A design from the pen of the great Vittorio Jano, the Alfa Romeo Tipo B was a masterpiece on the drawing board and on the race track. It was not, incidentally, the first monoposto Alfa Romeo. That distinction belongs to the 1931 Tipo A, of which four were built, and none survive. There is a replica in the Alfa Museum.

The Tipo B first appeared at the Monza Grand Prix on June 5, 1932. Its engine was loosely derived from Jano's double overhead camshaft, straight-eight design for the road-going 8C 2300 and Monza Grand Prix cars. Unlike the 8C 2300s, however, the engine's intake was on the driver's left side, with dual superchargers serving the front and rear testa fissa alloy blocks. The stroke was increased from 88 to 100 mm to give a capacity of 2654cc (65 x 100 mm).

Also, unlike the 8C 2300's conventional driveline, the Tipo B carried a single differential immediately behind a 3-speed gearbox. Twin torque tubes splayed outward, enclosing separate driveshafts to a pair of bevel gears located near the ends of the solid rear axle. The Tipo B won Monza outright and continued to dominate the remainder of the season, including wins at the French and German Grand Prix.

The cars sat idle from the end of the successful 1932 season until the following August. At that time, Alfa Romeo transferred its racing activities to Scuderia Ferrari. Alfa built seven new cars for the Scuderia in 1934, the first year of the 750-kg formula. The engines for the 1934 cars were bored to 2905cc, the displacement for which the Tipo B is best known, and horsepower rose from the original 215 at 5600 rpm to 255 at 5400 rpm. These cars were successfully campaigned by the Scuderia, with wins including Monaco, Tripoli, the Targa Florio, Avus and the French Grand Prix.

For the 1935 season, in response to the Mercedes and Auto Union efforts, Jano asked Ferrari to make additional modifications to the Tipo B. For the Pau Grand Prix in February, Nuvolari's car got a 3165cc engine (71 x 100 mm and 265 hp) and cantilever rear springs. The springs proved so successful that all Tipo Bs were retrofitted. In April, Tipo Bs began appearing with Dubonnet independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes. Dreyfus contested the Turbie hill climb in April with the Dubonnet front suspension, and both Nuvolari's and Chiron's cars were similarly modified for the Monte Carlo race. It was in a Dubonnet-modified Tipo B that Nuvolari won his most famous race, the 1935 German Grand Prix. For the Grand Prix of France in June, the Nuvolari and Chiron cars carried a 3822cc engine (78 x 100 mm) producing 330 hp. These cars also had a completely new chassis, incorporating a rear transaxle and IRS, and are referred to as Tipo C.

This is the ex-Scuderia Ferrari car 46, serial number 50006. From the Scuderia, the car was sold to Frank Ashby in England. The car was raced post-war by Ken Hutchinson, who sold it to J.J. Goodhew. From Goodhew, it traveled to Australia, where its new owner, John McMillan, campaigned it successfully. Its next owner, Leon Witte, restored the car, fitted telescopic shock absorbers at the rear to improve handling, and reunited it with its original engine.

{analysis} This car sold for $2,145,000, including buyer's premium, at the RM Classic Cars Auction at Amelia Island, Florida, on March 11, 2000.

Fusi shows six Tipo Bs produced in 1932 with three parts cars, seven produced in 1934 with four parts cars and six 1935 cars with spare engines and four parts cars, for a total of 19 cars and literally tons of parts.

Two interchangeable four-cylinder castings made up the engine's top end: the center four cylinders were configured as a conventional four, with the outboard pair making up the other four. The two superchargers, however, fed each block exclusively, and I suspect that the resulting intake-path dynamics further assisted breathing. Along the same lines, the unique splayed rear drive (adopted from the Tipo A) worked by limiting wheel spin as the cars drifted through the corners. It's not clear that either feature was fully understood at the time, but the results were certainly fortunate.

Legend has it that the 43 road-going 8C 2900 passenger cars were assembled using spare engines built for the Tipo B. While the Tipo Bs never seemed to lack durability, the 8C 2900 was famous for cracking the large aluminum casting that comprised its cylinder block and head. Finally, in the 1980s, a batch of blocks was cast up in England and several cars, including at least one Tipo B near Chicago that had been immobilized by a cracked head, returned to service.

Two million dollars is a lot to pay for anything, even one of the most desirable vintage race cars in the world. However, two-seat Grand Prix cars from the same period (the P3 is a single-seater) will bring even more, as today's collectors want to bring someone along to enjoy the cacophony of whirs, grinds and shrieks that a blown 2.9 engine provides. A single-seat Mercedes W125 or a Maserati 8CM would cost about the same as this P3, and to get the extra seat a Monza provides, you may have to spend an additional $1m. So, in the context of similar race cars with the same types of heritage, this P3 should be considered fairly priced.-Pat Braden

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