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Seventy years without Nuvolari, the pilot who wanted to die

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Seventy years without Nuvolari, the pilot who wanted to die

ROME – 70 years ago split, on August 11, 1953, in Mantua, Tazio Nuvolari left the scene (he was born in Castel d’Ario, on November 16, 1892 under the sign of Scorpio, so he was only 61 years old), poisoned by exhaust fumes that between motorcycles and cars he had inhaled abundantly on circuits around the world.

The most beloved driver of all time disappeared to enter the legend from which no one would have ousted him anymore even though the cars had become infinitely more powerful and the succession of heroes that warmed our hearts of future motorists, in love with heroes who seemed defying gravity and all kinds of risks by means that today would be considered unmanageable.

Mantua is not far from Crema, my city, and for a long time “nuvolari” was a way of saying to indicate the daredevils, the youngsters who love racing at breakneck speed on country lanes with their playing cards fixed with a clip fixed to the bike frame to mimic the popping of the engine. Nuvolari was our first idol, revered for feats accomplished even before we were born, already revered by the fathers who saw in him Italy of industry and metal excel, capitalism daring of a peasant and ragamuffin country able to bring the great powers such as Germany, England, France or the United States, and it mattered little to us whether the usual black-shirted crowd was behind his victories or whether he was forced by Alfa Romeo to present the dazzling 6C 2300B “gift” from its workers. On the other hand, every era has its oligarchies eager to take all the credit, it didn’t start then, it won’t end now.

In 1986, I tried to make a film on the life of this legendary pilot and, together with Francesca Archibugi, I wrote a story freely inspired by the beautiful book by Aldo Santini on the “Flying Mantuan”, this was his nickname, which I submitted to Mario Gallo, a gentleman producer that I still regret.

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Gallo immediately sought contact in Arese with the Alfa Romeo CEO Ettore Massacesi, at that time at the center of the turmoil created by the difficulties facing the Milanese factory and its imminent sale to Ford. The “Alfisti” did not dislike this solution (after all, it was Henry Ford himself who uttered the phrase: “When I see an Alfa Romeo go by, I take my hat off”) but, pronounced Romano Prodi, at the time president of IRI, owner of the brand , was instead sold to Fiat.

The crux of the film – and I apologize for the brutality of simplifications typical of cinema – was that Nuvolari, now considered too old to race again, was in the post-war period on the threshold of a melancholic retirement, prostrated by the death of two very young sons, Giorgio and Alberto , both 18-year-olds deceased. That misfortune sent him back on the trail filled with rage, perhaps eager to die in battle.

Massacesi listened very politely to us, so much so that we felt we had broken through an open door and won the coveted sponsorship of the Alfa Romeo. Instead, a cold shower arrived: “Dear Gallo, dear Giordana – he said after a long pause –, the moment is not good. In the autumn I will be forced to lay off a thousand workers and throw as many families into the street. Do you think that Alfa can give you money to make a film?”. He dismissed us with exquisite grace. If we had wanted to visit the Historical Museum, his secretary would have accompanied us without making us pay for the ticket, and so it was.

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