Story and photos by Graham Gauld
Last week I talked about the car that truly stopped the show at Retromobile, the Ferrari 335S, so now I will go from the sublime to the ridiculous.
A tale of two? Nardis
I happened by the stand of Christophe Pund who runs La Galerie Des Damiers and has a habit of digging up remarkable cars that no one has ever heard of. This year he went better and put on show a car he told me he had found as a wreck – and by the time of Retromobile it was little more than that – but did not know exactly what it was. I mention it because some reader in Italy may remember something about it and be able to help out.
Fundamentally it is a two-seater sports car with a lightweight body and powered by a 750cc BMW motorcycle engine mounted in its own compartment at the front of the car. There is a second hood under which is the spare wheel so the driver sits in one of two sketchy seats holding what appears to be a Nardi steering wheel.
The car must have been exciting to drive fast round a corner considering the spare wheel is mounted high in the frame and so it must have understeered like a pig. Christophe then dashed off and came back with the original Italian registration book for the car which recorded that it was taxed in July 1951 by Luigi d’Sebastiano Bosio. However nowhere does it state the make of car. On another document someone had written “Nardi Danese”.
In certain respects its cigar body reminded me of a real Nardi Danese that I first encountered forty years ago, when it was bought by the late Earl of Moray (Lord Doune) for his collection. That Nardi Danese was built in 1947 and as was common in those days it was designed with cycle wings on it so that you could run it as a sports car with the wings on it or else as a single-seater race car without.
Lord Doune did not know much about the car when he bought it from European historic car dealer Rob de la Rive Box and, as it turned out, neither did Box and asked me to see what I could find out. It is believed to be one of the only early Nardis fitted with a Fiat 1100 engine.
Now, believe it or not, sitting on the stand beside me was another old friend, Julian Majzub who, today, owns that very Nardi Danese – a remarkable coincidence!
Julian is a great character and collector of interesting historic cars that he races in England. The story behind this Nardi Danese is a complicated one, which I will return to in a future story about Julian and his cars, but I mention it because I wanted to attach a photo of it when the Earl of Moray owned it. Note that its shape is like that of the strange BMW-engined car that Christophe Pund had on his stand and may or may not help in trying to get more background on the special. I am not suggesting that the BMW might be a Nardi creation but that it may be.
Remember, some of the earliest cars built by Enrico Nardi were powered by BMW motorcycle engines. So is Christophe’s car an early Nardi? You decide.
I know that VeloceToday leans towards Italian and French cars but I would like to tell you a little story which I think is interesting. We all know of the development of Ferrari Classiche, a lucrative department of the factory that officially fettles and restores older Ferraris and gives the owner their stamp of approval. Wandering past the Jaguar stand at Retromobile, I happened upon Paul Bridges, a former Jaguar engineer and now chief engineer at Jaguar Heritage which is the company’s department that oversees the company’s own car collection. On the stand was a bare bodyshell for an E-Type coupe.
Paul explained that Jaguar has now decided to set up their own system offering Jaguar-built body panels for E types. With E-Types becoming more and more valuable, Paul explained that Jaguar Heritage decided to start retooling some of the inner and outer body panels using high-tech scanning. Now, the company can now not only offer proper factory-made panels through Jaguar Heritage, but are buying E-Types themselves, taking them apart and rebuilding them using the latest technology. It could be the start of a new trend for manufacturers going into the retro market.
Steve Tillack is well-known in the American restoration trade as a guy who does great work bringing old Ferraris and the like back to life. I usually bump into him at Retromobile but this year he took the plunge and had his own stand with a truly mixed bag of interesting cars. Two that stood out for me were Ferraris; both were Berlinettas and both had come from the collection of the late Mexican enthusiast Lorenzo Zambrano’s stable.
One in particular was a 212EL Vignale Coupe ( 0161EL) that had run on the Carrera Panamericana in 1951 finishing second driven by Luigi Villoresi and Alberto Ascari. That year the Pan American was run specifically for four passenger coupes, so that most of the opposition came from waves of American cars of the period like Hudson Hornets, Buicks, Mercurys, etc. Many were driven by the famed stock car drivers of the day like Marshal Teague, Hershel McGriff and Ray Crawford and even a bunch of top notch American sports car drivers like John Fitch, Phil Walters and Jack McAfee.
The Ferrari s therefore managed to squeeze in as four seater passenger cars. Apart from them the only other “foreign” cars were Louis Chiron’s Delahaye 175S, two Mark VII Jaguars – one driven by Jerry Unser – two Lancia Aurelias for Giovanni Bracco and Felice Bonetto and an Alfa 2500 SS that was involved in a fatal accident
The Ascari Ferrari was owned by Franco Cornaccia the Milanese Ferrari distributor. The sponsorship of the car came from the Sinclair oil company and after the race the car was sold to the Mexican businessman Santiago Ontanon who owned Industrias 1-2-3 a company that made detergents. He was to go on to sponsor other Ferraris in the Pan American Road Race featuring his Industrias 1-2-3 Logo. Ontanon kept the car for many years and eventually sold it to his nephew, Andrew Batista and twenty years after that it was sold to Zambrano and so the car has been in Mexican ownership for an incredible sixty years. Steve Tillack has done all the restoration work on the car in the past twenty years and he restored it to its original 1951 blue and yellow colors.
The other Berlinetta Steve had on his stand was the rare 250 Sport (0156ET) that won the 1952 Mille Miglia driven by Giovanni Bracco who managed to beat the favored Mercedes Benz 300SL of Karl Kling.
Make plans now to be at next year’s Retromobile. See you there.