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October 24th, 2007

The team of Giuseppe Campari and Giulio Ramponi won the 1928 Mille Miglia in this 6C1500SS Alfa Romeo.

By Nicholas Lancaster

Read Ramponi Part I.

The 1928 Essex Motor Club Six Hour Race at Brooklands was the biggest win of Giulio’s career so far as a driver, but it got even better the following year when the Junior Car Club went a step further and organised a 24 hour race at the track. The residents of Weybridge were none too keen on night racing at the track so the event was split into two twelve-hour parts, run between 8 am and 8 pm. Naturally Stiles was keen to enter the race and in March four of the latest 1500 Super Sport models were collected from Italy then driven to England by Giulio, Count ‘Johnny’ Lurani, Perfetti, a works mechanic, and Stiles’s works foreman, W.E. Dunkley. Once again Giulio produced the goods, winning on handicap from the Davis/Gunter 4.5 litre Bentley at an average speed of 77.37 mph. Another Bentley placed third with Boris Ivanovsky’s Alfa in fourth. It was the perfect result once again and Giulio benefited from a generous prize fund but he was less than happy when his proposal that his mechanic, Perfetti, should receive a percentage of the prize fund was rejected out of hand by the Alfa Romeo management.

An Alfa Romeo 6C1750 recently re-bodied to Zagato specifications, owned by Carol Coriiss. Photo credit: Carol Corliss Collection

While this dispute rumbled on, Giulio teamed up with record-breaker George Eyston to win their class in the BARC 6 Hours at Brooklands at the end of June, but a final refusal from the management at Portello — to include Perfetti in the Double Twelve pay-out — lead to Giulio resigning from the company just after the Irish Grand Prix, held at Phoenix Park in Dublin. Unfortunately this race also marked the end of his recent run of success, as Giulio failed to finish after he crashed into some railings that flanked the course at one point.

The following year Giulio was back in Ireland having found a drive with the rival Italian OM team, fielded by the British importer L. C. Rawlence and Co Ltd., but he could only finish ninth in the Irish Grand Prix, whilst an outing in the TT also proved disappointing. The same year, Giulio made his one and only appearance at Le Mans, driving a Blower Bentley alongside 1927 winner Dr Dudley Benjafield but he was dogged by illness and proved unfit to drive over any distance, so that Benjafield had to cope with the bulk of the driving whilst attending to Giulio during the pit stops. ‘Sammy’ Davis, recalled how Giulio attempted to dose himself with “the most extraordinary collection of fluids — Vichy, wine, water, coffee, all mixed up together” (!). Doctor Benjafield was probably quietly relieved when the car finally retired after 144 laps.

In 1931 Giulio appeared once again in the Double Twelve Race at Brooklands, driving a Maserati with George Eyston, but despite some fast lappery the pair couldn’t reprise their previous success at the track as the rear axle failed at the end of the first day and forced their retirement.

Ramponi's last event for Scuderia Ferrari, with Ghersi in the 1932 Mille Miglia with the new 8C2300.

Later in the year Giulio’s adventurous life took another major turn as, apparently ‘out of the blue’, Giulio received an offer from Alfa Romeo to return to the company, which was about to embark on an ambitious racing programme with the new Jano designed P3 Grand Prix car. Giulio accepted the offer, which also held out the promise of further competition drives as well as testing, but his one competition outing ended in disaster. Giulio was paired with Pietro Ghersi in one of the Scuderia Ferrari entered 8c 2.3s for the 1932 Mille Miglia but Ghersi managed to crash the car in Florence, in front of hundreds of spectators, and Giulio broke his arm. He was less than pleased to discover that Enzo Ferrari had failed to provide the expected insurance cover for the two drivers, and this appears to have had serious repercussions in his relationship with Ferrari later on.

In 1929, Campari and Ramponi again won the Mille Miglia, this time in an Alfa Romeo 6C1750. Chassis photo from Alfa Romeo.

Meanwhile the Alfa Romeo racing effort was in disarray as financial considerations lead to the team withdrawing from Grand Prix racing in 1933. The main Alfa Romeo effort now fell to the Scuderia Ferrari, which had close links with the factory and key personnel such as Bazzi and Ramponi seem to have moved freely between the two companies. Following the factory withdrawal, Enzo Ferrari had expected that he would be allowed to continue with the P3 programme but he was to be disappointed and the team was forced to rely on the older Monza. Realising that the Monza needed more power to face the challenge of new opposition from Maserati and Bugatti, the Scuderia began work on a series of modifications — including increasing the capacity to 2.6 litres — which were devised by Bazzi but were probably developed by Giulio who was now the chief engineer at the Scuderia.

After some early success the Monzas proved less than competitive against the new rivals, and finally the factory relented and the P3s were released from Portello to Modena complete with spares, but at about this time Giulio suddenly left the Scuderia Ferrari. Nobody seems to agree on the reason why. Perhaps he fell out with Enzo Ferrari — apparently the insurance incident from the 1932 Mille Miglia still rankled — or, being something of an independent thinker, he may have offended the Fascists who played such a major part in all walks of life in 1930’s Italy.

Whatever the reason, Giulio, after a few months working in Siena, was soon on his way back to England, where his career would take another extraordinary turn, helping to propel a little known English driver towards Grand Prix stardom with Mercedes Benz. That all came about because of Whitney Straight. Straight was a wealthy American who left Cambridge University in 1933 and decided to go motor racing. This was a serious effort involving Maserati 8CMs bought direct from the factory in Bologna. Whilst in Italy shopping for cars, Straight made contact with Ramponi and soon Giulio was headed back to England as chief engineer for the new team. Amongst the other mechanics was one Billy Rockell, a former Bentley mechanic, who would later would go into partnership with Giulio.

Although Straight and his team enjoyed some success the American abruptly decided to retire from racing at the end of 1934. As one last job for Straight, Ramponi and Rockell converted one of the Maseratis into a road-legal sports car. This work was carried out at a shop in Lancaster Mews close to London’s Hyde Park; this address would become the home of the Ramponi Rockell business. During his time with Straight, Giulio had also taken on the preparation of an MG for a talented young English driver called Richard Seaman. After Straight's retirement from racing, Seaman asked Giulio to prepare an ERA for the 1935 season. Seaman enjoyed little success with the car and asked Giulio to look out for something better for the following year. That decision would lead to the extraordinary adventure with a ten year old Grand Prix Delage that would propel Seaman into the front rank of motor racing in 1937 with Mercedes Benz.
Read Ramponi and the Delage.

Meanwhile Giulio continued to build his business links in Britain, going into partnership with Billy Rockell in Lancaster Mews, but by now war with Germany was looming on the horizon. At first this didn’t affect Giulio’s position in the UK, but then Mussolini made his greatest mistake and threw in his lot with Adolf Hitler, declaring war on Great Britain and France in 1940.

For Giulio this meant internment as an enemy alien and he was taken to a camp on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. In the meantime Giulio had also lost his first wife to peritonitis — it was one of the worst times of his life. But at least camp life appears to have been relatively easy — there was probably some sympathy for many of the internees, who were quite often ardent antifascists — and Giulio was soon running classes in automobile mechanics and engineering, eventually organising a squad of internees to act as an emergency repair team on the island.

A 6c1750 Alfa Zagato, here a street model with the top up.

Released in 1944, Giulio worked for a short time at Bristol-Siddeley, contributing towards the allied war effort, before re-emerging at the end of the war in Lancaster Mews where the old Ramponi Rockell team were soon back in action selling and servicing Alfa Romeos. Meanwhile Giulio remarried and also renewed his links with the Alfa Romeo works at Portello, becoming an invaluable liaison between the factory and various British and American component suppliers. Amongst the names represented: Lockheed, Vandervell, Lodge, Girling and Ferodo.

Finally retiring to South Africa in 1973, Giulio continued to return to Europe once or twice a year to meet up with old friends and often participated in Alfa Romeo organised events such as the 1973 Targa Florio Storica. He died in December 1986.

Past Issues


Graham Gauld

Otto Linton

Giulio Ramponi Part 2

Giulio Ramponi Part 1

Curtis LeMay

Graham Robson Tells All

Jason Castriota, Pininfarina

Tom Tjaarda

Bob and Dennis Show

Ed Hugus, Obit

Joe Nastasi, Part II

Joe Nastasi, Part I

Tony Adriaensens

Otis Chandler Obit


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