What was racing like back in the day?
We tried it for ourselves!
Duccio Lopresto drives one of Nuvolari’s single-seaters in Monza. An all-round thrill ride.
The first sensation when you get behind the wheel of a 1948 single-seater is that you may not make it home that night. You are completely outside of the car, sitting on a little seat that you will be thrown from if you make a single mistake.
The steering wheel, which is enormous, is really close to the body to allow you to apply pressure – back then power steering wasn’t even a figment of anyone’s imagination – and the pedals are small with a clutch that goes out immediately, almost ensuring that the engine will quit at the start. What’s more, our car, a Cisitalia D48 that was driven by Nuvolari at the Monaco Grand Prix, has the gear shift right in the middle. In other words, you have to sit with the gear shift in between your legs!
A magic moment: entering one of the turns of the old Monza track, feeling just like Tazio Nuvolari.
At this point, you begin to wonder if it wouldn’t be better to go have a spritz at the bar. Yet, you get out on the track. A historic, magical track – the one in Monza. But not the modern course!
It is the one with the elevated curves used in the 1950s for a race of American (from Indianapolis) and European single-seaters.
There are a few things you can count on – there’s no way out, no protection from the trees along the track, and the famous “little curves” in porphyry stone will be as slick as soap if it rains.
At full speed on the Sopraelevata. If you are not fast enough, you risk to flip the car over.
There are moments when you realize it is too late to turn back. The engine is running and everyone is waiting for you to go. I don’t think Nuvolari ever had any doubts, and I’m able to start without killing the motor. Though the noise is hellish, the car springs into action with grace thanks to how little it weighs. The elevated part comes right away. It is so steep on the incline that all you can do is gun it. Otherwise, you’d roll down! And I’m not exaggerating – I hang on to the car by forcing my foot down to the floor and keeping my back glued to the seat.
As it goes and goes and goes, I begin to understand the passion back then and the enthusiasm among the spectators for those fearless drivers who seemed to not understand the risk. I begin to understand as well that the more you go, the more you forget it’s there..
It is time to stop. I slow down, turn off the engine, and I realize I can breathe again.
I think I will make it home tonight.
Corrado Lopresto sitting in the Cisitalia D48. Ready to start the engine.
The Cisitalia together with the Fiat 1500 Support Van that was part of the Scuderia Milan.
Photo courtesy by Michele Casiraghi / Lopresto Collection