The battle to be Italy's No1 driver: Musso and Castellotti's 1950s Ferrari rivalry

After Ascari's death in 1955, Luigi Musso and Eugenio Castellotti fought for his mantle as Italy's top driver. Chris Nixon charts the brief and tragic careers of two great rivals


Castellotti (No24) and Musso on the grid at Monza ahead of the 1956 Grand Prix

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“Listen lads, you won’t have to work too hard to win this race. At the start, I’ll set the rhythm. You follow me, and you won’t shred your tyres. Ten laps from the end, I’ll pull over, and then you two, between you, can decide who wins. Even if I come third or fourth, I’m still World Champion.”

The ‘lads’ were Luigi Musso and Eugenio Castellotti, and that very sensible advice came from their Ferrari team-mate, Juan Manuel Fangio. The race was the 1956 Gran Premio d’Europa at Monza and the two Italians – serious rivals, never friends – were both determined to win their own Grand Prix. Ignoring the Old Man’s advice, they went like bats out of hell from the fall of the flag and, as he knew they would, shredded their tyres inside five laps. Fangio won his fourth Championship and ‘the lads’ finished the race in the pits, out of the results and not speaking to each other.

The chances of them heeding the advice of even the great Fangio were nil, for since the death of the great Alberto Ascari the year before they had been jockeying for position as Italy’s number one. Neither possessed Alberto’s remarkable skills, but they were pretty damn quick and each had a large following.

Their rivalry dates from 1953, when they began to make a name for themselves, and was undoubtedly intensified by the centuries-old antagonism between the cities of their birth.

“Musso is Rome and Castellotti is Milan!” recalls Romolo Tavoni, forcefully. He saw both men at the height of their careers and was in the unenviable position of being Ferrari team manager at the time of their deaths.


Luigi Musso at Monza, 1957

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Luigi was regarded as the noble Roman, handsome and sophisticated but lazy. One of five children, he was born to wealth and privilege in 1924, and began racing in 1950 with a 750c Giaur sportscar. One of the first people he met on the circuits was Maria Teresa de Filippis, a very pretty young lady who was also racing a Giaur and causing something of a stir in the very male bastion of Italian motor racing. They fell in love, which brought problems because Luigi was married with two small children.

“I was engaged to Luigi for three years while we waited for the church to annul his marriage,” recalls Maria Teresa. “Meanwhile we went racing together all over Italy. We used to bet on our races and one bet was a gold watch for the one who crashed last at a hillclimb. Luigi crashed first, so I got the watch. He was a great guy and a great help to me in my career.”

Musso did not exactly set the world on fire in his first three seasons, finishing second seven times. At the end of 1952 he and Maria Teresa decided that they had had enough of waiting for his marriage to be annulled. They went their separate ways for 1953, he with a 2-litre Maserati and she with an 1100cc OSCA.

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Now things began to happen. Luigi finished a creditable 11th in the Targa Florio and scored a hat-trick of road-race wins, which brought him to the attention of Maserati, and in the Italian GP he shared a works car with Sergio Mantovani. They finished seventh. Two more victories in his own car won him the 2-litre Italian Sportscar Championship that year and Maserati promptly signed him up for 1954.

He and Giletti drove their 2-litre A6GCS to sixth overall in the Buenos Aires 1000Km. Back home he was fourth in the Tour of Sicily, a remarkable third in his very first Mille Miglia, won the Naples sportscars GP and finished second overall in the Targa Florio. Then he scored his first F1 win at Pescara, in a 250F. He finished the season with a fine third in the Tourist Trophy in a 2-litre Maserati and an even better second in the Spanish GP, behind Mike Hawthorn’s Ferrari.

In 1955 he was third in the Tour of Sicily; second at Naples, Bordeaux and Syracuse and then won the Supercortemaggiore 1000km at Monza, sharing a Maserati with Jean Behra.

The next year, Musso joined Scuderia Ferrari, as did Juan Fangio, Peter Collins and Eugenio Castellotti. In practice for their first race as team-mates the Argentine GP Luigi and Eugenio recorded exactly the same time in their Lancia-Ferraris. Musso did slightly better in the race, however, for Castellotti retired, whereas Fangio took over Luigi’s car and drove on to win. Thus Luigi was co-credited with what was to be his one and only championship victory.


At Maranello ahead of the 1956 Mille Miglia From left: Musso, Enzo Ferrari, Castellotti and Collins

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In May he rolled his Ferrari on the third lap of the Nürburgring 1000Km, broke his arm, and was hors de combat until the Italian GP. This was annoying, but gave him plenty of time for gambling. “Musso loved racing, but even more he loved to gamble,” recalls Tavoni.

Musso’s enforced layoff gives us a convenient break in which to look at the career of his great rival. Proud and provincial, Eugenio Castellotti was swarthily handsome and also rather short, frequently wearing shoes with built-up heels.

“He was a very nice young man,” Tavoni says, “interested only in cars, racing and girls. He was born in 1930 in Lodi, near Milan, and his father was a rich landowner who died when he was 12 years old.”

In fact his father was not married to his mother, Angela, but he left her a large sum of money in his will, so when in 1951 Eugenio decided to go motor racing, he was able to buy a 2-litre Ferrari 166. In the Tour of Sicily he retired, but then finished sixth in class in the Mille Miglia. How easy it was in those days! Castellotti was not yet 21, had zero racing experience, yet began his career in two of the world’s greatest road races.


Castellotti and companions in 1955, ahead of the Mille Miglia

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Next season he acquired a 2.7-litre 225S Ferrari and took fifth place in the Tour of Sicily. He then won the Pescara Gold Cup with the 166. The Monaco GP was for sportscars that year and Eugenio finished a fine second in the 225S, then won the Portuguese GP.

In 1953 success in road races brought him a Lancia contract, but the team failed dismally in the Nürburgring 1000Km and he did not get a drive. However, he made Lancia’s D23 perform impressively on the hills, and became Italian Mountain Champion. Finally, he went to Mexico for the Carrera PanAmericana, where Lancia swept to a tremendous 1,2,3 victory (Fangio, Taruffi, Castellotti).

Early in 1954 Lancia announced that it was going into Formula One. Ascari and Villoresi were signed to lead the team, with Castellotti as the junior driver. Unfortunately, the D50 GP car wasn’t ready until the very end of the season and Eugenio did not race it. He had a pretty disappointing year in Lancia’s sportscars, too, retiring at Sebring and in the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio. He won five climbs, though, and was Mountain Champion for the second year running.

He finally got his hands on the D50 Lancia in the 1955 Argentine GP. He retired there, but finished fourth in Turin and second at Pau, as he did in the Monaco GP, when while catching the Ferrari of the ultimate winner, Maurice Trintignant, he spun his chance away in the final laps.

Lancia then decided to withdraw from sportscar racing to concentrate on F1, so Eugenio raced Ferraris in endurance events. He put up bravura performances in the Mille Miglia and at Le Mans with the 4.4-litre 121LM, leading both races from the outset, but overtaxing his car in the process.

A few days after the Monaco Grand Prix, Castellotti was at Monza, practising a works 750 Monza for the Supercortemaggiore 1000Km, when Ascari arrived unannounced and asked if he could do a few laps. He had always been fastidious about driving in his own racing gear slacks, shirt, helmet and goggles but he had brought none of these with him, so he borrowed the latter two items from an astonished Castellotti and set off. A couple of laps later he crashed inexplicably and was killed.

This tragedy coincided with the collapse of the Lancia company, with the result that all the GP cars and equipment were handed over to Scuderia Ferrari. Castellotti put in one last valiant effort for the firm at Spa. He took pole position in practice with a new lap record, but in the Grand Prix the D50 expired after 17 laps, when in third place. He then went with the Lancias to Ferrari and scored a fighting third place in the Italian GP (driving a Ferrari Squalo 555) behind the Mercedes of Fangio and Moss.

Musso joined Castellotti at Ferrari for 1956, but it was the latter who got the better deal in endurance events, being paired with Fangio in most of them. The Master and the youngster got on well and won the Sebring 12 Hours in an 860 Monza, ahead of Musso and Schell in a similar car.

Castellotti needed no help at all in the Mille Miglia, however. Driving solo, he raced to a brilliant victory through pouring rain for almost the entire 1000 miles. Musso finished third, half-an-hour behind his rival.

Luigi finished second in the Syracuse GP and Castellotti was second to Peter Collins in the French GP, all driving what were now known as Lancia-Ferraris. Eugenio and Fangio (860 Monza) were second in the 1000Km at the ‘Ring and third in the Supercortemaggiore 1000Km at Monza in a 2-litre Ferrari. Eugenio then won the Rouen GP for sportscars.

The 1956 Italian GP was a remarkable event for two reasons. Firstly it was a tremendous race and secondly Peter Collins gave his car to Fangio, thus ensuring the maestro won his fourth title, despite the fact that Peter had a slim chance of winning himself.

After Musso and Castellotti had both suffered thrown treads, the battle raged between Fangio and Collins, Stirling Moss (Maserati) and Harry Schell (Vanwall). A second thrown tread sent Castellotti spinning out of the race, the car breaking one steering arm in the process. A few laps later Fangio was in the pits for the same reason. His car was repaired with the good arm taken from Castellotti’s car and he, not Fangio, returned to the fray. Musso had meanwhile fought back to second place, but when he was brought in for a new front tyre, Fangio stepped forward, wanting to take over and thus secure his championship. Luigi would have none of it. With victory in his sights he refused to budge and stormed back into the race. Four laps later Peter Collins made his fine gesture and Fangio was on his way.


Musso suffered a thrown tread at Monza

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A second thrown tread ended Castellotti’s race

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Musso, driving like one possessed, was still second, half a lap behind Moss. But then Stirling’s legendary bad luck kicked in and his Maserati ran out of fuel, to be pushed back to the pits by 250F privateer Luigi Piotti. Meantime, to the delirious cheers of the tifosi, Musso had taken the lead and looked all set for victory. But bad luck was not confined to Mr Moss that afternoon and, with four laps to go, the left steering arm on Musso’s Lancia-Ferrari broke (as it had on the others) and he spun to a halt just before the pits. He was unhurt, but inconsolable. An elated Moss, unable to believe his good luck for a change, won by just 5.7secs from Fangio.

That was Fangio’s last race for Ferrari. Castellotti, Musso and Collins were joined by Mike Hawthorn for 1957 and Ferrari-watchers wondered how Enzo would cram his four front-line drivers into his three-car GP team, and how the two Italian rivals would get along with the two English friends.

From the archive

Ferrari had a new team manager in 1957. Nello Ugolini had done the unthinkable and left to join Maserati. His replacement, EraIdo Sculati, neglected to keep his boss informed of his team’s progress in South America and so, in February, Enzo appointed his trusted secretary, Ramolo Tavoni, to the job.

“I had a very hard start as team manager,” he recalls. “Early in March I arrived at Modena by train; Mr Ferrari was waiting for me at the station, very upset. Just an hour earlier Castellotti had crashed at the Autodrome and he told me to go to the hospital, find out how Castellotti was and then phone him. At the hospital I met Eugenio’s mother and, of course, he was dead.”


Castellotti signs autographs in Brescia at the 1956 Mille Miglia

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Enzo Ferrari later claimed that Castellotti’s fatal crash (in a Lancia-Ferrari) was due to his volatile love life. He was passionately involved with Delia Scala, a professional singer, but he wanted her to give up her career. Delia was at least as successful in her business as Eugenio was in his, if not more so, and she suggested that perhaps he should be the one to retire.

On top of that, Signora Angela Castellotti did not approve of her son’s involvement with a mere singer, as Tavoni recalls: “Castellotti took Delia home to meet his mother. She took Delia’s arm and said, ‘You look like a waitress; the kitchen is this way.’ There was a terrible row.”

Ferrari was right in that Eugenio had emotional problems at the time of his crash, but he failed to mention that it was he who had summoned his driver to Modena after Jean Behra had broken the Ferrari-held lap record in a 250F Maserati. Castellotti died in a totally unnecessary attempt to regain a meaningless record in order to appease Enzo Ferrari’s ego.


Musso at Rouen for the 1957 French Grand Prix

Grand Prix Photo

This tragedy meant that Luigi Musso was now Italy’s undisputed number one. But he wasn’t Ferrari’s number one. As usual, Enzo refused to nominate anyone and the British ‘Mon Ami Mates’ Hawthorn and Collins took it upon themselves to dominate the Ferrari team with a marked lack of success, it must be said. Luigi beat them both in the championship, finishing third behind Fangio and Moss with second places in the British and French GPs. He won the non-championship Reims GP and was second at Syracuse and Modena and third at Naples. In sportscars he won the Buenos Aires 1000Km with Castellotti and Masten Gregory and was second at Caracas with Mike Hawthorn.

Once Fangio had made it clear that he was going to retire, the 1958 World Championship was up for grabs, and Musso saw his chance to win the title. He made a good start, with second places in Argentina and Monaco, but he could only finish seventh in Holland and suffered a big accident (without injury) in Belgium. This left him in third place with 12 points behind Moss (17) and Hawthorn (14).

He did not get on well with Hawthorn or Collins, and Tavoni recalls that shortly before the French GP he complained to Enzo Ferrari that he, an Italian with a chance of winning the championship, was being given a hard time by his English team-mates.

“Ferrari said, ‘Musso, at Reims you will have no problem.’ He then asked Collins, who was nowhere in the championship, to do only the F2 race, but for the same money as F1, saying, ‘You are not just a driver, you are part of my family. This is protection for Musso.’


The front row at Reims, ’58. From left: Hawthorn, Musso and Schell

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“Peter was not happy as he was fourth fastest in practice and he said, ‘Romolo, if I finish the F2 race in a good position, ask Ferrari if I can do the Grand Prix also.’ So I asked Ferrari and he told me to make the decision at the time. Peter finished second in F2 and we agreed that he deserved to drive in the Grand Prix as well.”

This surely unsettled Musso, who was already in a poor state of mind after making a deal to sell Pontiac’s road cars in Italy. “It was a disaster and he and his partner lost a lot of money,” says Tavoni. “There was very big prize money at the French Grand Prix and the day before the race Musso received a telegram from his partner saying, ‘You must win to pay off your debt.”

Luigi now not only wanted to win the race in his bid for the World Championship, but also for the large sum of money that victory would bring. Mike Hawthorn led from the start, followed closely by Harry Schell (BRM), and Musso. By the end of lap two Musso was second and trying desperately to stay with Hawthorn and ahead of Peter Collins, who had charged up to third. The Ferraris stayed 1-2-3 until lap 10, when Musso, trying too hard, lost control on the 155mph right-hander after the pits. The car rolled into a cornfield and, after one gamble too many, Luigi Musso was dead.