Alfa’s Story: Part 2

In Part 1 of Alfa Romeo’s story, its factory was built in Milan with British money on a road named after a Roman emperor… but named after a Frenchman’s favourite restaurant. It went bust more than once and was taken over during World War 1 by a Neapolitan with a sense of adventure and a large military contract.

After almost 15 years of high drama, Alfa Romeo had set course for glory when its racing team won the 1920 Circuit of Mugello… but there were still plenty of banana skins underfoot. The next setback came in 1921, when the Banco Italiana di Sconto, Alfa Romeo’s main creditor, was wiped out in a cataclysmic plunge for the Italian economy.

Immediately the assets of all debtor companies were seized by the central Banca Nazionale di Credito – including those of Alfa Romeo. Amid this great political and financial storm, Benito Mussolini emerged from the chaos and marched on Rome demanding power for the Fascists. Rome was powerless to refuse and among the many assets to fall into il Duce’s lap were the Banca Nazionale di Credito and, as a result, Alfa Romeo.

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Mussolini assumed authority in Rome and nationalised the motor industry

When the dust had settled, Alfa Romeo’s chairman Nicola Romeo and his right-hand man Giorgio Rimini decided that Alfa Romeo needed modernising. This was a great buzzword in Fascist circles but it was also true in the sense that chief designer Giuseppe Merosi’s products were close to becoming antiques.

The most forward-looking automotive engineer in Italy at that time was Vittorio Jano, who had brought grand prix racing success to Fiat. Giorgio Rimini dispatched Enzo Ferrari to Turin as emissary to open negotiations with Jano about joining Alfa Romeo.

Ferrari went first to Jano’s wife to sound her out about a possible move to Milan. Having got the lie of the land, and presumably convinced Signora Jano of the attractions in Milan, Ferrari then approached the great designer himself. Jano said that he might consider moving from Fiat but would need to talk ‘to the organ grinder and not the monkey’.

This would not have been an easy pill for Enzo Ferrari to swallow, but he duly made his report. Alfa Romeo’s finance director then followed up with an offer to double whatever Jano was being paid by Fiat… and the deal was swiftly concluded.

The highest priority was given to creating a world-class motor racing programme. Giuseppe Merosi had produced a new, sleek racing car called the P1 but its engine was prehistoric. Into this car Jano slotted a variation on the engine designs that he had created at Fiat: a supercharged twin-cam straight-eight of just under 2 litres in capacity that boasted 140 horsepower and could reach 9,000 rpm.

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Vittorio Jano’s engine  created the dominant Alfa Romeo P2

Thus was created the Alfa Romeo P2. In 1924 it won the Circuit of Cremona in the hands of Antonio Ascari, then Giuseppe Campari won the Grand Prix de l’ACF on the historic Lyon road circuit. The year ended with victory at home in Milan’s royal park at Monza for the Gran Premio d’Italia, taken by Ascari, to prove that the P2 was absolutely the class of the field.

Its rise was timely because the sport’s governing body, the AIACR, declared that there would be a world championship title for Grand Prix cars in 1925.

The four points-scoring races were the Indianapolis 500, which was won by Duesenberg, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, the Grand Prix de l’ACF at Montlhéry and the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa saw three Alfa P2s line up against a quartet of Delages. Two of the Delages were out before the end of the third lap and the other two weren’t all that far behind them. One of the Alfas went down with broken suspension, which left two surviving P2s circulating contentedly.

Quite how much truth there is to the story of Vittorio Jano having a table laid in the pit lane and inviting his drivers to dine with him when they stopped is largely a matter of conjecture. Something must have gone on, although doubtless the story has spent many years getting better with each telling.

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Antonio Ascari and riding mechanic Giulio Ramponi celebrate their win at Spa – the last time that riding mechanics would be seen

Antonio Ascari won in Belgium and was the form man when the circus arrived at the new purpose-built circuit at Montlhéry in France for the Grand Prix de l’ACF.  The venue was intended to maximise crowd safety both within the bowl of the autodrome and on the closed public roads of the rest of the circuit. Pale fencing made of chestnut wood was erected around the course to hold back the more enthusiastic spectators but Ascari was one of several drivers who feared that the fencing could potentially cause a disaster.

Sure enough, as rain started to fall on race day, Ascari ran wide on the flat-out kink halfway down the return straight and his wheel snagged the pale fence. He fought for a few seconds to control the lurid slide before the car tipped, throwing him out and then rolling over his prone body. Alfa’s fastest driver died in the ambulance on his way to hospital.

If there was one positive to be drawn, it was that this was the first Grand Prix to be run without the need for riding mechanics – sparing the life of Ascari’s mechanic, Giulio Ramponi. As it was, the surviving Alfas of Gastone Brilli-Peri and Giuseppe Campari were withdrawn and Delage won the race unopposed – Robert Benoist and Albert Divo sharing the winning car.

A promising young motorcycle racer, Tazio Nuvolari, was brought to Monza for the deciding race to fill in for Ascari, but he crashed in practice and ended up in hospital with broken ribs so American-Sicilian driver Pete de Paolo took the third car instead. In the end Gastone Brilli-Peri claimed victory with Campari finishing second and de Paolo fifth. It was more than enough for Alfa Romeo to claim the first ever World Championship title for Grand Prix racing.

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Vittorio Jano and Tazio Nuvolari would come to define Alfa’s fortunes in the 1930s

The scarlet cars had brought glory to Italy against the best that France and Britain had to offer. This success meant that there were many who wanted to claim a little of that caché for their own ends… as we will see in Part 3.

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Alfa’s Story – Part 1

The return of Alfa Romeo to grand prix racing seems to have passed almost unnoticed in the hubbub around this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix and the start of the 2018 Formula 1 season. Perhaps it is because everyone knows that it’s ultimately just a Ferrari engine deal but the cloverleaf and the prancing horse have happily shared the paddock for nearly 90 years.

Alfa Romeo is a hallowed name in motoring. From the blood red Grand Prix cars driven by Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi through to the most beautiful car ever built and on to the achingly cool hatchbacks of recent years, like TV detective Aurelio Zen’s black 147, the artisans of Italy’s oldest performance car maker have forged and beaten metal into the stuff of dreams. Yet the company was something of an accidental hero that was inadvertently founded by a Frenchman and overcame some towering obstacles before crossing the threshold into motoring myth.

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When the BBC wanted a cool new detective they gave him an Alfa.

Alexandre Darracq entered the booming French car making industry during the 1890s and, like so many others, chose motor racing to advertise his wares. It took him almost a decade to crack race engineering, but in the dying days of the city-to-city events on the public highway, Darracq’s ‘light cars’ became a force to be reckoned with.

Employing the celebrated French cyclist Henri Farman to drive his ‘light cars’, Darracq presided over victory in the voiturette class of the 1901 Pau-Peyrehorade and Nice-Salon-Nice races. This brought considerable interest from a London investor, who also introduced Farman to what would be a long and fruitful relationship with British industry. Farman soon left mother earth to become a celebrated aviator, while Darracq and his backers went in another direction.

They soon realised that slaving away to produce small numbers of bespoke cars and motor cycles would never be as profitable as volume production. Thus Darracq’s light cars grew even lighter as he made them cheaper and their performance became even more polished. It’s worth noting that the 1904 12hp Darracq that was immortalised in the movie Genevieve was the Golf GTI of its day.

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Movie icon ‘Genevieve’ was one of Darracq’s sporty voiturettes

At a shareholders’ meeting in London during 1906, the decision was made to commit to building a new and bigger factory to increase production still further. It was decided that northern Italy was cheap enough, well connected to the rest of Europe and with a well-educated workforce.

Darracq himself chose the location beside Via M.U. Traiano near Milan. The road was named after the Roman emperor Trajan but the factory was rather less grandly named after a nearby trattoria that Darracq had taken a shine to: he called it Portello.

It was unfortunate, then, that in 1907 the bottom fell out of the European car market amid a series of economic tsunamis just the last of Portello’s brick work was being finished off. Darracq decided to cut costs even further and skimped on parts but this only served to make the Italian-built cars fiendishly unreliable. Customers took their trade elsewhere

Darracq very publicly fired the British factory manager at Portello and brought in some local talent to help restore the factory’s reputation. The new man was called Ugo Stella and his solution was a drastic rebranding exercise. He took on a loan of half a million lire from the Banca Agricola Milanese and offered to buy the factory, renaming the company as Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – or ALFA for short.

Not much was changed in the company structure, however. The British investors were still part of the package and Alexandre Darracq was listed as a director of ALFA. The cars that they began to produce were also to Darracq’s designs… at least until the appointment of new chief designer Giuseppe Merosi in 1909.

The first of Merosi’s cars was the ALFA 12/15, a large but rather sporty model, which debuted in 1910. Throughout 1911 interest in the new car picked up, particularly among enthusiastic drivers and amateur racers. This led the ALFA factory itself to try a few forays into the racing world, which grew all the more serious when Merosi’s new 40/60 model appeared. This car would provide the basis of a full-house Grand Prix challenger in 1914, although it would not compete in anger.

Another designer had also joined ALFA to work alongside Merosi on engine development. This was Antonio Santoni, who wanted to enter the burgeoning aviation market by building the first aeroplane to fly across the Alps. His engine was revolutionary because it featured a supercharger that he himself had patented – one of the first forced induction units ever recorded. Sadly, Santoni was beaten across the Alps by one of Louis Blériot’s monoplanes.

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Giuseppe Merosi’s ALFA 40/60 competed before and after WW1. Here, Merosi sits at the wheel of the 1914 GP car.

Then came World War 1 and Italy was forced into battle alongside the British and the French. With nobody buying cars and without any military contracts to sustain its workforce, ALFA went bust very quickly. The Banco Italiana di Sconto, which had become ALFA’s main source of funding, sent in an administrator to take over the failing factory: his name was Nicola Romeo.

Romeo had come from a relatively humble background in Naples, trained in engineering and had set about making himself a fortune. He had begun to realise his ambitions of wealth by importing cheap American farming equipment in kit form, knocking it together and selling it on at a profit.

Romeo networked and made alliances with banks and officials. And he made a lot of money. When Romeo arrived in Portello, he did so with a contract for the provision of 10,000 artillery shells per day and set about rehabilitating ALFA under a new guise: Alfa Romeo.

This was a process that Romeo forced through despite some misgivings from within Portello. The north/south divide in Italy is sharply drawn and there was a considerable clash of cultures between the mannered metropolitans of Milan and the swashbuckling brigand from Naples. Giuseppe Merosi and a number of other senior ALFA men flat-out refused to work with Romeo, but were eventually convinced to remain at their posts. The company survived the war from within Romeo’s engineering empire.

In 1918 the guns fell silent but Italy was in chaos and there was a surge of popular support among factory workers for a Russian-style revolution. To counter this worrying threat, and funded by allied powers such as Britain, the Fascists under Benito Mussolini would take brutal action to quell any Communist activity.

It was a protection racket on an industrial scale, and in hindsight Italian industry was often at the mercy of both parties. Alfa Romeo’s factory in Portello was brought to a standstill by an uprising… which Mussolini’s men quickly countered.

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Big fires and big sticks were part and parcel of Italian industrial relations in the 1920s

The factory went back to building Giuseppe Merosi’s cars and to promote them it returned to competition. The war had inspired a good number of young men towards adventure and risk taking of the kind that motor racing could offer them, and a nucleus of drivers was built up in 1919-20 including the aspiring opera singer Giuseppe Campari, engineers Antonio Ascari and Ugo Sivocci plus a precocious 22 year-old called Enzo Ferrari.

Together they and their cars were managed under the Alfa Corse banner by Giorgio Rimini – an imposing (many would say terrifying) Neapolitan who had long sat at Romeo’s right hand. In 1920, Giuseppe Campari scored the first victory for Alfa Corse when he took the chequered flag at the Circuit of Mugello, driving one of Merosi’s pre-war 40/60 models. It would lead towards a succession of ever-more important race wins and ever-greater honours for the team.

Of which there will be more in Part 2…

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Nicola Romeo (centre) visits the Alfa Corse pit garage, to the delight of Enzo Ferrari (right)

Where now for the Tourist Trophy?

The announcement that Silverstone – and therefore the UK – will be missing from the FIA World Endurance Championship calendar from now on is not a surprise. There has been much hoo-ha on social media about it from British ‘fans’ – although it’s quite likely that more people have taken the trouble to post their outrage than ever bought a ticket.

Of rather more pith and moment is the fact that at present the Royal Automobile Club’s Tourist Trophy has no home – and there is no obvious candidate to replace it. But why, after so many decades, is top flight sports car racing abandoning the UK?

In 2011, the S&G worked on behalf of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to promote the event. A phone call in mid-July basically said that there was a budget to promote the race, which was in mid-September, and as everyone in France takes August off would we mind awfully doing what we could to sell some tickets.

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The Tourist Trophy has been awarded to the winners of the Silverstone 6 Hours in recent years

It was the dream brief: a client who gives you a budget first and asks questions later. It was quite possibly the most fun that will ever be had in this working life.

Local radio stations from the Solent to the Black Country ran adverts that used Steve McQueen’s movie Le Mans as the theme, with a heartbeat getting faster and engines bursting into life while a sonorous voice spoke in wonder about the world’s most advanced sports-prototypes and the elegant GT cars, Audis, Peugeots, Aston Martins, Porsches, Corvettes and Ferraris.

Every station that took the ads got pairs – sometimes several pairs – of VIP hospitality tickets to use as competition prizes. So did any local newspapers that we advertised in, which from memory was about a dozen from Herefordshire to Suffolk and Watford to Uttoxeter.

On the PR front, we realised that it was the 35th anniversary of the first Silverstone 6 Hours race, and got the winner of that inaugural race, John Fitzpatrick, to describe his giant-killing act alongside Tom Walkinshaw in a home-brewed BMW against the might of the BMW and Porsche works teams. We also got Desiré Wilson to talk to the press about being the first and only lady racer to win the event.

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The girls of the Silverstone 6 Hours with Dunsfold’s P-51D

There was a media day at Silverstone where home favourite Allan McNish took journalists round the track in a race-prepared Audi R8 GT car. Among the victims we sorted out for the day was BBC Radio 2 Drive Time sportscaster Matt Williams, who did a brilliant piece for roughly five million listeners which basically involved him asking questions in a panicked scream and Nishy laughing like a drain in reply.

Northampton railway station was completely wrapped to look like the grid at Le Mans (a little tribute to how our Bahraini friends promote their Grand Prix so well), and at every station between Euston and Birmingham there was advertising to be found on the platforms.

Finally, we found some of the finest-looking promo girls in Britain, dressed them in replicas of the iconic and much-lamented Hawaiian Tropic girls’ outfit and sallied forth to as many other motoring events as we could – armed with a barrel-load of flyers with unique 10% discount codes. At Dunsfold Wings & Wheels we took along one of Trackspeed’s Porsche GT3s and a Gulf Aston Martin DBR1/2, at Chelsea Autolegends we had the Aston and the Strakka Racing HRD that slotted in to the Le Mans-themed main display, and the ACO came and did a press conference.

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On the lawns of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea alongside a few billions’ worth of classics

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If in doubt, grab a Chelsea Pensioner.

Because enthusiasts of motor racing tend to like having models of the cars in some shape of form, we did a deal with the now sadly defunct Modelzone company to put posters in the windows of their 46 shops across the country and for each shop to have a prize draw for a pair of hospitality tickets. They also ran a competition on their website and to their email distribution list to win the opportunity to wave the flag that starts the race.

We had branding all over Autosport.com, a competition to do the grid walk on Pistonheads and yet more competition prizes of hospitality. As a final offer, we contacted the marque clubs of every brand with cars taking part in the event and offered them display parking on the infield with a sliding scale of up to 50% off the ticket price, the more cars (and therefore people) that came with them.

As a final treat to reward the hordes of people that we hoped would be coming, we got the distributor of SCX slot cars to set up a tent with a massive track in it and plenty of Audis and Peugeots to race. We got John Fitzpatrick and Desiré Wilson to come along and do autograph sessions. We got Porsche 956 chassis 001, the 1982 Group C class winner and founder of 12 years of success for Porsche, together with a BMW CSL representing the inaugural 6 Hours and a Porsche 935.

All of this was done in six weeks from a standing start. All of this was done on a total budget that would scarcely pay for a tatty second-hand Porsche. All of this reached an audience of millions and we sold… something like 8,000 tickets. It was raining at Silverstone and there is seldom a more desolate part of the world on a soggy September day than the old airfield, especially when one is wandering round looking at the fruits of one’s labours and seeing not one soul between Copse and Stowe other than the ever-hearty marshals.

With heavy hearts we reported in to the ACO folks, expecting to be informed that we’d never work in this town again. They were… coq-au-hoop! Refreshed from their month in Provence, they couldn’t believe that they’d sold around 15% more tickets than the previous year with a campaign that lasted six weeks instead of three months.

It’s Silverstone, they said, with suitably Gallic shrugs. Everything costs too much because they have to fund the Grand Prix. The Wing stood empty above the paddock because it was too big and infeasibly priced, so all the hospitality had to be done in the old units on the old start/finish straight and guests had to be bussed the mile in between lunch and the working area.

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We even had a page in The Sun – although the cars were notably absent…

The only location that could be found for the marque clubs, slot car track and historic racing cars display was exactly half-way between the two paddocks, meaning that few people bothered to get off their buses and brave the rain to come and have a look. As it was, neither the tent for the historic cars or the security person to look after them had shown up, so we had to send the Porsche 956 back to its owner and keep the BMW and 935 outside while a short-notice tent was found to house them.

When the S&G returned to the event in 2014, it was the first round of the new season and there had been much excitement on social media about the return of Porsche and all the rest of the pre-season chatter. There had been a photo call with the cars in central London but very little in the press had resulted from it, there were no adverts to speak of and no campaign of the sort that we’d done but the weather was uncommonly pleasant on the Saturday.

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Le Mans brings fans together from around the world – especially the UK

There was still barely a soul in the public areas around much of the circuit. If more tickets were sold the difference was marginal. Yet at Le Mans one can barely walk a step without falling over roaming families, all eagerly discussing the race in every accent and dialect of the British Isles. Chuck a rock into the crowd at Le Mans and you’re far more likely to be told to ‘eff off’ than you are to ‘va te faire foutre’.

So now the ACO has decided to abandon its crusade to give British fans a treat on home soil. It’s not possible (as so many of them have wished) to return to Brands Hatch because the circuit isn’t to modern endurance standards – and anyway the 1000km races there in their 1980s heyday were fairly processional because there’s no room for overtaking.

People remember those races so fondly because there were big crowds, in part due to the presence of Jaguar and Porsche’s great ace Derek Bell as national heroes… and also in part because everyone buying a ticket to the Grand Prix at Brands got a free ticket to the 1000km. Sometimes, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

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Brands Hatch had a packed house for Group C sports cars in the 1980s

So, a chapter closes and all that remains to be said is what the future holds for the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, the world’s longest-serving motor sport prize? It’s only warranted a small mention in the World Endurance Championship arena, but this grand old prize was awarded to the winner of the Silverstone 6 Hours.

In 112 years it’s been awarded at a sports car race 29 times, GT races 11 times, to races for Grand Prix cars three times and for touring cars 25 times. Perhaps Alan Gow and TOCA might like to use it for a non-championship touring car all-comers race as they did 20 years ago? Or maybe the thriving British GT series should take it on? Undoubtedly there will be a lobby for reinstating Britain’s round of Formula E and using it for this purpose… it’s the in thing to do these days, after all.

Perhaps the most pragmatic suggestion is to permanently base the TT at Goodwood, where the current tribute race for 1960s GT cars can be restored to full glory. After all, there are few events in Britain that attract a similar size of crowd, and the prestige of winning it is enormous amongst a group of drivers and owners who actually care about its heritage and history.

At present, the longest-standing prize in motor racing history, a trophy that unites C.S. Rolls, Tazio Nuvolari, Sir Stirling Moss and Alain Menu is rootless. Steps must be taken fast to ensure that this grand old prize remains fixed to the greatest motor sport occasion on the calendar, the most stylish, the most glamorous and the most relevant – because if we lose our sense of identity at this moment of crisis for motor sport in Britain then we might as well all pack up and go home.

Alfa looking back to the future?

Here is a rather wonderful little film of Alfa Corse in its pomp at Monza and, rather brilliantly, against a screen at Cinecittà as it prepared to bid farewell to Grand Prix racing back in 1951. It seems that perhaps this grandest of all Italian marques may be making a Grand Prix racing comeback before long.

Quite how and why Alfa Romeo could be restored by its parent group, Fiat – which is of course owner of Ferrari and Maserati as well – remains to be seen. The restoration work began earlier this year, when the name made its reappearance on the flanks of Ferrari’s current contenders – as described here.

However, if one were in a conspiratorial mood, the fact that Red Bull elected to use an Alfa when it took Daniel Ricciardo back to his ancestral home in Sicily to experience the old Targa Florio course might be of interest. After all, it badly needs to wangle a works engine deal…

Daniel Ricciardo is the most recent F1 driver to sample an Alfa Romeo

Daniel Ricciardo is the most recent F1 driver to sample an Alfa Romeo

Such tomfoolery aside, it is indeed welcome news for the sport that such a return may be in the offing. Even the ghost of the scarlet cars from Portello – and, indeed, from Ferrari’s workshops in Modena – carry with them more charisma than 90 per cent of competition cars today, and hopefully reviving the brand and its deliciously stylish take on common-or-garden Fiat products will foster a new generation of enthusiasts for this celebrated brand.

Here are a few reasons why it’s OK to be just a little excited:

Ferrari and Alfa Romeo – 80 years on

Today saw the launch of Ferrari’s 2015 Formula One contender, the SF15-T. At this stage in its life it simply looks like a prettier version of last year’s car, but what’s this on its flanks? Why! It’s the Alfa Romeo badge!

The 2015 Ferrari - complete with Alfa Romeo badge

The 2015 Ferrari – complete with Alfa Romeo badge

While of little overall consequence, the badge does offer some hope that the Scuderia might embrace a little more of its pre-war past. For too many years the boys and girls in red have been keen to impress upon us all that the world began in 1947, when Enzo first set about building cars in his own name.

Yet by doing so, they have cast aside the many triumphs achieved through the 1930s, when Scuderia Ferrari was first a customer team for Alfa Romeo and later the effective works squad.

Each year around the world there is undoubtedly more excitement surrounding the birth of a new Ferrari than can be whipped up by any of the other teams. Perhaps in 2015 this is because they remain scarlet in a sea of grey colour schemes (perhaps ‘Fifty Shades’ should be the new tagline for F1), but more often it is because of heritage and tradition, the pageantry and sheer Italian theatre that surrounds the team.

The twin-engined 1935 Alfa Bimotore was designed and built by Ferrari

The twin-engined 1935 Alfa Bimotore was designed and built by Ferrari

Well, the Scuderia provided bucket loads of the latter throughout the 1930s. This year, for example, marks the 80th anniversary of Tazio Nuvolari’s victory at the Nürburgring. That race – when the Maestro wrung the neck of his underpowered Alfa P3 to beat the Germans on home soil – is about as big a chunk of Grand Prix folklore as you’ll find and an anniversary that is well worth Ferrari’s time to celebrate…

…particularly when the Germans are stomping all over the sport now as they did then.

So, with this in mind, here’s a lovely little film of Nuvolari winning the 1935 Pau Grand Prix. The event, in February of that year, was Nuvolari’s first after returning to the fold at Ferrari, having previously believed that he would be better off in privately-entered Bugattis and Maseratis.

The race doesn’t look particularly well-attended, but at the front of the field the two Ferrari-entered Alfa Romeos of Nuvolari and René Dreyfus put on a show. Ferrari’s all-stars traded the lead throughout 75 of the 80 laps before the ‘Flying Mantuan’ asserted his authority to lead Dreyfus home nearly four minutes clear of the competition.

Such was the stuff of the 750 kg Grand Prix formula – until the Germans arrived and rewrote the rulebook for the glory of the Reich. So enjoy the clip and let’s hope that the good people in Maranello break open the archives on this earlier partnership with Alfa Romeo.

 

Tazio’s first TT winner

The 1930 Alfa Romeo 6c 1750 GS with which Nuvolari tamed the Ards circuit

The Royal Automobile Club has decided to accord the opening round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship with the world’s oldest motor racing title. The Tourist Trophy dates back to 1905, and has seen some of the most celebrated cars and drivers in the sport’s history put their name on the roll of honour.

One of the most evocative names etched into the TT legend is that of Tazio Nuvolari, who made his debut on the event at the fearsome Ards circuit on 23 August 1930. This race told a story of of Italian passion and British pride which hinged around Fred Stiles, a British dealer for Alfa Romeo.

Throughout the run-up to the TT there was considerable friction between the Alfa Romeo factory at Portello and the British racing community. This was caused by the relentless hounding of the Italians by wealthy British drivers, including Malcolm Campbell, Edgar Fronteras, and Lord Howe, who believed that they should be given the chance to add a TT victory to Alfa’s many racing achievements.

By all accounts their persistence brought about considerable frostiness in Anglo-Italian relations, which in turn was damaging to Stiles’ business. He was ultimately forced to speak out in the international language of cold, hard cash – going to Alfa Corse and purchasing three of its 6C 1750 GS models with the latest race-prepared and strengthened chassis and fitted with the very latest 102 brake-horsepower Testa Fissa engines previously only available to the works team.

The trio of Alfas at the start of the 1930 Tourist Trophy - Nuvolari closest

The trio of Alfas at the start of the 1930 Tourist Trophy – Nuvolari closest

The cars arrived complete except for bodywork, because the Gran Sport was only made in two-seater form, and the TT regulations stipulated that four-seater bodies with full touring equipment were required. One of the cars received a body fashioned in duralumin alloy by Hoyal – a body which had previously contested the Brooklands Double Twelve – while the other two were fitted with less exotic coachwork by by James Young.

Having invested so heavily in his cars – and doubtless to the further annoyance of Campbell, Howe and company – Stiles also secured the services of Alfa’s ‘crack’ squad of works drivers Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, and Giuseppe Campari. The duralumin-bodied car was given to Nuvolari and it quickly proved to be one of the fastest on the entry list – only Birkin’s 4½-litre ‘blower’ Bentley and Howe’s supercharged seven-litre Mercedes-Benz were able to lap faster.

The race turned out to be very wet, and this helped to level the playing field for the Alfas against their high-powered British and German competitors. The big Mercedes was particularly afflicted by the wet weather, while the main challenge to the Alfa team disappeared when Birkin’s Bentley crashed at Ballystockart.

This left the three Stiles Alfas to romp away from the field, entertaining the crowds with a mesmerising show of skill from these three heroes of the Grand Prix world. The lead changed several times during the race between the trio but it was almost inevitable that Nuvolari, the ‘Flying Mantuan’ would prevail with an average speed of 70.88 mph, slightly faster than Campari’s average of 70.82 mph, followed by Varzi at 70.31 mph.

The Anglo-Italian squad celebrates its 1-2-3 finish, hoisting Nuvolari aloft

The Anglo-Italian squad celebrates its 1-2-3 finish, hoisting Nuvolari aloft

Following the race, the eight bearing Testa Fissa engine was retained by the factory and a standard detachable head five bearing engine replaced it with matching numbers to the chassis. In order to sell the car, a very attractive two-seater James Young drophead coupé body was fitted, which reused original front end parts of the original racing body. GK 3481 was exhibited at the October 1930 London Motor Show and the first private owner was H.H. Prince Aly Khan, followed a year later by racing driver Whitney Straight.

After World War 2 the car passed through owners in Devon, Notting Hill, Kent and Dorset – where it remained until 1996. It was then sent to Italy for restoration, where the drophead body was replaced with a replica of the Hoyal duralumin racing body with which Nuvolari had won the TT. The car was sold by RM Auctions at its 2012 London sale for £784,000 ($1.2m) – quite a bargain, really.

$1.2 million gets you the chance to see the world from Nuvolari’s seat

Sites we like #3: Lief Snellman’s Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing

The chronicle of great races by Lief

The chronicle of great races by Lief

Dear old Lief has been chronicling the pre-war Grands Prix with skill and detail for more than a dozen years. If ever you need a reference for the ‘Silver Arrows’ in particular, then look no further.

The Golden Era of Grand Prix Racing