With origins dating to 1910, Alfa Romeo is one of the world's oldest carmakers. It's not surprising, then, that the marvelous Milanese firm has one of the richest histories of any automobile company. The more recent history of Alfa Romeo has been filled with superb road cars, but the defining moments of the brand's early life were all directly related to the victories and tragedies of automobile racing.
The Alfa Romeo P2 was a key actor in the development of the young Alfa brand. A successful Grand Prix racer, it was the first Alfa to be designed by Vittorio Jano, a legendary engineer from an era when the identity of an entire carmaker could be shaped or reshaped by a single sagacious mind.
Jano was born in 1891 and employed by Fiat just twenty years later. At Fiat, he demonstrated great talent as an engineer and was eventually involved with the design of some of Fiat's most spectacular racing cars. His engineering prowess landed him a position at Alfa Romeo after its P1, a Grand Prix racer designed by Giuseppe Merosi, failed to be as competitive as Alfa had hoped. Jano was working for Alfa by 1923, at which time he set to work on the development of the P2.
By springtime of 1924, the P2 was ready for its debut at the 200 mile race at Cremona. With Antonio Ascari driving, the P2 won its very first race. Later that year, at the French Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo experienced one of its most sensational victories ever. With Ascari in the lead, the four examples of Alfa's P2 entered in the race took first, second, third, and fourth places.
Ascari was one of Alfa's finest drivers, piloting the P2 with deft precision. His reign of excellence ended in tragedy, though, when he was killed at the wheel of a P2 in a crash at the 1925 French Grand Prix. Despite the death of Ascari, Alfa Romeo was able to win the first ever World Championship title the same year. That victory led Alfa to embellish its familiar cross and serpent logo with a laurel wreath wrapping around the emblem's circumference, a tradition that would last for decades.
The P2 became obsolete for Grand Prix use in 1926 when regulations changes dictated a lower maximum displacement, but it continued to be raced in Italian Formula Libre events. The final outing for the P2 came in 1930, when Achille Varzi won that year's Targa Florio in a slightly modified example.
Key to the P2's great success was its terrific engine. Displacing 1,987cc, it was a straight eight that featured two blocks of four cylinders each. It was equipped with a supercharger and twin cams, a potent combination that delivered 134bhp (later increased to 155bhp). High power, low weight, and a team of excellent drivers were all responsible for making the P2 an unforgettable Grand Prix car.
The P2 represented a long list of 'firsts' for Alfa Romeo. It was the first Alfa designed by Vittotio Jano, the winner of the first World Championship, and the first use by Alfa of a supercharged inline-eight. While some of its successors have realized greater fame, the profound effect that the P2 had on Alfa Romeo's future successes with both race and road cars cannot be denied.Sources:
David, Dennis. 'Vittorio Jano.' Dennis David & Family n. pag. Web. 11 Jun 2010. http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/jano_bio.htm.
By Evan Acuña
Melissen, Wouter. 'AlfaRomeo P2.' UltimateCarPage.com 11 Nov 2009: n. pag. Web. 11 Jun 2010. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/1006/Alfa-Romeo-P2.html.