Alfa Romeo at Sea
05 April 2019
“How are you going to get an Alfa Romeo on the boat?” More than one person asked us that when Lisa and I sailed away from Milwaukee, almost four years ago. We decided to give up the life of a dirt dweller for the sea. Our travels on Uproar have taken us through the Great Lakes, Erie Canal, Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, Bahamas, Caribbean, Panama Canal, Galapagos, and French Polynesia. We still have our 156, 166, and Giulietta Veloce Spider tucked away in Milwakee but certainly no Alfa on Uproar. We have seen a few Alfas in French Caribbean islands but usually beat up 146s or Mitos.
Alfa Romeo is never far from my heart though. For years I have been dreaming and planning construction of a vintage race boat with an Alfa engine. Alfa has a history of providing superb engines for hydroplane racing. The Laura series of hydroplanes used the powerful 159 engine and set records. During the 1960s Alfa made marine 1300 and 1600 engines available for hydroplane racing. A book on hydroplane racing mentioned that the Alfa Romeo engines were expensive but one could depend on several years of good service without rebuilds. Tom Zat had some literature for Alfa marine engines at one time. If anyone has copies, I would love to see them.
The 1936 Crandall Flyer appeared on my computer screen and I had my boat design. This sleek, mahogany double ender really caught my eye. The original construction article from 1936 can easily be found on the internet as well as Youtube videos of replicas. The Flyer is a 15 foot single-step hydroplane designed for the 135 cu. in. engine class. The Universal Blue Jacket, four cylinder engine could easily be replaced with an Alfa 2 liter. The Alfa engine would be at least 200 pounds lighter and have almost double the horsepower.
I started collecting drivetrain parts before departing on our cruise. The batwing oil pan would not fit well between engine stringers. Ignazio gave me an Alfetta oil pan. I will probably have to cut the aft corner off and weld a plate on to accommodate the slanted installation. Marine transmissions are heavy so I found a sprint car in-out box to at least give me neutral. Race boats don't have a transmission. When you light them up, they go! Neutral would be very useful for docking, etc. a canoe paddle would work fine for reverse for this small boat. An Alfetta flywheel would be ideal due to the coupling that would hook up to the sprint car box.
Marine engines use a water jacketed exhaust manifold. I found one for a V-8 that could be modified to fit the Alfa head. Cooling would be with seawater pumped through a heat exchanger for both oil and engine coolant. I have toyed with the idea of buying an aftermarket engine management system for ignition and fuel injection. Four motorcycle coils on the firewall hooked up to the system would replace a distributor. Sparks from a distributor are dangerous in a boat.
I have designed this boat over and over in my head. But a few months ago I took another step in the project. The photo is a 1/12th scale model I constructed on Uproar while we were hanging out in French Polynesia. The model is built with scale bulkheads from the magazine article. I learned how to do old fashion “lofting” in a naval architecture class at Purdue. The entire model is built out of 1/8” balsa and bamboo skewers. For paint and stain I used acrylic paints from Lisa's paint set, not ideal but it worked.
I can just imagine the throaty rumble of the Alfa engine, racing the Flyer at 50 mph. But that is best I can do from my seafaring lifestyle. Lisa and I have no plans to “swallow the anchor” and return to shore. If we do, I have a unique Alfa Romeo project waiting for me.
S/V Tumultuous Uproar