TeamsPiero Dusio: 1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
While it wouldn't be true in every case, it seemed everything Piero Dusio 'quello che toccava si traformava in oro'. While Dusio's life would start out with an injury, he would turn just about everything else he would touch to gold.
Piero Dusio was born in Scurzolengo, which is part of the province of Asti, in 1899. During his early life, Dusio wasn't all that interested in automobiles. Instead, he was looking to make a career as a soccer player. At the age of twenty-three, he would end up playing three games for the football club Juventus and was considered one of the team's best players. Unfortunately, Dusio would suffer from a knee injury that would bring about his soccer career.
Not wallowing in self-pity, Dusio would look to others ways in which he could make his living. Soon, he would start working as a salesman in a textile business. In time, Dusio would end up becoming the owner of a large complex of stores that would supply everything from sporting goods to military uniforms. Soon, Dusio would be considered one of the richest and most powerful men in all of Italy.
But Dusio couldn't merely supply sporting goods for a living. He had to be a part of it somehow. Unfortunately, his knew injury would prevent him from being able to take part in a number of sporting activities, except for one.
Wealthy and powerful, Dusio would use his wealth and influence to begin his career in a rich man's sport. In 1926, Dusio would enter his first-ever motor race. The event was the Grand Prix of Italia held on the Autodromo di Monza. The purpose-built circuit had only been finished four years earlier. The circuit, at the time of the race in 1926, made use of the road circuit as well as the banking. In spite of his inexperience, Dusio would co-drive his OM with Giulio Foresti and would earn a 3rd place result overall and 1st place in 2.0-liter category.
Dusio only knew how to do things on a large scale. After the successful introduction to motor racing at the Grand Prix of Italia in 1926, Dusio would decide to go bigger. Therefore, in 1929, he would enter the 1,000 mile Mille Miglia. A 25th place result would bring Dusio back down to earth, but not all that much.
Known to be quite shrewd in his business dealings, Piero Dusio's industry continued to grow. This would enable him to keep taking part in major races throughout the 1930s and up to the start of World War II. Though known best for his wealth and power amassed through his businesses, Dusio would also prove to be quite adept behind the wheel of a race car as well. True athletes are able to be good no matter what the sport. Dusio would be considered by many of the elite drivers to be one of the best amateur racers there was. While his first love may have been soccer, motor racing would become something perhaps even more dear to his heart.
Throughout the 1930s, Dusio would garner a number of impressive results including a 6th place finish at the Italian Grand Prix in 1936, a class victory at the Mille Miglia and a 2nd place result in voiturettes at the San Remo Grand Prix. Dusio would also take part in a number of minor races and would prove quite successful.
Fitting with his personality, Dusio couldn't keep his hands of his cars despite the fact he didn't formally know all that much about engineering and car manufacturing. But he had learned a lot over his years of racing. He would constantly want to make changes to his cars; tweaking their designs to make them better. This naturally led him to start his own racing team called Scuderia Torino. Backed by Dusio's wealth, and his experience, the team was quite competitive and rather successful driving Maserati 6CMs in the voiturette class.
In spite of the outbreak of the Second World War, business was booming for Dusio. Supplying textiles for military uniforms would increase as Italy entered the war. In addition, Dusio would further add to his wealth as the result of some real-estate deals. This led Dusio, despite the events of the world at the time, to establish and open his own automobile manufacturing company called Cisitalia in 1943.
At the end of World War II, Europe was totally ravaged and lying in ashes. The effects of the war on towns and villages would last for months and even years. Industry, because of the concerted effort to destroy it during the war, was struggling to come back to life. Being the shrewd businessman that Dusio was, he looked the scene over in Italy and saw an opportunity.
A sportsman at heart, Dusio wanted to see his beloved motor racing resume. There had been a couple of small, impromptu races, but still, things were slow going. Many of the races would be raced by pre-war cars that had been carefully stashed away to protect them from the war.
As with business, in order for motor racing to rise out of the ashes some capital needed to be poured back into it. Dusio had an idea. The opportunity Dusio recognized was for Cisitalia to build some of the first post-war racing cars. These cars needed to be cheap to build and own since there was neither the materials, nor the money, to really build and buy the cars.
Dusio would turn to Fiat engineer Dante Giacosa and gave him the order to build a single-seater racing car that would help Italy and motor racing to rev-up again. There was little available to chose from. However, designing and building every aspect of a new car was just not financially viable at the time. Such an undertaking at the time, given the conditions of Italy and all of Europe, would require every bit of Dusio's business acumen. It would also require his powerful influence.
Giacosa had been working in aeronautics during the war, and he would need every bit of his experience with aeronautics to create a great grand prix car with what there was to work with at the time. Giacosa did have knowledge of something that would be very essential to the designs success. This is where Dusio's influence would come into play.
Giacosa, and another aerodynamic engineer Giovanni Savonuzzi, were aware of a unknown amount of chrome-molybdenum. Savonuzzi had come to work on the project with Giacosa and knew very well the metal was very strong, and yet, very light. This was what the two men needed. They just had to get it. Amazingly, the molybdenum would appear and the engineers would go to work creating the space frame for what would become known as the Cisitalia D46.
At first glance, the D46 seemed impossible to compete with. It only had a 62 hp engine in it and it definitely suffered for straight-line speed. However, its real strength came into play on shorter, twisty circuits. The car was incredibly light. Given its remarkable lightweight, the 62 hp engine was enough to help the car accelerate and handle with great agility. Dusio had done it again. The car, after some tweaking and small redesigns, was beginning to be produced in large numbers. It would even lead to its own series where every competitor raced with a Cisitalia D46.
Incredibly popular, the D46 would reach incredible heights and would end up being part of one of the most amazing and memorable moments in racing history. In 1946, the great Tazio Nuvolari was behind the wheel of a D46 at the Coppa Brezzi. The crowd present would happen to be fortunate enough to witness one of the most incredible and memorable moments ever to be seen in a race.
To get in and out of the car, the steering wheel could be moved out of the way. Nuvolari was within a couple of laps of the finish when the mechanism holding the steering wheel in place broke. All that he had left to steer the car with was a single spoke from the wheel. In one of the most amazing moments in racing history, Nuvolari is captured with a camera waving the broken steering wheel frantically while still driving the car. Not wanting to pit, Nuvolari would actually complete the last couple of laps without a steering wheel. Upon realizing what he had done, the race officials fined him for driving without a steering wheel. By contrast, the Italian fans went crazy. The D46's fame was forever cemented in the minds of the Italian public and motor racing fan
Because of the car's small wheelbase and suspension arrangement, the car wasn't all that popular with drivers. But it did serve well for introducing new and aspiring racers to a good race car that could accelerate quite well and handle very good as well. As Piero Taruffi, a development driver for Dusio would comment, 'It was just the car for youngsters who wanted to break into racing—exactly like Formula Junior cars of today.'
While the future immediately after the war was looking bright for Cisitalia and Dusio, the late 1940s would see dark clouds come and hover over Dusio and the company's future. All throughout the late 1940s Dusio had been making plans and deals left and right. He was bringing together important partnerships in order to make Cisitalia a giant in the motor racing realm. While his D46 and other small single-seaters were proving to be very popular and successful, Dusio wanted to create a sportscar that would be as, or more, successful.
To create a successful sportscar Dusio wanted the best, and was willing to pay for the best. The best, in Dusio's mind, was locked up in a French prison still as a prisoner of war. Using Raymond Sommer, the popular French grand prix driver, Dusio would arrange for Ferdinand Porsche's release from a French prison. It would cost him a large sum of money, but Dusio believed it to be worthwhile.
Partnering with Porsche and good friend Pinin Farina, Dusio's Cisitalia company would create the 202 GT. Utilizing aero designing and aesthetically pleasing bodywork design, the 202 was hailed as an instant success and a leap forward in automotive body design.
In the hands of Tazio Nuvolari, the 202 held onto the lead in the 1947 Mille Miglia throughout the majority of the 1,000 mile race. Nuvolari seemed destined to take yet another incredible victory until trouble in the rain caused him to slip to 2nd overall. Nuvolvari, despite having a much smaller engine, would end up holding on to finish 2nd and gave Cisitalia another great result.
The partnership with Porsche and Pinin Farina was beginning to pay off with the 202. This led to his bigger and better plans. Dusio had envisioned a power grand prix car that would rival the best existing and that would exist. He envisioned a car with over 400 hp and that could overcome the might of the Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta. The plan was the Porsche 360 Cisitalia, and it would almost break the golden touch of Dusio.
The car was complicated and troubled, yet, plans moved ahead. More and more money was being allocated to the project. Financial trouble loomed on the horizon. It seemed the golden touch was leaving and that Dusio would suffer a career ending injury of another kind. However, he would use his ability one more time, and it would just save Cisitalia.
Seeing the bills piling up, Dusio began arrangements and communications with Autoar in Argentina. Dusio assured the cooperation of Porsche and other partners were he to take over Autoar. The Argentine government was then assured the partnerships would help with the construction of sports and industrial cars in Argentina. An agreement was reached just in time. Cisitalia remained alive; it was just shifted to Argentina and called Autoar. In 1949, the agreement would be ratified by Peron, and the Argentinean government. This allowed Cisitalia's cars from Turin to be imported while the operations shifted wholly to Argentina. Unfortunately, the shift would end up severing ties with Porsche, even after Dusio had paid to get him released from prison.
At the time of the World Championship beginning in 1950, Dusio was focusing on merely staying afloat. Behind closed doors, Cisitalia and Dusio's grand prix aspirations were dying a slow death. The move to Argentina had saved Cisitalia and the 360, but its time was most assuredly running out.
At the end of the 1951 Formula One season, a number of changes would take place. Alfa Romeo had left grand prix racing. With it went the only truly competitive car that could battle Scuderia Ferrari on a consistent basis. Even that was questionable as the Ferrari 375 proved dominant over the later-half of the season. These were the cars the Porsche 360 Cisitalia was meant to battle, and they were going away.
The governing-body and the race organizers had to deal with two very real issues. Alfa Romeo's departure meant little to no competition. In addition, costs were soaring. Measures needed to be taken to save the fledgling series. For the time being, Formula 2 was the answer. Therefore, the 1952 and 1953 World Championship seasons would compete according to Formula 2 regulations.
One of the most important regulations that practically killed Dusio's 360 dreams was the smaller engine displacement size. The other killer had come with Porsche departure from the project. Undeterred, Dusio would look for a means by which he could take part in the World Championship. Dusio's answer, he believed, was found with an old friend.
In September of 1952, Piero Dusio was fifty-two years old. But he wasn't about to miss an opportunity to take part in the World Championship. Unfortunately, the car he had intended to enter in World Championship races was dying a tragic death.
Despite the delays and the changes in formulas for the World Championship, rumors continued to abound about Dusio's grand prix project, the Porsche 360 Disitalia. But the reality was Porsche had abandoned the project and Dusio didn't have the funds to see it become fully realized. According to the Italian journalist Gianni Rogliatti the reasons for the rumors were clear: 'All histories of unrealized things are sad, but this is more than a sad story, this is a thrilling romance which talks about the end of the car that should have been the most extraordinary racing machine of its time.'
The 360 grand prix car was dead. Dusio knew it. Therefore, he had to look to another to carry his dreams of competing in the World Championship forward. To find his partner he wouldn't look forward. This time, he would look back.
The World Championship was over. Alberto Ascari had sown the championship up when he passed Giuseppe Farina late at the Nurburgring and claimed his fourth-straight victory. Despite being over, the World Championship's last round was perhaps one of the most important and highly anticipated races, especially for Italian teams, drivers and fans. The eighth, and final, round of the 1952 World Championship was the Italian Grand Prix. The race was held on the 7th of September at the famed Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
Thirty-five drivers and cars would place entries for the race held at the circuit situated in the Royal Villa of Monza park. Built and opened in 1922, Monza was one of the first purpose-built road circuits in the world. The circuit, built five years before Germany's Nurburgring, consisted of a number of different circuits that could be joined into one larger circuit. The layout included an oval, a junior circuit and a road circuit. When run all together, the circuit measured greater than 6 miles. The circuit had been the host to a number of deaths, which led to the oval portion being unused during grand prix races. After the end of the Second World War, the circuit was rejuvenated and changed. The majority of the track stayed the same, but two ninety degree corners were added which led from the back straight onto the start/finish straight. Even without the oval included, average lap speeds around the circuit remained quite high as drivers spent at least 85 percent of a lap with their foot flat to the floor.
The 360 project was a no-go for Dusio. Therefore, he would look to his trusty old Cisitalia D46 as his answer to taking part in a World Championship race. The original D46 suffered in straight-line performance. Despite have a 2.0-liter BPM engine, the D46 still suffered for straight-line speed. This was not good as the starting field would be limited to just twenty-four starters. This meant eleven entries would end up heading home and not taking part in the race.
It was obvious from practice lap times, Alberto Ascari would have little to worry about. In spite of already being named World Champion, Ascari would not just take the last round easy. There was too much at stake. He was looking to make a permanent entry in the record-books, he had an opportunity to earn more prize money, and, he, being Italian, was driving for an Italian team at the Italian Grand Prix. He couldn't just circulate the track.
The rest of Ascari's Scuderia Ferrari teammates would do their best to give the Tifosi something to get excited about. Besides Ascari on pole with a lap of two minutes and five seconds, Giuseppe Farina would start on the front row as well in the 2nd place position. His time would be just nine-tenths of a second slower than Alberto's. Ascari's good friend Luigi Villoresi would also start on the front row in 3rd place. The Italian and Ferrari faithful were looking and hoping for a clean sweep of the front row. Piero Taruffi, the winner of the Swiss Grand Prix that year, would come close, but he would be beaten by Maurice Trintignant by just six-tenths of a second.
Just after the end of the Second World War, Dusio had grown accustomed to his D46 being cheered wildly as it would start from the front row and go on to win races. But times, and fortunes, had changed. He wouldn't be fitting for a position on the front row. He would just be fighting for a position in the race.
While Gino Bianco would end up being the slowest qualifier others had to beat to get into the field, Dusio was struggling just to get his car to take the circuit. Dusio's race looked to be in doubt as engine problems were sidelining him from even taking part in practice. After much effort, the engine problems just couldn't be solved. Dusio had come just to take part in the race, but the golden touch wasn't there this time. There would be no World Championship attempt for the man that helped rebuild Italian grand prix racing after the end of World War II.
Despite Dusio's failed attempt to make it, the race went on. Ascari had been untouchable throughout the majority of the season. This put the target squarely on his back. And the Argentinean Jose Froilan Gonzalez made it abundantly clear he intended to end Alberto's streak of victories. Initially, it seemed it was going to work. Gonzalez had started the race on lighter fuel tanks and was able to use the lighter weight to take the lead and stretch out a margin over Ascari.
Soon, the race came down to just Gonzalez and Ascari as the pair stretched out a sizeable margin over Luigi Villoresi in 3rd place. Jose had managed to gap Ascari by about thirty seconds before he needed to come into the pits and refuel.
The long fuel stop would end up handing the lead to Ascari. Once Alberto was in the lead, he put his head down and was intent on finishing the World Championship season with yet another victory. He made this abundantly clear when on the 56th of 80 laps he would turn in what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time of two minutes and six seconds.
Not wanting to give up just yet, Gonzalez would match the fastest lap time the very next lap, and then again on lap 60. The pitstop had dropped Gonzalez all the way down to 5th, but he was not willing to stay there. Turning laps times as he had on the 57th and 60th laps Gonzalez was quickly making up time and was still looking to beat Ascari to the finish.
But once in the lead, Ascari knew what he had to do. He would continue to hold the gap between himself, and would even manage to increase it over the remaining 20 laps. As the checkered flag would wave on the final World Championship race of the season, Ascari would win the race by one minute and one second over Gonzalez. Luigi Villoresi would make it two Ferraris on the podium as he would finish another minute behind Jose.
It had been Dusio's Cisitalia that had brought the Italian crowd to their feet. By the time Ascari took the victory and sent an eruption of cheers out throughout the circuit, Piero Dusio had already packed everything up and was quietly slipping out of the circuit. He had been one of the most powerful and influential men in all of Italy. On the 7th of September in 1952, he would leave the circuit no different than the common man. He had had to watch the Italian Grand Prix like most everybody else. There would be no cheers of adulation for him and Cisitalia would slip into the background of Italy's incredible automotive marks.