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An Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta Grand Prix Car based on a…. Mazda MX5?

From a playful Japanese roadster to an Italian thoroughbred “Monoposto”

| By Robin Nooy | 6 min read |

Yes, you’ve read that correctly, and I’m sure you are just as baffled (and perhaps intrigued) as I was first reading this; an Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 “Alfetta” based on a Mazda MX5. Sounds extremely unlikely, but there’s no other way around it. A Mazda MX5 can be turned into an Alfa Romeo 158 replica. Long-time petrolhead and master-mechanic Ant Anstead of ‘Wheeler Dealers’ is the man behind this baffling project. He built an Alfa Romeo 158 replica by himself, pretty much from scratch, and now offers a kit that uses donor parts from the fabled Japanese roadster. This begs for answers to a whole range of questions!

Note: Stating the obvious first, this is by no means an officially licensed Alfa Romeo product. The project car Ant Anstead has built is based on an Alfa Romeo 158/159 and Mazda Miata/MX-5 derived kit that is now being offered is labelled as “Tipo 184” to avoid legal issues. 

The Alfa Romeo 158 exposed at the Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena – image from Wikimedia

For the story on the original Alfa Romeo 158 ‘Alfetta’, we have to go back in time about 90 years. It was the time when Grand Prix racing, which is the pre-war ancestor to Formula 1, was booming. Often literally, as risks were extreme and when things went wrong, it frequently went fatally wrong. Countless courageous drivers lost their lives due to the complete absence of safety regulations. Sitting in between or on top of fuel tanks that would easily rupture in a crash, or even be decapitated when a chain-drive would snap and whip around violently. Horrific, yes, but there are well-documented examples of people literally losing their head in such unfortunate incidents. I’m glad we’ve come so far that barely a life is lost in racing nowadays. 

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The Alfa Romeo 158 ‘Alfetta’ was built under Voiturette regulations, with engines no larger than 1.5-litre while the top Grand Prix cars at the time ran 3.0-litre engines. Sort of like the difference between Formula 1 and Formula 2. This specific Alfa ran a 1.5-litre straight-8 engine, hence the 158 designation. The little Alfa, literally, as ‘Alfetta’ translates to just that in Italian, first raced from 1938 until 1940 and was a dominant piece of engineering. The 158 and its successor, the 159 with a heavily upgraded engine, won a staggering 47 races out of 54 starts. What is fascinating about this car is that due to the outbreak of the Second World War the car was sidelined for a couple of years, but entered into Grand Prix racing once more shortly after the war. By 1948, the Alfa 158 was upgraded to roughly 300 horsepower and was still a formidable car. Sadly it had a dark comeback into racing, as in the first race it entered in 1948, Alfa Romeo works-driver Achille Varzi was killed in a crash.

By 1950 the Alfa 158 was updated once again and eligible for the inaugural Formula 1 season. Following an increase in power, it proved unbeatable, winning all races, a feat that has never been repeated since. Victories were divided between Juan-Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina, with the latter becoming the first-ever Formula 1 World Champion. At the end of the season, the 158 evolved into the 159 and yet again claimed victory. Four wins handed the championship to Alfa Romeo once more, but this time Juan-Manuel Fangio was crowned as champion. By then it pretty much reached the end of its competitive racing career and opposition grew stronger and stronger. This eventually leads to Alfa Romeo’s withdrawal after not being able to fund the development of a new car.

Here’s a fantastic clip where Juan-Manual Fangio gives his championship-winning ‘Alfetta’ the beans at Monza, in 1970 (Italian spoken only):

Fast forward to 2019 and Ant Anstead was set to air his ‘Ant Anstead, Master Mechanic’ TV show. During the 12 episode series, he builds a very close replica of the Alfa 158/159 ‘Alfetta’. Ant Anstead has done more with cars on TV as he replaced the original mechanic Edd China, for the popular ‘Wheeler Dealer’ series, hosted by Mike Brewer. 

Replicating a 1930s Grand Prix racer is no easy thing to do, but Ant Anstead pulled it off with a combination of donor parts from an MG, his personal skill in mechanics and help from experts in the trade. If you have access to it, do check it out! It is a fascinating show where you get to see the hurdles that need to be overcome in order to do something like this. Plus, Ant is a likeable guy and explains everything in detail but simple enough to understand if you know little about cars.

His replica car has recently been auctioned off by Barret-Jackson with a hammer price of USD 100,000. Here’s Ant Anstead talking about his Tipo 158, doing the assembly and taking it out onto Willow Springs racetrack:

Following the completion of his car, he now offers something very, very cool. You can build one too! You need a couple of things of course. First off, you need some skill as a mechanic. It helps if you have access to a workshop and tools in order to build or repair a car. Next, you need to be able to clear your schedule a bit, as these projects eat up a lot of time. Other than that you need two more things; Ant’s Tipo 158 kit and a donor second-generation Mazda MX5 (Or Miata for US residents). The kit allows you to build a Tipo 184, using parts from the Japanese roadster. 

The Tipo 184 is built around a tubular chassis, so it doesn’t use the Mazda platform. The driving position is moved to the centre obviously and the chassis and engine are draped in the cigar-shaped body panels. The look is finished with wire wheels, a single exhaust running close to the body, a large spoked steering wheel and a leather seat. The similarity with the original Alfa Romeo 158/159 is uncanny, but upon closer inspection, you can see some changes due to safety or preventing costs spiralling out of control. The Alfa Romeo 158/159 used drum brakes, and the kit looks like it does too, but instead, a set of disc brakes all-round is shrouded from view by a drum styled like the original.

For obvious reasons, the biggest concession is the engine and gearbox, which come from the Mazda. The 1.5-litre supercharged straight-8 is replaced by the 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine (Tipo 184, get it?) from the donor car. That has a reputation of being adequately powered for the MX5/Miata and considering the Tipo 184 is quite a bit lighter, it should be great fun to drive! The project is spread over a starter kit and several chapter kits to complete your build. These chapters include suspension parts, dashboard mechanics, cooling system, the wire wheels and more. In order to build your very own Tipo 184, not including the donor Mazda, you need about GBP 10,000 but there are 10 pre-order kits available at a reduced price. For those without the skill, time, space or even desire to build it themselves, a turn-key option is also possible. 

The kit is now available, complete with instructions and all the necessary parts for your very own Tipo 184. For more information or to order;

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