Count Johnny Lurani

The many friends in this country and in Europe will be sad to learn of the death of the popular, versatile Count Johnny Lurani, who was born on December 19, 1905. His full title was Giovanni Cemuschl Lurani, Count of Calvenzane. He was an enthusiastic participant in most forms of motoring sport, entertained foreign competitors in his ancient castle near Milan, and from amateur racing motorist status became virtually a professional. He commenced racing in 1925 with a Salmson and had his first experience of road racing at Alexandria in 1927 at the wheel of a small Derby.

However, although Count Lurani was to drive many makes of cars, as an Italian his favourite race was the classic 1000-mile Mille Miglia, in which he drove nine times, scoring three class wins and three seconds-in-class. In 1933 he was well enough respected to be included in Earl Howe’s MM team of MG Magnettes, one of which he shared with the British driver Capt George Eyston; they won the 1100cc class, vanquishing the Maserati opposition. The following year Lurani co-drive with Penn Hughes, again in a K3 MG Magnette, finishing second in that category, and in 1949 he partnered H J Aldington in a Bristol which was placed third in the 2-litre class. Nor was Count Lurani a stranger to the famous Le Mans 24-hour race in France. With Bracco in a Lancia he was second in the 2-litre class in 1951 but in 1952 his Fiat retired. Although his favourite cars were Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Lancia he had competed with British Austin-Healey and German Porsche 356 in the aforesaid Mille Miglia.

Lurani had driven his beloved Alfa Romeo sports car all the way from Italy in 1928 to take part in the Motor Cycling Club’s One Hour High-Speed-Trial at Brooklands Track in England. He became well-known here and although he failed to get a drive for Alfa Romeo in the JCC’s 1929 Double-Twelve-Hour race for sports cars at the Weybridge track, he was fifth and won his class in the 1930 race, with a 1½-litre Alfa Romeo. In more important events in Europe Lurani gained many class placings in the great hill-climbs and with a Maserati he was second in the tough 1937 Targa Florio road race. With a 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo he won at Agro Portofino a 150-mile race in that year, at 92.87 mph and in Africa in 1937 and 1938 Lurani captained the Maserati team, his driving contribution being to finish third in the Johannesburg race, second at Cape Town.

As a Doctor of Engineering Count Lurani was able to supervise the construction of miniature record-breaking cars, Nibbio I and Nibbio II, Guzzi-powered, with which he was the first driver to exceed 100 mph in a 500cc and later with a 250cc car. He took other International records, 30 in all, with these small cars and with Abarths. All this time he had acted as ambassador and friend to foreign drivers competing abroad, and after the war he came to England to race but broke a hip in a practice accident at the Crystal Palace circuit. His last European competition was the 1953 Alpine Trial with a Lancia, when he won a prestigious Coupe des Alpes.

Apart from his driving accomplishments, Lurani edited two of Italy’s top motoring magazines, and wrote the first definitive biography of Tazio Nuvolari, whom he obviously regarded as the greatest racing driver of that time. He also wrote his autobiography Racing Round The World. He had been an official at many leading motoring events when not competing, had instituted the inexpensive half-lire racing-car class in Italy, was a Vice-President of the Milan Automobile Club and the International Motorcycle Federation, an Honarary Member of the BRDC and a Vice-President of the British Guild of Motoring Writers. Having retired, this versatile man collected and rallied vintage cars.