This unrestored 1932 Alfa Romeo P3 Tipo B has stories to tell
So many classic and collector cars have interesting stories of how they survived over the years, but this 1932 Alfa Romeo P3 Tipo B has not just one, or two, but a handful of tales to tell from its 88 years of motoring. With ties to teams like Scuderia Ferrari, races like the Indianapolis 500 under its belt, and an owner who isn’t afraid to drive the snot out of it today, could this be the most interesting car in the world?
The survival rate of race cars is typically pretty slim, especially when it comes to the early days of Grand Prix racing. In that era, Grand Prix cars were being modified season to season, and in some cases between individual races. A crash would likely damage them beyond repair, and the usable parts were picked from the wrecker chassis to build a new car. A pre-war racing survivor can illustrate evidence of these fascinating changes.
That’s only part of why this Alfa Romeo caught my eye at the Amelia Island Concours earlier this month. The car had a careful patina about it that drew me in; I became curious about its story behind the artful wear that gave the car its charming character. Luckily, the Alfa’s owner is just as compelling.
“It is proper fast,” said Jennie Taylor, with a British accent that fit perfectly with her headscarf and sunglasses. “Third gear is like a final trick.”
Which is to say the car is quick, even by today’s standards. The 2.6-liter straight-eight under the long hood is pressure-fed by twin Roots-style superchargers. A three-speed gearbox backs the powerful mill, controlled by an oddly shaped shifter in the sparse solo cockpit. There’s not much room for comfort, but one interesting quirk Jennie noted about the Alfa was that the original build included a request for a higher seat; the first owner did not want to be tucked way down inside the cabin.
That original order came from Scuderia Ferrari, when the storied team was still acting as the Alfa factory racing effort. This P3 was a winner thanks to its combination of great drivers and brilliant engineering. In 1932 it swept the Grand Prix races in Italy, France, and Germany. Its winning record attracted the attention of Spanish Count José Padierna de Villapadierna, a motorsport enthusiast who came into a fortune at the young age of 19. He had to have the car, and when presented with the opportunity he did everything he could to make that happen.
Jennie told me a story of how the Count stole a handful of jewels from his aunt and dumped them for the quick cash to buy the Alfa, which was located in Italy at the time. On his way back across the border into Spain, he was arrested and the P3 confiscated. When his aunt learned that José was the culprit, she bailed him out—and gave him the car.
After that fiasco, Count Villapadierna went on to only lukewarm racing success. Apparently he hoped he could buy the top spot on the podium, but even the great Alfa could not get him there. He sold the car and the historic race car came stateside for the first time, where it continued to compete.
On our shores the P3 dove into oval racing, rather than the road circuits of Europe. The car raced in the 1939 Indianapolis 500, driven by Lou Tomei where it qualified 30th but finished 15th. It was then sold to a Los Angeles businessman named Don Lee. In 1945, technicians from the Don Lee Broadcasting corporation fitted the racer with a car-to-pit radio system, making it one of the first cars to utilize that technology. The 1946 Indy 500 saw the car qualify better, at ninth place, but it finished in the same 15th position in the race. Records show the car ran the 1947 race as well but succumbed to an axle failure at 119 laps.
It took Jennie’s husband Hugh years of bugging the previous owner before the couple could purchase the car. That was 18 years ago, by Jennie’s estimation. Now the Alfa is still put to work on a regular basis, as she now runs it in the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. Regardless of the value and history of the car, she refuses to stop using it as intended or put it into hiding.
“It is just a shame to put them away, that is not where [cars like this] belong,” Jennie told me. Especially after hearing that supercharged-eight at full howl, we can confirm she’s absolutely correct. Cars were made for driving, and that is what they do best. I tip my hat to you, Jennie. To anyone who’s apprehensive about driving their car and enjoying it, remember that there’s a 1934 Alfa Romeo P3 out there with an owner not afraid to let hers rip.