1932 Monaco Grand Prix

1932 Monaco Grand Prix start

The scene at the start. The "pack" about to be released

An Alfa-Romeo victory — Nuvolari’s brilliant drive

In these hard times, when organisers of important motor-races are generally faced with the difficulty of securing sufficient entries, the Monaco Grand Prix comes as a refreshing reminder that motor-racing is far from showing signs of decline. Indeed, the entry list, which is by invitation only, was filled many weeks before the race.

The great Ettore was reputed to have said that he had so far won every Monaco Grand Prix, and that he didn’t intend to let any other name appear on the list of winners.

Let us review the list of competitors. To begin with, Bugatti was represented by Divo on the new experimental 4-wheel -drive 4,9 litre car which, although comparatively untried and only entered for the race as a severe test, was rumoured to be incredibly fast on the corners, and therefore capable of springing a surprise ; while Chiron, the Monegasque favourite, and winner of last year’s race, Varzi, who hides beneath a nonchalant diffidence a determined will to win, and Bouriat, keen and alert, were all mounted on 2.3 double-camshaft models. In addition, the marque was represented by sundry private entrants, all, needless to say, first-class drivers namely, Earl Howe, Penn-Hughes, Czaikowski, Lehoux, and Williams, winner of the first. Monaco Grand Prix. Small wonder that the great Ettore was reputed to have said that he had so far won every Monaco Grand Prix, and that he didn’t intend to let any other name appear on the list of winners. But this year Bugatti had to face stronger opposition than ever before. For the first time Alfa-Romeo had entered an official team, all the famous 2.35 cars and handled by such masters as Britzacchini, fresh from his triumph in the 1,000 Miles Race, the veteran Campari, and the daring Tazio Nuvolari. Alfa’s private entries were tremendously strong, being the same type of cars as those in the official team, and driven by Caracciola, probably one of the world’s four best drivers, Zehender and Philippe Etancelin.

Then there were the Maseratis, specially built cars with a shorter wheelbase than usual, and powered by engines of 2,500 c.c. Their drivers were the Frenchman, Dreyfus, Fagioli, winner of last year’s Monza Grand Prix, and one of Italy’s most promising drivers, and Ruggeri. This awe-inspiring list of entries was completed by Zanelli, who was down to drive a Nacional Pescara.

This year improvements had been made to the road, a special non-skid surface having been laid and the tram-lines having disappeared, for Monte Carlo now has motor-buses instead of trams. England’s chances of success received a set-back when Penn-Hughes crashed at the Station hair-pin, the foot-brake of his Bugatti failing to work as he approached the corner—very hard luck indeed.

During the second day’s practice the lap-record was beaten over and over again, the best times being by Borzacchini (2m. 4 4/5s.), Varzi and Etancelin (2m, 5 4/5s.), Dreyfus (2m. 6s.), Chiron and Lehoux (2m. 6 3/5s.), Caracciola and Williams (2m. 6 4/5s.), Earl Howe’s best time was 2m. 10s. Finally, on the third and last day, Saturday, Chiron did a lap in 2m, 4s. Sunday, the 17th April, dawned clear and fine, but later, fortunately for the drivers, the sun went in. Thousands of people swarmed everywhere, seeking vantage points from which to witness the race. The temporary grand-stands were full, and every hotel window adjoining the course was filled with eager spectators. The organisation was perfect, and shortly before 1.30 p.m., the loud-speakers  announced that Sir Malcolm Campbell was about to open the course by driving round in his Rolls-Royce touring car. Everywhere round the circuit Sir Malcolm was given a splendid ovation. The excitement grew intense. The cars were lined up in rows of three. The actual arrangement of the cars was as follows :—

Ruggeri (Maserati), Etancelin (Alfa-Romeo), ‘Williams (Bugatti).

Czaikowski (Bugatti), Campari (Alfa-Romeo), Chiron (Bugatti),

Dreyfus (Maserati), Borzacchini (Alfa-Romeo), Lehoux (Bugatti).

Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo), Bouriat (Bugatti).

Earl Howe (Bugatti), Caracciola (Alfa-Romeo), Varzi (Bugatti).

Fagioli (Maserati), Zehender (Alfa-Romeo), Divo (Bugatti),

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Last minute alterations were the withdrawal of Zanelli of his Nacional Pescara, and the announcement that Divo was going to drive an ordinary 2.3 double camshaft model.

Promptly at 1.30 p.m. the starter raised his flag, there was a rising crescendo from the exhaust pipes of seventeen perfectly tuned cars, and with a sudden drop in the note, which quickly rose again, the pack tore away. Speculation was rife as to who would be leading at the end of the first lap, but we were not left in doubt for long, for amid tremendous applause Chiron appeared first, 4 2/5s. in front of Williams.

It soon became apparent that Chiron’s popularity was well deserved, for he steadily increased his lead over Williams by 7s,, 8s. and 9s. on successive laps. On the tenth lap he broke Dreyfus’s record with a lap of 2m. 5s. The field began to assume a definite plan, and certain drivers who were handicapped by being in the last rows at the start, gradually took their true position. Nuvolari improved his place from 7th on the 2nd lap to 4th on the 6th lap, and on the 8th circuit he passed Lehoux to take third place. Williams was still second, but he was losing ground rapidly to Chiron, and at the same time was being overhauled by Nuvolari. On the 10th lap the order was :

Chiron, 21 m. 10s. ; Nuvolari, 21m.27s. ; Williams, 21m. 29s, Lehoux, 21m. 33s.; Varzi, 21m. 34s.; Borzacchini, 21m. 38s.; Dreyfus, 21m. 40s.; Caracciola, 21m. 42s.; Fagioli, 21m. 47s.; Campari, 21m. 48s.; Ruggeri, 21m. 52s.; Czaikowski, 21m. 58s.; Earl Howe, 22m.; Bouriat, 22m. 4s. ; Zehender, 22m. 5s.; Etancelin, 22m. 7s. ; Divo, 22m. 9s.

Then the character of the race began to alter. Chiron no longer increased his lead over Nuvolari, but on the other hand Nuvolari could not reduce the lead be tween them, try as he might, and this in spite of breaking the lap record with a time of 2m. 4s. On the 10th lap Varzi passed Williams to take third place.

From the archive

At this stage the first retirement was announced, Ruggeri experiencing trouble with his Maserati Lord Howe was driving a splendid race, being fast and steady.

On the nineteenth circuit Varzi returned a wonderful lap in 2m. 2s., and at the 20th lap Chiron was 16 seconds in front of Nuvolari, who led Varzi. Nuvolari began to press Chiron hard, and actually gained about one second every lap, until only three seconds separated the two of them on the 29th lap. Then came a sudden change of fortune. Chiron, realising that he was being caught by Nuvolari, was making every effort to keep ahead, but on the 30th lap, in trying to pass two slower cars, he just grazed the sand-bags on the corner at the Quai de Plaisance. The car leapt into the air and overturned, throwing Chiron into the road, fortunately uninjured except for some cuts and bruises

On the 30th lap the order was : Nuvolari, 1h. 2m. 55s.; Varzi, 1h. 3m. 1s.; Borzacchini, 1h. 3m. 28s.; Caracciola, 1h. 3m. 36s.; Fagioli, 1h. 3m. 48s.; Dreyfus, 1h. 4m. ; Williams, 1h. 4m. is.; Campari, 1h. 4m. 24s.; Etancelin, 1h. 5m. 5s. ; Czaikowski, 1h. 5m. 8s. ; Bouriat, 1h. 5m. 12s. ; Lehoux, 1h. 5m. 13s. ; Earl Howe, 1h. 5m. 18s. ; Zehender, 1h. 5m. 21s.; Divo, 1h. 5m. 31s.

Pit stops are almost fatal in a race of this description, and at this juncture several drivers were in at the pits, Lehoux being held up for 5 minutes with oil leakage.

Varzi began to reduce Nuvolari’s lead, bringing it down from 28 to 17 seconds, but he himself was being challenged by Borzacchini, who was only 13 seconds behind.

The beginning of the second half of the race found the leaders unchanged, but a terrific duel began between Borzacchini and Caracciola, the honours of which finally fell to the latter, who became third. Then a second dramatic incident was announced, and incidentally a cruel blow at Bugatti’s chance of success. On the 57th lap it was announced that Varzi had retired with a broken axle-shaft. At 60 laps the order was :

Nuvolari, 2h. 6m. 20s,’ Caracciola, 2h. 6m. 50s. ; Borzacchini, 2h. 6m. 58s. ; Pagioli, 2h. 7m. 27s.; Williams, 2h. 8m. 46s.;  Campari, 2h. 9m. 3s. ; Zehender, 2h. 10m. 12s.; Earl Howe, 2h. 10m. 42s.; Bouriat, 2h. 11m. 9s. ; Lehoux, 2h. 10m. 45s.; Divo, 2h. 21m. 31s.

Bugatti’s hopes fell, with Alfa holding the first three positions and Maserati fourth. A tremendous struggle was going on between Nuvolari and Caracciola, the latter was gaining several seconds every lap, and reduced the distance between them from 30 to 9 seconds. Meanwhile, several drivers had stopped at the pits, and the laggards were falling steadily behind. Among those who stopped for a brief moment was Borzacchini, who thereby lost third place to Fagioli. A minor incident occurred at this stage when Bouriat ran into the sand-bags at the station hair-pin, but he managed to keep going after changing the damaged wheel at his pit. The order at 90 laps was :

Nuvolari, 3h. 10m. 27s.; Caracciola, 3h. 10m. 34s.; Fagioli, 3h. 12m. 14s.; Zehender, 3h. 16m. 48s.; Earl Howe, 3h. 17m. 17s.; Lehoux, 3h. 22m. 41s.


Nuvolari, after winning in Monte Carlo

Getty Images

The concluding stage of this race was marked by a memorable struggle between Nuvolari on the “Works” Alfa, and Caracciola on his privately-owned car. Caracciola was slowly gaining ground every lap. The distance between them was 7 seconds, which was a lap later reduced to 5 seconds. Then Caracciola, had to follow Zehender through a winding part of the course for some distance, where passing was impossible, and his chances of wresting the lead from Nuvolari began to fade. Nothing daunted, he made a tremendous final effort, and was only three seconds behind when Nuvolari crossed the line, the winner.

Of the remainder, everyone was gratified that Fagioli gained third place in his Maserati, especially as the marque had sustained such a loss in the recent death of the late Alfieri Maserati, and Earl Howe achieved one of the finest performances of his career in securing fourth place, piloting the first Bugatti home.


1. Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo), 3 hrs. 32 mins. 25 sees.; average speed, 55.8 m.p.h.

2. Caracciola (Alf-Romeo), 3 hrs. 32 mins. 28 secs.

3. Fagioli (Maserati), 3 hrs. 34 mins. 43 secs.

4. Earl Howe (Bugatti), two laps behind winner.

5. Zehender (Alfa-Romeo), four laps behind winner.

6. Lehoux (Bugatti), five laps behind winner.

7. Williams (Bugatti), five laps behind winner.

8. Bouriat (Bugatti), seven laps behind winner.

9. Divo (Bugatti), nine laps behind winner.

10. Campari (Alfa-Romeo), 14 laps behind winner.