Count Johnny’s little flyer
IN THE 1930s THERE WAS QUITE A NUMBER OF LITTLE RACING
cars contesting records in Local and International Class I (up to 500cc) and Class] (350 to 500cc). The faster figures were established by a DKW and a Clement, the longdistance aims were the preserve of DKW, de Rovin and Vitesse Special. Fastest was the 495cc (German) Standard, which had set the International Class J 50-mile record to 80.27mph at Montlhery by 1933, driven by Fachsenfeld.
By 1935, Count Giovanni ‘Johnny’ Lurani decided to give it a go. He was by then a very well-known racing driver, who had won his first race — the Tripoli-Tunis event — in an Alfa Romeo and won his last in 1948, the Giro dell’Umbria, also in an Alfa Romeo. During that span, Lurani had scored more than 20 class wins, having competed in 160 events.
The Count had come to Britain in 1928 to take part in the 1930 JCC Double-Twelve Hour race. Subsequently, he drove in nine Mille Miglias, at Le Mans, and in the Alpine Rally, gaining an Alpine Cup with a Lancia.
Alfa Romeo was his favourite marque and he owned a great number of them, but he also raced Salmson (aged 20, in 1925) Derby, Porsche, Bristol, MG, Maserati, Fiat and Abarth cars.
When British drivers went to Italy to race, he would entertain them and put them up in his magnificent castle. He was an Hon. member of the BRDC.
I confess that I have no idea why, in 1935, he decided to enter the realms of record-breaking with a tiny car, which he called `Nibbio’. But this he did, with much success, apparently designing it and constructing it — or supervising its building — himself. It was very well made. The chassis had straight tubular side-members, and welded-up bracing tubes below them. The wheelbase was 7ft 8in — 10in less than that of the Murray Jamieson
twin-cam 744cc racing Austin 7. `Nibbio’ had a crab track, of 3ft llin at the front, 3ft 3.5in at the back.
A racing Guzzi air-cooled 494cc ohv 120-deg vee-twin engine behind the driver was similar to the TT ‘bike engines of this make, and was said to develop 50bhp at the high speed of 7500rpm. It was cooled by side ducts in the high tail and there was a vertical outlet at the back of the streamlined single-seater body. This was very well formed, with a high-sided cockpit and a closed, rounded nose, as no radiator was required. Lurani sat only about five inches from the ground.
Front suspension was by half-elliptic leaf springs. Rear suspension was by coil springs, on a layout very like that used at the front of Morgan three-wheelers, but more substantial, the springs upright, supported by two transverse tubular cross-members.
Transmission was by four-speed gearbox in unit with the engine, with a central chain drive to the differentialless back axle.
Tyre size was 3.50 x 19, as on vintage Austin 7s. Nibbio’ weighed about 5.5 cwt dry. An exhaust pipe emerged each side of the car’s tail and the engine cover above was held down with spring-type bonnet clips.
On November 11, 1935, Lurani let `Nibbio’ loose over the closed Firenze-Mere road and broke the International Class I kilometre and mile Es. records, the faster at 100.76 mph, and also raised the s.s. mile to 76.09 mph. In all, four records fell and Nibbio’ became the fastest 500cc car. The previous records had been those of de Rovin, set in 1928.
`Nibbio’ was developed into `Nibbio II’ (also Guzzi engined) and established more than 30 records, being the quickest-ever (105.1mph) 250cc car by 1947, in supercharged form. Those Class I records established by Nibbio’ stood until `Goldie’ Gardner’s MG took them.