Remarkable..!

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Bill Boddy

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Looking at TV coverage of the Trooping of the Colour, I was very surprised, if a little gratified, to hear the commentator, Julian Tutt, remark, as the band of the Grenadier Guards wheeled in precise formation, that those marching on the outside of the turn had to perform a difficult manoeuvre, “like Nuvolari on the banking at Brooklands”. Quite remarkable, to hear a reference to Brooklands on this solemn and impressive occasion.

I was intrigued as to why Tutt had brought in his brief mention of the old Motor Course. I wonder what other viewers made of it? More especially, why Nuvolari?

Of course, Tutt was accurate. Nuvolari did come to the Surrey track. But only once, and very briefly, to my knowledge. He would have used the banking, but only, I think, the Members’ banking, as he was practising for the 1933 Mountain Championship. In fact, he did not compete in this quite important race. At that time Brooklands did not have the artificial Campbell road circuit, so racing over the 1.2-mile Mountain course, with its sharp Fork hairpin and the climbing banked turn, as cars lapped clockwise, was the only alternative to flat-out outer-circuit racing, as far as the shorter races were concerned.

It was named the Mountain course because it encircled the natural hill from which spectators got almost a full view of Brooklands. It was used from 1931 for handicap events and at the end of the season the Mountain Championship was contested by the faster cars and drivers suited to it. All started together, to race over 15 laps. The winner was Sir Henry Birkin, in his 2 1/2-litre GP Maserati, who averaged 73.51 mph and equalled his lap record, which meant reaching some 125 mph along the straight. The placemen were Capt Malcolm Campbell (7-litre Mercedes-Benz four seater) and Penn-Hughes (2.3 Bugatti). The Championship race was held again at the 1932 BARC Autumn Meeting. This time the winner was Campbell, driving one of the rebuilt 4-litre V12 Sunbeams. He averaged 68.60 mph, and set a new Class C lap record. Raymond Mays was second, in the stripped sports 4 1/2-litre lnvicta, and Dudley Froy third in a similar Invicta lent to him by Mrs Kay Petre.

When the time was approaching for this race to be run in 1933, Earl Howe arranged for Tazio Nuvolari, then at the height of his fame and regarded universally as the greatest racing driver of his time, to compete at the wheel of his 2.3 Type 51 twincam GP Bugatti. The anticipation was immense — like getting Schumacher to appear in a short race at Goodwood as and when the circuit is eventually re-opened. As far as I know, Nuvolari had never been to England. But that very year, at the suggestion of George Eyston I believe, the MG Car Company contracted Nuvolari to drive an MG K3 Magnette in the Ulster TT. This he won, at a very satisfactory speed. Thereafter, Earl Howe had entered the great driver to handle his Bugatti in the 1933 BARC Mountain Championship. Alas, the little Italian was a non-starter.

It has never been explained why.

Entries for the race on October 14 closed on October 2, but it seems that Nuvolari was invited to drive after that, because the programme lists Howe as the driver. Nuvolari had been slightly hurt when his Maserati had overturned in the GP of Spain at San Sebastian on September 24, but Presumably had recovered in time to come to Brooklands and practise during the week before the Mountain Championship. Curiously, no mention of this was made in The Autocar and, when those in the know arrived at the track, it was to learn that there would be no racing by Tazio. He had mysteriously returned to Paris, “on urgent business”. One may speculate, of course.

It is possible that Nuvolari’s injuries troubled him. He may not have liked the short, unusual Mountain circuit. Could it be that a financial deal had been struck hurriedly, to which he could not agree, on arrival? Surely, in view of its showing in the race, it was not the performance of the Bugatti he objected to? Whatever, the motor racing Earl lost the services of the greatest driver he could have signed-up. Nuvolari had arrived on the Thursday, and MOTOR SPORT reported that he quickly became accustomed to the course, amused those watching him at the Fork by chipping off a little piece of the sandbank marker on each lap, and on one of them waved and threw the Bugatti into a series of slides. He was said to have got very close to the lap record on more than one occasion. Yet that night, he had gone. . .

Howe had a bad arm, so couldn’t drive. But all was not lost. Piero Taruffi, 27, who had also crashed in a Maserati at San Sebastian, but without injury, was present could he and Nuvolari have come over for the London Motor Show which opened on October 12? – and Howe nominated him. Through no fault of the Italian, it was of little avail. This time the race was over 10 laps. At the very first corner Rose-Richards’ Bugatti skidded and Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Sunbeam collided with it and remained in the middle of the track, with a locked axle. Flags were waved (blue then, yellow now) to warn Taruffi, who had established a lead of some 80 yards, and the others; in addition, unauthorised people held up their hands to stop Taruffi. He braked heavily, but Mays in the s/c White Riley and Straight in the Maserati did not, and they passed him. Then, at the Fork hairpin, Mays spun right in front of Taruffi, who came to a standstill, though he kept the engine running and continued. It is estimated he lost at least 11s in those two incidents. So Whitney Straight won, at 73.64 mph, by two seconds. Taruffi was closing on him in second place, and the Hon Brian Lewis’s 2.2 Alfa Romeo took third. How Taruffi was robbed of victory is best seen from the lap-speed table:

From lap one, Taruffi’s times, in mph, read: 68.15; 60.00; 73.64; 76.03; 77.72; 75.21; 76.86; 76.86; 77.43; 77.15. Straight’s were as follows: 64.60; 71.39; 71.39; 74.95; 75.21; 76.03; 76.58; 76.58; 77.43.

So in an unfamilar 2.3 Bugatti Taruffi lapped quicker than Straight in his 2.5 Maserati on twin rear wheels, a car he knew well. The American may have been pacing himself, but had Taruffi not been held up twice, could the American have caught him? Many felt the race should have been stopped, as today it would have been. . .

Sportingly, Taruffi refused to put in a protest, although Howe did so mildly, at the next BARC Committee Meeting. No mention of Nuvolari’s only lappery on English soil is made in Valerio Moretti’s great history, When Nuvolari Raced (reviewed last month), so thank you, Julian Tutt, for reminding me of it! W B

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