50 years of the Italian Grand Prix

The very first race to be called a Grand Prix (or Great Prize) was the event run by the Automobile Club of France in 1906, and the French held a monopoly on the title for a number of years. In 1921 the Italians registered their Grand Prix of Italy for a race held at Brescia on September 4th. There was no Italian Grand Prix in 1929, for economic reasons, nor was there one in 1939 for political reasons. During the middle thirties the Germans dominated Grand Prix racing and when Tazio Nuvolari left Alfa Romeo to join Auto-Union the Italians became a bit disenchanted. His victory for Auto-Union at Monza in 1938 was the last straw, and for 1939 all Italian races were run to the "voiturette" limit of 1,500 c.c. — in effect, to the Formula Two of the day — so there was no Italian Grand Prix that year. It was reinstated in 1947 on a circuit in Milan, and in 1948 in Turin, but in 1949 it returned to its real home which was Monza, and has been held there ever since.

This year's event was the fiftieth Italian Grand Prix and the Marlboro tobacco firm gave Baron de Graffenried the go-ahead to organise a celebration, which he did with great success. He gathered together from all over Europe twenty-nine Grand Prix cars from 1921 to 1977 which were representative of cars that won or took part in the Italian Grand Prix, and many of them were similar to those that actually won an Italian Grand Prix. Alfa Romeo sent along their 1924 P2, their 1932 "monoposto" and a Tipo 159 from 1951. Vandervell Products produced a 1958 Vanwall, the Porsche factory ran one of their flat-8 cars from 1962, McLaren Racing sent along an M23 McLaren and Team Lotus put in their spare Lotus 79 to represent last year. Other entries came from private owners, including Rob Walker with his 1927/36 straight-eight Delage, Bill Summers with his Tipo 34-6C Maserati, Count Castelbarco with his Amilcar Six and Regazzoni with his own Ferrari 312B2 from 1971. Peter Gethin (winner in 1971 with BRM) drove the McLaren M23, Emerson Fittipaldi (winner in 1972) drove Rob Walker's Lotus 49, Luigi Villoresi drove a 6CM Maserati, Piero Taruffi drove a Monza Alfa Romeo, Georgio Scarlatti drove a Cooper-Climax, Robert Manzon drove a Gordini, Roy Salvadori an Aston Martin and "Johnny" Lurani drove his own Alfa Romeo. The works Alfas were driven by Bonini (P2), Guidotti (monoposto) and Sanesi (159), while who else but Stirling Moss drove the Vanwall? Other cars, such as Ferraris of 1949 and 1954 were driven by their owners, as were 250F Maseratis, Bugattis, Talbot-Lago, Ballot and Roland Pilain.

After a parade lap the cars were lined up on the grid in order of age and performance, with Regazzoni on pole position in his 312B2 and they all stormed off for three laps of the circuit. Regazzoni, Gethin and Fittipaldi indulged in a splendid mock-race and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, weaving in and out of the old cars during their third lap. Many team members from the past were gathered around the cars on the grid, such as David Yorke with the Vanwall, Guerrino Bertocchi with the Maserati, Giulio Borsari with Regazzoni's Ferrari and so on. It was a truly splendid gathering for which thanks must go to Baron de Graffenried and to Marlboro for giving him a free hand to get on with the job of gathering all his old friends together for everyone's enjoyment. We haven't seen so many Grand Prix cars of all ages really motoring for a long time, and the previous day many of them had driven from Milan to Monza at a good 80 m.p.h. behind a police escort on virtually closed roads. The Italians still love motor racing and all is well with the world. — D.S.J.