Florio. It is believed to be the car driven into fourth place in that most gruelling event by the celebrated Cavaliere Giuseppe Campari, who combined his career of successful racing driver with that of grand opera. Campari completed the Targa in 6 hours, 46 minutes, 51 seconds, missing third place by the narrowest of margins – just 17 seconds after 268.5 miles of racing – and finishing a mere 14 minutes behind Werner’s winning Mercedes.
It was one of four six-cylinder RLTF cars built expressly for the Targa Florio by Alfa Romeo, two with 2,994cc engines for Campari and Wagner, two with 3,620cc engines for Ascari and Masetti. Their designer Geometra Cavaliere Giuseppe Merosi had been the founding engineer of ALFA, which he had joined in October 1909. He had developed the RLTF from the production Tipo RL ‘22/90’, using lighter chassis and specially tuned four-bearing engines. The five-car team built for the 1923 Targa Florio had secured a resounding 1-2-4 victory for Alfa Romeo; it could have been 1-2-3, but Campari, who had been lying second on the last lap, ran out of petrol short of the finishing line.
Loathe to change a winning formula, Alfa Romeo’s 1924 Targa team followed the same basic prescription but had more powerful engines and four-wheel braking in identical chassis. The race should have seen another Alfa victory, but Ascari’s leading car skidded and spun 100 yards from the finishing line and could not be restarted.
Some four months later, Englishman L.G. Styles decided to extend his holiday after witnessing Campari win the French Grand Prix at Lyon in August 1924 and travelled to Milan to visit the Alfa Romeo factory. After being welcomed by company owner Nicola Romeo, Styles was offered the sole agency for Alfa Romeo in Great Britain. He also bought the “rather special” 3-litre 22/90 RLTF, said to have been the car raced by Campari, in chassis form without equipment. Recalled Styles: “This car had a radiator lower and narrower than that of the standard cars, a Hele-Shaw steel multi-plate clutch and a lightened chassis, while the engine, of standard dimensions, had a specially balanced seven-bearing crankshaft and raised compression ratio.”
Styles had the car fitted with a light two-seater pointed-tail sports body by A. E. Leadbetter of Marsham Street, London SW1, registering it as “XX 5060” in March 1925. It was hastily prepared for the Essex Motor Club’s Kop hillclimb on 28th March, in which it was to be driven by Major Charles G. Coe. He scored wins in several classes in what was to be the last hillclimb to be held on public roads in Britain.
From then on Styles’s policy was to loan the Alfa to amateur drivers, registering it in their names for a few weeks so that they could take part in sporting events and changing the car’s colour from shell granite to black, and gold to blue, and swapping cylinder blocks and engine internals to vary the capacity between 3.0 and 3.6 litres to give the impression that a different 22/90 was competing every time! Among the drivers involved in this ingenious ‘loan scheme’ were Major Coe – who drove the car into second place in his class at the first ‘amateur’ Shelsley Walsh meeting on 11th July 1926 – and Hugh G. Walker of Troon, Ayrshire.
The car was also raced at the Brooklands August Bank Holiday meeting by Alfa Romeo works driver Vittorio Rosa, who lapped at around 115 mph. The following month Rosa won the unlimited racing car class with this car at Shelsley Walsh with a time of 57.4 seconds, and he also came second in the sports car class.
In July 1927 the car was registered to the Hon. Alexander Morton Weir, heir to the wealthy shipowner Lord Inverforth, who kept it until the following April, when it reverted to British Alfa Romeo Sales.
During 1928 the RLTF was acquired by A. E. Linsley of Harrow in part exchange for his 1924 Bugatti T23. At that stage it had reverted to the 3.0-litre engine, giving it a top speed just short of 100 mph, with 75 mph available on third. Recalled Linsley: “I kept this car for four years, and enjoyed many thousands of miles of delightful motoring.”
In 1932 Linsley exchanged the Alfa for a Type 55 Bugatti; its next owner appears to have been a Mr Rawlings of Brighton, who in 1936 sold it to Leo E. Flatt. It was by then in a very poor state, with damage to front mudguards, lamps, gearbox and carburettors. Spares being unobtainable, Flatt replaced the close-ratio gearbox of the TF car with a standard ‘box, regretting the loss of the racer’s close-ratio third speed. He also replaced the triple-diffuser Zenith carburettors with twin 52mm SUs.
Flatt fitted new front mudguards and lamps and replaced the split wooden dash with a cast aluminium instrument panel. He believed that the safe rev limit was the same – 3,600 rpm – as on the standard four-bearing engine until a letter from an Alfa Romeo works driver informed him that the seven-bearing engine could safely be taken up to 5,000 rpm.
Flatt entered the car for that year’s Lewes speed trials where it suffered from fuel problems; he also drove it at Brooklands “for amusement” on a non-race day in company with special builder R.A. Waddy, completing several flying laps at 110 mph by hand timing.
In the winter of 1938-39, the car was sold to a Mr Boreham of Crawley, who requested that it should be slightly detuned before he took delivery, so updraught Zeniths were fitted in place of the SUs.
The next news of the RLTF came in June 1943, when Bill Boddy of Motor Sport reported that “The Whincops have added the ‘22/90’ Alfa-Romeo two-seater which we recently mentioned to their stable”. Alfred “Twink” Whincop and his wife Monica were great vintage enthusiasts and close friends of Boddy, who had shared many motoring adventures in search of ancient and interesting cars with them before the war. Now cellulosed red, the Alfa remained with the Whincops until March 1945, when it was acquired by John Godrich of Birmingham, who sold it that December to Walter Allan of Kirk Ella in Yorkshire.
Early in 1950 someone tipped off that great motoring connoisseur Michael Crowley-Milling of Alderley Edge in Cheshire that Allan planned to convert the historic Alfa into “the fastest shooting brake in the country”. Crowley-Milling hastened to Hull, where he managed to persuade Allan to give him the car in exchange for a Talbot 105 shooting brake. The Alfa’s body, not too badly damaged, was rescued from the scrap heap, and car, body and several tea-chests of assorted parts were taken to Knutsford, where Crowley-Milling had garage space, and a five-year restoration began.
The Alfa Romeo first appeared in VSCC events in 1955 and became a regular and successful competitor including, from the mid-1960s, events on the Continent. After the 1966 International Alfa Romeo Rally in Milan, long-term Alfa Romeo designer-engineer and historian Luigi Fusi, who had worked with Merosi, learnt with regret that the car had lost its original close-ratio gearbox, had two new constant-mesh pinions made from his original drawings and presented them to Crowley-Milling.
However, the increased performance available with the new gearing proved too much for the engine, which put a connecting rod through the crankcase on the car’s first competitive outing, at the VSCC 1967 Spring Meeting.
Increasingly involved with the Centre for Nuclear Research in Geneva, where he had been offered a full-time job, and with a 2.3-litre Alfa “crying out for restoration”, Crowley-Milling reluctantly agreed in 1969 to sell the RLTF “as was” to former racing driver Count Giovanni “Johnny” Lurani Cernuschi, who had been keen to buy the Alfa ever since seeing it at the rally in Milan.
Johnny Lurani painstakingly restored the car to its 1924 Targa Florio configuration, with a body built by the Riva carrozzeria of Merate (Como), who had bodied his 1935 500cc record-breaker “Nibbio” and took part in the 1977 Montreux Grand Prix Retrospective celebrations with it. After Lurani’s death at the age of 89 in 1995, the car remained in his family, who have several times competed in the historic Mille Miglia with it. Most recently the Ferrari factory took the Alfa to Sicily to shoot a short film about Enzo Ferrari’s life, in which his screen character races the car on the Targa Florio.
This rare survivor, closely related to the Alfa Romeo racers which first brought Enzo Ferrari to prominence as a driver, has a current FIVA Passport no. 027054, ASI homologation no. 0670 (issued 5.11.73) and UK V5C registration. Looked after for many years by British specialist Malcolm Gentry, and described as in excellent condition, it is now offered for sale for the first time in 44 years.