Tazio Nuvolari: the man who knew no fear


The Flying Mantuan was the epitome of young Italy

Nuvolari’s racing record speaks for itself. Highlights: 26 Grands Prix. 2 Targo Florio. 2 Mille Miglia. 2 Le Mans 24 Hours.

But this tip of a very large iceberg, though, doesn’t really get across how important this maestro of European motorsport was to Italy during the interwar years.

His legend begins with ridiculous feats of derring do in motorcycle racing. At Monza, for example so the story goes, he rode to victory on a Bianchi shortly after breaking both legs in practice. He demanded to be carried onto and off of the bike. He repeated this feat in a car in 1934 too – having the clutch controls of his Maserati modified so he could use his one good leg to disengage the drive.


He gained one of his most famous victories at Nürburgring in 1935. At a time when Europe was in the thrall of the new technologies pioneered by the Nazi-funded Mercedes and Auto-Union teams, he raced an obsolete Alfa like a man possessed, forcing the leading car, a Mercedes, to blow a tire. Nuvolari cruised to a delicious away victory – with the hierarchy of the Nazi party looking on dejectedly.

This prescient echo of Jesse Owens’s iconoclastic victories at the Berlin Olympics of 1936 is one reason that Nuvolari came to represent Italy’s idea of itself. Devil may care. Dashing. Dogged. Determined. And of course, stylish.

Just look at the way the maestro wore his racing clobber.