Robert Little contacted VeloceToday recently and asked if we’d be interested in re-publishing his historic photos and descriptions of Autodelta, taken in the early 1970s, which had previously appeared in the “Alfa Owner” and now on his own website, of which he says “The new name is www.AutodeltaGoldenYears.com and I will continue to use www.RobertLittle.US at the same time for the next few years.”
We jumped at the opportunity; the photos and his story are unique and of great interest and value. “It’s actually quite an amazing and true story – one that has not been known to have been repeated in the history of Italian motor racing. Looking back one finds it difficult to believe it actually happened as it did…” wrote Mr. Little. This Introduction explains how his magical sojourn came about; the rest of the chapters will concentrate on his amazing photographic record of Autodelta at its prime.
By Robert Little
A native Detroiter and son of a Chrysler Corporation engineer, I grew up helping my father in the garage. We built five Soap Box Derby cars for the annual Detroit races and together we restored a 1922 Model T Ford coupe.
My interests eventually diverged with the acquisition of my Michigan driver’s license, and spent weekends as a volunteer at the Waterford Hills (Michigan) race track. There, it was obvious that small nimble lightweight automobiles could run circles around heavier, over-powered/under braked “Detroit Iron”…and found that Alfa Romeo vehicles came factory-equipped with superior handling and braking characteristics.
Entering college in the fall of 1968, I co-founded the Michigan State University Sports Car Club (which incidentally grew to become the second largest such college car club among American universities behind the UCLA club), and after four years and some intensely-Alfa Romeo summers, graduated with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Marketing.
I joined the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club and met Tom Tann and Joe Benson (author of the still famous Illustrated Alfa Romeo Buyer’s Guide). At the time, they co-owned a blue Alfa Romeo TZ-1. In 1970 Tom and I decided to drive it to Sebring, Florida in a 24 hour non-stop run. I had been invited to be a Pit Marshal for Alec Ulmann’s organization, assigned to the Autodelta team pit area, of course! There, we met members of the Autodelta team and acquaintances developed.
With one Sebring 12 Hours under my belt and watching Steve McQueen, Jackie Ickx, Vic Elford and other world-class masters grind it out for the Twelve Hours, I became hooked on the thought of someday becoming a part of the World Championship-of-Makes level of competition – in my opinion, the most exciting and thrilling world-class level of automobile competition. In those days it was the national prestige of the entire Italian nation battling Germany, France, and England for honor and world domination…without the visual clutter of unnecessarily high levels of commercialization. And in the case of Italy, it was purely Ferrari versus Alfa Romeo….Enzo Ferrari versus Carlo Chiti.
For the next Sebring race in 1971, again I asked to be assigned to the Autodelta pit area, where definite conflict of interest considerations began to conflict with the important enforcement of rules and regulations! One of the jobs of the pit marshal was to rigidly enforce the FIA rules relating to, among a host of other things, the number of technicians over the wall and actively participating in a pit stop. The Italians, being the excitable people they are, without hesitation violated the mechanic count if a problem occurred. I nevertheless enforced the rules, but I was secretly ‘pulling’ for the team to win the race.
No protests were ever filed by competitors as the Autodeltisti did maintain a healthy respect for the regulations…a big violation could cost them the entire trip from Italy (ask any team that has ever been disqualified), but nothing adverse ever happened.
In February of 1972, I made the very same long drive, this time in a Fiat 124 Coupe to Daytona Beach, and once again volunteered to be the Pit Marshal at the Alfa Romeo pit for the Daytona 6 Hours of Endurance.
Taking a second week off in my senior year, the next month at Sebring I volunteered my services exclusively to Ing. Chiti as a ‘gofer’ and worked during the day cleaning the cars, hauling materials back and forth from one of the hangers used by the team. I spent the night hours guarding the property of the team and sleeping in the T-33 of my choice, or on several engine shipping crates the guys had set up with packing material as a kind of make-shift mattress- I tended to prefer the cockpit slumber position.
Before leaving Sebring that March, I asked team driver extraordinaire Andrea de Adamich if it might be possible to arrange a tour of Autodelta. Surprisingly, within an hour or so De Adamich returned with an invitation issued by Ing. Chiti to come to Settimo Milanese whenever I chose and could stay as long as I liked.
I had earned about $1000 promoting several Mid-Michigan imported automobile auto shows during classes and had the finances in place to afford a round-trip ticket to Milan and a small daily stipend to keep me in food and shelter.
I abruptly left Michigan State and hopped a Milan-bound British Overseas Airlines flight. Arriving at Milan’s Malpensa Airport a month later, I lived inside the top secret walled Autodelta compound’s on- room infirmary for a short time, and in a furnished Autodelta mechanic’s apartment nearby for a longer period. The roar of V-8 and flat 12 cylinder engines on the test stands and the tinkle of wrenches and hammers were my daily dose of ‘ear candy.’ I traveled parts of the 1972 and 1973 season with the team, working for free and being accorded the Experience of a Lifetime.
In the next few chapters to appear in VeloceToday, I am pleased to show you my personal archival copyrighted photographs of never before seen Autodelta color images taken exclusively inside the factory, including the actual images of the assembly of the very first batch of 33TT12 cars as they were taking shape in 1972 and 1973 – all photographed with the completely open, unhindered full access personal permission of Directore Generale Ing. Carlo Chiti. They are now being released for the very first time in more than four decades, and printed in sequential magazine editions of the Alfa Owner (USA) magazine and in selected Alfa Romeo Owners Club ‘webzines’ and non-commercial magazines around the world.
As you enjoy the images, please remember that these photos were captured on 35mm Kodacolor film using an excellent quality camera for the time period. They are good archival photographs but should not be compared to the digital images of the present day.
I hope you enjoy this serialized glimpse ‘behind the curtain’ of this truly remarkable Alfa Romeo leader and his group of highly dedicated men.
This is your tradition and history to preserve. Pass it along.