The Tipo 184 is a classic racer look-like
Yes, we know the title of this website indicates its ‘classic’ raison d’être, but the scarcity of true classics and their climbing prices puts many machines out of reach. Enter the Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 look-alike: the Tipo 184.
It’s heartening to see many classic racers on the tracks here and overseas, battling like they did in their heyday, but many of the rarer ones are now worth so much money that their owners are reluctant to risk damaging or destroying them in competition.
That’s why we think the Tipo 184 initiative from the UK may influence other retro-influence vehicle kit makers to come up with competitive products.
Firstly, a little background. The Tipo 184 kit-car is an Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 look-alike, based on a purpose-built tubular-steel chassis and Mazda MX-5 powertrain and running gear. Purists were horrified when this kit was made available in the UK in 2022, but since then it has received favourable publicity and is now the subject of a dedicated race program in England. Global interest is also high.
The whole Tipo 184 thing stated with UK TV ‘Wheeler Dealer’ and ‘Master Mechanic’ star, Ant Anstead. He and engineer Darren Collins are co-owners of Dowsetts Classic Cars that is well known for producing bespoke performance machinery.
Dowsetts previously built two Alfa 158 look-alikes and the most recent was built for Ant’s Master Mechanic show on the Motor Trend channel. It used an MG TD chassis, sporting a contemporary 2.0-litre Alfa engine. It was sufficiently authentic looking to sell for US$100,000 at Barrett Jackson’s Scottsdale auction in America.
These Alfa 158 replicas weren’t built with kit-car applications in mind, but the bodywork mouldings were just gathering dust and Dowsetts has a history of kit-car production, dating back to the 1970s.
For a kit-car project Dowsetts looked around for likely donor machines and decided that a purpose-designed tubular-steel frame and commonly available powertrain and running gear from a donor car would be ideal.
They decided on the Mazda MX-5 as the donor vehicle, because of its sprightly twin-cam engine and all-around independent suspension. Also, many of the MkII versions succumbed to rust cancer on the UK’s salt-coated winter roads and are available in the used market for a relative song, because they can’t pass MoT examination. In Australia, late-1990s models still attract reasonable money, so Aussie Tipo 184 buyers can ask Dowsetts to source a donor car in the UK.
Another advantage of the MX-5 engine is that it can be tweaked quite easily for track work and some crank out around 200hp.
So, why the ‘Tipo 184’ moniker? Well, the original Tipo 158 was called that because it displaced 1.5 litres and had eight cylinders. ‘Tipo 184’ denotes 1.8 litres and four cylinders.
The fabulous Alfetta
The Alfa Romeo 158/159 Alfetta was one of the most successful racing cars ever, scoring 47 wins from 54 Grands Prix entered. Although originally developed for the pre-World War II voiturette formula the Alfetta’s single-stage supercharged 1.5-litre straight-eight engine was eligible for the new Formula One introduced in 1947.
The 200bhp 158 debuted with the works Alfa Corse team at the Coppa Ciano Junior in August 1938 at Livorno, Italy, where Emilio Villoresi took the car’s first victory, but then Word War II intervened.
By the time Grand Prix racing resumed the straight-eight was developing 254bhp at 7000rpm and in the following year, 300bhp.
In 1950, the 158 won every race in which it competed, helped by Farina and Fangio. In 1951 the 158 gave way to the two-stage supercharged 159 that boasted 420bhp. Its de Dion rear suspension was an improvement over the previous swing-axle rear end.
The Alfetta had the edge on performance over its rivals and with wins in Switzerland, France and Spain, Fangio won his first of five championships that year.
The Tipo 184 in detail
A finished Tipo 184 looks remarkably authentic, apart from the race-approved roll bar. The external exhaust features eight pipes, although four are redundant.
Dowsetts can build you a complete car, for around Stg£60,000, but that seems to make little sense for Australian buyers, who would then need to have it crated and shipped Down Under. Shipping the Tipo 184 in bits would be a better proposition, we reckon.
There’s ample support from the factory for DIY buyers and detailed, step by step videos of the entire assembly process are on YouTube:
Pricing when we went to press was Stg£27,000 for a complete kit, minus the donor MX-5 bits and assembly is really bolt-up and plug ’n’ play. Front and rear MX-5 subframes house the wishbone suspension, steering, brakes and rear diff. The front upper control arms are replaced by Dowsett arms that have room for the GAZ coil-over-shock front suspension.
The subframes bolt straight to the Tipo chassis, with just six and eight bolts respectively. Dowsetts reckon a 200-hour build is easy for most assemblers.
The powertrain bolts to integrated mounts and a prop shaft is part of the kit.
Pedal orientation is on both sides of the centre-mount transmission – clutch left and brake/accelerator right – with the right-hand-side gear lever connected to the transmission selector via a novel sliding yoke that sits above the driver’s right leg.
Wiring and instruments come from the donor car and unnecessary wiring can be snipped out of the loom. The instruments nestle into an aluminium dashboard, behind a suitably sized, wood-rimmed Mota Lita four-spoke steering wheel.
There’s also a UK-approved ‘road going’ kit, with lights and cycle mudguards.
Specialised components include a custom-made radiator and fuel tank, and ‘knock off’ wire wheels, shod with replica 6.50×16 cross-ply tyres.
Finished weight is 750kg and UK test track reports suggest that performance is sparkling and the handling, ‘driftable’.
For those who’d prefer a different-brand replica, Dowsetts are checking out the viability of bodywork replicating Ferraris, Maseratis and other legends of the 1950s and 1960s race tracks.