The ex- Leonard Headlam, Tourist Trophy and Irish Grand Prix Team Car 1929 Alfa Romeo 1750 SS Competition Tourer Coachwork by Carlton Carriage Company Registration no. VN 397 Chassis no. 0312906 Engine no. 0312906
Chassis number '0312906' was ordered in rolling chassis form by the sole Alfa British agent, F W Stiles of Baker Street, London and fitted with a four-seater body by Carlton, in style reminiscent of a 'blower' Bentley. The design incorporated a large fuel tank, in order for the car to compete in long distance races in England. Sold to the enthusiastic and wealthy amateur driver from Leeds, Leonard Headlam, the Alfa was one of two supposed to compete in the inaugural 'Double Twelve' race at Brooklands (shared with 'Bentley Boy' J D Benjafield) on the 10th/11th May 1929 but failed to be ready in time.
In its April 16th 1929 edition, The Motor had reported that the cars were on their way from Italy: 'The first of the two-litre Alfa Romeo cars which will compete in British events this arrived at the depot of Alfa Romeo British Sales last week... the outstanding feature, which will be invaluable in long-distance races is the fitting of a big petrol tank. This feature was a very important one when Giulio Ramponi won the Essex Motor Club 6-Hour Relay Race, for he only had to stop once to refuel.' This article (copy on file) shows the tank and the half-folding bench front seat, which survives only in this example of the four 1929 team cars still in existence.
When '0312906' was delivered to Headlam it arrived with a handsome lightweight touring body complete with twin spare wheels mounted either side of the scuttle, while Carlton also bodied a sister car in similar fashion for Earl Howe. As the engine size exceeded 1,500cc, the competition rules for the Tourist Trophy race, and also Le Mans, stipulated that it had to have four seats, this requirement being intended as a handicap for the larger cars.
The Alfa's debut was actually the BARC Six Hours race on the 29th of June at Brooklands (competitor number '23') in which Headlam shared it with his brother William, Benjafield having acquired his own Alfa Romeo 1750 SS. The Headlams finished second behind Barnato/Dunfee's winning Bentley Speed Six, which enjoyed a capacity advantage of almost five litres, but ahead of Cook/Callingham's 4½-litre Bentley. The Headlam's class-winning average speed for the race was 70.22mph, which compared very favourably with much larger winner's 75.66mph. Contemporary press reports of the race are on file.
In July the Alfa Romeo was entered in the inaugural Irish International Grand Prix at Phoenix Park in Dublin (competitor number '19'), forming part of F W Stiles' team representing the factory. After consistently running second, ahead of Benjafield, Headlam suffered steering failure and retired. Ivanowski's works Alfa went on to win the race.
In August Headlam entered his Alfa in the International Tourist Trophy race at Ards. As well as the works-supported Alfas, this race attracted major European teams including Mercedes, OM, Bugatti Lagonda and Bentley. Competitor number '41', Headlam finishing a creditable 14th overall (despite unfavourable handicapping for the 1,750cc cars) and first in class, winning the Royal Automobile Club Trophy. For this race Headlam employed an aerodynamic metal shroud, which fitted over the lowered windscreen in place of the customary aero screens, and featured twin cowls for driver and mechanic. This can clearly be seen in an action photograph illustrating The Autocar's report on the race (copy on file).
On 4th October, Headlam raced the 1750 SS for the last time, in the 500 Miles at Brooklands. Co-driven by Leslie Callingham, the sole Alfa finished in an incredible 4th place overall behind the Bentleys of Jack Barclay and Clive Dunfee, and John Cobb's V12 Sunbeam. The winner's average speed was over 107mph, the fastest ever recorded for a race of that distance, while Headlam/Callingham averaged 96.74mph. Taking pit stops into account, this means that the Alfa must have been lapping consistently at over 100mph for much of the time. Its supercharged induction notwithstanding, this was an amazing achievement for a car of under 2 litres capacity; indeed, the Alfa was credited with winning the 3-litre class as well.
Chassis '0312906' was advertised by Headlam in Motor Sport in December 1929 with an asking price of £925. Leonard Headlam having, sadly, been killed in an unrelated road accident early in 1930, it was not until April 1931 that the car was sold, by Alfa Romeo (British Sales) to one H A Ducksbury of Huddersfield (see Alfa Romeo Register correspondence on file). Subsequent owners were H W Preston of Washford, Somerset (1931-1935) and Arthur Shepherd (1936-1938), whose son confirmed recently that his father did indeed change the car's colour from green to red.
In June 1950 the ex-Headlam Alfa was advertised for sale by Simmons of Croydon (again in Motor Sport). The text of this advertisement makes interesting reading: 'This Alfa is in incredibly perfect mint condition, and its history is known. The engine was stripped and rebuilt 2,000 miles back and is all but inaudible (raise your eyebrows if you will). The chassis is 100 percent perfect in all possible respects and 85mph and 23mpg are readily obtained. To date this is the most superb vintage Alfa that I have ever owned or driven.' The accompanying photographs clearly shows the registration 'VN 397' and the original coachwork modified with addition of a front apron, louvred panels covering the lower chassis, and one of the spare wheel mounts removed. The original Lucas headlamps, fitted for the 1929 Double Twelve and TT races, are clearly visible.
The identity of the purchaser is not known but the Alfa is known to have been owned by one C Allen of Stockport in the early 1960s. Later owners were collectors Peter Newens (1964-1981) and F Majzub (1981-2005), for whom Martin Chisholm Collectors Cars Ltd arranged its sale to the current vendor (correspondence on file). Fortunately, Newens never got around to restoring the Alfa and while in the Majzub family's ownership it remained unused and preserved apart from light re-commissioning circa 2001. The engine was stripped down at that time, revealing the original factory number stamping on the cylinder block (indicating it had never been skimmed) and virtually no traces of internal wear, while the castings retained their original hand-scraped finish. '0312906' has to be the most original of the surviving team cars, the others all having been subject to coachwork modifications over the years. Indeed, the Carlton body is the sole known survivor of this particular style.
Between 2005 and 2007, the Alfa was sympathetically restored by Peter Shaw of Great Gonerby, Lincolnshire at a cost of around £60,000, returning the car to its original racing configuration and green livery (as found on the chassis) while retaining the original red leather interior. The repaint itself was carried out in March 2009 by marque specialists Traction Seabert & Co of Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, who also rebuilt the supercharger with new rotors. Other specialists involved included Jim Stokes Workshops, who provided a crankshaft and supercharger drive coupling; T A & J M Coburn of Blunsdon, Wiltshire (new double duck hood, hood bag and tonneau cover); and Star Engineering of Caerleon, Gwent (radiator rebuild). This painstaking rebuild is detailed in correspondence, photographs and numerous invoices contained within the accompanying history file. The latter is particularly worthy of inspection, not only for the aforementioned bills but also for the extensive documentation, taken from contemporary motoring journals, recording its illustrious competition career.
Boasting Brooklands and International Grand Prix history, and eligible for all the most important historic motor sports events, this unique, faithfully restored and truly exceptional Alfa Romeo 1750 SS is offered with current MoT/tax and Swansea V5C registration document.