1939 Alta 2-Litre Sports

The last Alta produced pre-war, only four owners from new & the outright winner of the 2018 Flying Scotsman Endurance Rally

Chassis No. 70

Engine No. 70 (Supplied with car)

Registration No. KMP 977

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Given the lack of funding available and the small number of cars produced, it is amazing what Geoffrey Taylor and his Alta concern was able to achieve during the 1930s, 40s’ and early 1950s. Unlike many of the smaller sports and racing car manufacturers, who often used a great deal of proprietary parts in their cars, Taylor was insistent on manufacturing as much as possible in house. Whilst this strategy may not have resulted in Alta achieving a great commercial success or, indeed, the ability to manufacture in large quantities, it did result in the production of some of the fastest British pre-war sports and racing cars of the 1930s. After The War Taylor mostly focussed on single-seaters and engine design with aspirations to compete at Grand Prix level. In 1955 a B-Type Connaught, piloted by Tony Brooks and powered by a 2½-Litre Alta engine, famously became the first British car and driver combination to win a Grand Prix since Sir Henry Seagrave on a Sunbeam at the San Sebastian Grand Prix way back in 1924.

 

Alta’s first model was powered by a 1074cc 4-cylinder engine developing around 49bhp un-supercharged or 76bhp with supercharging with only 13 cars made between 1931 and 1935.It is thought that only six Alta sports cars were produced from 1935 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and were fitted 1496cc or 1961cc twin-overhead camshaft (chain driven) engines with aluminium cylinder blocks and hemispherical combustion-chamber heads. The sports cars were often used in club racing where one notable advantage for the owner was the ability to easily convert the same engine from 1½-Litre to 2-Litre and back again thus meaning the same car could compete in two different classes. In supercharged 2-Litre the engines were thought to produce around 180bhp, giving the low slung and sleek cars a top speed approaching 120mph. In turn, this meant that the Alta was one of the fastest pre-war sports cars available in the 1930s.

 

In retrospective events, the sports 2-Litre Alta’s have proven to be almost unbeatable in both racing and rallying in their class and there can be no better testament to this than the outright victory this particular car gained in the 2018 tenth anniversary edition of the, world famous, Flying Scotsman Endurance Rally. As with the early Chapman Lotus designs such as the Lotus 16, it is possibly only the lack of funding for development that prevented Geoffrey Taylor and Alta from achieving far more in period. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

 

According to the copy factory records, kindly supplied by David Baldock, this particular sports Alta, chassis number 70 was completed in 1939 and sold to H.B. Townsend of Harrow, Middlesex. The car is noted as a “standard 1½-Litre un-supercharged Alta” with two carburettors, although the original engine (also number 70 and supplied separately with the car) has been a 2-Litre unit for as long as anyone can recall and thus may well have been changed to this formula early on in the piece given the intentional ease of conversion of the later pre-war Alta engines. The writing on the factory record is somewhat difficult to read but it appears that the car was delivered to Townsend on either 26thJanuary 1939 or 26thJune 1939 and registered KMP 977. The only other note on the records states that: “car bought to works, August. Engine would not exceed 4,000 rpm. Gear ratio 4/66” It is, of course possible that the engine size was increased at this point but no further notes were made by the works. With the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe in September 1939 it seems unlikely that Townsend would have had much time to play with his new acquisition and one would imagine that the Alta was retired from service during the hostilities.

 

The second owner of the Alta was Peter Mew of Tonbridge Wells who purchased the Alta from Townsend during the late 1950s. Peter Mew retained the car for around four years until selling it to the third owner, Mike Bishop of Adelaide, Australia. The Alta was not immediately taken to Australia and photographs of the car, on file from Ferret Photograhic (Ted Walker) show Mike Bishop competing at VSCC Prescott and Brands Hatch. The Alta features in Historic Racing Cars in Australiaby John B. Blanden, Pages 19 & 20. According to Blanden “In 1963, Mike sent the car home to Adelaide and when he returned in 1964 he commenced a complete rebuild which was to take nine years and 2150 hours….” The work was completed in 1973 and Mike Bishop regularly competed with the car gaining F.T.D.s at the 1974 and 1975 Vintage Sports Car Club of Victoria Lakeland Hillclimb. The Alta was also photographed at Albert park in the pre-Grand Prix demonstration race in 1999.

 

Chassis 70 was purchased from Australia in 2007 and re-patriated into the United Kingdom by the current owner, a well-known collector of Alta motor cars, and re-registered with its original UK registration number: KMP 977. Since the car’s return it has been treated to a thorough restoration by Gareth Burnett’s team. With front end competition work in mind for the car, the decision was taken to remove the original engine (no. 70) from the Alta in order to protect it and a new 2-Litre unit installed. The original engine is, of course, supplied as part of the sale of the car. As well as the total restoration of the car, it has also been fitted with all the necessary modern safety requirements for it to obtain FIA papers.

 

In the highly capable hands of Gareth Burnett, ‘KMP 977’ has run up at the front of the Motor Racing Legends grids, winning its class and finishing in a podium position. The Alta surprised many in the rallying world by gaining outright victory in the tenth anniversary edition of the Flying Scotsman Rally run from Brooklands to Edinburgh last year. This rare sporting Alta has proved itself to be both reliable and highly competitive in both historic circuit racing and road rallying. It is fully restored and supplied with its original engine. On the button and ready for the 2019 season, this Alta is ready to surprise even the quickest of pre-war sports cars from marques such as Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Frazer-Nash BMW, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye and Invicta. It is of course eligible for a plethora of top-flight racing events including the Goodwood Revival Meeting and the Le Mans Classic as well as rallying events such as The Flying Scotsman and Alpine Trial. Close inspection at our showroom is welcome by appointment or even a high-speed demonstration by Gareth Burnett could be arranged on our private test track here at Bicester Heritage…if you’re feeling brave enough!

We would like to express our thanks to David Baldock for his kind help with the historical research of this car.