The Race of a Thousand Miles after the war, the history of Mille Miglia part 3

2017-03-16 The Race of a Thousand Miles after the war, the history of Mille Miglia part 3

The rivalry of Nuovolary with Clemente Biondetti took on a much less dramatic course. Their battles during Mille Miglia of 1947 and 1948 had an aftertaste of a battle of an old master, who is not willing to step off the stage, and a new one, who wants to show that it was his time to reign now. It all started in 1938, when Biondetti, who was not a known persona in the racing world at that time, won the Mille Miglia in a sensational way. The rally was then suspended and resumed only two years after the end of World War II, when Italy slowly began to rise from destruction. When on June 21, 1947 the start line in Brescia had Nuvolati and Biondetti standing amid other 155 crews, faithful fans of this event knew, that the battle for the win would take place between them. It didn’t matter that Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Touring Berlinetta, where Clemente sat, looked much better than the small Cisitalia 110 in which Nivola drove. Everyone knew, that the latter would do anything to win. The war deprived Nuvolari of everything, that he loved - due to malnutrition and illness, two of his children died, and on top of that he found out he had lung cancer. He was broken and the third triumph in his beloved Mille Miglia was the only thing that could comfort him. That is why he gave his everything, and squeezed more out of his car, than foreseen by the constructors.

Halfway in Rome, he was the leader, even though the electricity in his car broke down a few times due to downpour. He lost the lead only after several dozen kilometers before the finish line on the highway before Venezia, where the speeding Alfa of Bionetti left his Cisitalia behind. The new master triumphed in Mille Miglia for the second time, and second place for him meant a defeat; he was totally broken. He didn’t want to participate in rallies, he began to live in a monastery in Gardone Riviera, where he started cancer treatment. The closer it got to the next edition of Mille Miglia, the more Nivola was tempted to go to Brescia and watch the struggles of participants. Right before the start, he parted from the monastery and went to see preparations for the race. In Brescia, he met Enzo Ferrari who dreamed that one of the cars produced by him would triumph in that edition. He showed him pieces prepared for the race, after which he offered Nuvolari to sit behind the wheel of one of them and take part in the event. Nivola had no time to tame the new Ferrari 166, but it didn’t matter to him, as always. He already knew that Biondetti would sit behind the wheel of that same car, so this time it would not be the gear, but drivers’ talent that would decide on victory. Nuvolari, who had walked monastery gardens just a few days earlier, praying for the progressing illness to let him live a bit longer, was not thinking to leave Biondetti far in the back and win the Mille Miglia. From the start line, he drove quickly and aggressively, he didn’t care for clashes, or problems with breathing. Harsh driving pays off - he was still first midway in Rome. Less satisfied were the mechanics, which had to quickly fix the worn off Ferrari. A scattered suspension was fixed, the case was worse with the hood, that was so bended that it couldn’t be closed. They assembled it with wire, which might have passed the test, if not for the powerful storm, that caught Nuvolari after the start from the capital. Strong wind tore off the provisional assembly and the cover rushed up every now and then, obstructing Nuvolari’s vision and the route. Back out because of this? That wasn’t his style. Wait for the mechanics? Not with his patience. Nivola found another way. Not stopping the car, he tore off the hood, threw it into a ditch and drove away with an open engine.

But the misfortune didn’t stop there. A few hours later, he stumbled across a rock and had another serious clash. He could still drive, and more importantly, he was steering so he had nothing to worry about. He checked in as first in consecutive checkpoints, and then he suddenly disappeared. His fatigued Ferrari was found by the organizers on the roadside by Villa Ospizio, and soon after, Nuvolari himself was also tracked down. Exhausted, broken, half-conscious with pain and fatigue, he lay in a bed at a nearby parish. But when Enzo Ferrari, who heard of his accident, came to Villa Ospizio, he told him that there was nothing to worry about, as he could fight for victory again after a year; Nuvolari believed that Mille Miglia could still be won. However, his progressive disease prevented him from taking part in further rallies. Nivola died on August 11, 1953.

This race, so unlucky for Nuvolari, was won by Clemente Biondetti. A year later, he repeated this success and went down in history as the only driver who triumphed at Mille Miglia four times.

Author: Artur Grabarczyk