What's in the shed? Oh, just my Alfa Romeo race car.
Wondering how to occupy yourself at the weekends? How about thrashing the hell out of your custom built Alfa. I mean, that sounds pretty ideal...
It doesn’t take a closer look to notice that this car is special. It has big presence. It owns the road it stands on… it owns the road the car next to it stands on! It has the beauty of the type 105 shape and stance that we all know and love. Then the GTAm-style arches and lower suspension bring an added aggression to the car, a hunkered-down readiness, it appears at ease with its abilities. This is ‘that’ GTAm you may have come across at the Sunday Scramble, or hurtling around the Goodwood Motor Circuit on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
We could spend all day cooing over this car, in reality the real hero here is Rob. Few are the times you have the fortune to meet a character as well aligned as Rob Farley. To give you some perspective; he rebuilt his first engine at 14. He’s spent years fettling his suspension geometry to enable him to get the lap times he does. We spent nearly half an hour talking about the performance advantages of a good engine oil and he also makes and sells suspension parts for track cars. Rob says he's no mechanic and protests being called an engineer. He’d just tell you that he’s got common sense, end of story. A mechanically sympathetic everyman who loves to be on the spanners, fueled by logic and a need for speed.
At the track, Rob’s enthusiasm is unparalleled, last year he came second in class in his tuned 151hp 1962cc Nord engined GTAm (Note: technically we have to call it a replica because Autodelta didn't do the build.) When we were with Rob at Goodwood, he put in 111.22 on his first practice, but Last time I spoke to him he had managed to get his standing sprint time down to 109.5. I’ve looked at the results from that track-day, and cars putting in similar times include an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, a Porsche 944 S2 and a couple of modern Mini JCWs. Lots of people are slower, some are faster but really that’s not the point. Rob puts times in quicker than an amateur 73 year old (sorry Rob, but I’m making a point) in a 44 year old car really has any right to.
The best part about Rob’s car is that it’s road legal. He trailers it with his beefy 159 saloon to keep the miles down, but the car is still regularly driven on roads. I wasn’t ready for the turning performance available from the massive tyres and taught suspension. So when Rob was heading into a sharp right corner without slowing down, (in what would in a normal car be too fast in a rather final sense) I thought I was actually going to die. Luckily, this thing goes like its on rails. A slight twitch of the wheel and you’re ‘pulling Gs’. The concept of slowing down for a corner becomes an option rather than a necessity and it’ll devour a country lane at faster speeds than plod would usually allow you to keep your licence.
With a chuckle, Rob wrestles the car along with professional ease, darting forward, the racing cambre on the suspension making it nearly impossible to turn the wheel in some places. The full cage, harness and bucket seats mean you’re truly bolted there, left to soak up the eye-watering sound of the Ian Ellis built Nord as it pummels you in the base of your spine with every last drop of high-class engineering.
This car is a perfect example of the necessary attention to detail when it comes to racing for those top times. There’s so much compromise going on in a road car that you can never truly get the best from it. Rob’s commitment to his Alfa, endlessly tweaking it to perfection is proof that you don’t have to have a set of laptop-wielding experts to get your car to go faster. Time, dedication and understanding (plus a big dollop of competitiveness) is what it takes. And as a result, this little Alfa is something to be reckoned with.
Edited 3/10: Rob's car in fact has a 151 hp 1962cc engine, not a 160hp 1750cc, as the article previously stated.