Graham Gauld talks to Alfa test driver Teodoro Zeccoli
As we learned in Part 1, ATS was a recipe for disaster. It didn’t take Carlo Chiti long before he had enough. He joined forces with his friend Ludovico Chizzola in his Autosport Company, which prepared touring cars for racing. The company they formed together was Delta Auto, later changed to Autodelta. Chiti recalled the previous approach to ATS from Alfa Romeo and so contacted Giuseppe Luraghi, the Chairman of Alfa Romeo, and was offered the chance to take on the program. Chiti then resigned from ATS and took Teodoro Zeccoli with him as test driver. Zeccoli’s career took another step forward.
The Autodelta years
Autodelta were initially engaged to develop and build the Alfa TZ1 and 2. As the Autodelta company operated out of premises in Udine, it was very inconvenient and eventually Alfa asked them to transfer to Milan to be closer to the factory. They found a place at Settimo Milanese to the north of the city, but not long afterwards Alfa realized that Autodelta was getting just a bit too big. Autodelta was then absorbed into the Alfa Romeo group with Chiti running everything independently.
All of the testing for Alfa Romeos was conducted at the specially-built circuit complex at Balocco outside Milan. It is a huge facility, covering two million square meters, built on farm land originally used for the production of rice, which is common around that part of Italy. It was officially opened in 1963, the same year Autodelta was founded, and the farmhouse was retained and refurbished to give a place where the drivers could relax during long distance testing and where visitors could be brought to see the action.
At one time there were six official Alfa Romeo test drivers, all under the guidance of the legendary Alfa Romeo tester Consalvo Sanesi. Of those six, Teodoro Zeccoli had special responsibilities solely to Autodelta, so he was the main test driver of the racing cars. He was occasionally brought into the road car development programs when they felt they needed his expertise, but normally that was left to the other five test drivers of the day: Bruno Bonini, Guido Moroni, Carlo Galfan, Mario de Guiseppe and Ernesto Pagnacco.
Testing the Tipo 33 Alfas
Throughout this period, Zeccoli was usually kept busy on the testing and racing program. But in addition to his driving for Alfa, he raced a Ferrari 250LM for Luigi Chinetti at Le Mans in 1969 and finished 8th overall, sharing the car (5893) with American Sam Posey. Five years later, in 1974, he was again invited to race for NART with Jean-Claude Andruet in Luigi Chinetti’s “American” Ferrari 312P finishing 9th overall.
Zeccoli raced almost every Alfa Romeo from the 1960’s until he retired in 1981. As we sat with him in his office, he riffled through piles of photographs of testing at Balocco and constantly referred to his diaries. It is quite remarkable that each year he bought an identical A5 diary and every day wrote short notes of his testing. You could pick up any of the years, open at a page and find what he did that day. In one of them was a terse remark that he had hit close to 200 mph at Balocco in the Tipo 33-3 12 cylinder, the first time he had reached this figure when testing.
When Autodelta was given the go-ahead to develop the Alfa Romeo 33-2, it was Teodoro Zeccoli who raced it for the first time. Alfa chose a relatively unknown hill climb at Fleron in Belgium for the debut, and Zeccoli won the event outright. Though he was not always a member of the factory team of 33-2 drivers, he raced for the factory at circuits such as Mugello. He worked behind the scenes on the development of the Alfa Giulia GTA and later the 2 litre GTAM, but was mainly kept busy throughout the 1970’s with the Type 33 in all its guises. He has fond memories of the SC Turbo, and his last official race was at the wheel of one of the Fernet Branca cars with Jean Pierre Jarier. He eventually retired from Alfa Romeo to set up his own BMW dealership in Imola with his son, who admits that any thought of him racing was frowned upon by both his mother and father!
Zeccoli had a twinkle in his eye as he recalls the moments in his racing career. He laughs as he recalls one of his most embarrassing moments when he put his factory Alfa Romeo TZ into the sandbanks at Mulsanne corner during the 1965 Le Mans race. He stripped off his racing suit and tried to dig himself out of the sand but it was hopeless. He was truly stuck and had to retire after two hours of racing and digging. Ironically, another of the Autodelta Alfas also retired on the second hour; this one driven by Carlo Zuccoli who, because of his similar name, was often confused with Zeccoli. When asked about the drivers he raced with he has no hesitation in picking out Englishman Piers Courage. ” To my mind, had he lived, he might have been one of the greatest drivers ever!”
Teodoro Zeccoli has no regrets in his life as a test driver. It brought with it a busy racing career driving a variety of cars. Unlike many drivers, he has kept every single memento of those years, including all his competition licences and even his crash helmets, which was why he was able to pose outside his dealership with the same helmet he used when photographed officially by Autodelta many years before. He is a happy man.