Alta Car and Engineering Company was a sports and racing car
manufacturer from England, commonly
known simply as Alta. Their cars contested five
FIA World Championship races between 1950 and 1952, as well as
Grand Prix events prior to
They also supplied engines to a small number of other
constructors, most notably the Connaught
company was founded by engineer Geoffrey Taylor in Surbiton, Surrey, and
produced its first automobile in 1929.
Alta's first vehicle
was a sports car powered by an 1.1L engine, featuring an aluminium
and shaft-driven twin overhead camshafts
, which he designed himself. It was
offered in normal or supercharged
giving 49 or 76bhp
. A choice of 4 speed
gearboxes was available.
These were mounted on a low-slung chassis
frame with open two or four seat bodies. Thirteen were made of
which five are thought to survive.
A pre-WWII (c.
1938) Alta competition model fitted with twin rear wheels for
added traction in hillclimb events.
This design, and its later 1.5L and 2L sister cars, sold steadily,
but in limited numbers, right up to the outbreak of war in 1939.
With the highest power option the car was capable of and 0-60 mph
in 7 seconds. In 1937 the company introduced front independent suspension
chassis. They became popular among club racers due to their ability
to be converted easily from 1.5L to 2L or vice versa
allowing drivers on a limited budget to contest more than one class
without having to buy a second car.
A pre-war Alta competition model in
circuit racing trim.
In 1934 Taylor produced the first Alta to be designed solely for
competition. The resulting light-weight, off-set single seat
cars achieved quite a
reputation in shorter events such as hill-climbs
, sprints and time-trials
. Once again, Alta's keen pricing, in
comparison to the expensive ERA
models, resulted in many
sales to amateur racers. However, a lack of reliability kept the
Alta name out of the long distance Grand Prix events. A revised
voiturette design appeared in 1937, with independent front
suspension. George Abecassis
some success with this design, winning a string of events before
the war interrupted. As war approached, Taylor was drafting designs
for a new straight-8 engine and a third-generation voiturette, this
time with fully independent
. This last prewar car was highly advanced for its
time, and was very nearly complete in late 1939. However, as soon
as war was declared, Alta's production capabilities were given over
to the war effort, and production of the new designs was
Despite Alta's diminutive size, and their status as a primarily
road car manufacturer, Alta was in fact the first British
constructor to produce a new Grand Prix car following the end of
World War II
limitations of raw materials did not
stop Taylor beginning production of designs he had been developing
throughout the war years, and the Alta GP car appeared in 1948. He
also restarted production of the road-going sports cars, although
without further development funding the popularity of these models
rapidly dwindled. Prior to 1948, the last pre-war Alta was
campaigned with varying degrees of success.
The Alta GP car was a development of the pre-war design, but was
powered by a supercharged 1.5L engine, developing approximately
retained the 4-speed pre-selector gearbox of the prewar cars.
Taylor developed the independent suspension design further,
and rubber linkage
bushings. The first car was supplied to privateer
driver George Abecassis
, who campaigned it
throughout 1948 and into 1949, but only finished once. Abecassis
would go on to use Alta engines to power his HWM
team from 1951 – 1955.
Modifications were made to the bodywork and gearchange for the
subsequent 1949 and 1950 GP2 and GP3 vehicles, GP3 also gaining a
two-stage supercharger. Once again they were built to order, and
supplied to Geoff Crossley
Crossley took GP2 to the 1949 Belgian Grand Prix, but could only
manage seventh place. In 1950 he set a number of speed records over
50 miles, 50 km and 100 km at the Montlhéry
circuit. Kelly concentrated mostly
on Irish races, and his best finish was third in the 1952 Ulster Trophy
. Both drivers took their
respective chassis to the 1950
British Grand Prix
, the first ever Formula One
World Championship race. However,
while Kelly finished, he was unclassified; Crossley retired with a
Kelly later carried out extensive modification and rebuilding work
on GP3, running it as the Irish
(IRA) car during 1952 and 1953. His most
significant change was to replace the Alta engine with a Bristol
An Alta F2 with bonnet removed.
Lacking the funding necessary to develop a Formula One successor to
the GP design, Taylor decided to move into the junior Formula Two
category. The engine produced was a
1970 cc inline 4-cylinder, naturally-aspirated unit, developing
around . Unfortunately, Alta's own chassis design followed the
preceding GP car very closely, and this resulted in an overweight
car considering the greatly reduced power available from the
unsupercharged motors. Tony Gaze
F2/1 and F2/2 on a tour of European races, but good results were
hard to come by.
Indeed, the F2 chassis was so much like the GP design that the
uncompleted GP/4 machine was converted and became F2/3, although
this machine was no more successful than its siblings. F2/4
followed in construction and was sold, before Peter Whitehead
order for what was to become the last Alta car built: F2/5. This
was the only F2 Alta to be entered for World Championship Grands
Prix events, first driven by himself in the 1952 French Grand Prix
, and then by
his half-brother Graham Whitehead
at the 1952 British Grand
. Neither run produced a points finish, but this was not to
be the last time that the Alta name appeared in Formula One.
Alta the engine supplier
While the F2 engine might have been overwhelmed by the chassis'
bulk, tweaks made by Peter Whitehead to the unit in his car showed
that the design had tuning potential. Alta engines had already been
used by the HWM
1949, and from 1953 many more mechanics would come to know the
Taylor-designed power plant. Peter Whitehead led the way by
removing the engine from F2/5 and installing it into a Cooper T24
chassis, which he ran in the
1953 British Grand Prix
present at Silverstone that day were no fewer than four Alta-powered HWM
cars. HWM had, the previous year, scored what was
Alta's only significant victory, when Lance Macklin won the 1952 BRDC International Trophy race at
Over the next few years 1.5L and 2.5L Alta
engines would find their way into many British-built F1 hopefuls,
the most successful of which were Connaught and Cooper. Ultimately
the engine would prove to be capable of approximately . With the
collapse of Connaught in 1959, the Alta name disappeared from
Formula One for good.
Geoffrey Taylor died in 1966 at the age of 63 years. In 1976, his
son Michael attempted to revive the Alta name with a Formula Ford
car but was not successful. A
handful of the pre-war sports and single seat cars survive, all in
private ownership. GP1, after having been converted to Jaguar
power in the 1950s, is now back in
original configuration in the Donington Grand Prix Collection
F2/5 has also been reunited with its original powerplant and has
participated in a number of Historic race meeting in recent years,
including the 1999 Goodwood Revival meeting.
Complete Formula One World Championship results
n.b. Prior to there was no Constructor's World Championship, hence
constructors were not awarded points.
- Felix Muelas, Mattijs Diepraam and Terry Walker Geoffrey
Taylor's brainchild, 8W, November 1999.
- Felix Muelas, Complex mind, complex output, 8W,
- Felix Muelas, A stylist on tarmac and paper, 8W,
- Jikku George, The very first World Drivers
Championship, 8W, January 2005.