THE 1940 MILLE MIGLIA, run over a closed circuit near Brescia, is chiefly remembered for the success of the streamlined BMW 328 that won, but it also figures in the annals of Ferrari as the occasion when the first cars to bear that name appeared in competition.
One of them was driven by the future World Champion Alberto Ascari, making his debut in serious competition, and making it yet more of a historical occasion. When one of Ascari's valve springs broke after the first lap, his lead in the 1½-liter class was taken over by his teammate, the Marquis Rangoni, partnered in the car by Enrico Nardi.
Nardi was well established as a racing mechanic and engineer, and was competent at the wheel: he also did the testing of some Ferrari's. Before joining Ferrari's then still new firm (Auto Avio Costruzione of Modena, with a design staff largely composed of famous men from Alfa Romeo), Nardi had worked for Lancia, and probably became familiar with his future colleagues there in Milan.
He had made his name in automotive circles as early as 1932, when he made a little racing car christened Chichibio. This had been designed by Augusto Monaco and, after completion as the Nardi-Monaco, the car had a fairly successful competition career, winning its class in several Italian hill-climbs.
The reasons for its success were obvious: it offered 65 bhp (10 more than the contemporary 1750 Gran Turismo Alfa Romeo or the TT Replica Frazer Nash, for instance) from a lightweight air-cooled V-twin JAP engine of 998 cc. This engine was mounted transversely in front of the driver and drove the front wheels through a five-speed gearbox.
The whole car was as exiguous as could be, offering very little frontal area and a mass amounting only to 672lb to oppose the engine. Small wonder that it did well - and small wonders were to become a Nardi speciality. The 1940 Ferrari Mille Miglia, cars, alias the AAC 815, were not particularly small, but there were plenty of little bits in their straight-eight engines, and Nardi had a lot to do with them.
The decision to build the cars was taken on Christmas Eve 1939, and while Ingegnere Massimino did the design, Nardi did the development and testing. It was in all senses a rush job, but Nardi never lost track of anything. After the war, he was quick to return to his familiar world of high-performance cars in the Italian style.
By 1948, he had established a partnership with Renato Danese, and their cars were attracting attention and approval at all kinds of national sporting events. They were collecting prizes, too, and the reasons for their success were much the same as in the case of Chichibio all those years before: the N-D or Nardi-Danese car was a tiny affair of minimal weight, relying on the power of a twin- cylinder air-cooled engine of motor-cycle origin to give it a lively performance without more encum- brance than necessary.
The drive was now to the rear wheels, by way of a propeller shaft and live axle, but the engine was still in the nose of the car, further forward than ever because it was so low that the view over the bonnet was still more than adequate. The engine was a flat twin, and a good one, the 750 cc BMW, and the single-headlamp set in front of its crankcase did nothing to interfere with the free flow of air around its cylinders. These were sometimes exposed, sometimes cowled, but always the bodywork was neat and simple and very pretty.
The Nardi Chichibio, he first single seater ever built by Enrico Nardi. It used a V-twin JAP engine and was prouced in 1932.
1947 Nardi-Danese racer.
Nardi Grand Prix Racer.
It was a shame it was there, in a way, as it cooled a chassis that was truly elegant; not yet a true space-frame, this multi-tubular structure was well triangulated in the two parallel beams (each of one upper and one lower longeron, tapering towards the front) between which the driver and passenger sat, and overhang at either extremity was avoided as carefully as stresses were accommodated. The 750 Nardi-Danese was a lovely and lively miniature, built and sold at a time when British enthusiasts idealised superannuated MG Midgets and when the lightweight champions of the new generation such as Chapman and Tojeiro were still years away.
Excelling at Circuit Races and Hill Climbs
In circuit races, road races and hill-climbs, the tiny Nardi ferreted itself a fine reputation, and incidentally helped to build the names of one or two drivers, particularly Gino Valenzano who later graduated to bigger sports cars, such as the Lancia, in international events. Nardi was not blind to the virtues of the Lancia either: he put a tuned Lancia Aurelia engine in one of his usual chassis, only slightly enlarged and strengthened, but nothing came of it-perhaps because nobody believed it possible. In any case, the 750 was still doing respectable things: as late as 1953, by which time Maserati and Ferrari were well into their post-war stride, a 750 Nardi-Danese finished eighth overall in the 22 km Susa-Moncenisio hill-climb up in the Italian Alps, its speed only 2% slower than that of a 2-Iitre Ferrari in the hands of the redoubtable Andre Simon.
Nardi could recognise the advent of power and the growing inadequacy of the BMW engine, however, and sought other ways of making his cars faster. Somehow or other he tracked down the straight-eight cylinder blocks that had been specially cast for the 1940 Ferraris by a firm in Bologna and, with the aid of Fiat 508 cylinder heads and assorted internals (as in the original Ferrari), he built two unique Nardi-Danese cars, one a 1½-liter machine and the other a 2-Iitre.
He designed a F2 racer with a V6 Aurelia engine in the rear (with Nardi's special head and cam, the Lancia engine gave 160 bhp), but did not build it. He built (independently of Danese, who must have disapproved) a 500cc monoposto racer with a 3600 twin Carru engine, but it was a failure. He was looking, it seemed, for a way out of what looked to him like a dead end, and his last fling was a twin-boom sports car fashioned in the bisiluro style of Piero Taruffi's Tarf record-breakers.
In one fuselage were two wheels, a twin-cam 750 cc Giannini engine, and the necessary transmission line; in the other, two wheels and the driver. Between lay an airfoil strut or two, looking rather flimsier than the similarly conceived Pegaso catamaran that had non-started at Le Mans in 1953 - but this was 1955, and the Nardi started. Early in the race it stopped, and that was that. Nardi had found his way out.
Business in high-performance engine parts, in tuning and customising equipment, was booming as motor sport took on a new kind of popularity, and this was business of a kind that he could foster without the continual strain of designing and developing new cars. Manifolds, crankshafts, camshafts, carburetor conversions and cosmetic treatments filled his catalogues and his order books-and as well as the public he had some good customers among Italy's custom coach builders, selling his expensive and elegant laminated-wood-rimmed aluminum steering wheels.