1932 Alta 1.5 Litre
Year of manufacture1932
1932 Alta 1½-Litre Supercharged Sports
Registration no. KXD 666
Chassis no. 16
"The name of Alta may not have the aura of ERA, Maserati, Bugatti or Alfa Romeo, but nonetheless it holds an important niche in the history of British motor racing and was the result of the endeavours of one man." - Denis Jenkinson, Motor Sport.
The late Geoffrey Taylor was a small specialist manufacturer with a difference. Where others concocted hybrids from proprietary bits and pieces, he not only designed but also made every part of the Alta sports and competition models, even down to superchargers. The little Alta factory near the Kingston by-pass (only demolished in the early 1960s) was largely put up with his own hands.
Completed in 1929, Taylor's first Alta was a 1,074cc sports car. The Alta engine featured cast-iron wet liners, twin overhead camshafts with vertical shaft/skew gear drive, hemispherical combustion chambers, and Nitralloy steel crankshafts, making it one of the more advanced designs of the day. Engines were available in supercharged and un-blown form, producing 76 or 49bhp respectively. Lightness and low build were two of Taylor's objectives, so the frame was under-slung, and even the little 1100s wore 13" brake drums. It is estimated that 13 cars were made, of which it is believed five survive. Taylor was keen to give the impression that his cars were being built in significant numbers, and thus the chassis numbers are not an accurate guide to the actual number of cars completed.
According to the information in the history file, this Alta, chassis number '16', was, in fact, only the sixth built and was originally supplied to a Mr R A Gardiner. Originally registered as 'KJ 8421' and painted black with red upholstery, chassis number '16' was the first of a limited series of open four-seaters. It was later converted by the works to its present two-seater configuration with pointed tail, reregistered and repainted with the original colour scheme reversed. It is believed that by 1934 ownership had passed to Douglas L Briault, and both he and J H Bartlett competed in the Alta at Brooklands on a number of occasions between 1934 and 1937. On 23rd June 1934 the Alta was a finisher in the BARC British Empire 300-mile race, and on 14th March 1936 won the second handicap race at the BARC meeting.
By the outbreak of WW2 the car was owned by John Jesty, who in 1941 wrote a charming article about his adventures in the Alta for the 69th edition of 'Talking of Sports Cars', a regular feature in The Autocar magazine during the war years (copy on file). Said article includes Jesty's hilarious account of an expedition from Cambridge to London during which the left leg of his trousers got caught in the exposed prop-shaft linkage. The garment was shredded, only to be regurgitated later, covered in oil, onto the dress of a young lady he was taking out for the first time.
In 1961 the Alta was acquired in a partially dismantled state by Robin Morgan-Giles, of the famous yachting family. The cylinder block and head castings were missing, having been sent away for repair by a previous owner and never returned. They were still missing when the current owner acquired the car 40 years later from Morgan-Giles, the sale being arranged by the famous gentleman racing driver and historic-car motor dealer, Dan Margulies. Fortunately, Dan's racing mechanic, the Hon. Edward Wodehouse, substituted one half of a new Alfa Romeo 8C block/head casting, which happened to fit the Alta crankcase perfectly. This increased the capacity to 1,500cc, which meant fitting new pistons and con-rods, but all the other Alta internals, including the camshafts, camshaft drive, valve-gear and crankshaft, were incorporated into the rebuild, as was the secondary supercharger from Dan's Grand Prix Maserati 4CL.
While in current ownership, the car has been displayed at the Cartier Style et Luxe Concours at Goodwood Festival of Speed, 1996; VSCC Silverstone Spring Start in April 2003 at the celebration of the Alta marque's 75th Anniversary; and used in both VSCC competition with success and for road use. Following a period of storage and having not been used for several years the engine has recently been thoroughly re-commissioned by Edward Way and the bodywork refreshed by Ben Brown. Details of the works carried out over the years, as well as a substantial photographic record, may be found in the accompanying extensive history (four box files), which also includes copious correspondence with previous owners (perusal highly recommended). A very rare, important and unique car, this is a wonderful piece of British motor racing history.