The 1936 South African Grand Prix – the second running of the event – drew some pretty exotic machinery to East London. Two Bugatti Type 59s, a Type 35 Bugatti that would win the race in the hands of Dr. Mario Massacurati, Alfa Romeo 8C Monza, Maserati 8CM, and this car: Richard Shuttleworth’s one-year old Alfa Romeo P3 Tipo B Monoposto.
Bonham’s is about to offer the car at auction at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend, with an invitation to the new owner to return the car to South Africa in November for the South African Historic Grand Prix Festival in East London.
When the Alfa arrived in East London in 1936, it was about as exotic as they came: a straight eight-cylinder twin overhead cam twin supercharged engine, split differentials at the back, and single seat configuration. And weighing just 750kg, it was fast. The state-of-the-art car became the grand prix standard and consequently remain in huge demand by collectors and enthusiasts as a fast, reliable and imminently usable pre-war machine in the world’s best historic events.
Alfa Romeo built just 12 of these fabled grand prix machines in 1934. This particular car was a thirteenth car built by Scuderia Ferrari and supplied to Richard Shuttleworth for the 1935 racing season.
Most notably, Shuttleworth won the inaugural Donnington Grand Prix amongst a busy season of racing and hillclimbing before heading down to South Africa.
It became a South African story far beyond motor racing.
The second South African Grand Prix was run over eighteen laps on the 12-mile Prince George Circuit in East London. It wasn’t to end well for Shuttleworth, however. Travelling at high speed on the coastal section, a gale-force crosswind gusting off the ocean and blasting through a gap in the flanking vegetation caused Shuttleworth to lose control of the Alfa, which dashed into the roadside scrub, tripped, and somersaulted, throwing him out to sustain serious head and leg injuries.
Fellow entrants T.P. Cholmondeley-Tapper and Arthur Dobson contacted South Africa’s leading head-injury specialist, 1,200km away in Johannesburg, who chartered an aircraft for himself, his assistants and equipment, and set off for East London to attend to the unconscious Shuttleworth.
The doctor eventually arrived in East London by car after his plane developed engine trouble and had to land en route. But he successful brought Shuttleworth round for the first time since his crash.
Tapper later recalled that Shuttleworth told him “that he vividly remembered being thrown high into the air and having a long, long way to fall before hitting the ground…” Shuttleworth only returned to England four month’s later and would never race again.
Shuttleworth had his crash-damaged Alfa returned from South African to the Scuderia Ferrari workshops in Modena, Italy where he had it rebuilt during the winter of 1938-39.
When World War 2 erupted in 1939, Shuttleworth – also a keen aviator – joined the Royal Airforce but crashed to his death on 2 August 1940.
The South African Historic Grand Prix Festival has assembled nearly 20 pre-war cars from 25 November to 2 December, including some of the actual grand prix cars that raced in East London between 1934 and 1939. One can only hope that Shuttleworth’s Alfa Romeo P3 might also return to the Indian Ocean circuit, hopefully without the drama.