Boasting a unique sporting heritage around the world, the Alfa Romeo brand will be tackling the traditional Zoute Grand Prix once again, with a model which has marked its history. The car in question is a 1923 Alfa Romeo RL Super Sport “Targa Florio”, on loan from the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo.
The Alfa Romeo RL range made its debut in 1921 and consistently managed to combine brilliant driving performance with a competitive spirit. . The model was equipped with a six-cylinder in-line 3-litre engine. Introduced in 1922, the RL “Sport” was produced alongside the RL “Normale”.
The 2916 cm3 six-cylinder engine of the Normale version delivered 56 hp, whereas the Sport version, with its distinctive dihedral-shaped radiator, had a slightly larger displacement of 2994 cm3 due to a bore of 76 instead of 75 mm (with the stroke unchanged at 110 mm) and a slightly higher compression ratio (5.5:1 instead of 5.2:1), boosting power output to 71 hp. Thanks to its shortened wheelbase and low weight, the Sport reached a top speed of 130 km/h, compared with 110 km/h for the Normale.
When the 6th and 7th series were introduced in 1925, the Sport was replaced by the Super Sport, with an engine that delivered 83 hp. The six-cylinder in-line 3-litre engine consisted of a cast-iron monobloc and cylinder head, a gear-driven side camshaft, two valves per cylinder, two carburettors and an ignition with a high-voltage magnet. The Super Sport also featured brakes with larger drums (420 mm in diameter), a four-speed gearbox plus reverse gear with central lever control and, just like its predecessor, achieved a top speed of 130 km/h.
A total of 2631 Alfa Romeo RLs were produced between 1922 and 1927, including 392 Super Sports: 304 6th series units in 1925 and 88 7th series models between 1926 and 1927.
The stage on which the Alfa Romeo RL achieved its greatest triumphs was the Targa Florio, where it secured a one-two finish in 1923 (in the two-seater spider configuration). The winner was Ugo Sivocci and a third RL came in fourth position. Sivocci’s car was the first painted with a green cloverleaf on a white background, which would later become the hallmark of Alfa Romeo competition cars and sportier production models. Numerous racing drivers have won with the RL: from Giulio Masetti to Antonio Ascari, from Giuseppe Campari to the young Enzo Ferrari.
The 1923 edition of the Targa Florio served up a barnstorming finale. Alfa Romeo had a line-up of five RLs, driven by Antonio Ascari (the father of future F1 world champion, Alberto), Giuseppe Campari, Giulio Masetti, Enzo Ferrari and Ugo Sivocci. On the fourth and last lap of the Madonie circuit, Ascari emerged first position from the hills, but at the Cerda Station corner, around 200 m from the finish line, his car stopped sharply due to a technical malfunction. With the help of the mechanics, who enthusiastically climbed into the car, Ascari succeeded in passing the finish line first, but the commissioners asked him to turn back and finish the race without anyone on board. Sivocci, in second place, sprang into action and won the first of ten victories for Alfa Romeo at the Targa Florio, as well as the first international victory for the Milanese constructor.
In the first edition of the Mille Miglia in 1927, Alfa Romeo fielded five RL Super Sports, including two in the official team, driven by Brilli Peri-Pesenti and Marinoni-Ramponi, and three with private crews. All of the RL SS cars performed very well and Gastone Brilli Peri reached Rome in the lead but was forced to retire in Spoleto. As a result, the best finish achieved by the new Alfa Romeo RL Super Sport was seventh place overall for Mercanti (competing under the pseudonym of “Frate Ignoto” or Unknown Monk) partnered by Carlo Sozzi, who also came third in their class. The other private pairing of Gutermann-Munaron finished ninth out of the 77 crews who started the race in Brescia.