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Tazio Nuvolari

Tazio Nuvolari
Birth date November 16, 1892
Birth place 3dflagsdotcom italy2bs.gif Castel d'Ario, Italy
Death date August 11, 1953
Death place Mantua, Italy
Occupation Racing driver
Spouse Carolina Perina 1917-1953
Parents Arturo Nuvolari
Elisa Zorzi
Children Giorgio Nuvolari
Alberto Nuvolari

Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari (November 16, 1892August 11, 1953) was an Italian motorcycle and racecar driver, known as Il Mantovano Volante (The Flying Mantuan) or Nivola. He was the 1932 European Champion in Grand Prix motor racing. Dr Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari "The greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future.".

Tazio Nuvolari started out in motorcycle racing in 1920 at the age of 27. In 1925 he captured the 350cc European Championship. From then until the end of 1930, he competed both in motorcycle racing and in automobile racing. For 1931, he decided to concentrate fully on racing cars and agreed to race for Alfa Romeo's factory team, Alfa Corse. In 1932 he took two wins and a second place in the three European Championship Grands Prix, winning him the title. He won four other Grands Prix including a second Targa Florio and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Tazio Nuvolari

After Alfa Romeo officially left Grand Prix racing, Nuvolari stayed on with Scuderia Ferrari who ran the Alfa Romeo cars on a semi-official basis. During 1933, Nuvolari left the team for Maserati after becoming frustrated with the Alfa Romeo's performance. At the end of 1934, Maserati pulled out of Grand Prix racing and Nuvolari returned to Ferrari, who were reluctant to take him back, but were persuaded by Mussolini, the Italian prime minister.

The relationship with Ferrari turned sour during 1937, and Nuvolari raced an Auto Union as a one-off in the Swiss Grand Prix that year before agreeing to race for them for the 1938 season. Nuvolari remained at Auto Union until Grand Prix racing was put on hiatus by World War II. The only major European Grand Prix he never won was the Czechoslovakian Grand Prix. Upon his return to racing after the war, he was 54 and suffering from ill health. His final race, in 1950, saw him finish first in class and fifth overall. He died in 1953 from a stroke.

Personal and early life

Nuvolari was born in Castel d'Ario near Mantua on 16 November 1892 to Arturo Nuvolari and his wife Elisa Zorzi. The family were well acquainted with motor racing as Arturo and his brother Giuseppe were both bicycle racers - Giuseppe was a multiple winner of the Italian national championship and was particularly admired by a young Tazio.

Nuvolari was married to Carolina Perina, and together they had two children: Giorgio (born 4 September 1918), who died in 1937 aged 19 from myocarditis, and Alberto, who died in 1946 aged 18 from nephritis.


Motorcycle racing

Nuvolari gained his license for motorcycle racing in 1915 at the age of 23. His motorcycling career was postponed, however, by the outbreak of World War I and Nuvolari served as a driver in the Italian army. Once the war had ended, he resumed his sporting career and took part in his first race at the Circuito Internazionale Motoristico in Cremona in 1920. During this period, Nuvolari also dabbled in car racing, winning a reliability trial in 1921.

In 1925, Nuvolari became the 350 cc European Motorcycling champion by winning the European Grand Prix. At the time, the European Grand Prix was considered the most important race of the motorcycling season and the winners in each category were designated European Champions. Nuvolari also won the Nations Grand Prix four times between 1925 and 1928 and the Lario Circuit race five times between 1925 and 1929, all in the 350 cc class and each time on a Bianchi motorcycle.

It was also in 1925 that Nuvolari was asked by Alfa Romeo to have a trial in their Grand Prix car. The car's gearbox seized and Nuvolari crashed, severely lacerating his back. Despite his injuries, he competed in the Nations Grand Prix at Monza six days later, winning the race after he had persuaded staff at the hospital to bandage him in a manner such that he could sit on his motorcycle and receive a push start.

A switch to four wheels

Nuvolari (fifth from left), with other Alfa Romeo drivers and Enzo Ferrari.

1931-1932: Alfa Corse

Related Article: Alfa Corse


Coppa Consuma 1930, Tazio Nuvolari driving an Alfa Romeo 6C1750GS.

In 1930, Nuvolari won his first RAC Tourist Trophy (he won one more time in 1933). According to a legend, when one of the drivers broke the window of a butchery, Nuvolari, when passing by it, drove on the pavement and tried to catch a ham.

According to Sammy Davis who met him there, Nuvolari showed a great sense for dark humour and seemed to enjoy situations when everything went wrong. For example, he told Enzo Ferrari after he got a ticket for a journey home from the Sicilian Targa Florio "What a strange businessman you are. What if I am brought back in a coffin?" Nuvolari and his co-driver Battista Guidotti in Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS spider Zagato won the Mille Miglia, becoming the first to complete the race at an average speed of over 100 km/h. Due to starting after his team-mate Achille Varzi, he was leading the race despite still being behind Varzi on the road. In the dark of night Nuvolari tailed Varzi for tens of kilometres, riding at speed of 150 km/h with his headlights off, thereby being invisible in Varzi's rear-view mirrors; he then switched on his headlights before overtaking "the shocked" Varzi near the finish at Brescia.


Towards the end of 1930, Nuvolari made a decision to stop racing motorcycles and to concentrate fully on car racing during 1931. The new season saw a change in the regulations which meant that Grand Prix races had to be at least 10 hours in duration. After drawing ninth place on the grid at the Italian Grand Prix, Nuvolari started the race in an Alfa Romeo shared with Baconin Borzacchini. However, the car had to retire with mechanical problems after 33 laps. Nuvolari then teamed up with Giuseppe Campari and the pair took the race win, although Nuvolari could not receive the championship points from it. Apart from a second place at the Belgian Grand Prix, the only other European Championship race, the French Grand Prix, resulted in a disappointing 11th place finish. Aside from the main European Championship Grands Prix, Nuvolari took victories in the Targa Florio and the Coppa Ciano.


1932 saw a revision of the previous year's regulation change, with the race duration being reduced to between five and ten hours. The season was the only one in which Nuvolari regularly had one of the fastest cars, the Alfa Romeo P3. A consequence was that in the three European Championship Grands Prix, he took two wins and a second place - winning the championship by four points from Borzacchini. He took four other wins during the season, including the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix and a second Targa Florio. His mechanic Mabelli said about this race: "Before the start, Nuvolari told me to go down on the floor of the car everytime he shouts, which was a signal that he went to a curve too fast and that we need to decrease the car´s center of mass. I spent the whole race on the floor. Nuvolari started to shout in the first curve and wouldn't stop until the last one."

On 28 April that year he was given a golden turtle badge by the famous Italian writer Gabriele d'Annunzio which symbolised the opposite of his speed. He wore the turtle ever since and it became his talisman and also his symbol.

1933-1937: Scuderia Ferrari and Maserati

"Tazio Nuvolari was not simply a racing driver. To Italy he became an idol, a demi-god, a legend, epitomising all that young Italy aspired to be; 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." Related Articles: Scuderia Ferrari, Maserati


The 1933 season was the first year of a two year hiatus for the European Championship, and saw Alfa Romeo stop their official involvement in Grand Prix racing. They did not disappear altogether as they were represented by Enzo Ferrari's privateer outfit. For economic reasons, the P3 was not passed on to Ferrari and they were forced to use the Monza, the predecessor of the P3. Maserati were their main opposition with a highly improved car.

Nuvolari is often reported as having been involved in a race-fixing scandal at the Tripoli Grand Prix. It is said that he, along with Achille Varzi and Baconin Borzacchini, conspired to fix the race in order to profit from the Libyan state lottery. The lottery saw 30 tickets drawn before the race - one for each starter - and the holder of the ticket corresponding to the winning driver would win seven and a half million lire. However, this story is said by some to be a work of fiction by Alfred Neubauer, the team manager of Mercedes-Benz at the time and a well-known raconteur with a penchant for spicing up a story. Some of the facts in Neubauer's version do not hold true with documented records of events, which point to Nuvolari, Varzi and Borzacchini agreeing to pool the prize money should one of them win, as opposed to Neubauer's claims of race fixing.

Alfa Romeo announced that for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nuvolari would be competing in a team with Raymond Sommer. Sommer argued that he would be drive the majority of the race as he was more familiar with the circuit and Nuvolari would likely break the car. Nuvolari countered that he was a leading Grand Prix driver and Le Mans was a simple layout that would not trouble him, to which Sommer backed down and they agreed to divide the driving equally. The race itself saw Sommer and Nuvolari take a two lap lead before their fuel tank developed a hole, which was plugged by chewing gum whilst in the pits. Several more pit stops were necessary as the makeshift repair came undone several times during the race. Nuvolari drove from then until the end of the race, breaking the lap record nine times and winning the race by approximately 400 yards (366 m).

1934 "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!"Earl Howe, on Nuvolari's drive in the 1934 AVUS-Rennen whilst having one leg in plaster.

At the start of 1934, Nuvolari entered the Monaco Grand Prix in a privately owned Bugatti. Having made it up to third place in the race, he suffered brake troubles and fell back to fifth at the finish, two laps behind the winner, Guy Moll. Whilst racing at Alessandria in the Circuito di Pietro Bordino race, Nuvolari crashed whilst avoiding Carlo Felice Trossi's stricken car. He broke a leg, but suffering from boredom in hospital, he decided to enter the AVUS-Rennen just over four weeks after his accident. His Maserati was specially modified so that he could use all three of its pedals with his left foot; his right was still in plaster. Troubled by cramp, Nuvolari finished fifth.

By the time of the Penya Rhin Grand Prix in late June, Nuvolari's leg was finally out of plaster, but was still causing him troubles as he battled pain until he retired his Maserati with technical problems.

In the Italian Grand Prix, Nuvolari debuted Maserati's new 6C-34 model. The car performed poorly and Nuvolari could only finish fifth, three laps behind the Mercedes-Benz of Rudolf Caracciola and Luigi Fagioli.


For 1935, Nuvolari set his sights on a drive with the German Auto Union team. The team were lacking top-line drivers, but relented to pressure from Achille Varzi who did not want to be in the same teams as Nuvolari. Nuvolari then approached Enzo Ferrari, but was turned down as he had previously walked out on the team. However, Mussolini, the Italian prime minister, intervened and Ferrari backed down.

In this year, Nuvolari scored his most impressive victory, thought by many to be the greatest victory in car racing of all times, when at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, driving an old Alfa Romeo P3 (3167cm³, compressor, 265HP) versus the dominant, all conquering home team's cars of five Mercedes Benz W25 (3990 cm³, 8C, compressor, 375 HP, driven by Caracciola, Fagioli, Hermann Lang, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Geyer) and four Auto Union Tipo B (4950cm³, 16C, compressor, 375 HP, driven by Bernd Rosemeyer, Varzi, Hans Stuck and Paul Pietsch). This victory is known as "The Impossible Victory". The crowd of 300,000 applauded Nuvolari, but the representatives of the Third Reich were enraged.


Nuvolari had a big accident in May during practice for the Tripoli Grand Prix and it is alleged that he broke some vertebrae. Despite a limp, he took part in the race the following day and finished eighth.


At the beginning of 1937, Alfa Romeo took their works team back from Ferrari and entered it as part of the Alfa Corse team. Nuvolari stayed with Alfa Romeo despite becoming increasingly frustrated with the poor build quality of their racing cars.

At the Coppa Acerbo, Alfa Romeo's new 12C-37 car proved to be slow and unreliable. This frustrated Nuvolari, who handed his car over to Giuseppe Farina mid-race. Not wanting to leave Alfa Romeo, he drove an Auto Union in the Swiss Grand Prix as a one-off. After the Italian Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo withdrew from racing for the remainder of the season and dismissed Vittorio Jano, their chief designer.

1938-1939: Auto Union


Although Nuvolari started 1938 as an Alfa Romeo driver, a split fuel tank in the first race of the season at Pau was enough for him to walk out on the team, critical of the poor workmanship that was exhibited. He announced his retirement from Grand Prix racing and took a holiday in America. At the same time, Auto Union were having to rely on inexperienced drivers. Following the Tripoli Grand Prix they contacted Nuvolari who, having been refreshed from his break, agreed to drive for them.

Post-war racing

In 1946, Nuvolari raced in the Milan Grand Prix using only one hand to steer; the other was holding a bloodstained handkerchief over his mouth.

Nuvolari's last race was in 1950 at the Palermo-Montepellegrino hillclimb, in which he came first in his class and fifth overall.

Death and legacy

Nuvolari never formally announced his retirement, but his health had deteriorated and he became increasingly solitary. In 1952 he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralysed, and he died in bed a year later from a second stroke. Almost the entire town of Mantua attended his funeral, which is said to have seen an attendance of between 25 and 55 thousand people. The funeral procession was a mile long, and Nuvolari's coffin was placed on a car chassis which was pushed by Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Juan Manuel Fangio.

Nuvolari has had four cars named after him - the Cisitalia 202 spider "Nuvolari", the Alfa Romeo Nuvola, the EAM Nuvolari S1, and the Audi Nuvolari Quattro.

Nuvolari was one of the early proponents (if not the inventor, according to Enzo Ferrari) of the four-wheel drift technique. The technique was later utilised by drivers such as Stirling Moss.

In 1976, Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla wrote the song Nuvolari celebrating his myth. The song is still very famous in Italy, and it's part of Dalla's album Automobili (Cars).

An Italian pay-TV channel dedicated to motor sports is also named Nuvolari.

Major victories

Year Location Vehicle
1924 Savio Circuit Chiribiri Monza (1.5 litre)
1924 Polesine Circuit Chiribiri Monza (1.5 litre)
1924 Tigullio Circuit Bianchi 20 (2 litre)
1927 Rome Grand Prix Bugatti T35
1927 Garda Circuit Bugatti T35c
1928 Tripoli Grand Prix Bugatti T35c
1928 Pozzo Circuit Bugatti T35c
1928 Alessandria Circuit Bugatti T35c
1931 Targa Florio Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza
1931 Coppa Ciano Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza
1932 Monaco Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza
1932 Targa Florio Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza
1932 Italian Grand Prix Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1932 Grand Prix de L'A.C.F Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1932 Coppa Ciano Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1932 Coppa Acerbo Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1933 Tunis Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 Monza
1933 Alessandria Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 Monza
1933 Eifelrennen Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 Monza
1933 Nîmes Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 Monza
1933 Belgian Grand Prix Maserati 8 cm
1933 Coppa Ciano Maserati 8 cm
1933 Nice Grand Prix Maserati 8 cm
1933 RAC Tourist Trophy, Ards MG K3 Magnette
1934 Modena Grand Prix Maserati 6c 34
1934 Naples Grand Prix Maserati 6c 34
1935 Pau Grand Prix Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 Bergamo Circuit Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 Biella Circuit Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 Turin Circuit Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 German Grand Prix Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 Coppa Ciano Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 Nice Grand Prix Alfa Romeo Type B/P3
1935 Modena Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 8c-35
1936 Penya Rhin Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 12c-36
1936 Hungarian Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 8c-35
1936 Milan Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 12c-36
1936 Coppa Ciano Alfa Romeo 8c-35
1936 Modena Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 12c-36
1936 Vanderbilt Cup Alfa Romeo 12c-36
1937 Milan Grand Prix Alfa Romeo 12c-36
1938 Italian Grand Prix Auto Union Type D
1938 Donington Grand Prix Auto Union Type D
1939 Belgrade Grand Prix Auto Union Type D
1946 Albi Grand Prix Maserati 4cl

Complete European Championship results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position)

Year Entrant Make 1 2 3 4 5 EDC Points
1931 Alfa Corse Alfa Romeo ITA
8 13
1932 Alfa Corse Alfa Romeo ITA
1 4
1935 Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo BEL
4 24
1936 Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo MON
3 17
1937 Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo BEL
7= 28
Auto Union Auto Union SUI
1938 Auto Union Auto Union FRA
5= 20
1939 Auto Union Auto Union BEL
4= 19

External links

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