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TAZIO NUVOLARI

The life of Tazio Nuvolari



THE LEGEND OF TAZIO NUVOLARI

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THE LIFE



INDEX

The first experiences
The debut in the competions
The first affirmations
The great champion of motorcycling
Nuvolari among the great drivers
The driving technique
Nuvolari dominates the competions
"Nivola" against the german cars
1937: the black year
The withdrawal?
Nuvolari and the Auto Union
The post-war period
The Mille Miglia of '47
The last adventure
The last contests




The first experiences

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Tazio Nuvolari is born in Casteldario (Mantua) on November 16th 1892; his father Arturo and his uncle Giuseppe were cyclists: the first obtained important results and victories among amateurs and the second, a professional, conquested the title of Italian champion in track middle-distance race. When he is 12 he tastes for the first time the emotion of the velocity: drives with his uncle a Bianchi car.
In 1915 he has to leave for the first world war and shows his driving ability as ambulance-driver. He transports night and day the wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the field hospitals.
He has to drive the ambulance on destroyed roads, between cannon shots, without lights at night... and his ambulance is always the fastest!
Once, when he's transporting an official that visited the wounded soldiers in the hospital, he drives too fast, the steering-gear broken and the ambulance skids and they crash in a ditch! Obviously the official reproaches Nuvolari: "...listen: you have to transport the wounded soldiers on foot!! Driving is not your job!"



The debut in the competitions

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After the war he gets married to Carolina Perina, his girl-friend. In 1920 he takes the licence for taking part to motorcycles races and début at the Cremona circuit, but with no great fortune: he has to retire. The first race with a car is on 20th March of the year after and he wins his first competion.
He becomes to be famous with the second place at the Garda's circuit with his Ansaldo 2000 in 1921. The year after he wins other important races and the journalists become to speak about Nuvolari. They write that "this young driver is impressive for his vivacity, the courage and the determination. He gives us the shiver for his driving style...".
In November he wins his first race with the motorcycles with an Harley Davidson 1000. After that he becomes one of the protagonists in the following races and his fame grows and he's considered one of the most promising driver.
His passion is uncontrollable: his wife Carolina remember that "Tazio known his strenght, also at the begin of the career. He was sure that one day he'll become a winner. With his mechanic, that was also a friend, Telemaco Vareschi, he worked around cars and motorcycles for hours in a room of our house transformed in a workshop."



The first affirmations

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20 May 1923: Nuvolari obtains the first very important success: he wins the 1st circuit of Parma with a Garelli 350. For Nuvolari it becomes to arrive the first satisfactions and... the first cheques!
Another important fact is the passage to the Indian official racing team in August of the same year. With the american factory he wins many races and become one of the protagonists of the motorcycle races.
The Mantuan obtains also a competitive car: he knows Deo Chiribiri, a constructor, that gives to Tazio for the year 1923 his new racing cars. At the first race with the Chiribiri, at Stiges circuit, he begins to make great performances and his spectacular enterprises will become immediately legendary (see "The Myth" section of the site).
Tazio races with cars and motorcycles at the same time, alternately. With the cars he'll enter into the legend for his spectacular driving, with the motorcycles he shows a great composure and a perfect, nice style. Giovanni Canestrini, a great italian journalist, wrote: "Nuvolari is melted with his motorcycle, harmonious and rapid, as a sensible instrument. He rules the laws of mechanics with an elegance that only his great opponents Achille Varzi and Pietro Ghersi have".



The great champion of motorcycling

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In 1924 he conquests the title of Italian champion of motorcycling (500 class) and continues to alternate cars and motorcycles. The successes begin to become numerous, both with car and motorcycle and his deeds become very popular.
In June Mr. Tomaselli, manager of the Bianchi team, establish that Nuvolari is the best motorcycle driver into circulation and invites Tazio to enter in the official team and offers to the Mantuan the new 350 called "freccia celeste", created to defeat the english motorcycles, that ruled the category. Nuvolari acceptes: he tests deeply the motorcycle and after declares that it's a superlative racing-bike.
With the "freccia celeste" he enters definitively into the legend! They win numerous races and excited the fans. Among the most important successes we remind the victories at the circuit of Lario (comparable with a modern grand prix, for importance) thet Nuvolari wins in 1925-26-27-29-30, where he becomes a great "specialist".
In that period he becomes to "fight" against Achille Varzi, his greatest opponent. The italian enthusiasts split into two groups: on one side Nuvolari, that races even he's fractured or with the car destroyed, on the other side Varzi, with his perfect style of driving, a cold calculating person, constant and regular as nobody.
In 1925, '26 and '27 the successes of Tazio are very numerous and the Bianchi-Nuvolari pair become invincible. At Monza, in 1925, he routs the English drivers and motorcycles with a legendary and spectacular race (see "The Myth" section of the site). Tazio is already a living legend.
In 1927 he takes part, with a Bianchi car type 20 (in that period he could race only with Bianchi), at the first edition of the "Mille Miglia", a race that will become legendary and the most famous in history. He arrives 5th in 3000cc category, with Pastore.
In 1928 he races principally with the cars and founds a racing team, the "scuderia Nuvolari", and buy four Bugatti grand prix. He sells one car to Varzi and one to Pastore. At the "Mille Miglia" he arrives 6th in 3000cc category and 13th absolute with the Bugatti 2000 (with Bignami). The same year he is also at the "Targa Florio", the mythical and hardest race in the world, but he has to withdraw. He obtains important successes with the car (for example the GP of Tripoli) and wins all the races with the motorcycle in wich he participates with the Bianchi, demonstrating that he's invincible with the "freccia celeste".
In 1929 he arrives, with Greggio, 11th with an O.M. 2000 at the "Mille Miglia" and obtains good placings in various races with cars (but he doesn't win) and at this point he's considered a great talent also with the cars; it's clear that Tazio is inclined for the four wheels, searching great results that he'll begin to harvest the year after.
The same year he wins seven Grand Prix out of eleven with the "freccia celeste".



Nuvolari among the great drivers

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The first very important success that projected Nuvolari at the limelight and among the greatest drivers is at the "Mille Miglia" of 1930, with an Alfa Romeo 1750 (with Guidotti). He's the first driver that wins the race at over than 100 km/h (62 mph) of average speed (and his record will resist a lot of years). The race is an exciting fight between Nuvolari and Varzi, that thrilled the italians and all the fans of the world.
This success also open to him the door of the Alfa Romeo racing team and the chief engeneer, Vittorio Jano, wants Nuvolari for his capacities, also to substitute Gastone Brilli-Peri, tragically dead during a race in March. In the past Jano cosidered Nuvolari an excessive reckless and not very reliable driver (especially after the 1925 test, where Tazio crashes and destroied an Alfa) but the three consecutive "Mille Miglia" finished demonstrates that he's able to drive "coscientiously".
In this period the Alfa Romeo is the best car in the world. It's unbeatable and has a great team that includes from 1929 also Achille Varzi, the opponent of Nuvolari with the motorcycles: the rivalry between them will be a fantastic "show" for the enthusiasts all over the world. Nuvolari and Varzi "live" together in the team for a brief period: Varzi leaves Alfa and continues to race with other factories and the challenges with Nuvolari become more and more frequent and spectacular.
In 1930 Nuvolari wins the "Mille Miglia" and other very important races (for example the Toruist Trophy of Belfast). This is the year of the last successes with the motorcycle and the first victories with the car. Nuvolari begin to be an idol and a "master" in the driving of the racing-cars. Now the Mantuan is ready to substitute the old champions.
In June of the same year he is "deviated" in the new scuderia Ferrari, that manages the official Alfa Romeo and wins immediately the first race, the Trieste-Opicina.



The driving technique

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Nuvolari adopts since the first escapes with the cars in years '20 an inimitable driving technique, extremely spectacular, that joins a great control of the car to a formidable sensibility and a great courage. It is in this technique the secret of his victories, of his superiority on the opponents and often, thanks to this style, he wins also with an inferior car.
Enzo Ferrari describes it in a famous episode: "After the first contests fought with he (I was a driver in that period), I began to ask me what had of special that little, serious man. Therefore a day I ask to him to make a test with he on the Alfa Romeo 1750 of my scuderia (at the ciruit of "Tre Province" at Porretta in 1931).
At the first curve I had the precise feeling that Tazio had mistaken the curve and that we will finish out of the road. I became rigid in the wait of the collision. Instead we found again ourselves to the rectilinear entrance of the succesive curve with the machine online. I watched Tazio: his face was the same, serene, normal, not the one of who is escaped to an accident. At the second and third curve the impression was the same. To the quarter or fifth curve I began to understand.
With the corner of my eye I watched his legs: Tazio did not raise the foot from the accelerator during the curve! And curve after curve I understood his secret. Nuvolari boarded the curves before of what the driver instinct suggested to me. And he boarded it in an unusual way, aiming the "snout" of the car towards the inner margin of the curve, just in the point where the curve began. With the accelerator sunked and the correct gear inserted before this terrifing manoeuvre he skidded the car, taking advantage of the push of the force centrifuge and contrasting it with the traction of the wheels. For the entire arc of the curve the "snout" of the car was brushing the inner limit of the road. When the curve finished and the straight strech was opened, the car was already in normal position in order to continue the race, without the necessity of corrections and to the maximum possible speed!
After this experience I was accustomed to this "exercise", seeing he making it so frequently, but every time seemed to me to fall in the wagon of a roller coaster..." "This manoeuvre was possible fot two main reasons: the wheels were not, like now, independent, and the tyres were inflated at an high pressures than today, An incredible skid that could determined with a single, calculated steered. Nobody, in any case, succeeded to imitate the curves of Tazio Nuvolari. Some were approached, trying and re-trying, but in the harder curves they raise the foot from the accelerator. Nobody, I repeat, dared the accelerator like Nuvolari."
With the technical progress his manoeuvre lost a little of efficacy. "...later, when the suspensions were made independent and the tyres inflated at medium pressures, also Nuvolari could not more skids in this spectacular way. However he continued to use his technique with decision but, this time, correcting the trajectory with little determined "steering blows" and not accelerating all during the curve.
His technique remains a prodigy of instinct to the limits of the human possibilities and of the physical laws!".



Nuvolari dominates the competions

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In 1931 he mainly runs with the Alfa Romeo conquering important successes and often fights in spectacular way with Varzi. To above all we remember the successes to the Targa Florio, the Ciano globet and the Grand Prix of Italy.
The 1932 is his "year of gold": he gains the greater part of the races in wich he participates: GP of Monaco, Ciano globet at Livorno, Targa Florio, Gp of Italy at Monza, Acerbo globet, GP of France etc...), his popularity is immense, he earns a lot, the familiar life proceeds well (he has two sons, Giorgio and Alberto). He gains the more important contests of the season and demonstrates a great superiority in the comparison of the opponents. The newspapers write: "who can stop this man who has not fear, that has a great experience of races and motors and, above all, runs today with tripled passion? All the records fall with a sbalorditive facility". He is also a friend of Gabriele D'Annunzio that is one of his fans and goes at his home (the Vittoriale). Mussolini wants to receive Tazio at Villa Torlonia, his home.
1933 is still a year of large satisfactions: most numerous the victories, between them we remeber the ones to the 24 hours of Le Mans, the Eifelrennen, the Grand Prix of Tunisi and the "Mille Miglia" with the Alfa Romeo and Decimo Compagnoni.
At half season he leaves from the Alfa Romeo because Tazio wants to gives to the scuderia Ferrari also his name ("scuderia Ferrari-Nuvolari") but Ferrari does not consent: they have both strong characters and the divorce is unavoidable. Nuvolari begins to run with the Maserati, continuing to gain national and international races.



"Nivola" against the german cars

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In 1934 the new technical rules for the Grand Prix cars enter in vigor: the competition cars, without tyres and with empty tank, could not weigh more than 750 kg, without limitations about the cylinder capacity and the number of pistons. The germans pick the occasion for turning out the Alfa Romeo and to impose their force in the competitions: not being able to defeat the italians on the traditional mechanics they decide to use their advanced technological abilities and special materials. Using advanced metallurgical acquaintances, they head at new special alloys: they employ light special steels that, limiting the weight of the car, permitted them to mount motors with an high number of pistons and an high cylindrate. The others competitors are not able to use these innovations and remain with motors with an inferior charge and less power. The new german factory called Auto Union and the Mercedes-Benz prepare their bolids, financed heavily by Hitler that wants to impose the prestige, the power and the technological ability of the "new Germany".
In 1934 Nuvolari changes often car and obtains insufficient results: two victories and the 2nd place to the "Mille Miglia" behind Achille Varzi that returns to the scuderia Ferrari. The german cars begin to dominate the scene.
In 1935 the satisfactions of Tazio are greater than the year before. Varzi passes to the Auto Union clamorously and Nuvolari returns on the Alfa Romeo of the scuderia Ferrari. He gains numerous contests easily where the german cars are not present while where Mercedes and Auto Union compete, for the Alfa there is nothing to make, the difference of performance is too much heavy. But is in these years of germanic dominion thet Nuvolari with the Alfa, that has a clearly inferior car, is able to drive to the maximum and often he fills the gap thanks to his ability and does great races. Nuvolari is now the only "winning weapon" at the disposal of the Alfa Romeo.
Ferrari, that now officially represents the Alfa in the competitions, tries to fight with the germans with a new car realized by the scuderia: it's a two engine car called "bimotore". It uses two Alfa Romeo motors on the same chassis, one on the front of the car and the other on the posterior, with the driver between them. They construct two exemplars: the first, used by Nuvolari for a record session, with two motors of 3167cc and 540 hp and the second, used by Chiron, with two motors of 2900 and 510 hp. Two monters that weigh more than 1300 kg that can not compete in the races of formula for wich the maximum weight is only 750 kg. With the "bimotore" Nuvolari realizes two beautiful world-wide records of speed and participates to the race where the limit of weight is not taxative (free-formula contests). In spite of the prodigious drive of the Mantuan the car is too much weight and is very difficult to drive. It also consumes excessively the tyres: during the GP of Tripoli (1935) Nuvolari has to have numerous pit-stop for changing the tyres (at the end of the contest he replaces 18 tyres!).
The "bimotore" is early abandoned and with the old P3 against the german cars there is nothing to make. Caracciola, Varzi, Rosemeyer, Fagioli dominate the competitions.
The Grand Prix of Germany at the Nurburgring arrives: another day of glory for the german cars and a great "parade" is prepared for the germanic and for the Hitler's dictatorship. This contest will be remembered like one of the unforgettable races of the history of the sport and of the motoring in particular: Nuvolari on Alfa precedes all the Mercedes and Auto Union drivers and gains at their home, bewitching the crowd. It's his best victory (see also "the myth" section)!
In 1936 the new Alfa Romeo for the Grand Prix is finally ready: 12 cylinders, 4064cc and 370 hp. But the German progress continues (the Auto Union with Rosemeyer dominates the season) and the new car in not enough competitive. Nuvolari, with his extraordinary class, is enough competitive in the more tormented circuits and fill the enormous difference from the german cars and obtains some victory. In this period Nuvolari alternates the old 8 cylinders and the new 12. It's important to remember the transfer in the United States where the Mantuan gains with facility the Vanderbilt Cup on the circuit of Roosvelt field: Tazio bewitches the americans who finally can see "Nivola" in action. Also in the new continent he's now very popular and comes to be celebrated like an hero. He becomes the hero of the two world...
In spite of the inferiority of the car the "flying mantuan" in 1935-36 obtained great victories and his myth continued to shine and to grow. He's still the number one of the world.



1937: the black year

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By now the Alfa Romeo does not hold the comparison with the german cars and the 1937 is not a good year. Especially Mercedes dominates the scene with the "monstrous" new W125: for the Alfa Romeo is a disastrous succession of defeats, the blacker year of its history. The gap from Mercedes and Auto Union, that continue the scaling to more and more elevated powers to execel one on the other, is more and more obvious. Nuvolari wins only at the circuit of Milan.
Then the misfortune arrives: the greater son of Tazio, Giorgio, that is eighteen, comes hit from myocarditis in the Swiss college where he studies. Tazio transport Giorgio at home and remains at his side but he understands that for his son it's the end, without hopes. Three months later, while Nuvolari is crossing the ocean in order to participate to the Vanderbilt cup, Giorgio dies. Carolina will tell "... it was the first time that I see Tazio crying. When he knew that Giorgio, a moment before the dead, had searched his father he locked up himself in his room and not wanted to see anyone for a long period".
To the end of the season Nuvolari race with the Auto Union for one contest, arriving 5th at the GP of Bern. He finishes the season with the Alfa Romeo and the scuderia Ferrari.



The end?

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In 1938 Alfa Romeo announces its official return in the competions in order to react to the german supremacy: the scuderia Ferrari closes and Enzo Ferrari is called to direct the new "Alfa corse" racing team, Jano is forced to discharge himself.
During the tests of the opening race the car of Nuvolari caught fire at over than 150 km/h for a loss of petrol: the mantuan saved himself throwing out of the car, covered by flames. He remains burned and contused but he's save. From the hospital of Pau Tazio Nuvolari communicates the decision to withdraw himself. The world of the races is astonished and incredulous. He declares: "the fire is terryfic. It is an enemy who nobody could fight and from which it's not possible to escape. I don't feel to run again, this is all. The night I have nightmares, I dream always the fire. It's the end, I'm old and tired".
All speak about the clamorous decision of the mantuan. But it's a decision that appears judicious: he is still the best driver in the world, he's rich and famous, he's 46 years old and has 20 years of career over the shoulders, he has win all. His agonistic life was very intense, like no other driver. Moreover from some time he has health problems, his bronchus are sick because of the exhalation of exhaust gaseses of the cars, accumulated in many years. His son Giorgio is dead. He has all the reasons to withdraw himself.
But after a period of cure and a vacation in America, Tazio appears re-established and... he returns to race! He will write other unforgettable pages again.



Nuvolari and the Auto Union

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In 1938 he appears clamorously with the Auto Union at the Grand Prix of Germany in July and ends quarter. The Auto Union wanted a champion with the experience and the ability of Nuvolari in order to replace Rosemeyer, that was dead in an accident and in order to increase the performances of the car (the new "D" type, 12 cylinders) for being able to strike the Mercedes who dominated the previous season.
Nuvolari demostrates another time his strenght: he supplies very important advices to the team, improves the car and after three races he wins the GP of Italy at Monza and then wins again in England at Donigton, defeating the other Auto Union and the Mercedes. He does fantastic contests and fights at every race for the first positions. This is an exceptional performance for the job of development growth of the car and for his ability to adapt his driving style to the new car, totally different from those he drove previously (we remember that the Auto Union has the posterior motor). With the triumph of Donington Nuvolari is celebrated also from the English who remain impressed from his performance.
He his still the number one, continues to demonstrate his superiority and fights like he is at the begin of the career. The Alfa Romeo does not win at all, is in his greatest crisis.
In 1939 also Adolf Hitler, at the Motor Show of Berlin, wants to know the mantuan. In those years Nuvolari is at his second youth, always runs with the german car and disputes the greatest contests against Mercedes. In 1939 even if he wins only the GP of Belgrade, the season is very positive: he is the only that is able to fight with the Mercedes! The victory of Belgrade (the last Grand Prix disputed before the conflict) is the last international victory of Nuvolari: the war is near and with the seal of the mantuan a mythical and unforgettable cycle in the history of international competitions is over.



The post-war period

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After the conflict, in 1946, Nuvolari returns to race again, at 54 years. His class and courage are still intact but his physique is sick. He often abadons the contests, has acute fits of cough and he's forced to run with a mask in order to protect his lung from the exhaust gaseses.
In May Alberto, the other son of Tazio, comes hit from nephritis. Tazio and Carolina are near their son but also for he the destiny is marked. He dies at eighteen years, like the brother Giorgio. Carolina tells: "there will be not another Nuvolari that will run for the roads of the world, after Tazio. Tazio was good and generous with me... he hid his desperation from me... he wanted that I followed him in every race. I was in the box with the wifes of the other runners. During these moments I praied my sons to save Tazio". Many authors write that Nuvolari in these years of contests serched the dead with his car but more probably for Tazio the races were a "drug" in order to forget the misfortunes, a necessity for living.
The 1946 is not particularly satisfactory. He often withdraws himself but runs also beautiful races where he distinguishes himself for the spectacular drive and often realizes the fastest lap. In September at the GP of Turin he finds again the greatest rival and friend Varzi: the two champions make a spectacular duel and the public returns to be keen on their challenge. Varzi wins, he is living a second youth, while Tazio has to withdraw himself after a great race. In the same year he wins two contests running with Maserati, Cisitalia and Fiat.



The Mille Miglia of '47

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In 1947 he participates only to six contests (winning three) and is protagonist of another legendary enterprise on the theatre of the Mille Miglia, in the first edition of the post-war period.
He participates with a little Cisitalia 1100 but he's determined, wants to win. Many think that he will be not competitive.
Tazio starts cautios but then from Pesaro to Rome drives as a mad and prodigiously recovers the disadvantage accumulated in the comparison of the Alfa Romeo 2900 of Biondetti, passing to the head of the race. All Italy is with Nuvolari, the country is enchanted to see the old champion doing the hundredth impossible enterprise. 60 HP against 140. Until Modena Nuvolari increases his advantage (over than 8 minutes!).
But in the final part of the race a terrible storm arrives. The Cisitalia (an uncovered spider) is filled up of water, the coil ignition is bathed and the mantuan loses ten minutes and becomes second, after the Alfa Romeo (a covered car...). "...his Cisitalia seems a toy among the fury of the nature..." the newspapers write. Finally he arrives second absolute, behind Biondetti, first of his category. But he is the moral winner and comes carried in triumph.
In the rest of the season, with a Ferrari, he wins also the circuit of Parma and the one of Forlì.



The last adventure

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The disease is aggravated but Nuvolari does not want to think to the withdrawal. In 1948 with a Ferrari he still participate to the Mille Miglia and writes the last glorious enterprise of his legendary career.
He is at the departure of the race at Brescia for greeting the colleagues but Ferrari offers a car to him. It seems a folly: he's 56, he's sick, he does not run since months, he is not prepared, does not know the car (never used before) and the Mille Miglia is one of the most difficult and massacring races all over the world (1600 km)!! But Tazio starts and wants to win!!
All the enthusiasts are with he, the crowd still applaud him, he's the myth of motoring. In the first part of the race he always remains in the first positions and then attacks on the Appennines, demonstrating his class. He arrives in Rome with a wide advantage. A little after Rome the hook that holds closed the bonnet broken: Nuvolari eliminates it and continues with the motor uncovered. After Livorno he skids and goes out of the road: the seat of the mechanic is damaged in the collision. Then he removes also the seat and continues in spite of a leafspring damaged. Until the wheels turn he continues and increases the advantage!!
In Florence he has a margin on the second that exceeds the half hour: an abyss!! Then he loses also a mudguard. Pieces of his car are scattered for Italy but he proceeds towards the victory that seems near.
But he will not win. Escaped from the danger of the rain (the car have not more the bonnet...), the hinge of the leafspring already damaged breaks and he has to withdraw at Villa Ospizio (a little town near Reggio Emilia). All become dumb, the enthusiasm disappear. "Will be for the next year.." says Enzo Ferrari to Nuvolari, in order to console him. Tazio answers: "Ferrari, days like it, at our age, will not return...".
In 1948 he does not gain more race and runs one single contest in the '49: after the last Mille Miglia he collapses and the disease is aggravated.



The last contests

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He returns in 1950: competes in two races in April, winning the last (a climb-race in Palermo, the day 10) with a Cisitalia-Abarth. After that he understands that the moment to stop is arrived: better to end with a victory that to run contests in the rears. However he will never officially announce his withdrawal.
In the years after he makes little escapes in public and in the 1953 his conditions fall. From his house at Gardone he asks to return in Mantua. Here he dies the 11st August at 61 years. The more reckless pilot, that risked the life at every race and had many terryfic incidents, dies in his bed. Varzi, Campari, Borzacchini, Materassi, Brilli-Peri, Arcangeli, Rosemeyer, Seaman: all died in contests. The destiny wait also Carolina: the 5th January 1981, at 86 years, she dies invested from a car while she's walking at Gardone. Runned over from a car after a life dedicated to the motors...!
The funeral of Tazio Nuvolari is the 13rd August 1953 in Mantua: Italy and the entire world of the motorcycle and automotive competitions are in mourning, an immense crowd participate. Among the common people, the fans and the drivers of the past and of the present there is naturally also Enzo Ferrari. He tells that: "... as soon as I knew that he was dead I left for Mantua. I lost myself in a labyrinth of roads of the city and I didn't know the exact direction. Near a tinsmith store I came down from the car and I asked the way for the house of Nuvolari at the tinsmith. An old laborer exited from the store and, before answering, he went around my car, in order to read the plate. He understood, shook my hand with heat. "Thanks for coming" he whispered touched "like him will not be born any more".


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