1930, the turning point
The turning point dates back from 1930. After the failure in Monza, the Alfa Romeo had not taken Tazio into consideration anymore, but Vittorio Jano had not forgotten about him. He wanted Nuvolari in the Alfa Romeo team and wrote a memorable letter to him.Tazio signed the contract and was soon summoned for testing. The official debut could not have been more exciting: Nuvolari at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 won the 4th Mille Miglia in a record time. He was the first driver to complete the long and extremely difficult route at an average speed of over 100 KpH. This fact made him immensely popular. The race is remembered for a curious event which is still under discussion: after a strong long distance duel with Varzi, Nuvolari managed to overtake him driving with lights turned off for the last kilometers. His coéquipier G. B. Guidotti, indifferent of all the objections (first of all, that the overtaking took place in the daylight), told in many interviews it was himself to switch the lights off.
The Scuderia Ferrari and Tazio's farewell to motorcycle racing
In 1930 Nuvolari raced even more often, alternating tracks and road competition; especially hill climb. At the Trieste - Opicina he gave the new born Scuderia Ferrari their first win, and soon became their standard bearer. He also won the Cuneo-Colle della Maddalena, the "Vittorio Veneto-Cansiglio and the Tourist Trophy run at the Ards Circuit near Belfast. During 1930 Nuvolari retired from motorcycle racing, activity in which he had excelled for a long time, with four final exploits: among them the Lario Trophy, where he was first overall, first in class, and drove the fastest lap. His 350CC Bianchi crossed the finishing line before all the 500CC motorcycles.
Bugatti and Alfa
1931 was one of the most active years for Nuvolari. He drove for 20 races with at least 3 major victories out of a total of 7: the Targa Florio, the Italian Grand Prix and the Coppa Ciano. He raced the Reale Gran Premio di Roma with an old Bugatti 35C, driving all the other races with the Alfa Romeo cars of Scuderia Nuvolari: the 6CC 1500SS, the Tipo A monoposto and above all the 8C 2300 - versions "Passo corto" and Monza.
1932: a successful season
By this time Nuvolari's star (the "Flying Mantuan", as he was called) blazed in the racing world. Out of 16 races, Tazio won 7: the Gran Prix of Monaco, the Targa Florio, the Italian Grand Prix, the French Grand prix, the Circuito di Avellino, the Coppa Ciano and the Coppa Acerbo. There were also 5 first in class and 9 fastest laps. The only race he did not managed to finish was the Mille Miglia: coming out Florence, his car run out of the road. Nuvolari's triumphal year was made complete by two other titles of great prestige: the Italian driver's championship and the International Championship, won on the basis of the three victories in the Grand Prix races of Italy, France, Germany.
D'Annunzio and the turtle
Nuvolari's name was frequently seen on the front page. He found himself invited by many of the "Greats" of the time. The poet Gabriele D'Annunzio received him at The Vittoriale degli Italiani, where Nuvolari was given a little golden turtle bearing the dedication: "To the fastest man in the world, the slowest animal". Tazio considered this little piece as a good luck charm, and also a symbol. He had it embroidered on the yellow jersey which he wore to race in, printed on his stationery and painted on the side of the personal airplane that he acquired some years later. He had also some copies made which - just as the poet had done - he gave to friends, those dear to him and also those who could be important.
Nuvolari and Mussolini
A few months later, just after Tazio's win in the Coppa Acerbo, Mussolini received him in Rome and posed with him for the photographers by an Alfa Romeo P3.
The divorce from Ferrari
In 1933 Nuvolari won 11 races. On the racing side this was certainly a positive season, but otherwise it was characterized by disagreements and tension. Tazio won the Tunisian Gran Prix, the Mille Miglia, the Circuit of Alessandria, the Eifelrennen, the Grand Prix of Nimes and the 24 Hours of Le Mans; but then he decided to divorce from the Scuderia Ferrari. Tazio was led to this move by being convinced that, by going it alone, he could get better cars and make more money, too.
At the start of the Belgium Grand Prix, he appeared with a Maserati 8CM prepared by his personal mechanic Decimo Compagnoni. He won in Belgium, in the Coppa Ciano and in the Grand Prix of Nice, ending the season on the Spanish track in San Sebastian, where he had a serious accident. In 1933 he drove 5 different cars: Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spyder (Passo Corto), Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Le Mans, 8C 2600 Monza, Maserati 8CM. He had also a MG Magnette K3 for the Tourist Trophy where Nuvolari was, of course, first overall.
L'incidente di Alessandria
This season opened with a new formula for Gran Prix cars: a 750Kg weight limit was issued to stop the dangerous escalation of the engine power. Besides, the German car makers (the Mercedes-Benz and the newborn Auto Union) made their entrance and shortly their control was overwhelming. Nuvolari set up his own team with not very competitive cars, so the season was really unfavourable for him. On April 22nd, at the Circuito "Bordino" in Alessandria he had what was to be the most serious accident of his entire career. A little more than a month, however, he stoically started the Avusrennen still on crutches, with his left leg in a cast. He arrived 5th.
He run from a circuit to another, with many withdrawls (9 out of 23 races) and quite modest performances. Almost at the end of the season, things went better and he won in Modena and Naples. He drove up to seven cars: Bugatti 59, Maserati 8CM, Maserati 6C34, Alfa Romeo (private, of course) 8C 2300 Monza, 6C 2300 B Pescara and 8C 2600 Monza.
The peace with Enzo Ferrari
At the end of 1934 Nuvolari entered into negotiations with Auto Union. It is known that in September Tazio had a double test drive with the 16C Tipo A rear engine: the first test at the Grand Prix in Spain, on the Lasarte Circuit in San Sebastian; the second in Brno, at the Masaryk Circuit. However, some pilots of the Auto Union (maybe Stuck) opposed to the signing up of Tazio. The engagement was broken, and the "wedding" put off: the Auto Union engaged Achille Varzi.
So "the flying Mantuan" signed the peace with Enzo Ferrari, and in 1935 Tazio was back in the Scuderia Ferrari. He soon began again to win: in the first race of the season (at Pau, on an Alfa Romeo Tipo B called P3), and again in Bergamo, Biella and Turin with a more powerful and modified model P3 of the Scuderia Ferrari.
1935: the "impossible win" at Nürburgring
His most impressive performance was the "impossible victory" in the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, driving the obsolete Alfa Romeo P3 (3167cm3, compressor, 265HP) versus the ultimate home-teams cars: five Mercedes Benz W25 (3990 cm3, 8C, compressor, 375HP) and four Auto Union Tipo B (4950cm3, 16C, compressor, 375HP).
Tazio knocked everybody out, scoring maybe his most emblematic, epic win.
The record along Firenze-Mare
Before the season ending, he won three more times: the Coppa Ciano, the Grand Prix of Nice and the one at Modena. On June 15th, he set two new international records over the kilometer and the flying mile (timing 321,426 and 323,125 KpH - and touching 336,252 KpH). The car was an Alfa Romeo bimotore, mounting two supercharged propellers (the 8C of the P3, one in the front and the other on the rear). They were 3165cm3 each, for a total power of 6330cm3 and a maximum strength of 540HP (270 x 2).
In the Italian Gran Prix, Nuvolari started with the new Alfa 8C-35 monoposto (single-seater) with whom he won, later, the Modena Circuit.
The Vanderbilt Cup
Nuvolari started the racing season occurring in another accident on May 8th, practicing for the Tripoli Gran Prix. Again he was thrown from the car sustaining multiple contusions and also appearantly cracking a couple of vertebrae. However the next day, although limping heavily, he returned to the track and in a tremendous pain managed to finish eight. On June 7th he beat the German cars in Barcelona, on the 21st in Budapest, on the 28th in Milan, where he was first once more on the Alfa Romeo 12C, beating Achille Varzi's Auto Union. He sent the crowd wild with other two wins (the Coppa Ciano and the Modena Circuit) and finally he conquered the Americas with a runaway win in the Vanderbilt Cup. He drove two Alfa Romeo: the 8C-35 and the 12C-36.
1937, a bad year
1937: the German cars dominated all the races, so it was a bad year for all the other drivers. Above all, Nuvolari had a death in his family: on June 27th, while Tazio was going overseas for the Valderbilt Cup on board of "the Normandie", he received a telegram from Mantua telling him of the death of his elder son, Giorgio, from myocarditis. The boy would have been 19 in September; the success of the previous year seemed gone far away. During the race, moreover, the Alfa Romeo driven by Tazio caught fire and the driver once more had to remove himself from the car in haste.
He had another accident (during the test of the Turin circuit), few races (9 alltogether) and only one win: at the Grand Prix in Milan. The 370CV of his 12C-36 were not enough in comparison with the 520CV 6 litres, 16C of the Auto Union Tipo C, and even less in comparison with the 646CV 5.6 litres 8C of the Mercedes Benz W125.
The Auto union and Tazio's coming back to race
In 1938 the season opened with a new formula for Gran Prix cars (3000cm3 limit powered for boasted engine, and 4500 for the sucked-up ones) but the arrangement did not change at all: the Alfa Romeo had on the track the new 308 (2991cm3, 8C compressor, 295CV, 260KpH) but the Mercedes Benz replied with the W154 (2962cm3, 12C compressor, 468CV, 300 KpH). During practice for the Grand Prix of Pau the Alfa Romeo caught fire.
Tazio was bruised and suffered a few slight burns on his face, arms and legs. He was more than anything severely shocked and had a long hard think. He decided to retirefrom racing, but soon he rethought his decision. He then left for a trip to the Unites States: he went to Indianapolis where he tried - wearing shirt and tie, and a borrowed helmet - a couple of single seaters without any satisfaction.
On his return to Europe he signed with Auto Union. They were looking for a pilot who yook the place of the young ace Bernard Rosemeyer, died on January 28th while attempting a record on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt motorway.
After three test drives, he drove the rear engined silver single seater Tipo D to two memorable victories: the Italian Grand prix in Monza and, two weeks later, the Grand Prix at Donington where he threw the Englishmen into ecstasies.
The war and the last race of Auto Union
The racing calendar shortened down as threats of war increased. The II World War had already broken out when the Grand Prix of Belgrade was run on the 3rd of September. It was the last success and the last race of Auto Union. Nuvolari won, ending an extraordinary era which found him as a legendary protagonist.
The second son death
In 1946 Nuvolari suffered another personal tragedy: on the 11th of April his second son died, aged only 18. Somehow he found the strength to start racing again. On the 12th of May he raced at the Grand Prix of Marseilles.He showed that he was anything but past history, doing the fastest lap before his engine let him down. He would race anywhere, anyhow he could to survive his great pain.
"Without steering wheel"
He did not win as often as before, but he became more and more popular. In Turin, on September 3rd, he started the Coppa Brezzi driving a Cisitalia D46. He was in the lead at the end of the first lap. On the second one he passed in front of the pit area waving the steering wheel which had come off in his hands. He did another lap driving the steering column but then he had to stop for the inevitable repairs. He started again and ended the race ranking 13th. The story went around the world and added popularity to his already formidable myth.
The last victories
In 1946 Tazio drove in 19 races, gaining three overall wins. Still with the Maserati, he got at Albi what was to be his last international triumph. Among the car he drove, we can count the Maserati 4CL, Fiat 1100S, and Cisitalia D46.
The Mille Miglia
Nuvolari started only six races in 1947. He had an overall win at the Circuito of Parma. The facts so given make it seem a fairly routine year - not much for a champion like him - but do not tell the whole story. Another race added to the myth: the Mille Miglia. Tazio was 55 but managed his usual incredible feat. He went into the the lead with his little Cisitalia 202 Spyder and was well ahead to the pack. He fought off fatigue (by the way, that year the route was 1800 instead of 1600Km long), vomiting attacks and the rain. An ignition fault was repaired, but a violent storm filled the cockpit with water. He had to stop briefly and, when he restarted, Biondetti's Type 8C 2900 Alfa Romeo Berlinetta had passed him, entering Brescia in the lead. Tazio, who thrilled the hearts of millions of Italians, was right behind him.
Aged 56, his last feat
In 1948 he drove in 5 races, finishing fourth in one, 7th in another and not classified in the rest. However one of these retirements - the XV Mille Miglia - was what many considered to have been his last great drive. The Cisitalia which was especially prepared for him broke during testing and could not be repaired in time. It seemed impossible that Nuvolari could do the race, but the day before the start Enzo Ferrari offered him a 166S. Tazio accepted and on the 2 of May, with no practicing at all (his last drive dated back from September 14th of the previous year!) was at the start. He took off as if he was 20 years old, rather than 56. In Pescara he was leading, at Rome he was 12 minutes ahead, in Livorno 20 minutes, at Florence half an hour. His drive was irresistible, but the car was breaking up. First it lost a mud guard, then the bonnet, the the bolts holding the seats in. Finally, in Reggio Emilia a broken leaf spring pivot blew away the hopes of an happy ending to the last of Nuvolari's epic drives.
In 1949 he only raced once, almost symbolically, at Marseilles where he completed just one lap before handing the Maserati A6GCS to Piero Carini.
He was back behind the wheel in 1950, with his final races. He was at the Giro di Sicilia/Targa Florio (1.080KM long!) but had to retire due to the broken gear box after a few kilometers. On April 10th, he raced at Palermo-Montepellegrino hill climb, arriving 5th overall and first in his class. His car was the Cisitalia 204 Spyder Sport elaborated by Abarth. Although he never announced his retirement from racing, this was to be his last win and his last drive, too.
Then he was seen less often, becoming increasingly isolated. His health declined and he died on August 11th, 1953, in his bed and not (as he had so frequently chanced - and what could have perhaps wished for him) at the wheel of a car. Ferdinand Porsche said then that Nuvolari was "the greatest pilot of the past, the present and the future".