Story and photos by Graham Gauld
It does not seem like a year since the last Annual Assembly of the Grand Prix Drivers Club was held in Maranello, but this year’s Assembly, held in the Adriatic seaside town of Riccione, was another occasion to be presented with some remarkable old race cars, some of which were familiar and others certainly not.
The host of this year’s event was Gabriele Fabbri, the owner of the Hotel Promenade, a former racing driver, and friend of the Grand Prix Drivers Club.
So let’s talk about cars.
The first surprise was a true find. It was on display and immediately attracted attention was a unique Zagato-bodied single-seater with a straight-eight engine of very odd design.
The Monaci 8C Bi-Motore Zagato built by Ciro Monaci was fitted with two Fiat 1100cc engines mounted nose to tail and driven by Monaci’s own design of a coupling which he apparently patented. His original prototype was built towards the end of the 1940s but crashed. Still, Monaci realized it had potential as a Formula 2 car. He then went to GILCO, who made a number of chassis for Ferrari, and had them build a new chassis into which he put his unique engine. He ran it in some small events, and in 1952 he entered the car for the 5th Gran Premio Dell’Autodromo di Monza on June 8 with well-known Maserati driver Giovanni Rocco at the wheel. It qualified on the second to last row of the grid but ahead of seven of the other entries that included two Ferraris.
This race is often mentioned in articles because Maserati were keen to have Fangio pilot their latest car even though he was racing the previous day in the Ulster Trophy at Dundrod in Northern Ireland. Being the trouper he always was, Fangio jumped on a flight to Paris from Belfast, rented a car and drove overnight from Paris to Monza, arriving exhausted just before the start of the race. As he had not practiced, the organizers asked all of the competitors if they objected to Fangio starting at the back of the grid and they obviously all agreed.
What happened next was a disaster that almost cost Fangio his life. On his first lap he passed six cars and on the second lap he had passed another nine when he misjudged the Lesmo curves and had a massive accident. He vowed never again to tire himself before a race.
Rocco didn’t do too badly in the race, and eventually retired after ten laps. Needless to say, the performance of Rocco in the race was totally forgotten about! What was surprising was that the car ran and handled so well. A local report claimed that Rocco was cornering as fast as the leading Ferraris.
The style of the Zagato body was such that cycle wings could be added and it could run as a sports car. Now, sixty-five years later, here it was, looking immaculate and still running.
Look ma, no engine!
The way in which the Italians can close roads at will came into play on two other occasions during the weekend. The first was a Soap Box derby organized by Gabriele Fabbri and the Veteran Car Club of Riccione. The plot was simple; the venue was a 1 kilometer downhill course above Gabbice Mare. But the soap boxes were nothing like those of our childhood.
For example there were karts with the engines removed, three wheel tricycles and streamlined racers like ’50s hot rods. The owners happily loaned them out to the Grand Prix Drivers Club members. The outright winner was five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro whose time in one of the engineless karts that was hitting speeds of over 50 kph, so steep was the hill.
Coasting down, powering up
Gabriele Fabbri organized yet another affair, this time at Gabbice Monte on the Sunday where six or seven locals brought along their cars for another impromptu hill climb. You could not ask for a more diverse mix. For a start there was a single seater Taraschi Formula Junior car carrying a Giaur chassis plate. Luckily Tazio Taraschi was on hand who laughed and explained, “I think my father Berardo and I are the only racing car manufacturers who changed their name three times. From 1948 to about 1950 we built cars as Urania’s, then we used the name Giaur, and then finally we used our family name Taraschi.” Tazio explained that his father was a great friend of Nuvolari which is why he was named Tazio.
It was a great surprise to see a local driver with an extremely rare Cooper-BRM V12. This was one of two T86B cars built for the 1968 Formula 1 season (after Brian Redman’s crash at Spa a third car was built). This and the first chassis were auctioned off by Cooper when they got out of Formula 1 and the car seen in Italy was bought by UK Hill Climb driver Martin Brain, who was killed at Silverstone when racing the car. Today it is immaculate and there is nothing like the sound of a V12 in action. The other Cooper was a Cooper-Bristol which, too was immaculate and is now owned by Giorgio Marchi who will be racing it at Silverstone in July. This car was raced by Englishman John Barber in period.
For me, however, the star car was a very original Alfa Romeo 6C 1750. This car has a remarkable history. It was sold new to Luigi Chinetti on March 28, 1929 and taken by him directly to France where he immediately sold this supercharged car to well-known racing driver Goffredo Zehender, who was living in Paris at the time. Clearly this was pre-planned as Zehender had entered it for a race at Juan-Les-Pins a few days later. He finished 6th but in May he won the Frontieres Grand Prix with it and later ran in the Monaco Grand Prix.
A number of years ago the car was found by Allesandro and Marcel Roks, and today its Italian owner brought it to Gabbici and proved that there is something special about Alfas; he was actually quicker on the impromptu hill climb than the Cooper-BRM V12!