FORGOTTEN HEROES No 7 part 3
Nuvolari’s last great drive against the odds was not a victory but summed up his persistence, commitment and courage. It is 1948 and the 15th Mille Miglia – a flat out race around Italy on public roads for sports cars. He had already won this famous race twice. The Cisitalia he was due to drive was specially prepared for him but broke during testing and could not be repaired in time and Nuvolari was out. But the day before the race Enzo Ferrari offered him a 166S. Tazio accepted and on the 2 of May, with no practicing at all and having not raced for 8 months he was at the start. He took off as if he was 20 years old, rather than 56. In Pescara he was leading, at Rome he was 12 minutes ahead, in Livorno it was 20 minutes, at Florence half an hour. His drive was irresistible no-one could compete. The veteran was beating them all. Unfortunately the car was taking a severe beating too. Mudguards broke off, catches holding down the bonnet broke and finally the bonnet blew off over Nuvolari’s head who said to his mechanic: ‘that’s better less weight and the engine will cool better’. Next the bolts holding the seat to the chassis worked loose and broke. Nuvolari threw out the seat and continued sitting on a bag of oranges. With his car literally falling apart under his fantastic efforts the team and even Enzo Ferrari told him to retire it was stupid to continue, he had nothing to prove and was putting his life at risk. At Modena with Nuvolari still leading but the car still falling apart he answered new pleas by slamming his foot to the floor and powering off from the restart. A few miles later the brakes failed and the rear suspension collapsed – finally Nuvolari had to retire. It was possibly even his greatest drive – 56 years old, a car he had never driven, a last minute entry, he’d not even sat in a race car for 8 months – fantastic.
In 1953 aged 60 Nuvolari died, not as many would have predicted behind the wheel of a race car, but of a heart attack in his home. Racing had lost a truly unique hero; Italy an idol.