The Makes Championship racers of 1969–74 are not for the faint of heart or weak of pocketbook

Chassis number: AR11572010 - 4th overall at Le Mans with Nino Vaccarella and Andrea de Adamich - Confirmed as a 1972 Alfa Romeo Autodelta team car - Driven by Andrea de Adamich in the 1972 season - Beautiful patina with original paint and interior  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1972 Alfa Romeo Tipo TT 33/3

This car, Lot 280, sold for $946,680, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s London auction on October 26, 2011.

The lineage of Alfa Romeo’s Tipo 33 racing cars is involved enough that I am going to dispense with using catalog copy this time and just get on with telling the story.

To say that racing has been in Alfa Romeo’s blood is understating the situation. It has been the core passion and an essential part of Alfa’s self concept from the beginning, and in this it has been quintessentially Italian. Also unfortunately quintessentially Italian has been the fact that it has been perpetually underfunded and financially undermanaged for most of its history, staggering from one financial crisis to the next. As a result, pure racing Alfas (as opposed to racing production cars) have been an episodic occurrence over the company’s history, blazing brightly and then disappearing while managers tried to keep the company solvent.

As Italy recovered from World War II, Alfa campaigned the Type 158 Alfetta for a number of years, dominating the Grand Prix racing (yet to be called Formula One) of the era. Predictably, though, the success carried far too high a cost, and Alfa had to withdraw to spend the 1950s and early 1960s selling street cars.

The passion was never lost though, and the marque was actively rallied and raced by privateers — with quiet support from the factory. The performance-oriented Giulietta series was introduced in 1954, and the cars quickly became a weapon of choice in European racing, particularly after Zagato put a lightweight alloy body on a wrecked Sprint, creating what was to become known as the SZ (Sprint Zagato). These were entirely streetable cars, but once again the pendulum had started swinging back towards factory-supported, purpose-built racing cars.

The men behind the machine

I should introduce a few personalities here. Orazio Satta Puliga and Giuseppe Busso had joined Alfa just before World War II, and they were the primary racing guys in the company — and were heavily involved with the Alfetta GP project.

By the late 1950s, Satta was the head of design, and Busso was in charge of the mechanical side — and both were finally in position to push the company back into racing. Carlo Chiti had joined Alfa in the early 1950s but had left to join Ferrari in 1958, taking a designer named Ludovico Chizzola with him. These two men were students of John Cooper’s mid-engined designs, and they were responsible (along with Giotto Bizzarrini) for the dominant Ferrari 156 F1 car that carried Phil Hill to the 1961 World Championship.

This being Italy, the success triggered a mutiny and mass desertion at Ferrari after the season ended, leaving Chiti and Chizzola wondering what to do next. After spectacularly failing to make the company ATS successful, they decided to form a company named Autodelta — with the specific purpose of being the quasi-official Alfa Romeo racing department.

Alfa races back

The 1960s were very good for Alfa Romeo. In 1962, they had introduced the 105-Series Giulia, one of the first true sports sedans available, and it was selling well, which allowed a bit of financial breathing room.

Feeling flush, Alfa started work on a 2-liter V8 to complement the 1.6-liter four of the Giulia, and the racing passion began to rise. The Giulietta SZ had been a great success and begged for a suitable Giulia-based successor. The factory was very busy as it was, so the job was shared with Autodelta.

The pendulum swung further back toward pure racing, as Alfa and Autodelta created the TZ series as well as the production-based Giulia GTA racer (Type 105.32). Alfa was back in racing.

Meanwhile, Satto and Busso had been playing with a mid-engined concept car and came up with something they called the Scarabeo. It used a transversely mounted Giulia engine, so it was given the successor Giulia type number to the GTA, which was 105.33. They only built three of them, and only two with the transverse four, which were used as show cars.

The third car got the 2-liter V8 in a normal longitudinal installation and was tested as a racing car. The show cars went to the museum, and the third became known as the Type 33. Every Alfa Romeo sports-racing car from then until Alfa withdrew from the series at the end of 1977 shared the moniker, even though they had little more than that in common and were certainly not Giulias.

Not unlike Porsche in a similar time period, Alfa initially chose to compete in the under 2-liter class, which is understandable, as Alfa built small sporting cars. But, like Porsche, they eventually got seduced by the idea of playing in the big leagues. There were multiple reasons for this, not least the fact that their 2-liter V8 was a challenging experience. The engine made 270 horsepower at 9,600 rpm, but it would barely keep running under 7,000 rpm and blew up at over 10,000 rpm, so it required an extremely good driver to go fast.

Also, the FIA set the Manufacturer’s World Championship rules to favor 3-liter prototypes starting in 1969, so there was a great incentive to step up (with a little-noticed exemption that allowed the 5-liter Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s, but that is a different story). For 1969, the Tipo 33 2-liter had evolved into the T33/3 3-liter. This design was developed over the 1970 and 1971 seasons, emerging with a 440-hp engine, a well-developed chassis and excellent aerodynamics.

For the 1972 season, the FIA had finally gotten things in hand: the 5-liter cars were history, and the championship was for 3-liter Group 6 cars only. There were enough changes that it would require what was effectively a new car, so Alfa built the T/33/TT (for Telaio Tubolare, or tubular frame). It was heavier to meet the new rules and designed specifically for Alfa’s new flat V12 engine. Alfa’s V8 was pretty much at its limit in the 440-horsepower range, and the V12 promised close to 500, so it would be essential to remain in the hunt.

Unfortunately, the new engine wasn’t ready in time, so the V8 got put in instead, creating our subject T33/TT/3. Ferrari didn’t have this problem, having sacrificed the 1971 season to get its 312PB completely ready for the next year.

In 1972, Ferrari’s 312PB was utterly dominant, winning overall and frequently filling the podium of every race it entered. Alfa did well at the Targa Florio (2nd and 3rd) and got 4th at Le Mans (Ferrari didn’t enter because they doubted their engines would last), but mostly struggled to play the bridesmaid’s role all year, ending second overall to Ferrari, with 85 points to 208 points.

Alfa got the V12 working for 1973, and in 1974 Alfa finally won the World Championship in the T33 TT 12, but 1972 was a tough year.

An in-demand frontrunner

The Makes Championship racers of the period 1969–74 are a very demanding category of racing car, and they are not for the faint of heart or (particularly) weak of pocketbook.

It was a period when most of the cars were effectively Formula One cars with full bodywork, and they were designed to survive to the finish of any given race — but no more. Full rebuilds between races were expected.

This combines with the fact that very few were built (now over 40 years ago) — so finding or manufacturing spares can be very challenging, which means that writing the check to buy a car is often the easiest part.

Keeping these cars running, particularly if you want to be near the front, can be brutal. On the other hand, it is an extremely exclusive club; the cars are welcome everywhere, and I’m told they are a joy to drive.

At roughly a million bucks, this Alfa cost a third of what a 312PB would set you back, roughly half of a Matra or Porsche 908, and about the same as a Cosworth-powered Mirage. Maintenance will probably be much less than the Ferrari (the gold standard of spendy  maintenance) but more than a Porsche or Matra, and far more than a Cosworth-powered anything.

This car is Italian, though, with excellent history and patina to help the collector side of the equation, and you will be the only one on your block (or likely at the event) to have one. A good driver can run at or near the front, and there probably will always be someone who wants to buy it from you. All in all, not a bad situation, and I’d say this car was fairly bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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