In its auction sale at September's Goodwood Revival Meeting (Saturday 14 September 2013), Bonhams is offering one of the most charismatic of all great pre-war Grand Prix racing cars. This is the 1935 supercharged Alfa Romeo 8C-35 which – when campaigned as new by Alfa's proxy factory team, the celebrated Scuderia Ferrari – was reportedly driven by none other than the legendary Tazio Nuvolari, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time (estimate £5.5m - 6.5m).
Jockey-sized Nuvolari, then already 43 years old, was renowned in period for his utterly fearless and totally-committed approach to racing. He is often credited with developing the power-drift driving style, and as star of the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo team he led Italian racing's rearguard action against the state-backed German 'Silver Arrow' cars of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union.
Alfa Romeo, of Portello, Milan, had dominated major-league motor racing for almost ten years. In 1933-34 Hitler released German state funds to help Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union overturn Italian racing's pre-eminence. The German marques unleashed new technology the Italians could barely afford. Until, in time for the September 1935 Italian Grand Prix, Alfa Romeo launched its latest Tipo 8C-35 contender. This deep-chested, supercharged straight-8 engined design matched the German cars with its new all-independently-suspended, hydraulic-braked chassis design, and 'Nivola' – Nuvolari, the Scuderia Ferrari's yellow-shirted, red-leather-helmeted team leader would take the fight to the Trans Alpini as team director Enzo Ferrari described their German rivals.
The Alfa Romeo 8C-35 to be offered by Bonhams is chassis serial '50013' – identified by Scuderia Ferrari by its in-house serial 'SF65' – which did battle in the Italian GP at Monza, in Modena, the Czechoslovak GP at Brno, in Tunis, in not just one Monaco GP but two, in the Hungarian GP at Budapest, in the Eifel Rennen and German GPs at the Nurburgring, in the Italian Coppa Ciano at Livorno (Leghorn), Lucca, and elsewhere...
This great car's most spectacular success was scored in its final Scuderia Ferrari event, the 1936 Coppa Ciano, when it was taken over by Nuvolari from assigned driver Carlo Pintacuda after the team leader's sister 12C-36 car had broken its transmission on only the second race lap. Nuvolari had run back to the pits and Pintacuda was called-in to hand over '50013'. Nuvolari tore back into the fray, seven laps behind. Despite being too small for Pintacuda's driving position, Nuvolari ripped back through the entire field, including the entire Auto Union team, to score a barely believable home-team win. These Scuderia Ferrari-entered Alfa Romeos represented the cream of Italian motor sport, their participation extending throughout Europe, into North Africa, Brazil and even to the American Vanderbilt Cup races at Long Island's Roosevelt Raceway in 1936 – where Nuvolari's 12-cylinder-engined Alfa 12C-36 won with team-mate Count Antonio Brivio's third – and 1937 when 'Nivola' finished fifth.
As described in contemporary issues of both 'The Autocar' and 'Speed' magazines, Nuvolari's '50013' was sold post-Livorno 1936 to young Swiss private owner Hans Ruesch, who brought the car to England where he made his debut with it in the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb before winning – with emergent British co-driver Dick Seaman – that year's Donington Grand Prix.
After further campaigning '50013' at Brooklands, where he finished second to experienced local hero Raymond Mays's ERA in the Mountain Championship race, Hans Ruesch then shipped this magnificent Grand Prix car to South Africa where he set fastest race lap in both the Rand and South African GP events. Into 1937, back in Europe, he won the GP des Frontieres at Chimay, Belgium, the unpronounceable Elaintarharnajo-Djurgaardsloppet in Finland, the Rumanian GP in Bucharest, and starred in further events at Brooklands and Crystal Palace.
Ruesch loaned the car briefly to racing jazz musician 'Buddy' Featherstonehaugh before selling it to British Brooklands habitué Robert Arbuthnot. Postwar it was acquired by British industrialist Dennis Poore – Chairman of Manganese-Bronze Ltd, manufacturers of Villiers engines and BSA and Matchless motorcycles. He was a talented owner-driver and in 1947 drove '50013' to win the first postwar British mainland feature race at Gransden Lodge aerodrome. He featured again in this great car in the inaugural Goodwood motor race, in September 1948, before winning the RAC British Hill-Climb Championship in it.
He continued to campaign '50013' in Formule Libre and Vintage Sports Car Club single-seater events until 1955 when it was retired into long-term storage and retained until Mr Poore's death, aged 70, in 1987. Today's Bonhams team then brought the great car out from its long hibernation and offered it for sale by auction in Monaco, where it realized $2.85 million – at the time the highest price paid at auction for a Grand Prix car, and the highest for an Alfa Romeo. It was acquired by leading British historic racing exponent Anthony Mayman, and subsequently passed to American-resident British enthusiast Peter Giddings who had it restored to raceworthy condition. The car has since been campaigned very successfully in Vintage and European Historic events by both Peter Giddings and its present owner/driver.
At this September's Goodwood Revival Meeting, Bonhams will offer this iconic 330-horsepower supercharged Alfa Romeo Grand Prix car yet again upon the scene of its best-remembered postwar exploits. But it is '50013's pre-war record that shines so brightly – for here is a truly classic, race-winning Alfa Romeo as campaigned by that most revered of motor racing figures... Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com