Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

| 6 Jan 2021
Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Imagine turning up for a saloon-car race at Snetterton and discovering that Hamilton, Verstappen and Vettel are entered in works Alfas and Fords.

Back in 1966, on a wet, windswept Sunday in June, the Touring Car feature race included Jackie Stewart in a Lotus Cortina and Austrian sensation Jochen Rindt enlisted to drive the Autodelta team’s Alfa Romeo GTA.

Such appearances of Grand Prix stars would be unheard of today, but in the mid-’60s it was a regular attraction, with Alfa throwing a fortune Carlo Chiti’s way to pursue victory in the European Touring Car Challenge.

For race fans, the spectacle of star drivers in saloons they could directly relate to had a special appeal.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

The superbly preserved ’66 Giulia Sprint GTA featured here was regularly driven by the 24-year-old Austrian, and of all the cars gunned by Rindt this probably has the purest DNA.

Its distinctive nose-down stance is a nod to the unique set-up he demanded to tune it to his dramatic driving style.

After one packed season with Autodelta, chassis 613102 was sold to Sweden where, following a short competition life, it ended up in a private museum before its acquistion by the Banks family of Alfaholics fame in 2010.

Now meticulously restored to 1966 specification, it is one of the most genuine GTAs and a fascinating tribute to the 1970 World Champion.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Fifty-four years ago, fresh from assembly at the Autodelta works at Via Enrico Fermi, chassis AR613102 made its debut on 28 May in the Trofeo Jolly Hotels.

This six-day event ran the length of Italy, starting in Palermo, Sicily. Highlights along the route included sections of the Targa Florio, races at Vallelunga and various hillclimbs before finishing at Trieste on the Adriatic coast.

Very much a promotional event for the Italian hotel chain, its entry ranged from Abarth 850s to a lone Ferrari 250LM.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Alfa president Giuseppe Luraghi liked the idea and asked Sicilian Le Mans winner Nino Vaccarella if he would guest drive a new GTA as a favour.

Teamed with Enrico Pinto, the 33-year-old former law graduate dominated the event ahead of a squad of Autodelta GTAs to win by 8 mins.

A month later, AR613102 was in the south of France for the spectacular Mont Ventoux Hill Climb, which attracted an exciting entry including a pack of Porsche 906s and a pair of Ford GT40s.

Pinto faced a tough Touring Car class headed by arch rival Sir John Whitmore’s Lotus Cortina. In baking Mediterranean sun, Pinto gunned the little 1600cc Alfa up the oldest hillclimb, clocking 12 mins 22 secs over the dramatic 21km course to finish 14th overall and third in class behind Whitmore (12 mins 12 secs) and teammate Ignazio Giunti (12 mins 13.4 secs), while Gerhard Mitter’s 906 took FTD with a staggering 10 mins 44 secs run.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

The GTA then started racing seriously, with Roberto Bussinello and Geki Russo entering the Nürburgring 6 Hours but failing to finish after engine problems.

Three weeks later in the Spa 24 Hours, Andrea de Adamich teamed with Teodoro Zeccoli lined up fifth for the Le Mans-style start, but AR613102 suffered piston failure for another DNF.

Five Autodelta GTAs started, plus two VDS team cars, but the Alfas were pipped by the BMW 2000TI of Hubert Hahne/Jacky Ickx.

The press reported that the Italian team was chaotic and should have won.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

A new engine was rapidly installed and AR613102 was rushed to England for the Snetterton 500km, the car arriving from Spa unwashed and still carrying night lights.

The team brought five GTAs from Milan on an open transporter, with a crack squad of drivers including de Adamich, Bussinello, Nanni Galli, and Formula Two ace Rindt.

Jackie Stewart’s Lotus Cortina set the early pace in the wet, but de Adamich’s GTA was first home. Rindt and Bussinello both crashed out.

The Austrian more than made up for his mistake on 21 August at Karlskoga in Sweden, when he dominated the weekend in AR613102.

Quickest in practice, Rindt led from start to finish and set the fastest lap, pipping chum Stewart’s previous lap record in a Lotus Cortina by 1.9 secs. In honour of that first victory, Alfaholics has presented the car wearing the number 30 and with its distinctive white front corner.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

The following month, the ETCC visited Népliget Park in Budapest, Hungary, for a four-hour street race.

Newly crowned champion de Adamich was allotted AR613102, and in typically determined style set ever faster laps from the front.

Around the tight park circuit he mesmerised Hungarian fans as he drifted the GTA with its inside front wheel dangling high around the apices.

After taking the lap record, however, the Italian clipped the kerb on the last lap and broke a wheel, which forced retirement.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Rindt was back in the GTA’s low bucket seat for the Preis von Tirol on 9 October, where the frustrated Cooper Grand Prix team driver was again in fine form on hometurf.

Around the fast Flugplatzrennen at Innsbruck Airfield, Rindt produced a masterclass of car control, flinging the GTA into beautiful slides on the valley track to take a dominant victory.

A week later he was racing the Alfa in Austria again at Donau-Pokal. Teammate Galli just pipped him for pole, but the two Autodelta pilots entertained the crowd with a thrilling battle for the lead.

Well clear of the Lotus Cortina opposition, the red 1600 GTAs continually swapped places before Rindt pulled out with a broken gearlever.

On both Austrian weekends Rindt also raced a Porsche 906, underlining the versatility of his talent. Other than a NASCAR Ford Fairlane in the Carolina 500 at Rockingham, however, AR613102 was his final race in a saloon car.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Alfa and Autodelta restricted the sale of the works GTAs and you needed a special contact to make a deal.

Wealthy Swedish privateer Kjell Ehrmann had the funds but to Chiti he was a nobody, so rally ace Ove Andersson was enlisted to broker the sale.

The purchase was agreed in November 1966, but the car remained in Italy until March ’67.

Although it was sold, 613102 continued to be used by Autodelta including for Englishman Rhoddy Harvey Bailey’s induction test at Balocco.

Photos show the GTA at Alfa’s track, registered B39776-MI and with Rindt’s distinctive race markings from Innsbruck.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

That test day with 613102 is vividly recalled by Harvey Bailey, following an introduction set up by a friend who worked at Alfa: “I went over in February 1967 and met Teodoro Zeccoli, who was a full-time test driver. He was passionate about his job but spoke no English.

“We drove down from Settimo Milanese to Balocco in one of the early aluminium-floored race cars [AR613102]. It was fairly scruffy, but that’s how they raced them.

“To get to the circuit you had to cross a narrow bridge in first gear, and the engine was so cammy that if you didn’t keep it above 4000rpm it would just die.”

Only after beating the undisclosed target time was Harvey Bailey introduced to Chiti in his pale blue, windowless office: “The GTA was complex but predictable. They were very noisy with the unsilenced exhaust under the driver’s door, and very cammy. If you muffed a change or got sideways and the revs dropped you were in trouble.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

All of the Autodelta team 1600 GTAs were left-hand drive, as demanded by the Italian drivers, which didn’t help the balance according to Harvey Bailey.

“The weight was all on the left side – driver, fuel tank, exhaust and battery. The circuits were clockwise, which is why you always see pictures of GTAs two- and three-wheeling through right-hand corners.”

The early cars required a special technique to wring the most from them, which wasn’t a problem for the talented drivers – particularly de Adamich.

“The sequence was the same for every right-hand corner,” recalled handling wizard Harvey Bailey. “You would turn in, get one wheel in the air, then go on to opposite lock with two wheels in the air.

“You always had to be driving them hard. There was initial understeer as you turned in, then as the car rolled the understeer came off and the tail came out.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

The challenge of driving the Alfas wasn’t helped by the aluminium floors on the early cars, which twisted and cracked.

The dirty state of the Autodelta racers also surprised Harvey Bailey: “They always arrived covered in road dirt, but the mechanics showed no interest in cleaning them. When I suggested they did, all it received was a token wipe with dry rags.”

The Englishman’s most impressive drive in a 1600GTA was at Snetterton in Easter 1968, when after a solo 500km race he finished a mighty fifth with a class win against a strong field including Frank Gardner, Dieter Quester and Willie Green.

And this despite the usual comedy of errors from the Autodelta team mechanics: “They would always top up the oil with a syringe and then throw it back across the car, spraying oil all over the windscreen. I would have to guess the corners for the next few laps!”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Most early GTAs had tough racing lives, driven to the limit, extensively developed and often written off in dramatic accidents.

To find a ’66 Autodelta team car in original, unmolested condition is almost impossible, but through a customer the Banks brothers – Max and Andrew – heard of AR613102 in the private Swedish museum.

“We were focused on the business, developing our GTA-R and racing our own GTA,” says Max, “but we liked the idea of an original car sitting between Dad’s road car and our racer.

“After a year, and still sight-unseen, we eventually managed to arrange a deal.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Rather than a use a transport company, the brothers’ father Richard set out from Somerset for Sweden in his trusty Mercedes-Benz estate.

“I was the first to see it,” he recalls. “It was on display between an Alfa TZ and an ex-Ronnie Peterson F1 March, and the originality was amazing.

“We just fired it up and drove on to the trailer. Exposed as we towed, the GTA got lots of thumbs-up. On that trip to collect it we covered 2500 miles in three days.”

The Rindt connection was of particular interest for Banks Snr, a lifelong motorsport fan who had been at Crystal Palace in 1964 for the London Trophy and witnessed Rindt’s remarkable F2 victory: “I was always a Clark fan, but this young Austrian arriving straight from Mallory shocked us all.

“He was very ragged, with the tail out, but very quick. It was a shame he never got a good F1 drive until the end.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Once back, the exciting new project remained untouched while the brothers researched its history.

“Patrick Dasse’s book Alleggerita had confirmed the de Adamich and Rindt links,” says Max, “but we built up a reference guide of more than 50 pictures.

“On a holiday trip to Sicily Dad even went to meet Vaccarella, who signed pictures of ‘102’.

“The car had always been owned by Alfisti in Sweden and had been part-restored. It had been slightly uprated for historic events, but came with a stash of original parts.

“The car was absolutely genuine, and even still had the riveted aluminium floors. After studying the pictures of Rindt racing, it became clear that he had a special set-up with a nose-down stance and lots of camber. He liked it very pointy, but had the car control to deal with it.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

The rewarding rebuild started in 2011 and was finished in 2016.

“We knew we had something special,” continues Max. “Every time we found an interesting detail, we’d phone Dad in Devon and get him over to look at it.

“These cars are only original once and the process was a joy. The range of genuine parts was remarkable, including special gearbox brackets, aluminium window-winding mechanisms, forged aluminium rear axle-locating bars, sliding-block rear, and all the Elektron castings to get the weight down.

“The development process never stopped, and Autodelta’s attention to detail was impressive. The year 1966 was so important to Alfa, which had invested a fortune in the team to win the championship.

“That success allowed Chiti to move on with the Tipo 33 programme, so we thought it was key to preserve the car’s specification from that winning season.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Once the body was stripped of paint and filler, old scars were discovered including a creased driver’s door from de Adamich’s eventful drive in Budapest.

“It’s all part of 613102’s history, so we didn’t want to wipe it away. When you take the door card off, you can still see the damage.

“The rear arches were rippled, too, which was always a problem with the weight of the 90-litre tank. On the jig, we also discovered that the shell wasn’t straight, as a result of a shunt with an Abarth in Sweden.

“We could have easily replaced the metal, but ended up taking months repairing and beating out the panels to get it right.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

During his research prior to the restoration of 613102, Max unearthed an Autodelta prova document signed by Chiti that lists the detailed specification relating to the 1966 season and Rindt’s three drives.

The construction of the early GTAs has remained a mystery, as Max explains: “It’s always been thought that complete cars were taken off the production line, but now we believe they were built up around a centre section at Autodelta.”

When it came to the colour, Alfaholics didn’t want a concours gloss Rosso 501 respray: “The racing cars used little paint, so we developed a special gun to get a slightly dull, speckled finish.

“I also ordered some period numberplates from Italy, and left them outside for two years to age.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

The interior of AR613102 is wonderfully original, right down to the distinctive rear seat that has a deeper base to match the FIA’s headroom measurements.

“We’ve only ever seen one other,” enthuses Max, who has done 10 GTA rebuilds to date.

The final touch was a set of 550Mx14in Dunlops for the grey-painted Campagnolo wheels, which fill the arches more and give the ’66 GTA a purposeful stance.

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Max has driven a range of GTAs, but none are quite like 613102.

“The car feels so alive and is much more enjoyable,” says Max, who started driving the racer to work during lockdown because the roads were so empty.

“We’ve fitted a silencer because the noise was so antisocial. I’ve driven it quite hard and the turn-in is razor-sharp.

“It’s really physical, but the handling is stunning. On the road it’s quick, and far better than we expected. The biggest surprise is the seat. The support is poor and you really have to hang on to the wheel. How they raced for hours at the ’Ring or Spa is a wonder.”

Classic & Sports Car – Driving Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA

Recently, Alfa Romeo approached Alfaholics to borrow 613102 for the launch of the Giulia Quadrifolglio GTAm.

Displayed together, the two couldn’t be more different: the 2.9-litre, 530bhp, 160mph GTAm looks huge and brutal beside Giorgetto Giugiaro’s compact ’60s beauty.

The modern has set a new marker around the ’Ring, but the original earned its spurs in battle, and for pedigree there’s no comparison.

I’d take Rindt’s historic racer every time.

Images: John Bradshaw

Thanks to Alfaholics and Castle Combe Circuit


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