Red-letter days and red mist

Tazio Nuvolari started seven races in 1932 aboard a Tipo B. He set fastest lap in all of them, scoring four victories, two seconds and a third in the process. It's no wonder that he was annoyed when Alfa Romeo promptly withdrew from racing and locked its sensational car away.

The 'Flying Mantuan' started the 1933 season in sensational form in Scuderia Ferrari's bored-out. stand-in Monzas. But the best had sampled the best, and would accept nothing less. He left to join Maserati. which had just produced its own monoposto, the 8CM. Ironically, this was the move that persuaded the Alfa board to hand the Tipo Bs over to Enzo for the second half of the season.

Nuvolari did not drive a Tipo B again until 1935. by which time it was a very different car: 3.2 litres, three-speed gearbox, independent front suspension. reversed quarter-elliptic rear suspension and hydraulic brakes.

The GP scene was very different, too. The Tipo B's days of constant success were but a happy memory. The Germans had arrived and raised the bar out of Alfa Romeo's reach. But not out of Nuvolari's.

He won seven races that year, but six of them were of a minor nature. Only once did he defeat the German teams. That he did so in their backyard. on the most daunting circuit of all, added to the legend of what was already one of the greatest drives. True enough, he would not have won the 1935 German GP but for Manfred von Brauchitsch.s last-lap puncture. But the Mercedes driver would not have been pushing his tyres so hard had not Nuvolari been catching him.

This was a pressure, a nagging doubt. that Nuvolari had been enforcing since the third lap of 22. Having dropped from second to sixth on lap two, he began his charge: Luigi Fagioli. Bernd Rosemeyer, von Brauchitsch and Rudi Caracciola were picked off one by one In front of a stunned crowd, the aged Alfa was leading.

It was still leading when it stopped for fuel on lap12. When it was discovered that the fuel pump's handle was broken. For an interminable 2min 16sec Nuvolari hopped from foot to foot. berating his hapless mechanics as they struggled with churns and funnel. All hope was lost.

But Nuvolari was in hair-raising mood: Fagioli. Rosemeyer. Caracciola and Hans Stuck, all quality drivers in far superior machinery. were powerless to resist the Tipo B. Sixth had become second --- in a single lap.

Brauchitsch the leader responded with the race's fastest lap to extend his advantage to almost 90sec. That was as big as it would get.

Sat high and away from the steering wheel, restless in his seat, patting the car's scuttle. Nuvolari was an entertainer. Seemingly shunning the brakes. barrelling early into corners at impossible speeds. he was also blazingly fast. He worked wonders in every car he drove --- but the Tipo B. as it waxed then waned, allowed him to show both sides of his talent: the cornered tiger snarling at impossible odds, and the top dog for once raking in his due in undoubtedly the best car.