Bill Boddy

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Tazio at Brooklands

Tazio Nuvolari is thought by many to be the greatest racing driver of his era, perhaps the greatest ever. So when in 1933 it was announced that he would contest the 10-lap Mountain Championship race at Brooklands in Earl Howe’s 2.3-litre Type 51 Bugatti, there was considerable excitement. The race was set for October 24 and Nuvolari duly arrived to compete in England for the first time. He practised on the Tuesday before the event But on race-day, he left on important business in Paris. Why?

That is only one of many mysteries. Nuvolari had that year won the Mille Miglia, the GPs of Tunis, Nimes, Spa and Nice, the Coppa Ciano, the Alessandria and Eifel races, and at Le Mans, in 8C Alfa Romeos and 8CM Maseratis – and also the Ulster TT for MG, with a K3 Magnette. He would have known Earl Howe as a highly capable amateur driver, but what induced the great star to borrow the Earl’s car for what was a minor contest here which, although I hate to admit it, was probably scarcely known about in Italy – and to then take his leave so mysteriously after a day’s appearance?

Had he found the Bugatti not up to his high standards? His practice times and the subsequent race driven by Taruffi disproved this. He could not have scorned the rather odd 1.17mile so-called ‘Mountain’ circuit, round which, as Motor Sport said, “He quickly became accustomed to the corners and amused a little knot of spectators at the Fork by ‘chipping off’ a little piece of sandbank on every lap.” He lapped within 0.2sec of the lap record, yet was called away…

One can only guess at the nature of that call. And why Paris? If he was discussing his plans for ’34, Bologna, Molsheim, Stuttgart, or even Zwickau would have seemed more likely.

Did money enter into it? I don’t think for a moment that Earl Howe offered any such inducement to come to Brooklands, but there may have been a deal with the BARC. Suppose this was misunderstood and Nuvolari found it less than had been agreed. Would this have caused him to disappoint Howe and the British fans? Again, I think not.

Could Tazio have overdriven the Type 51? Not by its race performance when Taruffi drove it, he couldn’t. (As the latter came over with Tazio, could this have been some indication of official Bugatti support?)

In the Championship race, postponed for a week due to rain, Taruffi led from the start, against formidable opposition: Straight’s Maserati, Rose-Richards’ Type 51 Bugatti, Malcolm Campbell’s 4-litre V12 Sunbeam and Raymond Mays’ fast Riley Special. But at the first corner Rose-Richards spun and rammed the Sunbeam, immobilising it. This caused Taruffi, on his second lap, to almost stop. Later, Mays’ Riley came to a halt right in the Bugatti’s path and poor Taruffi actually stopped to avoid it. Straight slipped past him on the disastrous lap two, and Taruffi finished in second, 2sec behind the victorious Maserati, which won at 73.64mph. Taruffi had also equalled Straight’s fastest race lap of 77.43mph. He’d behaved impeccably, as any Italian top driver would.

The damaged Sunbeam, meanwhile, remained where it was, and it was thought by many that the race should have been rerun, Earl Howe expressing a mild complaint at the next BARC committee meeting.

This 71-year-old racing mystery remains to be resolved one day in the future, perhaps from old Italian newspapers or other documents.

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