TeamsHWM-Alta 52 By Jeremy McMullen
In 1951 HW Motors entered one round of the Formula One World Championship with their HWM-Alta 51, with its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. Against the likes of Alfa Romeo and Scuderia Ferrari it would have taken an act of providence just for the team to finish in the points…it nearly did. Then, in 1952, providence provided HW Motors its best chance to fight amongst the elite for the World Championship. The car to take on the fight was HW Motor's latest update of the 51. It was the HWM-Alta 52.
Years prior, the company, started by George Abecassis and John Heath, had successfully built racing cars for the Formula 2 category. The decision to focus on Formula 2 was primarily the result of the extravagant costs of Formula One. The pair wanted to build an inexpensive car that had a chance to compete. This led Abecassis and Heath to basically abandon the higher-level of grand prix racing. Ironically, Formula One would come to them.
It was known throughout 1951 that Alfa Romeo would not return the next season. This left Ferrari alone at the top in the very expensive Formula One World Championship. In an effort to increase competition, reduce costs, and save the brand-new racing series it was decided that 1952 and 1953 would be run to Formula 2 specifications.
Formula 2 had proven to be quite competitive at a fraction of the cost of Formula One. The move to run to Formula 2 specifications was a stop-gap move, but it provided HW Motors the opportunity to go down in the annals of World Championship grand prix racing history.
Prior to 1952, HW Motors had the chance to purchase Alta's cars. Alta had been providing the team with very successful engines, and it was thought the team may have wanted the cars as well. This was not the case. The team wanted to make their own cars, especially since the Alta chassis were considered extremely difficult to drive.
In 1951, HW Motors took part in the first round of the Formula One World Championship. Stirling Moss was able to take the small 2.0-liter HMW-Alta 51 to an 8th place finish in the only round the team contested. Given the might of the 4.5-liter Ferrari 375 and the Alfa Romeo 159 Alfetta, the HMW 51 proved it could have a chance were the field to be leveled a little. Heading into 1952 the regulations did level the playing field. Therefore, HW Motors had a car from which to start. Modifications were only needed, it was thought, to help make the car truly competitive.
To start with, HW Motors had their engine. They would stick with the 2.0-liter Alta four-cylinder they had used to great success. The longitudinal four-cylinder engine was capable of producing 150 bhp and had been able to push the HWM chassis up to 60 mph in under eight seconds. The main concern for the 1952 season would be endurance.
Should engine reliability be of concern, a good handling, nimble car could prove capable of making up some of the performance shortages, should it be necessary to back off a little. In the case of the handling and stability of the HWM-Alta 52, the team stuck closely to the design of the 51.
The 52 retained the 'O'-shaped grille at the front of the car. However, from the familiar grille backward there were a number of changes. One major aesthetic difference was found in the overall design of the chassis. The bodywork on the 52 was wider and sturdier looking. The majority of the wishbone suspension was hidden by flared bodywork. The flared bodywork was meant to direct outflow out around the nose of the car, making a narrow passageway between the body and the front wheels.
Overall, the same tear-drop shape was utilized on the 52, only it was widened a far bit. The wide base and narrow; rounded top of the chassis actually aided in the car's stability and handling. The wider base reduced the rolling effect of the car. It also helped to stabilize the higher center of gravity caused by the upright four-cylinder engine.
Similar to the 51, the exhausts for the four-cylinder engine protruded out of the right-side of the engine cowling. Instead of long exhaust pipes extending all the way back past the cockpit, four small exhaust pipes extended out the side. Being that the engine was run to Formula 2 specifications, a supercharger was not allowed. This meant the engine would have to be normally aspirated. The induction pipes for the cylinder extended out the left side of the chassis through a rounded, box-like bulge in the engine cowling bodywork.
The engine cowling bodywork also featured other bulges that were necessary to fit around the carburetors and other engine components tightly squeezed into the car's small frame. Because of the car's small size, and the tight fit around the engine, both sides of the car featured numerous louvers. These louvers, or slits, were meant to help draw out the heat within the bodywork. The passing air acted like a suction and pulled the hot air out and allowed cooler air, flowing through the radiator at the front of the nose, to also be pulled in over the hot engine.
Some of the 51 chassis featured little wedged-shaped bodywork to hide the rear-view mirrors. This was abandoned on the 52. Small round mirrors flanked the equally small one-piece windscreen.
Being such a small car, the driver sat high above the top lines of the car. The driver would, therefore, be greatly exposed to the elements and the dangers. In fact, many of the drivers sat so high the top of the bodywork covering the gas tank sitting behind the driver only extended up near the middle of the back.
Despite sitting up rather high, the cockpit of the 52 remained small and cramped. As was usual during the day, the driver's immediate world in front of him was dominated by the large steering wheel. The four-speed manual transmission ran down through the floor and to the rear wheels.
At only about 1230 pounds, the 150 bhp engine could accelerate the 52 with a very decent pace. Its small design made it nimble, and yet, stable, especially when compared to Alta's chassis designs. To control the performance and the stability, the car was dependent upon drum brakes for its braking power and wishbone suspension for handling and comfort.
HW Motor's 52 was a relatively economical race car compared to Ferrari's 500. All-in-all, it would also prove to be a very capable race car, though not capable of competing with Ferrari and its Formula 2 chassis.
Over the course of the 1952 season, the 52 would wane in its promise. It started out with good promise. It would even prove to be a top-five finishing car when Paul Frere would finish the Belgian Grand Prix 5th. However, as the season wore on, the performance seemed to wear down. The car's ultimate low point came when both Peter Collins and Lance Macklin failed to qualify for the Italian Grand Prix in September of '52.
However, for a team that usually focused on Formula 2, HW Motors, and its 52, performed rather well against the other Formula 2 competitors. Unfortunately, Ferrari; and its 500 F2, was in another league all its own.