Special effects

We reveal personal relics from the racing life of Luigi Musso, one of the ‘lost generation’ of ’50s Italian racers

Many of you might remember the photographic feature we published on Alberto Ascari in the July 2012 issue. The incredible selection of memorabilia was the property of a private collector who was only too happy to let us take a camera into his home. Fast-forward nine months and the office phone rings – it’s the same collector offering us the use of selected personal effects that once belonged to Luigi Musso. We didn’t need asking twice and were soon sifting through items such as the Italian F1 and sports car driver’s famous yellow helmet, his medals from Enzo Ferrari and assorted personal receipts and plane tickets. The biggest challenge, once again, was choosing what to include, but it was also tricky to focus on the task at hand. To one side nestled Tazio Nuvolari’s leather cap (his head really was very small), to the other a small selection of the collector’s Ferrari memorabilia, which is regarded by some as the most extensive in the world. Many hours later we emerged with the images you see here, a fascinating snapshot of a bygone era.

Helmet, Goggles and Helmet Box

The first item to be unearthed is his helmet, resplendent in Musso’s familiar yellow colour scheme. Closer inspection reveals this to be his early ’50s lid, which was originally painted white. This is the helmet he wore during his conquest of the 1953 Italian 2-litre Sports Car Championship – an achievement that caught the eyes of the Maserati factory team and earned him a shared drive in that year’s Italian Grand Prix. The following season, equipped once more with works machinery but by now sometimes using a new, yellow Herbert Johnson helmet, he went on to win the Italian Sports Car Championship for the second time and finish second in the Spanish Grand Prix at Pedralbes.

Curiously, the helmet box – which also contains a pair of Musso’s goggles and gloves – bears Peter Collins’s name and address; interesting, given the Italian’s far from perfect relationship with Collins and his fellow Ferrari team-mate Mike Hawthorn. According to Musso’s girlfriend Fiamma Breschi, for whom the Italian had left his wife and two children, Hawthorn and Collins shared each other’s winnings – a privilege that they didn’t extend to Musso.

It’s within the realms of possibility that Musso borrowed Collins’s helmet box, but the items might have been united much later. It’s also feasible that Musso had his Herbert Johnson delivered to Collins, rather than risking Italy’s postal service. Such things can be more interesting when there is no definitive answer.

Musso enjoyed his most successful F1 campaign in 1957, with two second places, a fourth and a fifth, plus victory in the non-championship race at Reims and more second places in the Syracuse and Modena GPs. Luigi couldn’t match Fangio or Moss, but he did finish third in the championship. The medals here were awarded for being the highest placed Italian driver in the F1 World Championship or, as the Commissione Sportiva Automobilistica Italiana put it, the ‘Absolute Italian Champion’ (bottom). The others (top) were presented by Enzo Ferrari, in recognition of Musso’s role as a Ferrari driver during the 1956 and ’57 seasons.

It’s not the calibre of the names in Musso’s telephone book that first strikes you, but its size. Calling it a ‘book’ is perhaps a little misleading, for it is no more than two inches by three.

Hidden among the pages are names such as Piero Taruffi, Enzo Ferrari – for whom there are two Modena numbers, plus one for Maranello – Alejandro de Tomaso and Maurice Trintignant. Hawthorn and Collins are conspicuous by their absence.

Invitation to the 1958 French Grand Prix
Luigi Musso lost his life in an accident during the 1958 French Grand Prix, which was also Juan Manuel Fangio’s final World Championship race. Here the signatures of Hawthorn, Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Collins, Fangio and many more adorn an invitation issued ahead of that weekend. It was to be one of the last additions to Musso’s personal effects. Here are a few words about Musso from our late continental correspondent, Denis Jenkinson: “The last two months have been sad ones for Grand Prix racing,” he wrote in 1958, “for first Luigi Musso is killed and then Peter Collins, while earlier in the year Archie Scott Brown lost his life. In each case the driver was in second position in a hotly contested race and was trying very hard to challenge for the lead; all three made a mistake and paid for it with their lives. “Scott Brown, Musso and Collins have died doing
something that they really enjoyed – they were motor racing and having a go; or, as is often jokingly said, they were ‘dicing with death’. Death threw a double six and they had
to pay up; let us not bewail the fact; let us all pause in silent admiration of three fine men and remember the great pleasure they gave us all whether we knew them merely as names in motor racing, or personal friends. They cannot be replaced, but the memory of their exploits will live forever. They died fighting, and there can surely be no better death.”

Plane Ticket and Passport
The ‘Airport Embarkation Tax’ form for Milan’s Malpensa Airport is dated January 9, 1956 – the day Musso left for Mälmo, Sweden, via Frankfurt. The following weekend he would be in Argentina for the opening Grand Prix of the season and his first for Ferrari, when he would record his only World Championship Grand Prix victory. It wasn’t solely down to him, however, as team-mate Fangio took over Musso’s Lancia-Ferrari D50 30 laps into the race after his own car suffered fuel pump problems.

Musso was running fifth when he handed over, but a raft of problems among the front-runners enabled Fangio to work his way to the front and secure five points (one for pole position and four for a shared victory). These set him on the road to his fourth world championship.

Musso, meanwhile, wouldn’t score again in 1956. In Monaco he crashed while trying to avoid Fangio, then in the Nürburgring 1000Kms he broke his arm after hurtling off the track at the South Curve on the third lap. After missing the Belgian, French and British Grands Prix, he returned for the Nürburgring and Monza. Castellotti took over his car in Germany, but then crashed, while Musso refused to step down in Italy when Ferrari asked him to pass his car to Fangio. Musso subsequently took the lead, but a tyre threw a tread and his steering failed. Thankfully for Fangio, Collins volunteered his car – thereby compromising his own title chances – and the Argentine finished second to secure the title.