Alta Car and Engineering Company

Last updated

Alta as a Formula One chassis constructor
Base Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Surbiton, Surrey, UK
Founder(s) Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Geoffrey Taylor
Formula One World Championship career
EnginesAlta
Entrantsprivateers
First entry 1950 British Grand Prix
Last entry 1952 British Grand Prix
Races entered5
Race victories0
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0

The Alta Car and Engineering Company was a British sports and racing car manufacturer, commonly known simply as Alta. Their cars contested five FIA World Championship races between 1950 and 1952, as well as Grand Prix events prior to this. They also supplied engines to a small number of other constructors, most notably the Connaught and HWM teams.

Contents

Early history

The company was founded by engineer Geoffrey Taylor in Surbiton, Surrey, and produced its first automobile in 1929. Alta's first vehicle was a sports car powered by a 1.1L engine, featuring an aluminium block, wet liners, and shaft-driven twin overhead camshafts, which Taylor designed himself. It was offered in naturally aspirated or supercharged form giving 49 or 76  bhp (37 or 57  kW ; 50 or 77  PS ). A choice of four speed non-synchromesh or pre-selector gearboxes was available. These were mounted on a low-slung chassis frame with open two- or four-seat bodies. Thirteen were made, of which five are thought to survive.

A pre-WWII (c. 1938) Alta competition model fitted with twin rear wheels for added traction in hillclimb events. Alta hillclimb car at Silverstone 2007.JPG
A pre-WWII (c. 1938) Alta competition model fitted with twin rear wheels for added traction in hillclimb events.
Race car designer John Crosthwaite in his 1937 1100cc Alta John Crosthwaite in his 1100cc Alta 1937.jpg
Race car designer John Crosthwaite in his 1937 1100cc Alta

This design, and its later 1.5L and 2L sister cars, sold steadily, but in limited numbers, right up to the outbreak of war in 1939. With the highest power option the car was capable of 120 mph (190 km/h) and 0–60 mph in 7 seconds. In 1937 the company introduced front independent suspension to the chassis. They became popular among club racers due to their ability to be converted easily from 1.5L to 2L or vice versa, allowing drivers on a limited budget to contest more than one class without having to buy a second car.

A pre-war Alta competition model in circuit racing trim. Alta Donington 2007.jpg
A pre-war Alta competition model in circuit racing trim.
1936 Alta 2-Litre Sports (chassis no. 64S) 1936 ALTA 2L S-C.jpg
1936 Alta 2-Litre Sports (chassis no. 64S)
A 1936 Alta 2L S/C Sports Alta 2L SC Sports - 1936.jpeg
A 1936 Alta 2L S/C Sports

In 1934, Taylor produced the first Alta to be designed solely for competition. The resulting light-weight, off-set single seat voiturette cars achieved quite a reputation in shorter events such as hill-climbs, sprints, and time-trials. Once again, Alta's keen pricing, in comparison to the expensive ERA models, resulted in many sales to amateur racers. However, a lack of reliability kept the Alta name out of the long distance Grand Prix events. A revised voiturette design appeared in 1937, with independent front suspension. George Abecassis had some success with this design, winning a string of events before the Second World War interrupted. As war approached, Taylor was drafting designs for a new straight-8 engine and a third-generation voiturette, this time with fully independent suspension. This last prewar car was highly advanced for its time, and was very nearly complete in late 1939. However, as soon as war was declared, Alta's production capabilities were given over to the war effort, and production of the new designs was halted.

In February 2018, a 1936 Alta 2-Litre Sports (chassis no. 64S) sold at Bonhams' Paris auction for 345,000€ inc. premium. [1]

Post-war

Alta GP

Despite Alta's diminutive size, and their status as a primarily road car manufacturer, Alta was in fact the first British constructor to produce a new Grand Prix car following the end of World War II. Austerity limitations of raw materials did not stop Taylor beginning production of designs he had been developing throughout the war years, and the Alta GP car appeared in 1948. He also restarted production of the road-going sports cars, although without further development funding the popularity of these models rapidly dwindled. Prior to 1948, the last pre-war Alta was campaigned with varying degrees of success.

The Alta GP car was a development of the pre-war design, but was powered by a supercharged 1.5L engine, developing approximately 230bhp, and retained the 4-speed pre-selector gearbox of the prewar cars. Taylor developed the independent suspension design further, introducing wishbones and rubber linkage bushings. The first car was supplied to privateer driver George Abecassis, who campaigned it throughout 1948 and into 1949, but only finished once. Abecassis would go on to use Alta engines to power his HWM team from 1951 to 1955.

Modifications were made to the bodywork and gearchange for the subsequent 1949 and 1950 GP2 and GP3 vehicles, GP3 also gaining a two-stage supercharger. Once again they were built to order, and supplied to Geoffrey Crossley and Joe Kelly respectively. Crossley took GP2 to the 1949 Belgian Grand Prix, but could only manage seventh place. In 1950 he set a number of speed records over 50 miles, 50 km and 100 km at the Montlhéry circuit. Kelly concentrated mostly on Irish races, and his best finish was third in the 1952 Ulster Trophy. Both drivers took their respective chassis to the 1950 British Grand Prix, the first ever Formula One World Championship race. However, while Kelly finished, he was unclassified; Crossley retired with a transmission fault.

Kelly later carried out extensive modification and rebuilding work on GP3, running it as the Irish Racing Automobiles (IRA) car during 1952 and 1953. His most significant change was to replace the Alta engine with a Bristol unit.

Alta F2

An Alta F2 with bonnet removed. Alta F2 Doningon 2007.jpg
An Alta F2 with bonnet removed.

Lacking the funding necessary to develop a Formula One successor to the GP design, Taylor decided to move into the junior Formula Two category. The engine produced was a 1970 cc inline 4-cylinder, naturally aspirated unit, developing around 130 bhp (97 kW; 132 PS). Unfortunately, Alta's own chassis design followed the preceding GP car very closely, and this resulted in an overweight car considering the greatly reduced power available from the unsupercharged motors. Tony Gaze and Gordon Watson took F2/1 and F2/2 on a tour of European races, but good results were hard to come by.

Although according to Dennis Jenkinson's book Historic Racing Cars the uncompleted GP4 machine was converted and became F2/3 this was not correct and chassis GP4 was sold to Bobbie Baird in Ireland and eventually became a Jaguar engined 2 seater sportscar. It competed in this form and still exists as a Jaguar 2 seater sportscar. F2/3 was no more successful than its siblings. F2/4 followed in construction and was sold to Orlando Simpson before Peter Whitehead placed an order for what was to become the last Alta car built: F2/5. This F2 Alta was entered for World Championship Grands Prix events, first driven by himself in the 1952 French Grand Prix, and then by his half-brother Graham Whitehead at the 1952 British Grand Prix. Neither run produced a points finish, but this was not to be the last time that the Alta name appeared in Formula One.

Alta the engine supplier

An Alta straight-4 engine, installed into a Connaught Type C Formula One car of 1959. Connaught Type C Alta engine.jpg
An Alta straight-4 engine, installed into a Connaught Type C Formula One car of 1959.

While the F2 engine might have been overwhelmed by the chassis' bulk, tweaks made by Peter Whitehead to the unit in his car showed that the design had tuning potential. Alta engines had already been used by the HWM team since 1949, and from 1953 many more mechanics would come to know the Taylor-designed power plant. Peter Whitehead led the way by removing the engine from F2/5 and installing it into a Cooper T24 chassis, which he ran in the 1953 British Grand Prix. Also present at Silverstone that day were no fewer than four Alta-powered HWM cars. HWM had, the previous year, scored what was Alta's only significant victory, when Lance Macklin won the 1952 BRDC International Trophy race at Silverstone. Over the next few years 1.5L and 2.5L Alta engines would find their way into many British-built F1 hopefuls, the most successful of which were Connaught and Cooper. Ultimately the engine would prove to be capable of approximately 240 bhp (179 kW; 243 PS). With the collapse of Connaught in 1959, the Alta name disappeared from Formula One for good.

Recent history

Geoffrey Taylor died in 1966 at the age of 63. In 1976, his son Michael attempted to revive the Alta name with a Formula Ford car but was not successful. A handful of the pre-war sports and single seat cars survive, all in private ownership. GP101, which was originally owned by George Abecassis, was rebuilt for Phil Scragg as a hill climb car and is still in use. F2/5 has been reunited with its original powerplant and has participated in a number of Historic race meeting in recent years, including the 1999 Goodwood Revival meeting.

Complete Formula One World Championship results

(key)

YearEntrantChassisEngineTyresDriver12345678
1950 Private Alta GP Alta L4 s D GBR MON 500 SUI BEL FRA ITA
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Geoffrey Crossley Ret9
Flag of Ireland.svg Joe Kelly NC
1951 Private Alta GP Alta L4 s D SUI 500 BEL FRA GBR GER ITA ESP
Flag of Ireland.svg Joe Kelly NC
1952 P. Whitehead Alta F2 Alta L4 D SUI 500 BEL FRA GBR GER NED ITA
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Peter Whitehead Ret
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Graham Whitehead 12

n.b. Prior to 1958 there was no Constructor's World Championship, hence constructors were not awarded points.

See also

Related Research Articles

Vanwall Formula one team and constructor

Vanwall was a motor racing team and racing car constructor that was active in Formula One during the 1950s. Founded by Tony Vandervell, the Vanwall name was derived by combining the name of the team owner with that of his Thinwall bearings produced at the Vandervell Products factory at Acton, London. Originally entering modified Ferraris in non-championship races, Vanwall constructed their first cars to race in the 1954 Formula One season. The team achieved their first race win in the 1957 British Grand Prix, with Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks sharing a VW 5, earning the team the distinction of constructing the first British-built car to win a World Championship race. Vanwall won the inaugural Constructors' Championship in Formula One in 1958, in the process allowing Moss and Brooks to finish second and third in the Drivers' Championship standings, winning three races each. Vandervell's failing health meant 1958 would be the last full season; the squad ran cars in a handful of races in the following years, but finished racing in 1961.

Formula Two Formula car racing class

Formula Two, abbreviated to F2, also called Formula 2, is a type of open wheel formula racing first codified in 1948. It was replaced in 1985 by Formula 3000, but revived by the FIA from 2009–2012 in the form of the FIA Formula Two Championship. The name returned in 2017 when the former GP2 Series became known as the FIA Formula 2 Championship.

Coventry Climax

Coventry Climax was a British forklift truck, fire pump, racing, and other speciality engine manufacturer.

British Racing Motors Formula One team

British Racing Motors (BRM) was a British Formula One motor racing team. Founded in 1945 and based in the market town of Bourne in Lincolnshire, it participated from 1951 to 1977, competing in 197 grands prix and winning seventeen. BRM won the constructors' title in 1962 when its driver Graham Hill became world champion. In 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1971, BRM came second in the constructors' competition.

George Edgar Abecassis was a British racing driver, and co-founder of the HWM Formula One team.

1952 British Grand Prix

The 1952 British Grand Prix was a Formula Two race held on 19 July 1952 at Silverstone Circuit. It was race 5 of 8 in the 1952 World Championship of Drivers, in which each Grand Prix was run to Formula Two rules rather than the Formula One regulations normally used.

1952 Italian Grand Prix

The 1952 Italian Grand Prix was a Formula Two race held on 7 September 1952 at Monza. It was the eighth and final round of the 1952 World Championship of Drivers, in which each Grand Prix was run to Formula Two rules rather than the Formula One regulations normally used. The 80-lap race was won by Ferrari driver Alberto Ascari after he started from pole position. José Froilán González finished second for the Maserati team and Ascari's teammate Luigi Villoresi came in third.

Hersham and Walton Motors

Hersham and Walton Motors (HWM) is the world's longest established Aston Martin business and is well known as a racing car constructor. As a constructor, it is best known for its involvement in Formula Two from 1950 to 1953 and Formula One in 1954. When HWM owners George Abecassis and John Heath went racing together from 1946 and in 1948 they built a streamlined sports racing car on the chassis of a Sports Alta, and thus embarked upon the construction of racing cars and racing sports cars at their motor works in Walton-on-Thames, England. The 1948 car gave them encouraging results and so new car, this time called an HW-Alta, was constructed and raced in 1949; this car was sufficiently successful to convince the partners to embark upon building a full team of cars for the 1950 Formula Two season of British and continental events: these cars were known as HWMs.

English Racing Automobiles Automobile manufacturer

English Racing Automobiles (ERA) was a British racing car manufacturer active from 1933 to 1954.

Connaught Engineering Formula One and sports car constructor from the United Kingdom

Connaught Engineering, often referred to simply as Connaught, was a Formula One, Formula Two and sports car constructor from the United Kingdom. Their cars participated in 18 Grands Prix, entering a total of 52 races with their A, B, and C Type Formula 2 and Formula 1 Grand Prix Cars. They achieved 1 podium and scored 17 championship points. The name Connaught is a pun on Continental Autos, the garage in Send, Surrey, which specialised in sales and repair of European sports cars such as Bugatti, and where the cars were built.

Mercedes-Benz W196

The Mercedes-Benz W196 was a Formula One racing car produced by Mercedes-Benz for the 1954 and 1955 F1 seasons. Successor to the W194, in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss it won 9 of 12 races entered and captured the only two world championships in which it competed.

McLaren M2B

The McLaren M2B was the McLaren team's first Formula One racing car, used during the 1966 season. It was conceived in 1965 and preceded by the M2A development car. Designed by Robin Herd, the innovative but problematic Mallite material was used in its construction. The car was powered by Ford and Serenissima engines but both lacked power and suffered from reliability issues.

Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta Racing automobile

The Alfa Romeo 158/159, also known as the Alfetta, is a Grand Prix racing car produced by Italian manufacturer Alfa Romeo. It is one of the most successful racing cars ever produced- the 158 and its derivative, the 159, took 47 wins from 54 Grands Prix entered. It was originally developed for the pre-World War II voiturette formula (1937) and has a 1.5-litre straight-8 supercharged engine. Following World War II, the car was eligible for the new Formula One introduced in 1947. In the hands of drivers such as Nino Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli, it dominated the first two seasons of the World Championship of Drivers.

Maserati 4CL and 4CLT

The Maserati 4CL and its derived sister model the Maserati 4CLT are single-seat racing cars that were designed and built by Maserati. The 4CL was introduced at the beginning of the 1939 season, as a rival to the Alfa Romeo 158 and various ERA models in the voiturette class of international Grand Prix motor racing. Although racing ceased during World War II, the 4CL was one of the front running models at the resumption of racing in the late 1940s. Experiments with two-stage supercharging and tubular chassis construction eventually led to the introduction of the revised 4CLT model in 1948. The 4CLT was steadily upgraded and updated over the following two years, resulting in the ultimate 4CLT/50 model, introduced for the inaugural year of the Formula One World Championship in 1950. In the immediate post-war period, and the first two years of the Formula One category, the 4CLT was the car of choice for many privateer entrants, leading to numerous examples being involved in most races during this period.

Zakspeed 841

The Zakspeed 841 was the first Formula One car built and raced by the German Zakspeed team for the 1985 season. Lead driver was British driver Jonathan Palmer with Formula 3000 driver Christian Danner from Germany joining the team later in the season. The 841 was designed by Paul Brown.

Italian motor manufacturer Alfa Romeo has participated many times in Formula One. It currently participates as Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen while being operated by Sauber Motorsport AG. The brand has competed in motor racing as both a constructor and engine supplier sporadically between 1950 and 1987, and later as a commercial partner since 2015. The company's works drivers won the first two World Drivers' Championships in the pre-war Alfetta: Nino Farina in 1950; and Juan Manuel Fangio in 1951. Following these successes Alfa Romeo withdrew from Formula One.

Since its inception in 1947, Formula One has used a variety of engine regulations. "Formulae" limiting engine capacity had been used in Grand Prix racing on a regular basis since after World War I. The engine formulae are divided according to era.

BRM Type 15

The BRM Type 15 was a Formula One racing car of the early 1950s, and the first car produced by British Racing Motors. The car was fitted with a revolutionary supercharged 1.5-litre British Racing Motors V16 which produced considerably more power than any of its contemporaries.

Williams FW09

The Williams FW09 was a Formula One car designed by Frank Dernie and Neil Oatley. It was the first Williams chassis to be powered by a turbocharged Honda V6 engine, for which Frank Williams negotiated a deal towards the end of 1982 and the beginning of 1983.

References

  1. "Bonhams : Alta 2-Litre Sports 1936". www.bonhams.com. Retrieved 10 February 2021.