In 1934, the chief engineer of Alfa Romeo, Vittorio Jano, had been impressed by the new mid-engined Auto Union GP racer. Jano was aware of the advantages of a mid-engined car and wanted to make use of the same technology. He was planning to develop a dual-purpose car. as racer to be fitted with a 12 C engine and as sports car with an 6 C engine. But Alfa Romeo had never constructed a mid-engined car, and had no experience of the characteristics of such a design. He decided to develop in-house a V12 engine for Alfa Romeo’s standard GP chassis, which could later also be installed into the yet-to-be-developed mid-engined chassis which he wanted to construct. This was to be a top secret project. Chassis and body were designed and built outside the Alfa Romeo factory to hide it from competitors.
Jano, who was of Hungarian descent, was in contact with two other men also of Hungarian descent, who were interested in the project. They were the brothers Gino and Oscar Jankovits. They were brilliant students at the Polytechnic University in Jano’s home town of Turin, where Fiat and Alfa Romeo recruited their technical staff. The brothers became Alfa Romeo concessionaires and owned the biggest garage in region in Fiume – today called Rijeka. With their passion for race cars and the background of wealth, technical talent and the garage they were excited at being able to participate in this project , and they financed the entire project.
In 1934, Jano gave them a powerful, naturally-aspirated 6C 2300 engine upgraded with three Weber carburettors. This would be the engine for the sports car project. Jankovits also got the transmission system, and a basic frame suitable for the 12C engine, to be modified for a mid-engined racing car. Other mechanical systems such as suspensions and brakes were designed by the development team and built at Portello.
Each mechanical part produced for the new car was marked with a description and date of production, and with the position where it was to be mounted.
The parts were then taken to Fiume, and between 1935 and 1936 were installed and tested by the Jankovits in a “running chassis”. Depending on test results, improvements were made, regardless of cost, until the systems worked to their satisfaction.
All parts of the chassis were constructed very solid with view to high speed trials over 250 km/h. The Aerospider’s chassis was the most advanced of its time and anticipated later designs by Mercedes and Auto Union. It was the first car with a suspension designed with wishbones, hydraulic dampers, transverse leaf springs, radius arms and torsion bars. Other pioneering features were devices to eliminate overbraking and a sophisticated system of gear change with pre-selection.
The breathtaking aerodynamic shape of the car also anticipated the later high speed designs of Auto Union by 4 years. It was designed by Oscar Jankovits , who was probably in contact with Josef Mickl , Porsche’s specialist of aerodynamics, and others of the former Habsburg Empire as Paul Jaray, the inventor of streamlined cars, and Bela Barenyi, the inventor of the “Volkswagen”. The exceptional streamlined steel body was built by workers at the Jankovits Garage in Fiume between 1936 and 1937.
The Aerospider was the first mid-engined and low drag racing car of modern design. The car had all the features of a high speed racing car together with a stunning appearance.
The Aerospider was to have been fitted with the newly developed V12 engine (430 hp) of Alfa Romeo – a “12C Aerodinamica Spider” – which would have made it a serious competitor to Auto Union and Mercedes Benz. But in 1937, when the car was ready to make its public appearance, the project was abruptly stopped when Vittorio Jano was dismissed by Alfa Romeo.
Jankovits could no longer get the 12 C engine. They mounted the 6C 2300 which they had got for the sports car project, and they made the prototype suitable for use on the road by adding user-friendly components such as a bigger windscreen, a heating system and bumpers. The car still has its original licence plate and documents of registration.
Any public appearance of the futuristic looking Aerospider would have caused a sensation, but because of the secrecy surrounding the project, and then the onset of the war, the prototype remained hidden in the Jankovits’ garage in Fiume, and was not seen by anyone from outside the garage.
On Christmas Eve 1946, Gino Jankovits drove the Aerospider at full speed under the toll-bar of the closed communist controlled border into Italy. Border guards fired volleys of shots after him, but the low, streamlined body saved Gino’s life. Only the rear tyres were destroyed by the bullets, which also caused some dents in the rear of the car’s bodywork.
To get money they had to sell their car to an Anglo-American officer. Then the Alfa disappeared for about 20 years until it was rediscovered in England. In 1978 the Aerospider was recognized by the well-known Alfa Romeo historian Luigi Fusi, who had worked with Vittorio Jano at the time of the Aerospider project. He wanted to acquire the car for the Alfa Romeo museum. The acquisition failed, but the prototype did eventually return to Italy, 30 years after its birth, to be restored at last to its original condition as a racing car.
Time frame of construction of the Aerospider:
1934 construction of engine, transmission and frame
1935 completion of first version of chassis
1936 testing period, modifications of chassis, start of body making
1937 completion of chassis and body for race car1938 modification into street car