Tazio Nuvolari

   Say this name to most people today, even some F1 fans, and they’ll look at you blankly; but “The Flying Mantuan” (or Il Mantovano Volante) was once the most famous of all Grand Prix racing drivers, a man who the great designer Dr Ferdinand Porsche called :-

                "The greatest driver of the past, the present and the future."

   Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari was born the fourth son of Arturo Nuvolari on the 16th November 1892, in Castel d'Ario, Mantua, Northern Italy. His father was a wealthy landowner, farmer and well-known cyclist, he clearly had some talent on a bicycle as he was 2nd in the 1893 Italian National Championship road race over 100km.  His younger brother (Tazio’s uncle) Giuseppe Nuvolari was a professional racing cyclist from 1893-1904. 

   In fact this loving uncle was later to have a great influence upon the life of the young Tazio. 

   Tazio learned to conquer fear at an early age and told how his father taught him this lesson:- 

         “It was my father who taught me never to be afraid”, “When I was five I was badly kicked by our horse. Three or four days later father threw a silver coin between the horse’s legs and told me to pick it up and keep it for myself. I got it all right, and the horse didn’t move. This was my very first lesson never to fear danger and to tell you the truth I have never known the meaning of fear.”

   It was the adored Uncle Giuseppe who gave the 6yr old Tazio a bicycle to ride to school, and who drove him to his first motor racing events as a 12 year old. Uncle Giuseppe worked as a representative for a famous Italian cycle manufacturer and certainly would have known some of the right people in the sport. Tazio wasn’t so much attracted by the cars as the speed, and the characters of the early racing pioneers like Lancia, Nazzaro and Cagno. The love of speed never left Tazio, nor did the love for his Uncle who taught him to ride motorcycles when he was just twelve and allegedly colluded with Tazio who secretly borrowed his father’s car to go driving at night. 

    It would be many more years before Tazio started to pursue a career in motorcycling, but the roots were sown in these days with his Uncle. Tazio not only developed a taste for speed, on bicycles, horses and cars, but also for taking risks! He was lucky to survive a jump off the roof of his house using a home-made parachute! In fact the local people called him il figlio del diavolo, “the son of the devil”. 

    After schooling the sixteen year old Tazio got a job as a mechanic and learned very quickly. In a large factory in Milan Tazio discovered a dismantled Bleriot aeroplane. He was just 20 years old but He promptly bought it for about two thousand liras, around £20 in British currency of the day. No one in the Casteldario was surprised when the crated up aeroplane parts arrived at Pere Nuvolari’s, they just saw another item for the young Tazio to undertake more of his dangerous exploits with. Tazio worked tirelessly and with the help of a friend soon had the aeroplane assembled. He then attempted to take to the air but the ‘plane was having none of it; the thing just would not leave the ground.

   After several attempts Tazio and his friend hoisted the machine up onto the roof and fixed it in place with a length of rope. While Pere Nuvolari, calmly watched the proceedings, cigar in mouth, he was heard to say “I just want to see if he makes it”. Tazio got in and revved up the engine until he felt it was at the right speed to take off. He signalled his friend who cut the mooring lines and; the Bleriot’s engine coughed a few times and the ‘plane slipped off the roof and fell straight into a haystack below. Initially the watching crowd surged forward, but the petrol caught fire and the haystack soon became a raging inferno. Most feared the worst but Pere Nuvolari just continued to puff on his cigar. In due course the unhurt and unconcerned Tazio appeared, to the surprise of many, and the undoubted disappointment of others.

   For someone who seemed to be attracted to danger the First World War meant joining the Italian army. Tazio was to become an ambulance driver but his tendency to go too fast alarmed his superiors who considered him "too dangerous". He was required to transport wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the field hospitals. Tazio had to traverse roads destroyed by cannon shells, amongst the bomb blasts, during the day and without lights at night. Tazio’s ambulance was always the fastest! When an unfortunate accident befell poor Tazio it has to be while he is escorting an officer to see some wounded men. The ambulance’s steering-gear broke causing the vehicle to skid into a ditch. Apparently one officer actually told him:-

                                                         “Listen to me, forget it, the car is not for you. You must transport the wounded soldiers on foot."

Not perhaps as auspicious a start to his great career as we might imagine. It isn’t recorded how or whether the wartime experiences affected Tazio but we do know he married his sweetheart Carolina Perina in 1917 after a classic fuitina and civil ceremony, something considered almost scandalous at the time, but perhaps with the war and all.....  After the war Tazio settled down to life as a car salesman living with his wife on the family farm at Ronchesana, on the plains of the River Po near Castel d’Ario. They had two children, Giorgio and Alberto but both the boys were destined to die of illnesses before the age of twenty. 

He might have sold cars, but he raced motorcycles.

Motorcycle racing.

   In 1920, at the age of 27, Nuvolari took to motorcycle racing. He got his licence to ride a motorcycle in 1915 but any thoughts of a racing career then were thwarted by the First World War.  For an emerging amateur racing motorcycles was rather less expensive than racing cars was. The opening race of his career was at the Circuito Internazionale Motoristico, Cremona in 1920, sadly he retired from that race. At the time he was running a Della-Ferrera motorcycle but soon moved onto a Norton. He won his first race on 20 March 1921 in Verona at the Circuit of Belfiore, this time riding a Harley Davidson 1000ccNuvolari also raced ‘bikes from Fongri, Garelli, Indian and White but it was with Bianchi that he had the most success, their 350cc "Freccia Celeste" (heavenly arrow) taking him to his most famous victories. With Bianchi he won the title of Italian Champion fighting against much bigger capacity ‘bikes.

   Carolina, Tazio’s wife recalled :- 

       "Tazio knew his strength at the begining of the career. He was sure that one day he'd become a winner. With his mechanic, and friend, Telemaco Vareschi, he worked around cars and motorcycles for hours in a room of our house which transformed into a workshop."

  Tazio quickly moved into the ranks of the professional riders, becoming aquainted with a young Enzo Ferrari, and was soon one of the most popular riders enjoying a lot of success. In fact Nuvolari has several notable achievements to his credit. In 1925 ‘Nivola’ won the 350cc European Grand Prix, a race considered the most important race of the motorcycling season and earning him the title of European Motorcycling champion in the 350cc class, and the position of successor to the great Jimmy Simpson. In Italy Nuvolari was dubbed "The champion of cycling" a nickname later assigned to proper cycling legend Fausto Coppi. Other holders of the title ‘European Champion’ include Murray Walker’s father Graham Walker, Charlie Dodson and Piero Taruffi.

   Another top race of the era was the Nations Grand Prix (Gran Premio delle Nazioni). Tazio won the 350cc class of that race in the four consecutive years from 1925 and 1928. Also in the same class he won the Lario Circuit race for five years in a row between 1925 and 1929, quite remarkable consistency for the Bianchi rider.

   There are many stories around the Tazio of the time. One is that during one race he broke a finger on his left hand and kept running as if nothing had happened, despite the bone sticking out!

   Another was that during a trial outing in a Grand Prix Alfa Romeo P2 Tazio crashed into a tree when the cars gearbox seized. He was badly injured and taken to hospital, treated and ordered to rest for a month. Earlier in 1925 Tazio had signed to race exclusively with Bianchi motorcycles and he was most concerned not to let them down. On the fourth day after the accident Tazio was out of bed, much to the consternation of his nurse and the indignation of his doctor, only to find that he was so constrained by bandages he couldn’t move! Realising that he couldn’t sit on a motorcycle never mind ride it the resourceful Tazio called the head of the hospital and said :-

                                                  “Now please do me the favour of undoing all these bandages and then do them up again in this position.”

   He explained the exact body position he needed in order to race. Using a few quick drawings and a lot of persuasion the hesitant doctors complied. Six days after the Alfa Romeo crash Tazio was on the starting line for the 200mile Nations Grand Prix at Monza, despite being heavily strapped up and having to be lifted on, and off, the motorcycle. Using only hand controls he was taking on the greatest of Italian and English champions; in the rain! After the mechanics gave him a push start to get going Tazio took a few cautious laps to settle himself in, then he starts picking up places. 

   When an Englishman named Handley has to pit to refuel his Rex Acme 350, Nuvolari takes the lead. He resists Handley until the 28th lap when the Englishman slipped by and tried to pull away. But Tazio will not give up! On the penultimate lap Nuvolari is getting closer to Handley, as they pass the stands for the last time the Crowd are roaring him on as he overtakes Handley.  It’s the last lap and the spectators wait nervously for the arrival of the two protagonists; who will be in front? After a few anxious minutes the sound of an engine has the crown on it’s feet.... 

   Tazio wins! Handley is nowhere to be seen his ‘bike having blown it’s engine under all the strain.

   It is an unprecedented moment in motorcycling history and an unforgettable triumph. Tazio’s winning average speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) is faster than the speed of the 500 class winner. As the crowd begins to celebration and the aching man is lifted from his machine the exhaustion finally catches up and Tazio faints. Years later Tazio told a reporter :- 

   "...during the last laps, there were moments when I didn't see the track. I was hallucinating, I feared I was going to faint. I had to retire, but I fought. I resisted not for the fear of falling and breaking my neck. I resisted because I feared that if I turned off the engine, with my heavy bandage and the cast, I would risk falling and being immobile on the track as a hazard for my pursuers..." 

   In 1927 at a race in Stuttgart Tazio crashed and was knocked unconscious. Newspaper headlines announced the death of the great champion. But he wasn’t dead, although he had sustained a few fractures and a concussion, and once again was ordered to rest in hospital for a month. On being told the news of the crash that had claimed Nuvolari the Bianchi motorcycle team manager set off to visit the hospital only to meet a heavily bandaged man at the railway station and find Tazio had escaped from the Hospital! 72 hours after his crash the “son of the devil” was on his way home! A little while later in an interview the great Champion said :-

                                       "When someone announces my death, you have to wait three days before crying... everything is possible..."

   Later in 1927 Tazio crashed again, this time during practice at the Verona circuit. Once again, trussed up like a “mummy” the indomitable Nivola won the race. 

   Such is the stuff that legends are made of.

   The early motor car career

   Tazio dabbled in motor racing almost from the start of his Motorcycling career. His first automobile race was at the first Lake Garda event in 1921 where Tazio drove an Ansaldo Type 41/850 to 4th place overall and 2nd in the 2-litre class. Tazio later won this race in 1927 driving a Bugatti T35.

   Tazio’s first automobile contest win was in the "Veronese Cup of Regularity ", basically a reliability trial, on the 20th of March 1921. Driving for the Ansaldo factory he took an Ansaldo type 4 to victory.

   His first Grand prix win was for Bianchi at the 1924 Tigullio GP, a minor non-championship event which still attracted a field that included cars from Bugatti, FIAT, Ansaldo, Diatto and Amilcar. Nuvolari won that day, the 13th of April 1924, driving a Bianchi 20 for 4h16m01.2s. An average winning speed of 52.50 kph. Legend has it that Nuvolari went off the track several times and on occasion hung a wheel out over the sea! In the final kilometres the car lost a wheel and the Bianchi crashed into a ditch stunning the riding mechanic too much for him to work on the car. Tazio enlisted the help of spectators and finished the race with the car now practically on the rims, driving without a seat and using a spanner to steer the car after the steering wheel had been broken off! He even kept his unconscious riding mechanic by his side so as not to infringe any rules.

   A few months later on May the 25th 1924 at Ravenna Tazio raced in the II Circuito del Savio event. This was an open event pitching Formula Libre, Voiturette & Cyclecars against one another. The race was 25 laps of a 14.38 km for a total distance of 359.61 km. Tazio Nuvolari brought home the #12 Chiribiri 12/16 ‘Monza’ voiturette in 2nd place, less than 30 minutes behind the winning Alfa-Romeo RLTF of Enzo Ferrari, a car with which both Ferrari and Antonio Ascari had great success that year. Another class win in 1924 was at the Polesine Circuit, again for Chiribiri, and again second overall behind Ferrari.

   Ferrari was impressed :-

   "I met Nuvolari for the first time in front of the Basilica di S. Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna, during the 2nd "Circuito del Savio. At the start I did not take into consideration that small, thin man; but during the race I realized he was the only one who could threaten my success. I was driving an Alfa Romeo 3 litres while he had a Chiribiri. We crossed the finishing line in that order, and the same happened a few weeks later at the Circuito del Polesine".

   These results earned Tazio his chance with the Alfa Romeo team who nominated him as their reserve driver for the 1925 Italian GP, which is how he came to have the crash we mentioned earlier when the gearbox seized. After becoming Motor Cycling European champion in 1925 Tazio did increase his commitment to motor car racing, but it wasn’t until 1927 that his career in cars really began. In fact he raced in both disciplines until 1931 when he finally made a full switch to just the cars. 

   It was for the 1927 season that Nuvolari and his motorcycle teammate Achille Varzi bought a pair of Bugatti Type 35s to go racing with. The cars were no match for the Alfa Romeo P2s but were the best privateer cars available to the pair. Together they formed the Scuderia Mantua Nuvolari and raced across Europe with reasonable success. Nuvolari won twice in 1927, in Rome for the Grand Prix, and at the Garda circuit. But what had initially been a friendship became an ever stronger rivalry race by race. Tazio took his best win to date at the Royal Prize of Rome of 1927.

   Nuvolari won more in 1928, especially early in the year. On the 11th of March 1928 Nuvolari took his first international GP win when he came first in his Bugatti T35 at the Tripoli GP, a weekend that also saw him celebrating the birth of his 2nd son, Alberto. This was followed by a win at the Pozzo Circuit, on 25th of March, and again at the Alessandria Circuit on 22nd of April. Later in 1928 Tazio started his first "Grande Épreuve", the Italian GP at Monza. Louis Chiron won for Bugatti while Tazio came home 3rd behind the shared Alfa Romeo P2 of Achille Varzi and Giuseppe Campari. This should have been a cause for celebration but this was the race in which Emilio Materassi died, his Talbot crashing into a grandstand and killing 20 spectators. It was the worse single accident in motorsport to that point in time. All the travelling and maintenance costs were becoming too much for Tazio making the 1929 season rather a big risk. Alongside the increasing rivalry, and Varzi’s defection to AlfaRomeo, this led to the agreements with his former friend, Achille Varzi, finally breaking down completely.

   1929 would become a season of many difficulties. Varzi had acquired an Alfa Romeo P2 in 1928, which put Nuvolari under pressure until he obtained one too in 1929. Varzi seemed to have kept the upper hand when at the 1929 Coppa Ciano, at Livorno, he raced his Alfa Romeo to victory, Nuvolari only just able to hold on to second place. Considering he was wearing a plaster corset after yet another motorcycle crash it was actually a good result.

   The rivalry, even enmity, between Nuvolari and Varzi became stronger with each race, almost to the point of a total inability to talk to each other.

   1930 saw Nuvolari's last motorcycle season and one of his most legendary wins in a racing car. Returning to GP racing as a works team in 1930 Alfa Romeo were very happy to renew their association the fast Italian meaning Nuvolari and Varzi were thrust together as Alfa works drivers, but they fought as hard as ever. While Nuvolari won in equal contests Varzi’s wins in a Maserati brought him the Italian championship that year. Tazio’s victories in 1930 included grand prix of Brno, Florence, the Tourist Trophy and the 6th Trieste-Opicina, hill climb, the first victory of the "Scuderia Ferrari".

   But the big talking point was the greatest Mille Miglia win of his career.

   The 1930 Mille Miglia race

   Back the days of 16 hour races the Mille Miglia finished after racing through the dark of the night. The anticipated battle developed but to Nuvolari it wasn’t enough to beat Achille Varzi on time, he had to beat him into Brescia. Both men were driving Alfa Romeo 6C 1750s and Tazio's start time was 10 minutes later, theoretically Varzi had an edge, the same car and a little more light from the day. Varzi didn’t spend much time looking back but he did become aware of Nuvolari’s progress. Around Perugia Nuvolari’s car seemed to disappear but Varzi didn’t ease off, all he could hear was the steady roar of his own engine, his own crackling exhaust sounds and racing wind noises damped all other sounds. Gathering gloom was concealing Nuvolari’s car while all the way from Perugia to Bologna Nuvolari gradually gained on Varzi. 

   Late in the race Varzi had seen off the challenges from Campari, Caracciola, Arcangeli, Ghersi, etc. only Nuvolari could remain as a threat, but he wasn’t there. Then he was! Varzi knew his greatest rival was closing in when he recognised the headlight pattern of Nuvolari's car in his mirror. "It's him," Varzi mouthed to his co-driver. Varzi had little fear regards engine power, he knew he didn’t have to go faster than Nuvolari, just to match him, but he also knew Nuvolari was very good.

   Then Nuvolari disappeared again as Varzi went speeding along the dark, winding roads of Emilia, Veneto and Lombardy, roads where death stalked the fearless drivers at every bend, bridge and crossroads as they raced towards Brescia. The speedometer needle is swinging rapidly from 60 to 100mph, at times touching 120mph, not that Nuvolari could see his. Nor could his mechanic Guidotti,  He was quietly crouched down under the scuttle, fascinated by the extraordinary way Nuvolari was going about his job. 

   Descending down onto the flat country towards Peschiera, with not that many miles left, Varzi would not slow down; the fourth Mille Miglia was all but in Varzi’s pocket, Nuvolari couldn’t catch him now. Neither Varzi nor his mechanic had noticed Nuvolari sneaking ever closer in the darkness, intent as they were on negotiating their own way along the treacherous roads. Nuvolari closed the gap from where he had followed Varzi’s tail lights with his own lights all switched off.

   All at once Nuvolari’s calculated fearlessness and daring suddenly came to light, literally! In a flash he was alongside Varzi and rudely blasting the horn and turning on his lights as he shot by with his foot flat to the floor. Varzi all but gave up when it became clear he couldn’t win, and Nuvolari won the Mille Miglia by more than the ten Minutes time difference, he got to Brescia first. 

   Achille Varzi might have been 12 years younger than Tazio, and Italian Champion, but Nuvolari simply forced the submission that day, and took victory in the "race with the lights off". Well that’s how the legend sort of goes. Like most things handed down over time it is sure to have had some exaggerations and embellishments. So now we want to give you the facts, that however, is easier said than done. In its early years the race only had 14 control points and the route was notoriously badly signposted making the official route virtually impossible to follow!

   The 1930 Mille Miglia, held on the 13.4.1930, was only the fourth running of the great race yet it was already full of Italian passion. Alfa Romeo had won the previous two one thousand mile events and were more than keen to make it three in row! The Works entered a team of C6 1750 Gran Sport cars which now had superchargers, providing 110bhp from the 1.752 litre engine. They also featured new Zagato bodies which were lighter, stronger and shorter, their wheelbase being just a little over 2.7 metres. This ‘GS’ model went on to be the best known of the 1750 C6 series.

   Scuderia Ferrari backed up the works effort with three more Alfa C6 GS cars and there were also other private entries of AlfaRomeo C6 1750s, but of the normally aspirated version giving 100 bhp. 

   1930 also marked the establishment of a new class in the race, the “Utility” class; that is to say, cars costing less than £270 with engines of less than 1100cc. This initiative was reinforced by the organisers offering special prizes for 'non-expert' entrants, those who were independent of any works support, and supported by the Gazzetta della Sport who issued a call for 'Volunteer drivers for the Mille Miglia' in an effort to enable aspiring young drivers to become recognised. 

   All this had the effect of considerably boosting the entry list which now included 137 entries (although two didn’t take the start) from almost as diverse a collection of cars as is imaginable, and nearly double the entry number of the previous year. 

   Unlike modern motorsport thinking for the Mille Miglia the smaller displacement cars were set off first. The start for the 1930 race was delayed though, not because of any problem but because there was a memorial ceremony for Count Gastone Brilli-Peri (winner of the 1925 Italian GP and Alfa exponent) who had lost his life during practice for the Tripoli GP earlier in March. The cars started on their way at 11 a.m. with the “Utility classes” being followed by the larger cars. This meant the serious contenders for victory in the 16+ hour race wouldn’t be on their way until well after noon. 

   When the race was checked at Bologna for it’s first visit of the day the notable motorcycle racer Luigi Arcangeli was in the lead in his Maserati type 26b. Tazio Nuvolari’s #84 AlfaRomeo 6C 1750GS was lying second just 13 seconds behind the leader. Varzi’s Alfa and Rudi Caracciola, in the Mercedes-Benz SSK, were tying for third place. This early part of the race to Bologna is the fastest part of the course but after Bologna come the Apennines and some rather arduous climbs and twisting roads. Arcangeli crashed out due to fading brakes ending up in hospital, fortunately with only minor injuries. Nuvolari therefore assumed the lead on time. 

   Crossing the spine of Italy means using the Futa pass, a particularly arduous task for the large Mercedes-Benz of Caracciola, a struggle not helped by Caracciola’s lack of local knowledge, meaning he slipped slowly down the running order leaving Varzi in second. But, Bassi’s 3.0 Litre O.M came through to rob Varzi of second and threaten Nuvolari. During the later part of this section of the race, between Florence and Rome, Nuvolari’s lead was very slim for a while but Varzi and Campari bore down on Bassi demoting him and his O.M. to fourth place. 

   Once the race hits Rome it turns to head back over the Mountains up toward Perugia. During the hours of darkness local villagers set out flares to warn the drivers they are entering a village or are coming into a particularly tricky bend. Campari mowed down a dog and lost quite a lot of time removing the carcass from his radiator cowl and steering links. Caracciola’s Mercedes continued to drop to ninth place and Nuvolari was a minute up on Varsi by the time of the Ancona check. Tazio now had the comparatively easy drive up the coast road with which to attack Varzi, and he did. Varzi’s caused wasn’t helped but suffering two punctures along this stretch which allowed Nuvolari to stretch the lead to seven minutes. Now he was just three minutes behind Varzi on the road and he just kept pushing. 

   Nuvolari continued to gain on Varzi and this is when the legendary affair with the lights occurred. Now it is most unlikely that it was dark at that time in the morning, especially during good weather, so Varzi would have to know somebody was coming up behind him, with or without lights. Quite whether he could be sure who it was of course is another matter. Also, as the race is a time trial, and Nuvolari started ten minutes behind, Varzi would have know all was lost anyway the moment he did know it was Tazio in his mirrors. Nuvolari and his co-driver Giovanni Battista Guidotti arrived back in Brescia 52 seconds ahead of Varzi in an official time of 16h:18m:59,400s .  When the dust settled and the times were added up, Nuvolari’s win over Varzi was confirmed as being by eleven minutes; and setting a new course record speed of just over the 100 kph. 

   After his escapade with the dog Campari came in half an hour behind his two team mates for third place. Ghersi took fourth meaning AlfaRomeo had nailed its Hat trick of 3 consecutive Mille Miglia wins taking the first four places of the 1930 race. Only 73 of the 135 starters made it all the way to the end. 

   Nuvolari was overjoyed and said to reporters :-

   “It was a good race and from Rome onwards I never had any doubt that I should win. The car was wonderful and never gave a moment's trouble. I could have driven much faster had I wished to do so. The hardest part of the race for me was when Sig. Jano locked me up in a room at Bologna on the return journey and compelled me to rest for five minutes or more and had me washed and fed. I was in such a frenzy to get off that I almost fought with the pit attendants. I was much too excited to listen to arguments that I had the race in the hollow of my hand and could afford to take it easy.”

   Poor Varzi was inconsolable. Seething with rage towards the team and the unforgivable trick played on him by Nuvolari. According to him he reduced his pace in the last 100 miles confident of repeated reports from the control points that he was well in the lead. In fairness to the marshals they could only tell Varzi his position correctly in respect of those who had already checked in and on that point alone Varzi probably was well ahead, until Nuvolari arrived at the same check point the marshals could not give an official time for Nuvolari so perhaps the error is Varzi’s after all. But we have heard that AlfaRomeo designer Vittorio Jano locked Nuvolari up to make him rest, it is also rumoured that Jano, knowing words would be wasted on Nuvolari anyway, had his team representatives deliberately mislead Varzi into thinking he leading so as to protect the teams interests by not having both his drivers risking their cars in an all out battle. After all these years we might never fully get to the bottom of this story but Team orders in motor racing are nothing new after all. 

   As the legend of Nuvolari grew it was hard for Varzi to take in what had happened but years later he was reported as saying he took consolation from the implied compliment paid by the man even he called 'Maestro' :-

                                                        “It takes faith, and more, to rely on another to guide you through the mountains at night”.


   "We had started from behind and Nuvolari was going like hell. Between Bologna and Florence I felt I was on an airplane and thought that we had certainly acquired a good lead. But, at the Florence check they told us we were only level with Varzi, and Campari was one and a half minute behind. When in Ancona we heard that Varzi's time and ours were still the same, we almost went crazy; In Bologna we found out that Varzi had lost ground and we had a four minute lead.” "Nuvolari was exhausted. He gave me the driver's seat: now it was a matter of continuing sensibly, without compromising a win that seemed now certain. In Vicenza they informed us that Varzi had caught up only one minute and ten seconds out of the four minutes he had lost. Nuvolari went back behind the wheel and ran wild; the lead increased to four minutes again. It was already night in Primolano when we saw in front of us the headlamps of another competitor. Initially we thought it was some amateur taking part in the race, then we realized who it was and the final duel began.” “Even if the outcome of the race was already certain, it became a matter of honour for us to overtake Varzi and for him not to be overtaken. In Verona he distanced us a bit, then we were back on him, but we could not manage to pass. Then I had the crazy idea and I told Nuvolari “Shall we turn the headlamps off?”  We were doing one hundred and fifty, it was dark, we were in the middle of the countryside, you had to be quite brave to dare, but Nuvolari nodded and I turned the switch off. Varzi thought we had slowed down, that we were lagging behind, and he slowed down as well: in that very moment he heard the wind from our car overtaking him; he understood and, as a perfect gentleman, he moved on the right side of the road to let us pass.”

   1930 also saw another legend attach itself to Nuvolari. At the 1930 RAC Tourist Trophy, held on the Ards circuit in Ireland Fred Stiles (the Alfa’ agent in Britain) entered a team of Alfa 6c 1750s but with special body work. The GS was a two seat sports car but the Tourist trophy rules called for four seat touring bodywork. Bare chassis were driven across the continent and bodywork by Hoyal (for Nuvolari) and James Young (for Campari and Varzi) were built onto them. The only cars that could lap faster than the 1750s were the Blower Bentley of ‘Tim’ Birkin and Earl Howe’s 7ltr supercharged Mercedes, but they were both hampered by the very wet weather and Birkin crashed the Bentley at Ballystockart. The Alfa trio disappeared into the distance mesmerising the crowds with their skills. Although the lead did change several times amongst the Grand Prix heroes it was almost inevitable that Nuvolari would come out on top. His average speed of 70.88 mph was slightly faster than the 70.82 mph of Campari and 70.31 mph of Varzi. 

   As if driving at Ards wasn’t hard enough, and the weather bad enough, legend has it that when another competitor crashed and broke the window of McWhinney’s butcher’s shop, at the corner of Castle Street in Comber, Tazio drove on the pavement and tried to catch a ham! 

   The 1930 Mille Miglia was the turning point of his career. For the last two years Tazio had raced his Bianchi 350cc “heavenly arrow'' and driven cars, but his career in cars beckoned ever stronger.  Nuvolari made his decision to concentrate fully on car racing towards the end of 1930, from 1931 onwards Nuvolari would concentrate on car racing and by 1932 Nuvolari was European motor racing Champion. Yes; 30 years before John Surtees in the days of the World Championships, Tazio Nuvolari was the first man to be win the biggest championships on two and four wheels.

   The four wheel drift

   Nuvolari was known by several names, Nivola, the "Flying Mantuan" or the "Great Little Man". He stood a mere 160cm tall and weighed in at just 130 pounds (or 5’5’’ and 9 stone 3 lbs to the British), and soon found he simply didn’t have the muscular strength to bully the cars around the corners. Nuvolari adjusted his driving style to suit cars and made the most of his balance and feel, skills he honed in motorcycling. At times he looked rather awkward his face close to the steering wheel and his elbows pumping up and down like pistons. At times he even appeared to be jumping up and down in his seat! There was no doubt though, his busy style got results. 

   The real secret was his ability to set the car into a four wheel skid and control the steering so his car ended up coming out of corners straighter and with more speed than any of his rivals could manage. Enzo Ferrari wrote his account of Nuvolari’s style after he travelled with Nuvolari on a recce’ of the Three Provinces Circuit :- 

    "At the first bend, I had the clear sensation that Tazio had taken it badly and that we would end up in a ditch; I felt myself stiffen as I waited for the crunch. Instead, we found ourselves on the next straight in perfect position. I looked at him: his rugged face was calm, just as it always was, and certainly not a face of someone who had just escaped a hair raising spin."   "By the fourth or fifth bend I began to understand; in the meantime I noticed that through the entire bend Tazio did not lift his foot from the accelerator, and that, in fact, it was flat on the floor. As bend followed bend I discovered his secret. Nuvolari entered the bend somewhat earlier than my driver's instincts would have told me to. But he went into the bend in an unusual way: with one movement he aimed the nose of the car at the inside edge, just where the curve itself started. His foot was flat down, and he obviously changed down to the right gear before going through this fearsome rigmarole. In this way he put the car into a four wheel drift, making the most of the thrust of the centrifugal force and keeping it on the road with the traction of the driving wheels. Throughout the bend the car shaved the inside edge, and when the bend turned into the straight the car was in the normal position for accelerating down it, with no need for any corrections."

   Fellow 1930s racing driver Rene Dreyfus saw it a little differently :- 

   "He's credited with inventing the four-wheel drift, but it wasn't a conscious thing – nothing was with him, because he did everything by instinct. He was strong for his size, and had great stamina, but the races were very long, and the cars were big and wilful.”

"In the case of Nuvolari, you had the impression of a man on an unbroken horse, but instead of fighting it, he let it run free. With him, there was no accepted 'line' around a circuit; he would turn into a corner early, aim at the apex, put the power down hard, and do the steering with the throttle, using his hands only for small corrections. It was his speed out of corners that was so exceptional. We all tried to copy his technique, but no one can borrow another man's instinct. Only Tazio could drive like Tazio." 

   Clearly Nuvolari was one of the earliest advocates, even the inventor, of the four-wheel drift. But it was a skill that very few people could appreciate unless they rode with Nuvolari. Gian Battista Guidotti said :-
   "When I raced with him the Mille Miglia of 1930, we won, at first I was scared of this manoeuvre. At every turn he was a jerk fear of not succeeding, the wheels that used up the last millimetre of asphalt available. Over the miles, I realized that it was all calculated. And I began to admire him realize I have to deal with an exceptional driver." 
   Guidotti first met Nuvolari at the Circuito del Savio event  in 1924 when Tazio placed second driving for Chiribiri.  Ferrari who had won with an Alfa Romeo was swamped by fans so Gian Batista and Nuvolari rescued Ferrari and as they congratulated each other they became friends. Tazio’s contemporaries drove in a completely different way but in later years this technique would be used by most, if not all of the GP drivers, Fangio and Stirling Moss being particularly precise with it. In fact the technique is still being used today in the rally world.

The final switch to four wheels

1931 With the decision to race only cars from 1931 Nuvolari signed to race for the Alfa Romeo's factory team, who promptly pulled out of racing! Enzo Ferrari stepped up and took over the Alfa Romeo entry and Nuvolari stayed on with Scuderia Ferrari driving the now semi-official Alfa Romeo former work cars. As usual mishap, adventure and legend followed Tazio.

   At the circuit of the Three Provinces, at Porretta (near Bologna) Tazio was to take on a course he had never seen before. Having only made his mind up to race the night before arrived at Bagni della Poretta just four hours before the start time of 4.30pm. This is when the great opportunity for Enzo to observe Tazio at work occurred. Tazio drove the route while Enzo Ferrari pointed out the corners and dangers. It’s a tough course, 130 km long (80 miles), winding over the Abertone pass. After the departure of Ferrari, then Borzacchini, Tazio starts his assault on the circuit. At breakneck speeds he flies down the road arriving at a level crossing far too fast. The car lurches violently and Tazio’s riding mechanic, Decimo Compagnoni, is thrown up in the air, and in danger of flying out of the car, when both grab handles break off! Tazio calmly grabbed the mechanic by the foot and dragged him back inside. 

   The car stalls; Nuvolari’s Alfa’ 1750 6C suffered a broken throttle spring. What would be a disaster for some was another triumph for Tazio. He won the race at the limits of practicality, controling the steering clutch,gears and breaks, he left the throttle to Compagnoni who operated it by using his belt, passed under the bonnet to the linkage. At this point we should spare a thought for the bravery of Compagnoni. Given the torturous nature of the road, and the lack of anything like a seat belt, he had to hang onto the exterior of the car as well as operating the throttle. He suffered terrible pains in his left hand from the stones thrown up from the gravel roads. 

   At the finish Ferrari was wathching the timing clock. Borzacchini had retired and it looked like Enzo and his new Alfa’ 2300 8c were going to win. Until Tazio in his 6cyl 1750 sets a new course record and defeats Ferrari by a few seconds. Tazio stated that :-

                                                                                                              “I’ve never worked so hard in my life!”

   Compagnoni on the other hand said :-

                                                                                                          “Yes; and I’ve never been half so scared!”

   One can only imagine what went through the mind of Enzo Ferrari as the strange story unfolded.

   For the 1931 Italian GP, a race of 10 hours in duration, Nuvolari shared his Alfa Romeo with Baconin Borzacchini. He drew 9th place for the starting grid then retired when the car broke after 33 laps. Loving the racing more than anything else Tazio joined with Giuseppe Campari and shared the drive to victory, although he won he wasn’t allowed any championship points.  This meant his 1931 grand prix results look rather slim. A second place at the Belgian Grand Prix gave some points but 11th place in the French GP was a very disappointing result. With just 8 points Tazio finished 13th in the driver standings.

   Nuvolari and the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 "Monza" conquered the Targa Florio, the Italian GP, the Coppa Acerbo and the Coppa Ciano. Tazio ended the season as Italian champion, not bad for a first year. Another contemporary driver, Sammy Davis, met Tazio at the Targa Florio in Sicily that year. He tells a story of a conversation Tazio told him about between Nuvolari and Enzo Ferrari. When Ferrari gave Tazio the return ticket for his journey Tazio told him :- 

                                                                   "What a strange businessman you are. What if I am brought back in a coffin?"

Enzo Ferrari himself tells the story very similarly :- 

       "He was going to the Targa Florio in 1932, so I gave him a return ticket”. Tazio said to me 'Everyone says you're good businessman but you're not. You should have bought a one-way ticket only – when your driver is leaving for a race, you should always consider that perhaps he'll be coming back in a wooden box...'"

It was, perhaps, both a dark sense of humour and a cynical awareness of the dangers of motor racing.


   The debut of the Alfa Romeo Monoposto P3 was right on queue. The best car from the Alfa factory to date and Tazio made full use of it. He absolutely ruled the roost, winning at the Monaco, Italian, and French Grand Prix. He took 2nd place in three other GP storming to the European Drivers title. Interestingly he won with 4 points, seems a bit low? In those days the points ran backwards and Tazio scored 1 point for each win and 2 points for the second place in Germany. Think on this too, in 1932 race durations were reduced to between five and ten hours, still a lot more than the two hour maximum of today.

   When the Milanese marque designed the P3, arguably their best car ever, they broke new ground. The first thoroughbred single seat car in European racing, it featured two prop-shafts, one to each rear wheel, run off a differential fitted directly to the rear of the gearbox. The resultant ‘V’ allowed Jano to place the driver’s seat much lower, also lowering the centre of gravity. Jano also squeezed 2650cc engine to the maximum too. The design was so good that even when the works moved on to the ‘C’-type many privateers continued using the B-type for many years. Its last Grand Prix race was in 1949!

Using Alfa’s 8C 2300 Monza Tazio won four more races, the Coppa Ciano, Coppa Principe de Piemonte, Coppa Acerbo and the Targa Florio. It is said that for the 1932 Targa Florio Tazio asked Enzo Ferrari for a mechanic who weighed the same or less than he himself. A young and inexperienced mechanic by the name of Mabelli was found and installed beside the great man. So as not to unduly frighten the young man Nuvolari told the young chap he would warn him if a particularly difficult section or corner was approaching, Tazio would shout and the mechanic should take cover under the dashboard. With the race duly won Ferrari checked with the young man if all had gone well? Mabelli replied :- 

                                   "I was down at the bottom of the car all the time, Nuvolari started shouting at the first bend and finished at the last one,"

   Two weeks before the Targa Florio famous Italian poet, Gabriele D'Annunzio, invited Tazio to his palace at Vittoriale and on the 28th of April, 1932, presented him with a golden turtle broche. He dedicated it thus :- 

                                                                                                               "The fastest man, the slowest animal”

   Then he asked an astonished Tazio for a favour in return, he wanted to ride with Tazio in the Targa Florio. Tazio simply answered him :-

                                                                                                                          "I'm running for this alone."

   But the Turtle became Nuvolari’s symbol, even his talisman, the final part of his unofficial racing ‘uniform’. Tazio had superstitiously worn blue trousers, a yellow sweater (with a TN monogram) and brown leather vest for years. Now he added the gold broche and never raced without it. 

   Late in the season was the “Monza Grand Prix” (not to be confused with the Italian GP also held at Monza). On the 11th of September 1932 a series of heats, repechage and final would be held. During practice on the Friday before Tazio lapped the circuit in 3m17s. While fighting tooth and nail with Fagioli, who was driving a Maserati, the Maserati had a lurid skid forcing Tazio to take avoiding action. At first it seemed a terrible accident was about to happen as Nuvolari swerved and slid around the hapless Fagioli. The act of superhuman skill came at a cost though; "Nivola" sprained his wrist.

  For the racing on Saturday Tazio has his Wrist all bandaged but the pain is still quite intense. He is forced to spend every second he can driving (in excess of 200 km/h-125 mph) with just one hand, all the time looking over his shoulder expecting the opposition to come storming by. When the Final comes to pass He is still in the hunt and running surprisingly well. The pain in the corners is terrible and after so much driving it was bound to take its toll, although leading going into the last lap and hoping for a victory it wasn’t to be. Not because of the pain of driving or a momentary loss of control, no; the car ran out of fuel! Tazio rolled home in third place.  

   Becoming European and Italian Champion in 1932 brought Nuvolari even more fame and money, and meetings with celebrities and politicians. Mussolini invited him to Rome and insisted in having his photo taken while sitting in Tazio’s Alfa Romeo. Most of this meant little to Tazio, he just wanted to go fast, even if his relationships with others were to suffer. This became the subplot of a movie made about him. Cyril Posthumus later described Nuvolari as the man who :-

                     “did the impossible', not once but habitually, the David who slew the Goliaths in the great sport of motor racing. He was Il Maestro."


   1933 saw the start of a two year gap in the European championships and Alfa Romeo again stopping their official works effort. Although they allowed Enzo Ferrari’s privateer Scuderia they would not give him the P3 monoposto cars, Ferrari had to campaign the older 8c Monza against much improved competition from Maserati’s 8CM.

   Nuvolari began the season by winning the Tunis GP and followed that up with another victory in the Mille Miglia. While he always felt confident his ego took a knock at Monaco when he was beaten by his arch rival Varzi after one of the greatest duels ever seen. This was the first Grand Prix where practice times decided the starting grid instead of the old system of drawing lots. This put more pressure on the drivers in pracice and several accidents occurred. Tazio himself broke an axel but Rudi Caracciola broke much more. He crashed his private entry ‘Monza’ into the quayside wall in such a way that he wasn’t thrown from the car. The accident broke his right hip in several places and left him out of racing for the rest of the year; and with a permanent limp. It also left us with an iconic picture of the man being carried away on a chair by a group of helpers. 

   Nuvolari lined up fourth on the grid heading the second row. Varzi’s Bugatti was on pole with Louis Chiron and Baconin Borzacchini, both in Alfa Romeos alongside him on the front row.

   The race became a fantastic duel between the Bugatti T51 of Varzi and Nuvolari in the 8c-2600 Monza. Tazio lead for 56 laps, Varzi for 44, and the swapped the lead amongst themselves 21 times, this on a circuit as difficult and dangerous then as it is today. No one could predict a winner until the last lap. Going up the hill towards Casino square, both men over-revved their engines. While the Bugatti engine managed to the end of the race the Alfa’s didn’t. It blew up in a cloud of smoke. In another legendary act Nuvolari started pushing the burning car to the finish, incredulous fire marshals chasing him down the track. It came to nothing when the exhausted Tazio collapsed 200 meters from the line, and was disqualified for receiving outside assistance from some over excited fans, and a mechanic! 

   Tazio Nuvolari was no longer simply a racing driver; he was a legend, an idol. He was the man who young Italians wanted to be. 

   Then came the Tripoli GP, a race generally remembered for all the wrong reasons. When the organisers decided to run the race in conjunction with a lottery it became plausible for race fixing to make someone very rich. Nuvolari met with two other drivers, Varzi and Borzacchini, the three men who held the lottery tickets for their entries and an impartial mediator. In short they all agreed to pool the lottery money whichever of the drivers won. Varzi later persuaded the impartial broker of the deal to make Tazio meet up and agree to be sensible in the race. It didn’t matter who won as long as one of them did, so they should keep their rivalry under control. Given their intense rivalry Varzi was perhaps quite wise and when Nuvolari suggested a coin toss to decide the winner, Varzi won the toss. 

   The race itself was quite a good affair with plenty of competitive action and incident along the way. In the end Nuvolari and Varzi ended up fighting it out for the win with neither man apparently remembering the pre-race agreements. Varzi won on the last corner as his car could brake later and accelerate faster; but to many, Tazio lifted off and let Varzi win so he could get the money. 

   The race fixing conspiracy doesn’t really hold up as no-one ever said who would win, the whole agreement was set in writing amongst ‘the six’, it didn’t matter who won, all got the same share. Then the coin toss meeting isn’t corroborated fully and in this case the way the two were going ‘hammer and tongs’ at the end it seems unlikely they were settling for ‘the deal’. 

   Wins for Nuvolari at the Eifelrennen, Alessandria and the Nimes GP were followed by the Le Mans 24 hour race. For this race Nuvolari was partnered with Raymond Sommer. Not the most agreeable pairing with Sommer considering himself the more experienced driver at le Mans and worthy of more of the driving time then Nuvolari, who he also considered ill disciplined for lemans and most likely to brake the car. Nuvolari argued the circuit was a simple layout which he could easily manage. Eventually they agreed to share the driving equally but late in the race Nuvolari declined to give up the car and raced to victory, breaking the lap record 9 times along the way. The margin of victory was approximately 400 yards. Having at one time held a two lap lead this advantage was slowly lost due to a hole in the fuel tank. Mechanics plugged the hole with chewing gum but such a makeshift repair couldn’t last and needed regular replacement gum. Oh, the high tech’ world of motor racing! 

   As the season progressed Tazio became increasingly dissatisfied with the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa’s. There were just too many retirements and technical issues. So he left, along with Baconin Borzacchini, and formed a new private team running Maserati 8CMs. With the Maserati Tazio won the Coppa Ciano as well as the Belgian and Nice GPs. 

   Nuvolari had also used an MG K3, entered by Whitney Straight, to tackle the 1933 RAC Tourist Trophy at Ards. The race was held on the 2nd of September 1933 and Tazio won in a time of 5h 56min 34s. He totally dominated the race which was quite an achievement in a small capacity ‘G class’ car against a field that included much higher capacity Alfa’s, Maseratis and Invictas. After the race ended someone asked Tazio how he felt about the MG's brakes, Nuvolari replied :-

                                                                                                        “I couldn't really tell I didn’t use them much”.

   There was no doubt about it, 1933 was a great year for Nuvolari. 41 years old and at his very best, he took all the most important Great European Awards.


   1934 saw a new 750 kg minimum weight formula. The aim was to reduce speeds but failed to account for the latest developments in metallurgy. With the return of the German teams to the racing scene came such advanced cars the new rules seemed out dated as soon as they came into force. Mercedes and Auto Union were in a league of their own and Nuvolari suddenly found driving Maseratis and Bugattis put him in the "2nd division". Of course he raced as hard as ever. 

   Entering the Monaco Grand Prix in a private Bugatti Tazio found himself up against it, not because of the new German cars but because Scuderia Ferrari were running five Alfa Romeo P3s. The race was run over 100 laps, or 197.6 miles on Monday the 2nd of April 1934. He battled hard to run as high as third but brake troubles caused him to fall down the order to finish in fifth position, two laps behind the winner, Guy Moll who was driving a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa’ on his debut for the team.

   At the Circuito di Pietro Bordino, in Alexandria, Nuvolari had one of the most serious incidents of his career. This race was a final after two heats, one of which had already claimed the life of Carlo Pedrazzini when the Swiss driver slide into a balustrade and broke his Maserati 8cm in two. In another incident early in the final Minozzi slid his car into a spectator area causing some injuries but fortunately no fatalities. All this Mayhem was caused by rain, rain that just didn’t want to give the racing a chance. When it slowed in heat two then stopped the organisers delayed the start of the Final to give the track some time to dry out; only for the rain to start again when the cars took to the track. 

   Nuvolari himself was caught out trying to overtake Varzi, he moved right only to find his route blocked by Trossi’s Alfa. Tazio’s Maserati began to slide and touched the rear of Varzi's car. He span and hit a  tree at around 110 km/h, the car rolled over onto its side and spat Tazio out as it hit another tree and span back onto the track, upside down. Initially Tazio tried to get up but immediately fell back, his right leg being broken. The break turned out to be a straight forward fracture treated at a local hospital. While in Hospital Tazio was presented with a part of the tree he had hit. Upon it was the inscription :- 

      "To Tazio Nuvolari intrepid ace of the wheel, as a record of the providential obstacle which although preventing a sure victory, saved a precious existence"

   Most people would be taking it easy for a few weeks but as we have already seen, injury did not stop Tazio Nuvolari. Bored of being in hospital he put in his entry for the AVUS-Rennen a little over four weeks later on the 27 May 1934. Stoic to the point of recklessness, his leg still in plaster and his Maserati modified in order that he could operate all three pedals with his left foot, Tazio not only went out to practice but took the start too. This was in stark contrast to Mercedes who were to make their W25s debut at this race. Rudi Caracciola did do a few practice laps in considerable pain from the hip he damaged so badly a year earlier at Monaco. Mercedes withdrew with fuel problems to the great disappointment of the German crowd. 

   Guy Moll and Achille Varzi took first and second for Ferrari in their Alfa’ P3s. Tazio bravely battled on but could only finish in fifth place having been plagued by cramp for much of the race. While some said Tazio was stupid to race, Earl Howe who also raced a Maserati 8CM alongside Tazio that day said this :-

    “Let any who say it was foolhardy at least be honest and admit it was one of the finest exhibitions of pluck and grit ever seen. By such men are victories won!"

   By the 17th of June 1934 the Grand Prix scene had moved to Spain and the Montjuïc circuit. Nuvolari's leg was out of plaster but still hurting him. He drove around the pain until forced to retired his Maserati from the Penya Rhin Grand Prix with technical problems. Maserati's new 6C-34 made its debut at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.  It suffered teething problems; Nuvolari 3 laps adrift of the winner, Rudolf Caracciola driving a Mercedes W25. 

   The New Maserati did come good toward the end of the season though and Tazio won the Grand Prix at Modena, on the 14th of October. The old rivals of Nuvolari and Varzi had a great fight but Tazio slowly took command and won by a minute or more, demonstrating the new Maserati was now a better car than the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa’ P3s. A week later on the 21st of October Tazio also won the 2nd Coppa Principesa di Piemonte (later called the Naples Grand Prix) held in Posillipo, near Napoli. Varzi didn’t race here despite Scuderia Ferrari’s entry, however a few other names on the entry list do stand out. Giuseppe "Nino" Farina, formula one World Champion of 1950, Luigi "Gigi" Soffietti, one of the few independents brave enough to take on the Germans at Avus and Giovanni Minozzi, a close relation to Antonio Ascari and Alberto Ascari the World Champion of 1952-53.

   At the end of 1934, Maserati withdrew from Grand Prix racing, Nuvolari tested an Auto Union the 1934 Spanish GP  and look set to sign for the German team for 1935; but Varzi had signed first and it started to look like Tazio was going to be back in the ranks of the privateers. The Italian prime minister had other ideas prompting Nuvolari’s return to Scuderia Ferrari. Apparently Enzo was most reluctant to take him back, but Benito Mussolini, insisted; and this man was someone even Enzo Ferrari wasn’t going to say no to. 


   Tazio was back driving the Alfa Romeo P3 in Scuderia Ferrari’s latest updated form but no one expected much for 1935 as the German Manufacturers with their State Backing were in a league of their own. This season it would be Rudolf Caracciola and the Mercedes W25 that would carry all before them, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year for Nuvolari. 

   In fact the season started well with victory in the Pau Grand Prix, on 24th of February 1935, always a testing race. Tazio led home René Dreyfus in another Alfa P3 and Luigi Soffietti in his private Maserati 8CM. This win was followed by victories in non-Championship races at Bergamo, Biella and Turin. This led nicely into the European Championship season which started a week later on the 14th of July at Spa-Francorchamps. Now the real work started and it was soon very clear the P3 was out classed in all areas. Tazio didn’t drive at Spa but the Two Ferrari entered Alfa’s came home 3rd and 4th behind the 1-2 of Mercedes W25; They were over 2 minutes (Louis Chiron) and 5 minutes (R. Dreyfus / A. Marinoni) behind Caracciola in his W25. 

   It was completely obvious to Scuderia Ferrari that the P3 Monoposto is totally outclassed by the German cars so they set about designing a new and more powerful car; the "bimotore". Two Alfa’ engines in one Alfa chassis! One in front of the driver, the other set behind him. One can scarcely imagine the noise. Tazio tests the new car and is able to set two new world speed records, the mile and kilometer. On June the 15th 1935,on the Autostrada Firenze-Mare (an 8km section of motorway out of Altopascio), Tazio went over 336.252 km/h. It happened to be a very windy day but Nuvolari was equal to the task. He had to controll the car during two fierce gust of wind in his high speed runs. Years later he told a journalist :- 

                                                                         "I've never faced a threat so bad, not even the day when taken in the Pau fire up".

   The two 3167cc engines produced 540hp in a car that weighed more than 1300kg. Too heavy to race in the 750kg formula Grand Prix it is entered in the formula libre event at Tripoli. The car is fast on the straights but is so heavy cornering is quite a problem. Not only does centrifugal force want to keep the car going straight on but the excess of power spins up the wheels too easily causing prodigious tyre wear. The repetitive pit stops made the car uncompetitive and the use of 18 tyres in one race was equally uneconomical. The "bimotore" program is abandoned and Tazio is left to face the Germans with just the ageing P3.

    Next came the German GP on the 28th of July 1935; and the huge crowd of expectant German fans and dignitaries were there to see the Mercedes or Auto Union teams win.  None amongst the the 300.000 spectators at the Nürburgring that day had any other thought in mind. The only question was which of the German car/driver combinations would win. Five Mercedes-Benz 400hp W25 M25b 8 cyl’ cars driven by Caracciola, Fagioli, Lang, Von Brauchitsch and Geyer were ably backed up by four Auto Union 375hp "type B" 4950cc 16cyl racers piloted by Rosemeyer, Varzi, Stuck and Pietsch. There was little room for anyone else to get anywhere near the podium, never mind win the race. The other cars on the grid came from a mixed bag of privateers, with Maseratis, Bugattis and ERAs, and Scuderia Ferrari with their Alfa Romeo P3s which had 110 bhp less than the German cars. But it seems Ferrari had an ace up his sleeve, the weather; and no-one had thought to give Tazio a copy of the German propaganda script! 

   At 10:30am the cars took to the grid, rain poured down, and parts of the 147 turn circuit were shrouded in mist. The grid positions had been decided by lots instead of qualifying times and Nuvolari was on the front row between the Auto Union of Hans Stuck and the private Alfa’ of Renato Balestrero. For this race the start would be indicated by lights instead of the usual dropping of a flag. A red light came on to call the attention of the drivers, and also to mean Stop. A yellow light came warning the start would be in 15 seconds and finally the green light indicated the start; all familiar to us these days but very novel in 1935.

   At the green light Balestrero crashed almost immediately and Nuvolari, still recovering from another accident, had a poor start. Hans Stuck car didn’t move at all and Varzi hit him causing Varzi's car to retire a few laps into the race. Regenmeister, Rudi Caracciola took off into an early lead and completed lap one 14 seconds in front of Nuvolari. Inevitable the other German cars closed in quickly and Tazio slipped back to fifth as Rosemeyer, Fagioli and Stuck all went by. Six laps into the race the pace is infernal. Mercedes are in the lead and Alfa Romeo are reduced to one car; Nuvolari’s.  Both Brivio's and Chiron's Alfa’s having broken their differentials. An early stop in the pits for Rosemeyer moved Nuvolari back up to fourth but he wasn’t on song yet. When the rain stopped on the 9th lap Tazio put in first sub-11 minute race lap ever seen at Nürburgring and passed two of the Mercedes to move into 2nd place. Sensationally on lap 10 Nuvolari was in the lead! Caracciola was in trouble and falling back but Rosemeyer was now bearing down the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo. 

   Lap 11 signalled time for the mid-race pit stops and the four top cars entered the pits almost at the same time. In practice it had been clear the Mercedes cars were almost too powerful for their tyres and although Caracciola would probably get by on one tyre change Von Brauchitsch would definitely need two stops. In what seems to be a sympathetic effort to help the Germans the Ferrari Pit crew had a catastrophic pit stop and Nuvolari lost 2 min 14 seconds. The Ferrari fuel pressure pump had broken down due to a crack in the pumping device leaving frantic mechanics to fill the Alfa’ by hand from cans and churns. Rejoining in sixth place nobody at Ferrari had any hope left, but Tazio just seemed even more inspired. Just a lap later he was back in 2nd place and chasing down von Brauchitsch in his Mercedes. The "flying Mantuan" goes faster and faster knowing Von Brauchitsch will have problems with the tyres. Nuvolari maintained the preassure and lap 14 saw the lead down to 86 seconds, then 88, but then the gap started falling, 77secs, 63secs, 47, 43, and 32 seconds as Nuvolari closed in on Von Brauchitsch, who set a new lap record in his efforts to maintain the gap. But he is now in a quandary; he needs to pit for new tyres but to do so would surely hand the race to Nuvolari. Von Brauchitsch continues to drive over the limit, failing to look after his rubber. The pressure of expectation was pushing him into a world of hope rather than sense; he hopes the tyres will last even though he knows they're completely used up. 

   While Manfred Von Brauchitsch had a 35 seconds lead going into the last 17.4 mile lap, and probably felt victory was at hand, the high tyre wear was about to take it all away from him. His tyres destroyed Von Brauchitsch suffered a right rear puncture and Tazio took the lead after the Karussel. Poor Manfred crawled home a nearly inconsolable 5th.  

   An astonished German crowd watched silently as an Italian car take the chequered flag. As astonishment and incredulity passed a long applause exploded from the spectators, they recognised the incredible deed Nuvolari had done and gave him the right tribute for his impossible victory! Representatives of the Third Reich were enraged! As the organizers thought there could be nothing but a home win they hadn’t bothered to arrange for any other countries anthems or flags at the podium ceremony. The German National anthem is ready on the record player and the Nazi flags are waiting on the flag poles. Legend has it Tazio produced a brand new Tricolour, with the words :- 

                                                                                                       "No problem I always carry it, just in case!"

   The organisers reputedly were reduced to playing ‘O Sole mio’, but other sources say a record of the Italian National anthem was found after a swift search. A second sign of the Germans over confidence was the size of the victory wreath. Made to fit the German drivers the laurel was nearly as big as the diminutive Italian. The famous Italian journalist Montanelli wrote :-

           "While Nuvolari was covered with the laurel of the winner, some thousand of amazed blue eyes were fixing his exhausted car. They were seeking vainly the technical reasons of that absurd victory. They didn't find it and they found relief in invoking 'der Teufel', the devil."

   The wet conditions must surely have helped the 43year old Nuvolari's cause. The powerful German cars span up their wheels and destroyed the tyres, but without doubt it was still a phenomenal effort. A triumph worthy of  $32.000 prize money. In the years from 1934 to 1939 the German cars were only beaten by Louis Chiron (at the 1934 French GP also driving an Alfa’ B-type), three other individual freak results and by Nuvolari, 8 times he snatched victory from the under the German's noses. 

   Tazio rounded off the season with wins at Coppa Ciano followed by the Nice and Modena GPs. It was in the same year that he finished the Czechoslovakia Grand Prix with only one rear tyre. The other wheel was running on the bare rim; and there are photographs to prove it too! For Tazio it was in many ways a more satisfying season than the year before. Clearly driving outclassed machinery he had still performed superbly, taking many wins and humbling the Germans at their own home GP.


   The non-championship Grand Prix do Pau was held on the 1st of March 1936, Without the Scuderia Ferrari team. Although 3 cars had been entered, Tazio amongst the drivers, Benito Mussolini ordered the Scuderia stopped at the French border. He was anxious about the League of Nations meeting of 10 March, and stated that “no Italian team should race in France until after the 10th March”. In the absence of Tazio or any German entries Philippe Étancelin drove his V8 Maserati-RI to victory. Politics was about to seriously infringe upon the racing calendar as Italy had invaded Abyssinia, Germany entered the Rhineland again and the Spanish civil war broke out! 

   Monaco’s GP held on Monday the 13th of April offered little to the Scuderia’s Alfa’s but Tazio’s incredible skills helped him make a fight of it. Torrential rain was to create a series of accidents aided by the hapless Mario Tadini who took a chance in Farina's leaky Alfa’ (Farina having taken over Tadini’s original car), only for it to deposit the contents of it’s engine at the chicane after the tunnel.

   Caracciola had taken the lead at the start, followed by Nuvolari, Chiron and Rosemeyer; although it was hard to tell one from another in the clouds of spray. When the cars came round on lap two the leaders avoided the oil but Louis Chiron span and crashed. Farina hit the sandbags and was summarily hit by von Brauchitsch, "Williams” in his Bugatti was caught out as was Siena and Trossi in Maseratis and Brivo's Alfa. The track was almost impassable, but Tazio simply danced his Alfa’ through the carnage and capitalised on the results. This piece of driving has been described as the most perfect and sublime act of car control ever seen. The last victim of the oil slick was Tadini himself, when he came around on his next lap he span off on his own oil!

   Regenmeister Caracciola led from Nuvolari, Rosemeyer, Varzi, Stuck and Fagioli. After a pit stop delayed Rosemeyer on lap 6 and Fagioli pirouetted on the oil at the chicane and crashed on lap 9 Nuvolari in his Alfa’ 8C slipped passed Caracciola and started to pull out a lead at the rate of a second a lap. When Rosemeyer crashed out on lap 13 it started to look like the great little man might pull off another victory against the Germans. But fate intervened on lap 27 as the Alfa’ started to suffer from brake fade. Nuvolari slowed and Caracciola re-took the lead. The Auto Unions of Varzi and Stuck then came past squabbling amongst themselves for second place. When Étancelin's fuel tank split and sprayed fuel all around the track before he realised and stopped, the conditions were almost undriveable. 
   Caracciola’s Mercedes went non-stop to the finish while the Auto Unions and Alfa’s had to pit for fuel. Caracciola’s flawless drive in the most horrendous of conditions came 3years after the awful crash that almost ended his career. It was surely a victory to remember. Nuvolari came in fourth behind Varzi and Stuck. Considering he was driving a car with no brakes in such terrible conditions his drive must also merit some adulation too. 

   After the carnage of Monaco came the Tripoli GP at AUTODROMO DI MELLAHA on the 10th of May; and the theme of carnage continued for Tazio. During the Friday practice session Tazio lost control of his car when tyre explodes. The tried to bury itself in the embankment beside the track and threw the unlucky Nuvolari out onto the only hard surface available; the track. Descriptions of his injuries vary from “a few fractures”, “some broken ribs” and “a limp” to the more serious mention of “broken vertebrae”. Whatever the injuries it must have been a big impact as he was taken to hospital where doctors advise he will take twenty days to recover. Tazio of course declares :- 

                                                                                                                               "Tomorrow I will race"

   The following days race is 500 kms long (310 miles) and the temperatures are in excess of 40’C. Tazio is once again fitted with a plaster cast corset and needs to be "inserted" in his car by the mechanics. Initially his will to win keeps him at the head of the race, at times challenging for the lead, but by the mid-distance point it is clear he is suffering. As the pain becomes more unbearable Tazio slips down the order eventually finishing in a valiant 8th position. At the finish he is lifted out of the car by his pit crew and everybody is celebrating his brave performance. This is all much to the annoyance of race winner Achille Varzi who is virtually ignored! 

   His plaster corset removed a month or so later Tazio is back in the mood to win and with some stunning performances managed to snatch victories from the Germans at the Penya Rhin GP at Montjuïc, driving an Alfa Romeo 12C-36, on the 7th of June, and in Budapest on the 21st of June using an older 8C-35 he won the inaugural Hungarian GP. 

   A week later on the 28th of June Tazio wins at the Circuito di Milano at the Parco Sempione. Only one German car is present but it is an Auto Union driven by old rival Achille Varzi who had persuaded his employers to enter him in a rather over optimistic belief that he could win. In reality the twisty 2.6 km circuit is not at all well suited to the Auto Union’s characteristics. 

   The German GP held on a cool, overcast and windy day at the Nurbirgring was much more to the Auto Unions liking and Rosemeyer won from Hans Stuck with the best Scuderia Ferrari Alfa being that of Antonio Brivio who finished a very creditable third. Tazio went out with rear axle failure on lap 13. 

   On the 2nd of August 1936 Tazio was running in the Coppa Ciano at Livorno, the first time on this new circuit. Mercedes weren’t present at Livorno but Auto Union sent Rosemeyer, Stuck and Varzi who stormed off into an early lead as Nuvolari’s Alfa’ 12Cbroke down just minutes into the race. To say the spectators were disappointed is an understatement and Tazio was beside  himself. He ran back to the pits and remonstrated with his team boss. He demanded a car, or he would leave the team! 3 laps later Pintacuda was called into the pits and his Tipo 8C-35 was given to Nuvolari. The joy of the Italian spectators knew no bounds as Nuvolari put in another of his ‘wonder drives’ to catch up with the leading Auto Unions, a cause greatly assisted by the retirement of Rosemeyer on lap 6. Tazio was running in 2nd place when Varzi’s Auto Union developed brake failure and the "Flying Mantuan" took over the lead. At the finish Scuderia Ferrari Alfa’s came home in 1-2-3 with Tazio heading the order. Stuck’s Auto Union was fourth, 3 minutes adrift of Nuvolari. It was another incredible performance and sent the fans into hysterical raptures; apparently. 

   A fortnight later a bent valve put Tazio out of the Coppa Acerbo and at Monza for the Italian GP, on the 13th of September, he was beaten into 2nd place by Rosemeyer’s C-type Auto Union. 

   For the Modena GP on the 21st of September Scuderia Ferrari entered full team of five cars, Nuvolari having a 4.1Ltr Alfa Romeo 12C-36 to drive. In the absence of German opposition he won from Tadini and Farina who were driving the older 3.8Ltr tipo 8C-35. 

   For all this success the big talking point of the year was the first George Vanderbilt cup race held at Roosevelt raceway, Long Island, New York on the 12th of October 1936 it proved to be a great event. Even before the arrival of the Alfa Romeo expedition Nuvolari’s name was the talk of the town. American fans, especially immigrant Italians are awestruck by the arrival of “king”. Newspaper front pages are dominated by the arrival of the Alfa team. An enormous crowd gathered to welcome him into the United States, all wanting to see him and to shake his hand; quite how Brivio and Farina felt about it all we can only guess . On a more unsavoury note it is reported that Nuvolari was threatened by gangsters trying to rig the race a by betting against Tazio. It seems their plan was thwarted and in any case I doubt Tazio had it in him to deliberately loose under any circumstances. 

   The race was a sort of world championship in that range of vehicles and driver nationalities was very broad, although the German teams didn’t enter. The skill level of all the drivers was of the highest calibre and included the Indianapolis 500 champion Mauri Rose. The 75 lap challenge would result in 482kms of racing on an unpaved track where the American drivers were as skilled in the art of drifting as Tazio was, it was all set up to be a fantastic race. 200.000 spectators and celebrities came into Roosevelt raceway to see a race that had never been won by an Italian since it’s inception in 1904. During a long hard race Tazio finds that the American drivers are not only as skilled in drifting as he was but also as reckless, and they all wanted to beat the best driver in the world. 

    Nuvolari now displayed a coolness and skill that left them all in awe. He led into the first corner and by the fifth lap started to lap the back markers. The organizers are rather worried by Tazio’s superiority and announce over the loudspeakers that anyone who can get ahead of Nuvolari and stay ahead for one minute will win $1000. Despite running on only 11 cylinders and having to stop for fuel no one heads Nuvolari. He wins the The race and once again demonstrates he is the best in the world.

   Nuvolari earned $32,000 prize money and a cup presented by the mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia. The cup was huge, almost as big as he was. While some American fans were gravely disappointed by their own drivers most people were delighted to see Tazio win and festivities continued until the Alfa Romeo team left the U.S. several weeks later. 


   1937 was to be a year of sadness for Tazio. Both his father and his oldest son were to pass away and only one GP win would come his way. But, as is often the way in this world, ‘when one door closes another one opens. 

   Alfa Romeo decided to take it’s Grand Prix racing team back in house, and in March bought 80% of Scuderia Ferrari. Alfa’s managing director, Ugo Gobbato, took over all race activities much to the annoyance of Enzo Ferrari whom he reduced to a "mere" team manager. This particularly upset Ferrari as Alfa decided to continue using the Scuderia in the same way as before, just now with an interfering manner attached. This was demonstrated in the way Alfa dismissed Vittorio Jano! If this had been an attempt to improve the fortunes of the team then Alfa’ had underestimated the German cars very badly indeed. Alfa’s cars were now unable to get anywhere near the German cars and pickings were slim. Even at non-championship races and events were the Germans didn’t go reliability was robbing Tazio of results. 

   When Tazio’s eldest son Giorgio, who is eighteen and away studying at a college in Switzerland, is taken ill with myocarditis he drops everything to get to his son. Tazio took Giorgio home and remained by his side. Tazio knows there is no hope. 

   Tazio’s only win of the season came at Sempione Park, Milan, for the 2nd Circuito di Milano on the 20th June. Auto Union sent a car for Hasse to race, strange considering the humiliating defeat handed out to Varzi the previous year, Sempione Park two tight hairpins surely couldn’t suit the car a year later. Nuvolari’s 12c-36 held together and he won from Farina with a private Alfa of Hans Rüesch third. The Auto union was only fourth. This high spot was of little real consolation. As a week later Tazio, while on a liner crossing the seas to America receives the news of his son’s death. Tazio attended the Vanderbilt cup and raced but it was another disaster for Alfa. Tazio’s car threw a rod on lap 16. When he got back home to his family he was distraught.

   Carolina Nuvolari later said :-

         "... it was the first time that I see Tazio crying. When he knew that Giorgio, a moment before the death, had searched for his father he locked up himself in his room and not wanted to see anyone for a long period". 

   Grieving for his son Tazio didn’t drive at all at Spa, but he did mix it with the German cars at Nürburgring for the German GP. He finished fourth again, in the middle of six German cars and 4 minutes off the pace of the Winning Mercedes W125 driven by Caracciola. When the Monaco GP came around on the 8th of August Nuvolari was absent. He stayed away testing the new Alfa Romeo 12C/37 at Monza, probably hoping for better things in the future. 

   A week later, on the 15th of August the new Alfa’ 12C-37 proved slow and unreliable at the Coppa Acerbo. Nuvolari’s car broke down on the 6th lap. At the Italian GP at Monza things went little better, Nuvolari got out of his car in disgust and handed it over to Giuseppe Farina. Tazio had become increasingly frustrated with Alfa Romeo, not only with the pace but what he saw as the poor build quality of the cars. However, he was a loyal man and he didn’t want to leave Alfa’, though it was clear to many people the Germans would love to have him in one of their teams. Alfa made the decision for him as they pulled out of racing for the rest of the season. 

   As Alfa’ had withdrawn it’s cars and Tazio was without a drive when he was offered a one off drive with Auto Union at the Swiss Grand Prix he took the opportunity. Of course the decision caused an outcry but what else was a racer to do? Now he had to think of a drive for 1938 so a chance to try an Auto Union on a no commitment basis seemed a good idea. The race didn’t go all that well for Tazio who found the rear engine cars more of a handful than he had anticipated.  The unfamiliar car was especially hard to master in the wet of that Swiss GP so he soon pulled in and relinquished it to Rosemeyer. At a banquet after the race he discussed certain modifications with the cars designer, Dr. Porsche. Also present at the occasion were Caracciola, Lang, von Brauchitsch, Rosemeyer and other German aces. What went through their minds when Porsche made a speech and declared Nuvolari “the greatest champion of the past, present and future.” is any ones guess.


   When Alfa Corse announced their return for 1938 it surprised some that Tazio was still on the driver line up. At the Pau GP Alfa’ brought their latest car, the 308, and Tazio seemed to be on top form. 

   Un-noticed at the time the chassis of the Alfa Romeo 308 was flexing under load and putting stress on the saddle tank which split and leaked fuel. Suddenly the car was seen to be on fire although running at 150 km/h the flames are at the rear of the car and Tazio seems unaware of the peril he is in. Eventually he grasped the meaning of the frantic signals from the pits and marshals, but what to do? Running at speed meant the wind kept the flames away from him if he slowed to stop they would surely invade the cockpit and surround him; this time it really looked like death was inevitable! Tazio knew he would be endangering his fellow drivers if he continued and it became clear what he had to do. Still running as fast as possible Tazio is seen standing in the cockpit with flames licking around his knees, he aimed his car at a grassy area and jumped for his life at around 100km/h.

   The car did the only decent thing it could and destroyed itself around a tree, Tazio was whisked away to hospital suffering from some broken bones, minor burns to his legs and a concussion; the fifth of his career! Fearful of a similar accident occurring to Villoresi's car Alfa Corse withdrew the other 308 from the event. This did nothing to assuage a furious, and clearly shaken, Nuvolari. He declared he would never race for Alfa Romeo again and left the team never to return.

   Tazio Nuvolari is 46 years old and has been racing for around 20 years. He has won everything and has the fame and riches to prove it. But he is also sad. His father and his son Giorgio have recently passed away, his friend Bernd Rosemeyer had been killed on 28th of January, trying for a new speed record, and this event so very nearly claimed his own life too. Moreover his own health has been suffering after years of breathing in exhaust fumes. From the hospital in Pau Tazio announces to a stunned and disbelieving audience he is withdrawing from completion forthwith. He explains that :-

          "The fire is terrific. It is an enemy who nobody could fight and from which it's not possible to escape. I don't feel to run again, this is all. The night I have nightmares, I dream always the fire. It's the end, I'm old and tired".

   As for the almost forgotten race, Rene Dreyfus' Delahaye ran almost as quickly as the Mercedes cars and gave the Germans a real fright.

   Tazio took a while to recuperate from this experience and once he was well enough to travel went for a holiday in America. Upon his return he is rejuvenated and ready to race, the will to win has returned and more pages of history are now to be written. Some years later a reported asked Tazio why he jumped out of his burning race car at close to 100mph. He replied :- 

                                                                                       "Better to be splattered on a billboard, than to roast like a chicken".

   Meanwhile, Auto Union were struggling. They had been outclassed by Mercedes the year before and with the loss of Rosemeyer were already at a disadvantage for the 1938 season. Then Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had left to work on the Volkswagen, at Herr Hitler’s request. Their car was a development of the 1937 chassis but with a new 3-litre, 12 cylinder engine. The team drivers were in disagreement along which lines to develope the car and even reinstating Hans Stuck, who they sacked the previous year, had not helped in moving the car forward. When Auto Union contacted the refreshed Tazio after the Tripoli GP he was more than happy to agree to join the team. 

   The stage was set for Nuvolari to make his return to motor racing, as a full member of the Auto Union team, at the German GP. But all did not go well. Nuvolari crashed his car on the first lap, at Brünnchen, and trugged back to the pits from where he took over Müller's car to finish 4th. At the next race, the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara, a technical problem sidelined Tazio; again on the very first lap. A miserable 9th place finish was all Nuvolari could muster at the very wet Swiss GP, his car repeatedly suffering with oiled up spark plugs. But at least he was getting to grips with the handling characteristics of the rear engine Auto Union. In front of his ever enthusiastic Italian fans Tazio took the new ‘D’ type Auto union to victory in the Italian GP at Monza on the 11th of September 1938. At this race the Mercedes cars all failed to finish except for Carraciola who struggled home in third place behind Farina’s tipo 316 Alfa Romeo. It was Auto Union’s first win since the death of Rosemeye but wasn’t going to affect the outcome of the 1938 European Championship, Caracciola’s 3rd was enough to secure him the title. 

   Then it was time for the 1938 Donington GP on the 1st of October. Politics interviened! Europe was in a state of crisis Hitler was making demands over the German parts of Czechoslovakia, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, travelled to Munich for talks and everywhere rumours of war were being mentioned. The German racing teams were already at Donington for the GP meeting when they got word from their embassy to leave England as quickly as possible; if necessary leaving the cars and equipment behind! Soon the team trucks were heading for Harwich with the mechanics fully prepared to burn the trucks if they were stopped. Fortunately talks averted war at that juncture and Mr. Chamberlain return to Britain uttering the immortal words “Peace in our time”.  The Donington race was then rescheduled for the 22nd of October and the German teams duly returned with four entries each. Rudolph Caracciola wasn’t driving though. It was said he was ill but it was also well known he didn’t like the Donnington Park circuit. Somebody who was present was Korpsführer Adolf Hühnlein, leader of the NSKK, the National Socialist Motor Corps of Germany. He was a dislikeable man who oversaw all motoring issues for the Nazi Party and insisted that all German drivers be members of the NSKK.

   Ranged against the German cars was a rather eclectic mix of machinery from Britain and Europe. Alfa Romeo didn’t attend but Maserati works sent one car for Villoresi to drive. Two Delahayes were present courtesy of Lucy O'Reilly-Schell, ERAs were of course in evidence as were MG, Alta and Riley; mostly with local British drivers behind the wheel. During practice for the 80 lap race Nuvolari had a run with a Stag. Nuvolari escaped from the accident unharmed but the poor Stag ended as a trophy on the wall Nuvolari's home in Italy. When qualifying was over a starting list of 17 cars saw Hermann Lang in pole position for Mercedes-Benz with a lap of 2m11.0s. Tazio was second 0.2 of a second behind for Auto Union. The first none German car was the Maserati of Luigi Villoresi in 9th place on the grid a full 10 seconds off the pace.

   At the start Nuvolari took off like a scalded cat, and set a blistering pace opening up a gap at a rate of a second a lap to the other German cars. The twisty circuit around Donington Park proving less of a challenge for the rear engine car than one might have thought. On lap 26 Tazio had to an unscheduled stop for a plug change, he not only lost his 30 second lead but 28 more seconds too and fell back to third in the running order, Lang took over the lead with Müller following. Then Hanson's Alta  blew it’s engine leaving a large pool of oil on the track. While Tazio took a small detour onto the grass to avoid the oil, Hasse and Seaman weren’t so fortunate and spun on oil. Hasse crashed out and Home favourite Dick Seaman lost a lap in the incident. 

   At the halfway point Müller was leading from Lang and Nuvolari pulled in for a pit stop. The Auto Union team serviced his car just 35 seconds; considering that meant changing all four wheels and filling up on fuel on a limited number of staff it’s a pretty impressive time. When Müller made his pit stop Lang returned to the lead and started pull away. On lap 50 Lang was 40 seconds ahead of Müller's Auto Union with Nuvolari third. The "Great Little Man" put in another of his inspired drives and closed in on his team mate Müller. Once passed him Tazio went after Lang’s Mercedes in relentless fashion. Setting lap record after lap record he gained pressure on Lang who suffered a broken windscreen and had to slow down. Whether fate intervened is a mute point as Tazio was closing at a rate of 3 sec’s a lap anyway. On lap 60 it was down to 20 seconds and a mere 7 laps later Tazio was sliding past Lang’s Mercedes on the straight and taking a lead he would never relinquish. 

   At the flag Tazio was 1min’ 18sec’s ahead of lang who held on for second place from Dick Seamen who grabbed third after he passed Müller. Nuvolari had lapped everyone but Lang!
   Tazio demonstrated a great talent for development the Fuereisen and von Ebenhorst designed 3-litre V12 90-degree engined ‘D’ type Auto union and an exceptional ability to adapt his driving style to suit the car. His win was as popular with the British as Seamen’s 3rd place, the knowledgeable crowd being impressed with his superb performance.
   Even at 46 years old Tazio is still the top driver, fighting as hard as ever for the win. He would remain with Auto Union until World War II interrupted the racing, although Alfa Romeo were already in the middle of their greatest crisis failing to win a grand prix all season.
   Donington wasn’t to see another GP motor race until 1993.


   1939 wasn’t a terribly good year for Tazio, or for the world really. Nuvolari appeared to be a second childhood having some great battles with the Mercedes drivers but often losing out due to several retirements.

    In 29 Apr 1939 HERR Adolf HITLER VISITS Berlin Motor show, and at the Motor Show insists on meeting the ‘Flying Mantuan’. We can’t find any record of Tazio’s feelings on the matter! 

   Nuvolari only won once, the Yugoslav GP, but it was historic in it’s own way. The victory in Belgrade on the 3rd September is the last international win for Nuvolari and the last Grand Prix to be held for some years, the Second World War had started two days before. In truth it marked the end of ‘the great little mans’ career; a mythical and unforgettable era had come to an end. At least a hiatus, but Tazio wasn’t quite the same after the war.

Post-war racing career


   When he resumed racing after WWII Nuvolari was 53 years of age and not in the best of health. He drove in the 1946 Milan Grand Prix able to use only one hand to steer; his other hand was covering his mouth with a handkerchief to catch the blood he was coughing up. Years breathing in fumes from the alcohol based fuels left him with severe asthma and he took to racing wearing a surgical mask to cut down on breathing in any more fumes. Tazio was driving well; but vomiting blood during the races, and struggling with coughing fits made consistency hard, and retirements became common. It was clear to everyone that Nuvolari was ill, but he wouldn’t give up. 

   Then life dealt him another blow. Alberto, Tazio’s younger son, died from nephritis in May. Alberto was 18 years old, just as his brother Giorgio had been when he died. Tazio hid his grief but he felt it just as surely as he had when Giorgio died. Carolina remembers :- 

   "There will be not another Nuvolari that will run for the roads of the world, none after Tazio. Tazio was good and generous with me... he hid his desperation from me... he wanted that I followed him in every race. I was in the box with the wives of the other runners. During these moments I prayed for my sons to save Tazio".

   Some authors have suggested Tazio continued to race in hopes of being reunited with his sons. Others said that racing was one of the few things that still gave him pleasure and allowed him to forget the pains of losing his sons for a while. Racing allowed him to live. 

   On the 14th of July, 1946, Tazio the VIII Grand Prix d'Albi, a minor two heat race which he won with an aggregate time of 1h55m45.6s, or 147.36kph if you prefer. His winning car was a Maserati 4CL. 

   Tazio finished the Andrea Brezzi Cup, on the 3rd of September, in a time of 1h 25'57; which translates to 13th place. Why mention it? Because of the famous picture of him coming into the pits holding the steering wheel of the Cisitalia D46 aloft and steering with his left hand holding what remains of the stump of the steering column. Another example the great little man's inability to give up!

   At the Turin GP on September the 1st Tazio has a great battle with his old rival Varzi, the two champions of Italy fighting just as they always had. Varzi went on to win after Tazio was forced to retire when his Maserati shed a wheel!

   Tazio could still take the fastest lap, even if he couldn’t always last the distance. That said; Tazio still put in some amazing performances, not least in the Mille Miglia events of 1947 and 1948, still 16-hour endurance events! 


   Tazio took part in six races in 1947, winning three. Using a Ferrari he wins at the circuit of Parma and at Forlì. But it is the Mille Miglia performance that stands out. 

   Tazio is partnered by Francis Hull and driving the new Cisitalia 202, 1100cc Spyder, (preferring the open car to the coupe as he can breath more easily in the fresh air). No one expects him to challenge for the lead, he is driving 60hp car against 140bhp in the top power plants. But Tazio is as determined to win as ever. Running cautiously from the start to Pesaro Tazio loses some time to the Alfa Romeo 2900 of Biondetti, much to be expected really. Then he starts to recover and from Pesaro to Rome driving as prodigiously as ever, passing Biondetti on time to the lead the race. The Italian nation still loves the old Champion and is willing him on, enchanted by his performance. By the time he reaches Modena Nuvolari is an incredible 8 minutes in the lead. The final section of the race, running from Torino-Brescia on the new motorway, was blighted by a terrible storm. The open top Cisitalia was swamped and the electrics are soaked. Ten minutes was lost to the Alfa Romeo coupe and Tazio slips back to second overall. The triumph of a class win and an outstanding second overall meant Tazio was carried by the fans as if he had won.  The papers proclaiming :- 

                                                          "...his Cisitalia seems a toy among the fury of the nature..."


   Now 56 years old, ill and without regular driving practice Nuvolari surprises many when he enters the 1948 Mille Miglia for Ferrari driving one of their 166 SCs, a car he has never driven before. Tazio wishes to add a last glorious enterprise of his legendary career. Apparently this was another of his last minute decisions with some people saying Ferrari offers a car to him at the start line itself! Whatever the nature of the offer and the decision Tazio took the start at Brescia, cheered on by Ferrari, friends and colleagues alike; and as usual, wants to win! 

   Tazio makes a steady start holding on to the leaders pace. At the first crossing of the Appennines Tazio starts to show his class, takes the lead and opens out a lead. By Rome Tazio has a big advantage but on the way out from Rome the Ferrari’s bonnet catch broke. Unable to drive with the bonnet flapping up and down Tazio remove the Bonnet and carries on without it. Tackling a 16hr race seemed folly to some but Tazio was as determined as ever. When the car skidded of the road near Livorno the car is damaged. The Mechanics seat was bent out of shape and unusable, so Tazio took it out and left it at the side of the road, one wonders what happened to Scapinelli himself? A leaf spring was also damaged but Nuvolari just drove around the problem, as long as the wheels still turn he is intent on keeping going. At the Florence check Tazio has increased his lead of the second place car to over half an hour! Then he has another skid and end up in a ditch. On extricating the car Tazio finds the mud guard is bent and fouling the wheel, so he removes that too! 

   In the rain at Villa Ospizio, near Reggio Emilia, another skid ends in disaster, the already damaged leaf spring loses its shackle. The car can’t continue but Tazio seems like he would keep going even if he had to carry the car to Brescia! Enzo Ferrari intervenes and makes Nuvolari retire, he tells Nuvolari :- 

                                                                                                                          "Will be for the next year.."

Everyone is disappointed and a hush falls over the room; Tazio, visibly deflated as all his former enthusiasm is draining away, looks at Ferrari and says :-

"Ferrari, days like it, at our age, will not return..." 


   On the 15th of April 1950 Nuvolari entered his last event, the Palermo-Montepellegrino hillclimb. Driving a 1500cc Cisitalia-Abarth 204 for Squadra Carlo Abarth he drove as aggressively as ever. Even at 58 years old Tazio is spinning a rear wheel and sliding it out over the edge of a precipice, a trifle he would not consider worthy of note. Tazio won his class and came fifth overall. As well as the last competitive drive for Nuvolari this race has the distinction of marking the end of the Cisitalia cars and the beginning the Abarth story.

   Less than a month after the Montepellegrino hillclimb later the first ever F1 World Championship was held. Nuvolari never officially announced his retirement but he knew the time had come to stop driving competitively. Better to finish on a win than to run with the back markers. 

   Tazio Nuvolari had written his chapters in the annals of motor racing history; the incredible wins, the terrible crashes and heroic stubborn recoveries and the exciting leaps from burning cars. Tazio had become a legend, a myth, a God. Now a new history would be written for a new era, by some new names, and a few of the 'old guard' would have their moments too.

The Final years 

   In the years after racing Tazio suffered more and more from his ailments and was seen in public less and less. Only a few close friends were given leave to visit him He had always lived quite a modest life, money meant little to him, apart from his aeroplane. Tazio’s other love was photography and he was often seen wandering the pit lane taking photo’s. But at the end of 1952 he suffered a paralyzing stroke and asked to move from his house at Gardone back to Mantua. All those things of his past were lost as ill health took its toll and worst of all he pondered on the bitter loss of his beloved sons. On the 11th of August 1953 at the age of just 61 years old Tazio Nuvolari died. 

   It is estimated that between 25 and 55 thousand people attended the funeral in Mantua, on the 13th of August 1953. According to his last wishes Tazio was buried in his "racing uniform" of blue trousers and yellow jersey, his helmet and favourite steering wheel beside him. The whole world seemed to be in mourning, certainly all of Italy and the entire world of motor sports was. The funeral procession was said to be several kilometers long and Nuvolari's coffin, placed upon a car chassis, was escorted by Alberto Ascari , Luigi Villoresi and Juan Manuel Fangio. On his tomb is engraved the words :-

                                                                        "You'll run even faster through the streets of heaven."

   Enzo Ferrari was also amongst the people who made the journey to Mantua that day. Having set off from Modena as soon as he had heard the sad news but in his haste became lost amongst the streets of the old town. When he stopped to ask for directions at a shop he met an elderly man. Enzo himself told it like this :-  

   "... as soon as I knew that he was dead I left for Mantua. I lost myself in a labyrinth of roads of the city and I didn't know the exact direction. Near a tinsmith store I came down from the car and I asked the way for the house of Nuvolari at the tinsmith. An old laborer exited from the store and, before answering, he went around my car, in order to read the plate [seeing the MO (for Modena)], he understood [Who Enzo was] and shook my hand warmly. He said,

"Thank you for coming. A man like that won't be born again."

Tazio Nuvolari legacy

   Who is the fastest, the greatest, most dedicated racing driver ever? Fangio, Moss, Clark, Villeneuve, Senna? Each generation throws up a man that stands above his contemporaries. How can we possibly weigh them against each other when the circuits, the technology and the rules are seldom the same? Well; as Frank Gardner paraphrases Fangio :-

                                                                                       "In the end, it's all a matter of more accelerator and less brake..."

   Tazio Nuvolari lived to race. Whether wounded, driving a damaged or out classed car, flat out was the only way to go. 124 motorbike races and 229 car races gave him over 105 outright wins, 77 class wins and 100 fastest laps. More than that he set 5 world speed records and was 7 times Italian champion and he drove, and won, his last race; at the age of 58!

   Nigel Roebuck reported on a conversation he had with Rene Dreyfus a contemporary of Tazio’s. When asked how he rated the drivers of the thirties Dreyfus replied:- 

                         "Well, perhaps Rudolf Caracciola was technically the best, the most complete. But the greatest?; without any doubt, was Nuvolari."

   An unknown contemporary once remarked that in a race with the Devil he would bet on Nuvolari. Enzo Ferrari summed Nuvolari up in a few simple words :-

   "Nobody else like him join an incredible sensitivity of the car with an inhuman courage, a prodigy unsurpassed instinct to the limits of human possibility and physical laws." 

   The fifth Earl Howe felt that :-

                                                                                 "When ever motor sport is spoken about, Nuvolari will be remembered" 

   The film director Michelangelo Antonioni spoke of the influence Tazio had on the younger Italians of his era :- 

      "He was a man that outraged reality and he did things that were absurd... for youngsters of that period, and me among them, Nuvolari represented courage, an unlimited courage. He was the myth, the unreachable."

   Perhaps the most telling of tributes comes from Nuvolari’s arch rival, Achille Varzi :-

     " Nuvolari, as well as being my greatest opponent, is the best driver of all time. He is not a master but an artist of driving. A master could teach. The art cannot be taught." 

The Kindest of people 

   Universally remembered as one of the greatest drivers in the history of motorsport, he was equally  admired for his human qualities. Bernd Rosemeyer’s wife after the German GP when Tazio’s Alfa was caught by Rosemeyer’s Auto Union :-

                         “Nuvolari was, if you like, one of the fairest of competitors. When he realised the other driver was quicker, he signalled to let him pass.”

Rene Dreyfus said of Tazio :-

   "He was the kindest of men. Completely unpretentious, wonderful company. In the Italian Grand Prix in 1935, you know, I handed my car over to him after his own had failed, and he finished second. Afterwards he refused any of the prize money, said it should all go to me. 'It was your car, and you allowed me to race it,' he said. 'That was all I wanted.' No, no, there has never been anyone like Nuvolari."  

When he died it was written :- 

                                                     "A little man is dead, a legend that will live forever is born, you will run faster in the roads of heaven "


   Tributes to Tazio Nuvolari abound. On the album Le Grandi Voci Della Canzone Italiana of 1939 appears a song called ‘Arriva Tazio’, sung by the Trio Lescano. The lyrics can be found on the internet.

   The 1947 Cisitalia 202 spyder became known as the "Nuvolari" almost as soon as his Mille Miglia result announced. 

   Statues and busts can be found in many places, Castel D'Ario of course and Rome, as well as several race circuits.

   Tributes to Nuvolari don’t end with Tazio’s death; or even with the passing of his contemporaries.

   In 1976, Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla put a song ‘Nuvolari’ on his album Automobili (Cars), it remains famous in Italy to this day.

   Even in our times the name of Nuvolari stills a aura of charm and legend. In Italy a subscription TV channel dedicated to motor sports is named ‘Nuvolari’, and an online video interview site is called ‘Tazio’. 

   German car manufacturers EAM released their Nuvolari S1 in 1990. A lovely little car with the styling of 1930s Rileys. In 1996 Alfa Romeo gave us the ‘Nuvola’ followed by the Audi Nuvolari Quattro of 2003. Maserati’s tribute is to offer their cars with a custom paint option, Grigio-Nuvolari, a metallic grey rather like gunmetal.


   It's easy to be fascinated by the many historical anecdotes about Nuvolari. But no biography can separate the myth from the man, or to truly tell everything about his character, emotions or the spirit which drove him to such extraordinary feats. His was a life that reads like a film script; accidents and adventures, victories and defeats, sorrow and regret....... glory and legend. If it were a film, critics might call it unbelievable.

   Such is Tazio’s enduring gift to the motor sport lovers of all eras. In return we give him immortality.