Alfa Romeo produced some astonishing variants of its 6C, 8C, RL and Tipo models during the 1920s and early 1930s. Overhead camshafts, superchargers and even a V12, with cars like these the race wins were soon rolling in for Alfa. That being said, behind every great car is an even greater driver at the wheel.
From 1947, Ferrari was to set up on his own and become the “Drake”. This was after an equally legendary early career intimately bound up with the Alfa Romeo story. He arrived on the scene quietly, but soon became a driver, the concessionaire for Emilia Romagna and the Marche, and a very influential man among the Portello’s upper echelons. Under the insignia of the Prancing Horse – a gift of the family of Francesco Baracca fter his latest victory – he was to found the Scuderia Ferrari, which became a true racing department for the Biscione in the 1930s.
Sivocci presented Alfa Romeo with its first great international victory: the Targa Florio in 1923; the race that consecrated the Quadrifoglio or cloverleaf symbol. He had been signed three years after a career that had seen him switch from cycling to motor racing in a pioneer era in which anything was possible. He was to become one of the standard bearers of the marque and was to have the honour of driving the G.P.R., or P1, in the “Biscione’s” first Grand Prix. Unfortunately, it was his cruel fate to be killed just a few months later, during practice for the Italian GP at Monza, an accident that was also to mark the end of the car, the last designed by Merosi. Among the first to reach his side, in tears, was Enzo Ferrari who had begun his career thanks to his great friend Savocci, then at CNM, who had returned the favour by introducing him to Alfa Romeo.
Campari was dominated by two great passions: opera and motor cars, “in no particular order”, as Enzo Ferrari said. His jovial character made him a crowd favourite even before he became a great champion. He was one of Alfa Romeo’s most faithful drivers, right up to that fateful day at Monza in 1933, when three drivers were left lying on the asphalt. In the meantime, he had cemented Alfa Romeo’s pace amongst the great, taking the P2 to its first victory, at Lyons in 1924, and also wining the Mille Miglia in 1928, the first of a long and peerless service of victories in the “world’s greatest race”.
Gastone Brilli Peri
Of aristocratic origins, Brilli Peri preferred the speed to the salons: cycling, motorcycling and the cars. In both cases there were injuries, fractures and convalescences, such as to actually modify his features! After having attracted attention on four wheels, in 1925 he was signed to the Alfa Romeo works team and was called upon to replace Antonio Ascari in the decisive race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, a race that would decide a World Championship. He was famous as a vivacious, eccentric character who would always carry a whistle to move rivals out of his way, but at Monza he condcucted a careful, thoughtful race that took Alfa Romeo to the pinnacle of the sport and earned him a place among the greats. He was to die racing in 1930.
For his teammates, Ascari was “il maestro”; respected by the critics, he was loved by the public. He made his bones in the years prior to the First World War: firstly as a mechanic, then as a tester and finally as a racing driver. He became the Alfa Romeo concessionaire for Lombardy, but also cemented a place as the marque’s leading driver. Only ill fortune, breakdowns and a spin just metres from the finish robbed him of victories in the 1923 Targa Florio and the 1924 GP of Lyons, although he did not have long to wait for revenge. A terrible and controversial accident curtailed his life at just 37 years of age during the French GP at Monthléry on the 26th June 1925: the other Alfas, even though in the leading positions, were withdrawn, with Vittorio Jano’s curt phrase “you don’t race with a dead man”.
A true motor racing giant, the “Flying Mantuan” was the hero of a generation: fearless and with an aggressive, fiery driving style, Nuvolari survived countless crashes before dying in his own bed. While he was to dominate Alfa Romeo’s golden age, he constructed his personal legend with inferior equipment, contributing talent, a courteous heart, desperation and a total disregard for danger; and always with a turtle embroidered on his chest, a gift from Gabriele D’Annunzio: “The slowest animal to the fastest man”. A number of feats made his history and his name immediately became legend. Most prominent of which was beating the mighty Mercedes and Auto-Union on their home ground in the 1935 German Grand Prix.
A friend and eternal rival of Nuvolari, Varzi was the other side of the motorsport coin, dividing passions and public into two fractions: rigorous and elegant, at the wheel as he was in his private life. Few errors in an extraordinary career and a series of feats that were to ensure his legendary status. He was to go through dark days immediately prior to the Second World War, but came back stronger than ever, winning races and conquering hearts again with Alfa Romeo as the firm prepared for the great victories of the Alfetta. Varzi was to miss out on this era when a banal and still controversial accident, the second in his life, proved fatal at Bern in 1948.
A German of Neapolitan origins, Caracciola was to be the first to interrupt Alfa Romeo’s domination of the Mille Miglia in 1931. Nonetheless, he joined the Portello team the following season along with drivers of the calibre of Nuvolari, Campari and Borzacchini. While he reaped victories and honours, he also suffered disappointments and a terrible accident that broke his body if not also his spirit. A wet-weather specialist and fearsome on twisting circuits, with six victories he is still the king of the German Grand Prix.
Giuseppe “Nino” Farina
In the 1930s, Farina was a promise, one with an Italian national title already to his name. He could be eccentric and at times excessive: a Cuban cigar even when racing and a name as a playboy away from the tracks. The turning point came in 1950 when, with a now unbeatable Alfetta, he won the first World Championship of the newly created Formula 1 category, after having begun the season with victory at Silverstone in the first race of a new era.
Juan Manuel Fangio
Five Formula 1 World Championship title made Fangio perhaps the greatest in “modern” motorsport. Blessed with a calm, well-balanced nature that made as popular with the public as with his teammates, he came to Europe thanks to the support of the Argentine government after having starred on the dusty tracks of South America. In 1950 he witnessed Farina’s triumph, but in 1951, when the Alfetta’s rivals were much more competitive, he had to put talent, heart, intelligence and courage into conquering the second Formula 1 World Championship, earning his place in history victory by victory.