The Mille Miglia at Spoleto in 1948. That time when Tazio Nuvolari…

2 May 1948. The first of the two days of the 40th Mille Miglia, a great cross-country car race, renamed as “the most beautiful race in the world”, a mythical, totalizing experience for the public of the time, as demonstrated by the unforgettable images of Fellini’s Amarcord.

Since its first edition in 1927, this exciting speed race, along the Brescia-Rome-Brescia track, has often seen Spoleto among the main stages, even after 1977, when it became a historic regularity race and continued to pass with some frequency through the city of the festival, touching it for the last time in 2013.

The Carducci library keeps in its archives two photographs of the 1948 edition, which refer to the passage of the race along Viale Matteotti; that race – besides being the longest ever (1830 km) – will be remembered as one of the last prestigious races faced by the “Flying Mantuan”, that is Tazio Nuvolari, one of the most beloved and celebrated drivers of all times.

This first picture that appears on the column “Long Ago in Spoleto” shows Tazio Nuvolari leading the race. Though the facial features are nearly impossible to distinguish, the inimitable shape of the Ferrari 166 SC, its unique “torpedo” bodywork with headlights and external fenders, reveal who the driver is. In the next photo you can recognize the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Spider Cabriolet driven by the couple Graziani-Consani.

The circumstances that lead to Nuvolari’s participation in that Mille Miglia, and the countless vicissitudes occurred to him during the race, have an epic flavour and show how daring the Mantuan driver was. Nuvolari had been convinced to participate at the last moment by Enzo Ferrari. In spite of the weak preparation, in spite of a car he had never driven before, in spite of the heavy family mourning and a serious lung disease, immediately after the start, the almost sixty-years-old Nuvolari proves to be a formidable driver, and at the passage of the Apennines he has already conquered the lead of the race. When he passes in Spoleto he is still first. In Rome he has a great advantage. Then the troubles begin. Already without a mudguard, shortly after Rome he loses the engine hood, then the seat and finally one of the suspensions. At the height of Reggio Emilia Enzo Ferrari begs him to retire: too dangerous to continue the race in those conditions. The indomitable desire to race and the courage as a lion this time can not get much from a car that no longer responds to commands; Nuvolari is discouraged, exhausted and suffering. He is therefore forced to give in and leave the race, that for the record would be won by Biondetti and Navone on another Ferrari.

The image of his passage aboard the 166SC while leading the race, with the crowd along Viale Matteotti, is a historical image of powerful symbolic value, among the last snapshots of a glorious career. On that day in May, Spoleto witnessed one of the last exploits of a legendary character, whose fame exceeded pure sporting merit and whose impact on the imagination of the Italians was powerful and lasting. Lucio Dalla sang of him: “When Nuvolari passes, people come in heaps and lie down on the lawns… He doesn’t care about dying. He rides in the pouring rain, he rides into the sun”.

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