The twenty-sixth edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will start on Saturday, June 21, 1958, at 4 p.m. Only fifty-five of the eighty-nine candidate cars were invited to participate in this test of steadiness and endurance. Among them are four Ferraris. On the other hand, ten cars have been designated as reserves, in case of some unpredictable last-minute renunciation. This test, the most important of the French motorsport season, this year will once again provide European manufacturers specializing in the construction of Gran Sport cars with an opportunity to measure themselves in a series of extremely fierce duels. In fact, at Le Mans, the cars admitted to the test are of displacements ranging from 741 to 2992 cc-a gap. This means that competitors do not have the same goals, and this injects a series of category test into the great race, of which there are five in all. Of course, for the large displacement cars, such as Ferraris, Vanwalls and Aston Martins, there will be only one criterion for their ranking: that of the highest average hourly obtained, which determines the distance victory. Last year, this mileage was obtained by Englishmen Brueb and Flockhart, in a Jaguar, at 4397 kilometers and 200 meters in the twenty-four-hour tally. Will records be broken this year? For certain categories, this will be possible; it is likely that the distance covered in 1957 by the largest displacements will not be exceeded, since the 1958 regulations do not allow cars with a displacement greater than 3000 cubic centimeters, contrary to what was allowed last year. This will obviously limit the power of the engines and the possibility of achieving, on certain sections, very high speeds.
The fifty-five cars that will take the start on Saturday in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, held on the Sarthe road circuit (13.461 kilometers), undergo strict and meticulous verification and technical control operations. The first training trials, both day and night, which also serves as a final technical tuning, begin on Thursday, June 19, 1958. A huge crowd of at least 60,000 people attends these first contact of the drivers with the difficult course and the cars they will have to drive for 24 Hours, taking turns at the wheel. There are two drivers for each car and, apart from the Argentine Fangio, the Briton Flockart and Luigi Musso, all the aces of the discipline will be present. The Englishman, who had won this race last year in a Jaguar, paired with Ivor Bueb, is still suffering from his accident at the Rouen Grand Prix. Similarly, the Italian number one, though present at Le Mans, will not be able to line up in the big race. In fact, an X-ray has revealed that Luigi Musso, who was also injured in the Belgian Grand Prix, has two slightly displaced cervical vertebrae, which will force him, says Romolo Tavoni, Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director, into forced inactivity. Seven Ferraris (2953 cubic centimeters) will participate in the race, but the Maranello team will officially line up only three, which will be driven by the pairs Collins-Hawthorn, Gendebien-Hill and Trips-Seidel. The others belong to private individuals. The first officially recorded times show Stirling Moss (Aston Martin) in the lead with a time of 4'07"3 (195.955 km/h lap average), followed by Brooks (Aston Martin) with 4'08"3, Salvadori (Aston Martin) with 4'11"1, Schelby (Aston Martin) with 4'13"0.
The Ferraris, which have also joined the track, are pushing and the times achieved cannot indicate anything other than a good training run. Especially because, this year, these cars seem to be the race favorites since the reputation of the famous testa rossa engine, which has been mounted on the cars participating in the race, needs no further proof of confirmation. In the small town of Le Mans everything is ready for the race and to receive the tens of thousands of foreign tourists who will attend the competition. Since Saturday morning, all the circuit's fences are surrounded by exuberant and festive crowds. Numerous restaurants and a plethora of mobile trucks have been set up for the spectators’ convenience. A massive Mass, to be celebrated by the Bishop of Le Mans, is also scheduled in the early hours of Sunday morning at the grounds. Peter Townsend, the British colonel famous for his sentimental affairs related to Princess Margaret, will be among the guests in the grandstand. The sun is absent; it has been raining for several days and the weather does not hint at improving. A major sports newspaper has carried out a short inquiry-survey questioning twenty-five prominent personalities belonging to the most diverse fields of French activity, inviting them to issue a prediction. The votes are split between Ferrari and Jaguars, and among the names of supporters of the Italian manufacturer were those of Jacques Anquetil and Louison Bobet. It is perhaps the first time the two have really agreed. Also in the automotive field, an Argentine news story, having reached Le Mans, informs that Juan Manuel Fangio will participate in the 500 Miglia di Monza (500 Miles of Monza), replacing French driver Jean Behra at the wheel of a Dran Van Lines SPL, one of the twelve American cars that will take part in the competition. Another of the twelve cars, a Sciavi and Amos, will be entrusted to Maurice Trintignant.
It is very likely that Ferrari cars will arrive at Monza in the next few hours for a first contact with the high-speed track. British driver Stirling Moss will also be present on Tuesday to test his car. As announced, the American drivers will arrive at Monza on June 26, 1958, and begin training immediately. The 500 Miles Organizing Committee informs that for June 29, 1958 numerous televisions will be installed along the track and in the grandstands, enabling spectators to watch the stages of the World Cup final match. At 4:00 p.m., after the ritual and spectacular preliminary ceremony, which is integrated in the start (the sprint of the fifty-five drivers who reach their respective cars running), the 24 Hours of Le Mans gets off to a dazzling start. The first laps and hours are run at hellish speed, and the outlines of the first duels between the great champions, who are at the wheel of the Aston Martin and Ferrari, hint at how close the struggle between the big cars will be. Stirling Moss, Aston Martin's number one, is favored by the location of his refueling stand, which is among the first on the home straight; he is the first to speed past the grandstands, before the mover had even stowed the flag. Hawthorn's Ferrari tails him, and for several laps a prestigious carousel can be witnessed, as the green Aston Martin and the red Ferraris follow each other, with a few seconds between them. The prelude to what promises to be a majestic, but whose cadence is not tolerated by the Jaguars. Within 150 kilometers, mechanical failures knock two of the three British cars out of the race; only #8, driven by Hamilton-Burb, remains on track. The little bit of sunshine that has so far cheered is made the drivers' task less hard has disappeared.
Suddenly, a hurricane of rare violence erupts in the sky of Le Mans. The race becomes extremely dramatic because it is dangerous. The microphone meanwhile announces the retirement of Aston Martin #2, driven by Stirling Moss, who perhaps presumed too much in his chances. Then there’s one accident after the other. In the haze caused by the rain, three cars, a Jaguar, a Lotus and a Pauhard, collide in the Ornage corner and go off the road. Two of the drivers, Charles (Jaguar) and Hechard (Lotus) are injured in the collision, but their conditions are not a cause for concern. A few calm laps go by, then a new accident is announced: it is Gomez's (unofficial) Ferrari, which goes off the road and smashes through a hut where a race official is sheltering, injuring him quite seriously. The driver, however, remains unharmed. A few minutes later another Ferrari (also unofficial), skids right in front of the press stand and, after an impressive spin, crashes into the protective side ditch. The driver miraculously emerges unharmed from this spectacular accident. For now, the standings are unchanged: the two Ferraris driven by Gendebien and Trips are still in the lead, with Trintignant's Aston Martin and Hamilton's Jaguar one lap behind. Another very serious accident occurs a few hundred meters from the spectator stands. At the exit of the turn known as Dunlop, a Ferrari driven by the American Kessler and the Jaguar driven by Frenchman Mary collide after a frightening skid. In a few minutes the two cars turn into a sparkling blaze that tragically stands out in the darkness of the night.
Despite the absurd secrecy of the organizers, the first details of the serious accident are released a while later. Frenchman Mary is deceased: the Jaguar, after colliding and skidding, exploded, and the driver's body went against the road’s right railing. A piece of sheet metal from the car even decapitated him. The car wreck, which was projected into the crowd, caused several injuries, including a police officer from the security service, whom doctors desperately try to save. The deceased driver, though racing under pseudonym, was actually named Louis Brousselle; he was thirty-two years old, married and the father of two children. A little later another accident occurs: a driver is thrown from a car and another car runs over him. The crowd screams and calls for the race to be stopped. In the night, the race takes on a highly dramatic character: the numerous accidents unnerve the crowd, and it is in a bullfighting atmosphere that the drivers continue to perform prodigious feats of virtuosity in order to keep their cars on the road even in the most difficult passages. The heavy rain continues to fall, but it is the race that ultimately dictates the inexorable rules, and the competitive spirit prevails despite all the risks. The commotion aroused by the previous mournful incident has not yet subsided when, near the same point at the Dunlop corner, a Lotus driven by Chamberlain and the Ferrari of Picard, simultaneously run off the road and crash into the track’s left railing. An immense uproar rises among the crowd demanding a neutralization of the race, as again the wreckage of the two cars has been thrown into the middle of the road and poses a serious danger to other competitors.
Fortunately, the two drivers emerge from the accident only injured and can be immediately transported to the nearby circuit infirmary. The loudspeakers, meanwhile, between a trendy song and an advertisement, inform that Frenchman Hebert's Alfa Romeo has gone upside-down in the Mulsanne corner. The driver, however, is only slightly injured. The same fate befalls Colas' Porsche shortly thereafter, but the driver emerges unscathed. This is the twenty-second car forced to retire, while the remaining Ferraris and Aston Martins continue to remain in the lead, chased by Hamilton-Bueb's #8 Jaguar, the big British manufacturer sole car remaining in the race. A few hours later, during the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1958, a Mass is celebrated in memory of poor Jean Brousselet. The numerous accidents of the night reduce the number of the fifty-five cars at the start to only twenty. This gap indicates the severity of this race more than any commentary. In the early hours of the night, in fact, in addition to other minor competitors, the Ferraris driven by Hawthorn-Collins and Trips-Seidel are forced to retire. Hawthorn was forced to retire by a clutch failure. The latter overheated, and was therefore inoperable, though it did work again at the end of the race, when the car was admitted to the pits by his mechanics. This would lead Enzo Ferrari to think that Collins had voluntarily decided to retire, especially after Cavalier Bazzi, who had increased the engine's power but left the old clutch in place, told the Modena manufacturer that it was the drivers who had misused the clutch. Seidel, instead, goes off the road and his car is stuck upside-down in the side ditch; the driver is fortunately unharmed.
At the Mulsanne, one of the most treacherous turns, at least ten cars go off track and end up in the sand. Just before noon, during one of the violent thunderstorms, a new turning point upsets forecasts and predictions. The Hamilton-Bueb Jaguar, piloted by the former, skids into the tricky Arnage corner and rolls over. The Englishman is seriously injured and is immediately transported to the hospital, where his condition is judged to be of no concern. With Hamilton's Jaguar the last difficult opponent of the Ferrari driven by Gendebien-Hill disappears. The last four hours of the race are thus but a march toward the final triumph of the red #14 Ferrari. A march conducted, however, at more than 170 km/h, amidst downpours that followed regularly during the afternoon. At the end of the wearisome twenty-four hours of racing, the Ferrari driven by Belgian Gendebien and American Hill wins the twenty-sixth edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The race was the toughest of the past decade, not only because of the unforgiving the weather, but also because of the grueling duel between the Maranello cars and the British Aston Martin and Jaguar. This confrontation was made more interesting by the new regulations on the limitation of displacements, because they translated into more balanced power available to the drivers of the highest displacements. These are the reasons that did not allow for extraordinary averages. Although no record was beaten, the Maranello team’s victory is significant. In addition to the Italian success in the top category, the behavior of the small team Osca (750 cubic centimeter category) throughout the twenty-four hours raised general enthusiasm. Only one of the two Stanguellini, in an even lower displacement category (740 cc), finished the infernal round, but their presence at the finish line is already an excellent performance.
Fourteen laps behind the winner is the Aston Martin piloted by the Whitehead brothers, then the Porsches driven by Behra and Hermann (1600 cubic centimeters), Frère-Barth and Beaufort-Linge (1600 cc). Italy had been waiting for this day of celebration for Italian motorsport since 1954 and it is not without emotion that the many Italians present listen Mameli's anthem twice. The 24 Hours of Le Mans thus saw great success for Italian cars: the extremely strict selection, a constant feature of this difficult race, decimated the official teams of the major manufacturers, not excluding Ferrari. But in the final reckoning, while the British cars of Aston Martin and Jaguar stopped one after the other or lagged behind, the Ferrari of the Belgian-American Gendebien-Hill crew held up magnificently. After the Nurburgring defeat, the Ferrari sports cars recovered very well, once again confirming their clear superiority and proving themselves well worthy of the world title, which is mathematically certain even before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In fact, the world ranking sees Ferrari in the lead with 38 points, followed by Porsche with 18, Aston Martin with 14, Lotus with 3, and finally Osca with 2 points. June 22, 1958, has its cornerstone in the conclusion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as the Mille Miglia. This year these were very different races: the French one kept its characteristics of a pure on-circuit speed race; in Brescia, on the other hand, a new formula that we might call tourist-sporting was tested. The race was roughly that of a Rally, though it lacked the typical chemistry of the regularity trials.
The substance of the 1958 Mille Miglia, however, consists of the eight speed sections, seven of which are uphill. The rankings are calculated by summing the times achieved by each competitor. In recent years these two races have become infamous for the series of fatal accidents that disrupt their course. No one has forgotten the massacre at Le Mans in 1955 and Guidizzolo’s catastrophe during last year's Mille Miglia. But while the French trial is still held after some road widening and further protective measures for spectators, the Italian government no longer allows the Mille Miglia to be held as a speed race on the road. Brescian organizers thus had to fall back on an event that no longer has anything in common with the real Mille Miglia. Unfortunately, there were casualties on both sides again this year. During the 24 Hours, the disappearance of the little-known French driver Louis Brousselle and a series of more or less serious accidents all had the same origin: the extreme speed that the circuit permits, complicated by the rain which made the road surface slippery. At the end of the day, however, it is a calculated risk, at least partly known by those who launch themselves on the difficult La Sarthe circuit. The situation at the 1958 edition of the Mille Miglia is quite different: Mora and Zerneri’s fatal accident did occurred during the first of the uphill speed trials. However, the investigation conducted immediately afterwards, the testimonies of those present, and the examination of the circumstances all suggest that the cause was a driving error, or at least a mistake in judgement, by the driver. In other words, an accident not unlike those that unfortunately happen every day on the roads in normal traffic conditions. Collins and Ferrari meet a few days later and discuss what had happened at Le Mans, especially following what Cavalier Bazzi said:
"My clutch broke".
After reading the minutes written by Amorotti and Ravoni, Ferrari retorts in the following way:
"Did you break it deliberately?"
"No, I was a little demoralized too, and sometimes you drive badly without meaning to".
Wednesday, June 25, 1958, is an intense day at the Monza racetrack. The ten U.S. drivers who flew in from America on Tuesday and those (headed by Fangio and Stirling Moss) who have already been on site for a few days take to the track for the final rehearsal before the Monza 500. Stirling Moss's race will be particularly well attended. The direct confrontation between the various drivers and the European and American cars will be made fiery for many reasons, including pride and the desire for revenge. The race thus promises to have a polemical undercurrent that will result in great combativeness and spectacle. The 500 Miglia di Monza, a pure speed race taking place on the elevated curve ring of the Lombardy racetrack, will be held on Sunday, June 29, 1958, for the second time with the presence of the American drivers and cars that competed a month ago in Indianapolis. The first edition of the Italian race was held in a polemical atmosphere, with European drivers refusing to take part since they did not have mechanical means capable of competing with those from overseas. It it is well known that the racing machines built in Europe are very different from the extremely special ones used on the Indiana track. In the latter case, only strong engine power is required, while the races held in the old continent feature all sorts of track and use conditions. In addition, American engines have a displacement limit of 4200 cubic centimeters, as opposed to the 2500 in Formula 1 for European cars.
The idea of a comparison between the two schools arose following the recent construction of the track with elevated curves inserted into the Monza racetrack. This track is not identical to the Indiana bowl, which has a rectangular plan with four non-excessively elevated turns; the Italian one, instead, is oval with the two turns having a thirty-eight-degree inclination. What the two tracks have in common is the typical and fundamental characteristic of allowing very high speeds. In reality Monza is significantly faster since it is possible to exceed 280 km/h on track, while the highest speed at the American speedway is around 235-240 km/h. However, U.S. racers outnumber the European ones this year too: there will be Jimmy Bryan, winner of last year's Monza race and the last Indianapolis 500, and other famous American racers such as Jim Rathmann, Bob Veith, Eddie Sachs, Ray Crawford, Troy Ruttman and others. On the European side are: Manuel Fangio, though his participation is not yet certain and who in any case is expected to drive a car made available by the American team; Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Musso in two Ferraris specially prepared for this race; Stirling Moss in the Eldorado-Italy, built by Maserati; Harry Schell in an old modified Ferrari; Maurice Trintignant in another car of U.S. origin; finally Gregory, Fairman and Bueb will be at the wheel of British Jaguar cars, one of them entirely new. The race will be contested over a distance of 803.250 kilometers (189 laps of the 4250-meter track); the race will be divided into three separate runs of 267.750 kilometers (63 laps), with the ranking composed by the sum of the times. On Friday, June 27, 1958, the one thing that does not disappoint at the trials for the Monza 500 Miglia is the roar of the cars launched onto the track at just under 300 km/h. Crossing the vibrant green park, now gloomy and damp under a gray sky, one can hear the song of the racing cars, similar to that of a large airplane about to take flight.
Excitement is significantly less than expected. The cars seem almost slow, though running at an average of about 280 km/h. The only two turns, which are respectively 324 and 318 meters long and heavily elevated, require no changes in speed and only minimal slowing down. Each car is like a monotonously spinning toy on the four-kilometer track, led by an invisible hand, flanked and overtaken by another from time to time. It is the drivers alone who create the spectacle, invigorated and colored by the American presence. The appearance of the drivers and their technicians is curious and spectacular. This is one aspect where it is easy to grasp the first major difference between European-schooled pilots and those from overseas, divided by a rivalry that manifests itself in a certain coldness of relations. European and American drivers and technicians seem to ignore each other, perhaps partly because of the language barrier. The difference is in the clothes, posture, and intentions: the Europeans are bourgeois, with some snobbish accents, reserved, and refuse all predictions. Americans are talkative, confident, dressed like jugglers, walk like sailors or cowboys, smoke big cigars. Jimmy Bryan, who won in Monza last year and in Indianapolis this year, and this race’s favorite, wears white breeches over black perforated shoes and blue socks, a white cotton T-shirt (typically American), a shiny satin jacket in golden yellow with blood-red edges, a red and white cap with a very long, straight visor. His hair is shaved, his gaze childish, his shoulders as large as his chest. He speaks to reporters holding a half-roasted, already bitten chicken; he has a huge cigar in his mouth. Then he points to a small bag on the side of the seat of his car: three cigars pop out; he has them with him during the race and lights one every so often as he races. His mechanic explains, earnestly, "He only smokes a little, then throws it away, you can't smoke well when driving at 280 km/h".
The car's owner, Californian George Salitt, is next to Bryan. Salitt is extremely proud of his mayonnaise-yellow Belond special with red arabesques and a large number 1 painted in black on the tail. A brief conversation with Mr. Salitt, the racer, and the mechanic (also in a red and yellow satin jacket, also with a cigar in his mouth) is enough to clarify the difference between Europe and America when it comes to motor racing. The difference is not limited to the fact that European drivers routinely compete on much more difficult circuits, with five-gear cars, while American drivers compete on smooth, ring-shaped tracks (like the Monza bowl) only by pressing the accelerator pedal. This reflects differences in life, in the way they deal with obstacles, in the conception of risk and the motives that can justify it. European drivers race out of ambition, out of passion, in pursuit of fame and perhaps money. American drivers compete, first and foremost, for money; they risk their lives, putting life on a scale with very large sums of money on the other side. It is a game of chance conducted without drama or emotion, even with loyalty between participants, but brutal.
One pilot proudly says that each participant's insurance was set, on the Americans’ request, at 500.000.000 liras. This recalls the fact that one of the tiles of the Indianapolis track (in the US) is made of solid gold. More differences: Europeans are somewhat eccentric, somewhat spoiled drivers (with exceptions). Americans are rather rough, brave young men who tackle the speedway like a trapeze artist tackles a risky exercise without a safety net. They overtake on all sides, push each other, sometimes even cut each other off. One more fundamental difference: European cars are built by industrial-scale workshops, with commercial materials; American cars are built by private individuals, who try their luck like a gambler plays roulette. They buy separate car parts, assemble them, and entrust the car to a driver. The owner of Bryan's car built a car in his garage with an investment of a few thousand dollars. He guessed right and won $235,000 in two races, equal to almost 150,000,000 liras. Two hundred thirty-five thousand dollars, which is the American currency, not lira. The owner notices the faux pas and tries to turn it into a joke, but then cannot resist the temptation to add:
"The prizes here in Europe are too modest".
Ultimately, one need only observe Bryan and Fangio: the former colossal and rough; the latter dressed in a dark suit like an office worker, with rather mysterious eyes, pensive, reluctant to talk about Monza and cars. Or perhaps observe the American technicians, determined, tough but meticulous, and Enzo Ferrari, anxiously standing by the track while Englishman Hawthorn (very blond, green jacket, broken shoes) tests one of his creatures. Ferrari says:
"Every car has a heart. That's why I don't stay on the race track. I will go home Sunday too, so I won't suffer too much if an engine misses".
This may sound like a joke, but it reflects a well-known temperament and illustrates the Italian conception of sport and motoring. One does not, of course, wish to judge whether the American or the European conception is better, nor could one do so. However, it is interesting to note that the European drivers face the Americans in American and European cars, on an American-type track, built especially for the guests. The practice sessions, meanwhile, look encouraging for the Europeans: Fangio, in Dean Van Lines (an American car), was the fastest with 55.2 seconds, averaging 277.173 km/h; Sachs, an American driver, follows at 1.7 seconds, and then Hawthorn's Ferrari, and Stirling Moss in the Eldorado-Italia (a special white and blue Maserati, which looks similar to the Americans). Drivers will need to go even faster on Sunday, repeating the track 189 times. The Americans have already declared that they will not take part in the race if it rains because, as the owner of Bryan's car says very realistically:
"We can't risk it, it costs us too much to pull them up and they make us too much".
Luckily the weather finally seems to have calmed down at Monza on Saturday, or at least it seems that there will be no rain today. Friday morning, and then until mid-afternoon, everyone was very worried. So were the organizers, for obvious reasons, and the drivers and mechanics, forced to stay holed up under cover (in addition to the rain and wind blizzard, the temperature had dropped to a mere 8 °C at 10:00 a.m.) while everyone needed to work. The drivers want to test their cars and try to set times, the mechanics need to go on with the fine-tuning that is only possible after testing the car on the track. All of Wednesday has already been lost to bad weather and the available hours are now running out. This has prompted the 500 Miglia stewards to decide that, if the bad weather persists, drivers will no longer be required to take the qualifying run (consisting of three consecutive laps of the track at a speed of minimum 200 km/h) and that the starting line-up for the race will be determined by drawing lots. It should be noted that, adapting to Indianapolis customs, practice in the rain had been suspended by race officials; similarly, the race itself would be postponed by a couple of hours from tomorrow onward, until the track was perfectly dry. It is known that in Europe races are held in all weather conditions. However, the cautious measure is completely justified, given the enormous risks involved when racing above 250 km/h, even in normal weather conditions. Fortunately, the unforgiving weather has subsided and for a couple of hours almost all the drivers are able to get around in the dizzying Monza bowl and begin the qualifying. Only Moss, Gregory, Hawthorn, Sachs, Fairman and Fangio, however, pass it.
Later, commenting on the outcome of the trials, the Americans no longer seem to have the confidence regarding the supposed superiority of the drivers of the American school over their European colleagues that they flaunted until recently. Fangio's time on his best lap, obtained after very few laps on the Dean Van Lines, had impressed a few; above all it was not thought that the new Ferrari would be so fast that Luigi Musso, the only Italian driver in the race, could achieve very high speeds. In short, the Americans are no longer convinced that they will be only racing each other in the race. Among the colorful and rowdy U.S. drivers it is Eddy Sachs, a 30-year-old Pennsylvania hotelier and military academy alumnus, who makes the best impression. The famous Jimmy Bryan, winner of Indianapolis, bemoans an unsatisfactory performance of his Belond P Special. So does Troy Ruttman, driving the Agajanian Special, whose owner J. C. Agajanian, a wealthy Texas landowner, is certainly the most characteristic figure in the milieu, if only for the way he dresses. Stirling Moss's Eldorado Maserati also still did not look quite right on Friday, but the Modenese company's engineers worked on it all night and are confident that their driver will be able to put himself in the limelight. Meanwhile, Fangio appears to still have not decided whether to take the start or not, due to a rather tangled issue of advertising contracts with gasoline manufacturers. But perhaps everything will be smoothed out before the race. In any case, the world champion is not enthusiastic about this race: what matters here is is the engine, while the driver’s skill and class, that is, the very qualities in which Fangio excels, are only seconday.
Another unknown factor: who will be driving the Ferrari that did so well on Friday? Musso was faster than Hawthorn, but will be destined to drive the less powerful three-liter which he has not tested yet and is expected in the morning from Modena. The 500 Miglia, in short, will be full of unknowns and possibilities. The Europe-America confrontation at speeds just under 300 km/h promises a big battle in what will be the fastest car race the world has ever seen. On Saturday, June 28, 1958, the sun is welcome after Friday's cold weather, even though the day is excessively warm, and brightens up the deep green of Monza Park, the thousand colors of flags and advertising signs, the hundreds of cars parked on the lawns, the festive crowds flocking to watch the practice runs. Large numbers of scruffy young men, ready to get excited by the roar of the engines, and large numbers of eccentric women surrounding the champions at the wheel. Each pit, resembling a little house overlooking the track, is guarded by two public safety guards in uniforms, sweaty and tired, and a gaggle of young women, the wives and girlfriends of the drivers and their chaperones. Almost all of them blonde and wearing eccentric or skimpy attire because of the heat. One, an American, stands out: thin knit pinkish pants, tight as socks; red-and-white striped tunic; a men's straw hat held back by a red-and-white scarf knotted under her chin; a huge stopwatch hanging from her neck; her feet bare. She watches between tires and devices, checking the times of an American driver, assiduous and tireless. The Sunday-looking spectators in the grandstands rave about the performance of Italian champion Luigi Musso, greeting him with cheers and applause when he gets out of his red Ferrari number 12, after beating all the other competitors in practice: three laps in 2'43"3, averaging over 281 km/h.
"After two laps I felt drunk. At that speed you can see very little, you don't have time to spot a signal or a landmark and it has already slipped behind you".
Nevertheless, Luigi Musso is happy, satisfied, but reluctant to make predictions for the race. Qualifying practice, in fact, is of limited value since it is carried out by one car at a time, with completely empty track, after the other drivers have been stopped. The engine can be pushed without fearing its failure, as it is only three laps. However, in the race, the endurance of the cars will be tested over the course of 189 laps, albeit in three rounds. As many as nineteen cars will be together, within a few meters of each other, running at 300 km/h on the two straights and at 270 km/h in the two large, highly inclined turns. It is true that such turns are perfect and that a driver could let go of the steering wheel and be sure that they would not go off track. But when several cars are in the same corner, propelled by different speeds at different heights, all it takes is a slight pressure on the accelerator to be taken to the outside, cutting off a competitor ahead or vice versa. If the European cars manage to win, there will be talk of prodigy and surprise, since most people believe that the American cars are superior. This is not because of special virtues, ingenuity of design and artistry of the constructors, but simply because they were born and prepared exclusively for this type of racing. After two days of practice, poking around in the pits and workshops, teasing the mechanics and drivers into revealing some information in their downtime, the layman is able to get a fairly clear idea of the forces in the field. Probably clearer than that of the technicians and enthusiasts, who instead are burdened by prejudices and sympathies. On the American side, the cars are created for pure speed racing, built by private individuals, who commit all their financial means and time they have to a single vehicle. On the European side, instead, you have adapted cars. Ferrari himself admits:
"Next year we will also have cars specifically designed and built for the 500 Miles of Monza and Indianapolis".
Ferrari is suggesting that this year’s cars are adapted cars, though perhaps capable of giving excellent results, they are still not specifically designed. And, for this reason, the American cars, which are designed for these races, still seem to be at an advantage. However, Musso achieved the best time because the Americans are new to such experiences. One only has to observe the pit of an American private car for confirmation. A chief technician holds up a large board with the drawing of the car broken down into every detail, and minutely checks that the arrangement of individual parts corresponds to theory, locating each bolt, measuring everything with special instruments, in silence, while the other mechanics smoke lying on the floor, waiting for their moment. The parts to be checked are wrapped in cellophane, resembling flowers and preserved foods. The engine, open to the eyes of the curious, is as good as new in every detail, even though it already competed in Indianapolis. It is of extreme simplicity and obvious sturdiness. Many parts are chrome-plated, even those that in luxury cars are allowed to rust. The car is a cage of steel tubing, covered with shaped sheet metal, all of which can be disassembled and reassembled with very few bolts, so that the body disappears in a matter of seconds, allowing the most minute inspection of the engine and everything else. Every part is built with the best existing material and is repeated in series, so that immediate replacements can be made. Nothing is left to improvisation; five men worked on the machine for a year. A private, unofficial European machine, on the other hand, is surrounded by a group of mechanics disappointed by the lackluster test. When asked what the cause might be, one of them replies:
"What do you think it is, it's the damn habit of doing everything at the last minute. Look at this".
He points to another mechanic who is making some sort of contraption which needs replacing, using a piece of sheet metal and a hammer and working in an approximate manner. For the sake of clarity, these impressions are noted to dispel doubts about the different abilities and value of the men, but also to emphasize again that, should an Italian car win in the race, praise must be given above all to the seriousness of those who prepared it. On Sunday, June 29, 1958, Jim Rathmann, a 31-year-old driver from California, wins the second edition from the 500 Miglia di Monza. The race saw the superiority of American cars and drivers, but also showed that the European school, brought into a practically unexplored field, will very soon be on the same level as the specialists from across the Atlantic. The new four-liter Ferrari, for example, achieved the highest average speeds in the official practice on the eve of the race with Luigi Musso. During the race, the car was brilliant in spite of a series of adversities (the unanticipated excessive tire wear, caused by Ferrari’s suspension type) that delayed its running. Still, the Italian twelve-cylinder's third place is to be considered very flattering. Stirling Moss's Eldorado-Maserati, ranked seventh, could have done much more without the frightening accident that stopped the British driver, who came out miraculously unharmed, on the fortieth lap of the last test. In essence, it was a valuable experience that will enable the European manufacturers to face the Americans in the future - at Indianapolis or Monza - on equal terms. The race had a few phases of extreme interest (especially early on) but ended rather wearily because of Rathmann’s superiority. The driver won all three heats of the 500 Miglia, relentlessly setting the pace and never allowing his opponents to overtake him.
However, the last half-hour of the race is animated by two scary accidents, which incredibly do not result in driver injuries. Bob Veith (who had been involved in Pat O'Connor's fatal crash a month earlier at Indianapolis) is the first to be involved: coming out of the southern turn, his car's right front wheel hub suddenly shears off. It comes off, abandoning the Californian's Bowes Seal Fast like a bullet: the car was running at no less than 250 km/h in that moment. Veith shows extreme skill and manages to stop unharmed at the edge of the track, with the (necessary) help of a little luck. Shortly afterwards, while going through the same south curve, Stirling Moss suddenly widens outward and bumps into the providential elastic outer guardrails, which push the Eldorado back to the lower part of the track with a series of pirouettes until the car comes to a halt on the dirt on the inside of the track. The race, divided into three separate 63-lap trials, is underway shortly after noon. The start is made with the cars lined up two by two, after a lap completed behind a pilot car. Luigi Musso is off to a fast start, taking the lead of the eighteen runners. Fangio is missing, since a piston on his Dean Van Lines’ engine broke shortly before; Phil Hill also replaces Hawthorn in the three-liter Ferrari. Behind the Roman driver, the line becomes more spread out: Sachs and Rathmann are the only ones not to lose contact with Musso, and to form a group which thrills the public for ten laps, with continuous overtakes and changes in the lead. Then Rathmann finally settles into first place, and no one bothers him anymore. On lap nineteen, Musso loses contact and stops after a few laps, fatigued by exhaust fumes (he has to be resuscitated in the infirmary with oxygen). Hawthorn replaces him and the Ferrari’s four wheels are changed; but now there is nothing more to be done, though Sachs also stops due to an engine failure.
Rathmann is first, Bryan second, and Moss achieves a great third place. The second trial is even easier for Rathmann, who leads from the first lap to the last. Musso, who bravely restarted, battles Bryan, Moss and Veith, until he once again gives out (and Hill replaces him). Veith is second, while Moss fights at length for third place, but has to give up with a few laps to go because his right rear tire blows out. The third and final heat also sees Fangio, whose car has meanwhile been (badly) repaired, start among the twelve survivors and perhaps he has been allowed to race to give the public a small satisfaction. But the world champion completes just one lap before he stops. This time it is Hawthorn who starts in the Ferrari. Moss loses a lot of ground at the start and will have to work hard to get back into the pack. It seems that this time they want to make Rathmann’s life hard: the most determined are Bryan and Veith, who stay glued to his wheels for many laps, before desisting and letting him go. Jim Rathmann's balance sheet at Monza: overall victory in the fastest race in the world, a new average-record, and a lot of money earned. On the other hand, Jimmy Bryan sets the fastest lap with a 281.250 km/h average and, after the Indianapolis and Monza races, emerges as the winner of the Two Worlds Trophy with 40 points, followed by Rathmann with 31 and Reece with 17. At the end of the race, American Jim Rathmann gets out of his red-and-white car that has passed dozens of times ahead of the competitors with regular monotony, and his face is blackened by dust and exhaust fumes. He is greeted by a general but not enthusiastic applause; a laurel wreath is hung around his neck and he is embraced as the speakers play the notes of the American anthem. But no one in the audience is excited. Not the Americans, for whom the victory was expected, without anxiety or fear, nor the Italians, many of whom were still thinking about the televised coverage of the Brazil-Sweden soccer match.
As the last part of the 500-mile race is being run, the air is red-hot and unbreathable in the restaurant under the grandstands: despite having paid thousands of liras for a seat in the grandstands, hundreds of people have completely forgotten their cars in order to follow the clash between the Brazilians and the Swedes. Those who, from the top of the grandstands, hear roars of enthusiasm from time to time may think that the audience has finally warmed up to the duels between the American drivers. Instead, these are soccer fans: in front of the restaurant’s television set they are clapping hands, shouting, jumping because of the Brazilians' prowess in Stockholm. Interest in the Monza 500 Miglia is therefore modest, though the beautiful summer day has attracted a large crowd. The lawns of Monza Park have hosted endless improvised campsites since Saturday: people eating, people lying in the sun, children playing while the haunting roar of the race cars is repeated in the air. It can be heard from 12:30 a.m. until late in the evening, with breaks between races. But even in the breaks it seems as if you can hear the roar of the engines again at the mere trilling of a telephone, the rattle of a door, the distinctive puff of the espresso machine. The spectacle, in reality, is boring and monotonous: the racing cars seem like toys, continuously repeating endless laps of a track made up of two straights and the two big turns joining them. Similarly to practice, the spectacle was given by the men rather than by the machines; partly by the drivers (who were undoubtedly great, but reduced to robots), largely the crowd, the mechanics, the chaperones. The most bizarre outfits were showcased; men in boots and cowboy hats, others in red and blue striped suits with Tyrolean hats.
Women dressed as jugglers, some in ankle boots, others in blue-jeans and gold sandals, others in beach outfits. The choreography of the race is entrusted to the flag-bearers, who appeared on the track holding the flags of the participating countries (United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Argentina), and to the relay cars, whose task is to lead the other cars for the first laps. The relay cars will then step aside and leave the racers alone, throwing them into the fray that, truthfully, lasted very little: with each take, the Americans’ domination was clear. There was some excitement only in the first race, when Luigi Musso seems determined to wrestle with the Americans by recklessly overtaking his competitors, until he grazes the pits in a great cloud of dust. But the excitement is short-lived. When Musso stops, it becomes apparent that he is sick. The driver has to resort to oxygen inhalation, while his partner Hawthorn - in the yellow velvet cap - hands him a bottle of mineral water. Musso is undone, eyes sunken, breathing hard. He tries again, stubbornly, in the next race, only to stop again. Hawthorn, who replaces him by alternating with Hill at the wheel of the same Ferrari, is also sick in the second interval: his stomach hurts from the vibrations in the turns. He is extremely tired and looks glassy-eyed. Stirling Moss is also lying in the pit box, in pain, assisted by his wife. It is probably because of this illness that Moss has an accident in the last race, from which he miraculously emerges unharmed: his car, after hitting the outside edge of the large southern turn, plummets from top to bottom as two tires with very serious damage burst. Stirling Moss, unharmed, walks back to his pit. On the American side, however, are smiling faces. There is no reason for surprise: Americans are used to these races, European drivers are not. The Americans are giants, massive athlete, with a longshoreman-like body. During halftime they sign autographs and smoke, strolling from pit to pit. Rathmann says only, "I’ll have a sore back".
And he massages his kidneys. Europeans are fragile, more sensitive, and therefore less resilient. This is the simple secret of this new, otherwise awaited American race, which has left the Italian public bitterly disappointed. The 500 Miglia di Monza thus becomes the fastest car race ever held in the world. Such high averages had never been reached, not even on the famous Avus track in Berlin; even in the days when the 600 (and more) horsepower German Mercedes and Auto Union cars participated in the races. The highest speed at the Avus had been achieved precisely by Lang's Mercedes in 1937, with 261.700 km/h. On the other hand, at Monza, Jim Rathmann averaged over 268 km/h and Jimmy Bryan on the lap averaged 281 km/h. This occurred with cars not over 350 horsepower and indicates that Monza's elevated curve track is truly successful as a design. Once the very slight imperfections in the concrete covering the bottom of the curves (especially the northern one) will be eliminated, it is not difficult to predict that it will possible to reach 300 km/h. In short, record speeds but also record prizes distributed to drivers, at least in Europe (Indianapolis, in this respect, is unbeatable). Rathmann, the winner, was awarded 30.500.000 liras (of which 9.000.000 million were won for staying in the lead 180 laps out of 189, or 50.000 lire per lap); Bryan won 7.540.000; the three Ferrari drivers (Musso, Hawthorn and Hill) won a total of 3.490.000; Crawford got 1.970.000; Veith 1.830.000; Reece 1.610.000; Moss 1.520.000. These are big figures, though they are justified by the extreme risks that such high speeds inevitably entail.
Moss and Veith know something about this: at one point, the latter saw the right front wheel of his Bowes Seal Fast Special go off on its own, sheared off at the hub. How the 31-year-old American driver managed to stop without damage remains a mystery. After the race, Luigi Musso, who was brilliant in the early stages of the race, recovered from the symptoms of poisoning caused by the exhaust from the other cars (the Americans use a deadly nitromethane-based fuel). The Roman driver is very pleased with the new Ferrari 4000. Some curiosity comes from Fangio's enigmatic behavior, since during the first race his car appears to have the engine switched off for a few minutes, only to be immediately returned to the workshop. During the second race, the Dean Van Line #29 is not seen at all, while Fangio stands in the pit box eating sandwiches in the company of his wife. During the third race he takes the start with the others only to stop immediately on the first lap; the Argentine blandly protests to the mechanics but soon gets out, removing his helmet and gloves and returning to the role of spectator. The world champion had already been at the center of a situation that had cast doubt on his participation in the days leading up to the race: Fangio is contractually bound to a British gasoline company that reserves the right to take advantage of his victories for publicity purposes, guaranteeing him a starting prize which is rumored to be $6.000 (that is, more than 3.700.000 italian liras) as a quid pro quo. But the car the Americans put at Fangio's disposal for the 500 Miglia belongs to an American gasoline manufacturer. The conflict of interests is obvious, and the discussions to find an agreement lasted all week: the parties' representatives managed to reach an acceptable compromise only on the night between Saturday and Sunday. But Fangio was not supposed to run.
Saturday night, after practice, Dean Van Lines Special mechanics, noticed a piston failure while disassembling the engine and repaired it during the night. But the fault reoccurred just before the race, while warming up the engine. To avoid unsympathetic inferences from the public, the car was pushed onto the track without the hood and engine during the alignment for the start, so that everyone would realize that Fangio did not take the start only because of mechanical issues. However, the mechanics managed to repair the fault once again in an attempt to get the car started at least in the last heat. While it did start, Fangio was forced to stop for good after just one lap. The Automobile Club of France Grand Prix, to be held on Sunday, July 6, 1958, on the very fast Reims circuit, will have a high competitive and sporting significance, unlike the Monza 500 Miglia. This is because of the presence of World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio, who will be driving a new Maserati Formula 1 model; American driver Ruttman, the Indianapolis specialist; and especially that of the single-seater Ferrari Formula 1 car and Luigi Musso, the most talented of drivers. The Reims circuit is the fastest road-type circuit in the world: it winds through an undulating lowland in the Champagne region, about fifteen kilometers from region’s capital. The road has a perfect surface, but the track is not excessively wide. The French Grand Prix, one of the major motorsport events of the season and valid for the World Championship, is run here every year in July. A few days before leaving for France, Luigi Musso asks Enzo Ferrari not to let Peter Collins race at Reims: the fate of the World Championship will be at stake in this race, since the team leader will have to be decided. Collins is a friend of Hawthorn’s, and therefore had told Musso:
"I will not avoid helping him, if the opportunity arises, by standing in your way".
Ferrari, having learned of Collins' words and being still very disappointed about what happened at Le Mans (where, by the way, Collins talks to John Wyer, of Aston Martin, to whom he confesses that he wants to go back to racing with them to start having fun again), tells Musso:
"He will have no problem in Reims".
After that he summons Collins, whom he asks to race in the Formula 2 car:
"You are not only a driver, you are part of my family. You drive Formula 2 for me at the same wage as Formula 1. There was no Formula 2 race at Reims in which Ferrari did not participate and win. I need you and your skills".
Two other events frame the Grand Prix: Saturday, at midnight, the fifth 12 Hours of Reims (a test reserved for Special Gran Turismo models) will be given the start; a 300-kilometer Formula 2 test will also precede the Grand Prix. Two weeks earlier, Luigi Musso had left Rome, his home and his mother, to go to Monza where the very difficult 500 Miglia awaited him. There, he had been able to valiantly hold his own against the American drivers and drag the public, who had truly seen in him as the worthiest successor of that lineup of great champions who have honored Italy. Now, Musso has immediately left for Reims to start training for the French Grand Prix in good time. He cares about this race like few others and, thorough as he is, during preparation he will spend time between the track and the workshop where Ferrari has set up its base. Sinking into the red leather seat of his white model '57 Plymouth, Luigi Musso takes a cigarette from the pack and lights it while he waits for Fiamma, his girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, the young girl comes out of the door almost running, throws her suitcase on the back seat, and sits beside Luigi, who departs. The two young people set off from Rome on their way to Reims, France on a hot Wednesday, July 2, 1958, early in the morning. On the way, Luigi stops to refuel the car and looks for a phone to confirm his arrival in Milan by 1:00 p.m., where he make an intermediate stop. The rendezvous is at the Punta dell'Est, a trendy hangout in Milan. Luigi knows the place because he had already been there on Friday, June 27, 1958, in the days leading up to the Monza 500 Miglia race.
Waiting for him is Sergio Mantovano, with whom Luigi and Fiamma have lunch before departing for Reims. On the way, Luigi also thinks about stopping at a hotel to then leave the next day well-rested. About 300 kilometers away, Luigi and Fiamma stop at a hotel, where they dine by candlelight in a empty room. On Thursday morning, Luigi is well again and ready to tackle Route Nationale number 44, from Vitry-le-Françoise to Reims. Arriving in the city, Luigi goes straight to the Lion d'Or, the hotel where all the drivers are staying; after a light meal he leaves Fiamma and heads for the circuit. If any spectators feel like they are being starved of motor racing, then they should visit Reims during the French Grand Prix. This year there is a 12-Hour race for Gran Turismo cars, a 30-lap race for Formula 2 cars and a 50-lap race for Formula 1 cars; the last event is the 44th French Grand Prix and is France’s contribution to the World Championship. Altogether there are nearly 15.5 hours of continuous racing. plus three afternoons and evenings dedicated to practice before the weekend, so that anyone who feels that there is too much racing at some English events can rest assured that a visit to Reims is well worthwhile. Practice starts on Wednesday afternoon, the F2 cars going out first. Once the F2 cars finish their practice, the F1 cars appear immediately. The Scuderia Ferrari with one hack car and Vanwall with four cars, while B.R.M. bring out three 1958 cars, one being absolutely brand new. There is a remarkable air of confidence in the Ferrari team and as soon as the announcer says the circuit is open for practice, Hawthorn shoots away in the hack Ferrari. The lap record is Fangio’s (Lancia/Ferrari) since 1956 with a 2'25"8, though he set a 2'22"9 in a Maserati in practice last year.
Hawthorn soon gets himself wound up and his lap times come down in quick succession until he reaches 2'23"9, and then stops, content to set a good target for the British teems to aim at. All this is done almost before the Vanwall and B.R.M. drivers are ready to go out. Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans all join the fray. However it is patently clear that the Vanwall is just not fast enough, and comparing the drag of the Vanwall and Ferrari, it seems that the Maranello claims for something like 280bhp can't be far wrong, assuming the Vanwall to have 265 bhp. Up until Spa a few weeks ago, the Ferraris have never been on a fast circuit, where power really counts: the races in the early part of this year were all on fiddly little circuits, but now they are coming into their own. Schell suddenly surprises everyone, not least himself, by putting in a lap at 2'23"1, a new fastest time for the evening; the only explanation B.R.M. can give is that they must have built a really good engine into the car. The Reims circuit is an interesting car-circuit, calling for maximum speed, acceleration and braking, for in the 8.3 kilometer circuit there is only one corner calling for driving skill of a high order, the others being full-throttle, or hairpins, so that the driver does not count for much and there is not much opportunity for one driver to outshine another. Musso then takes out the hack Ferrari, but before he really gets going there is a puff of smoke and he stops out on the circuit. Of the Vanwalls Moss is fastest, and on his car is tried a system of bracing struts between the top of the kingpin and the chassis frame, in an endeavour to overcome front-wheel flutter that he has complained about at Spa. The only other cars out on this first evening of practice is Brabham with a Cooper and Hill with an old-type Lotus, and the session ends with FTD standing to Schell. Juan Manuel Fangio, who drives around in the new Maserati car, later says he is satisfied:
"My Maserati is brand new. I tested it in Milan and it gave me complete satisfaction. I hope, as always, to win, but in any case I will do everything I can".
On Thursday, Luigi Musso is not as fast as Hawthorn, but it doesn’t matter too much, since all of Friday is still available. On Friday, July 4, 1958, the capital of Champagne offers the dreary drizzly aspect of autumn, but the inclement weather does not prevent the drivers of the French Grand Prix from continuing training for the final testing of their cars. Indeed, racing imposes on the drivers the inescapable evolution of technical progress that, for their cars, is the same as in so many other fields of modern activity. The Formula 1 Ferraris of Hawthorn and Musso, going at more than 210 km/h, confirm this law, and it also impresses Fangio, who, before testing this new car entrusted to him by Maserati, had witnessed the significant performance as a spectator. Late Friday morning, Luigi meets Tavoni at the hotel. The Italian driver goes up to him smiling, and Tavoni shakes his hand. However, without even greeting him, Ferrari's sporting director informs him that Collins will also participate in the Formula 1 Grand Prix:
"I just talked to the Commendatore: Collins will race in the Grand Prix".
This is a setback for Musso, who nonetheless responds:
"Well, good for him".
What had happened? Well, on Thursday night, at the Lion d'Or, Peter Collins arranges a meeting with Romolo Tavoni, Mike Hawthorn and manager Ken Gregory. And in this circumstance, it is Mike who takes responsibility for what happened at Le Mans:
"The whole thing is ridiculous: even though Pete has not yet achieved brilliant results in single-seaters this year, he still contributed to winning the Constructors’ World Championship".
And Peter is peremptory:
"I finish the Formula 2 race, drink a Coke and race in Formula 1. And Trips gives me the car".
Tavoni, cornered, replies:
"This is the first time I've ever heard a gentleman like you take a colleague's car".
But Collins retorts:
"You're my friend but you're ripping me off. You interpret the boss's will".
For this reason, on Friday morning permission for Collins to race in Formula 1 arrives from Modena, provided that he is not too physically drained after the Formula 2 race. On Friday morning, the Italian journalists meet Musso as soon as they arrive in Reims to write the Grand Prix report. The Italian driver is on the hotel doorstep and immediately asks for and obtains an unobtainable room for the two journalists, including a fraternal friend of the driver who is his fellow countryman. In the afternoon Luigi Musso returns to the track to run the last practice session, which takes place from 6:15 PM to 8:15 PM, as usual. Fiamma follows him with the bag containing his helmet and goggles. Luigi, as always, is already wearing the suit. Along with Luigi and Fiamma are the two Italian journalists, who leave in a hatchback for the workshop where Ferrari mechanics are providing a final overhaul of the four single-seaters. Arriving at the garage, he finds Hawthorn and Collins talking to each other. But when Luigi sees them, Mike approaches the Italian driver and pats him on the back:
"What's up champ?"
Luigi Musso pretends to be surprised to see him: there is not much chemistry between the Italian driver and the two Englishmen. Besides, Luigi is fighting with everyone in this Grand Prix, including his teammate. In fact, it is Mike Hawthorn, at the wheel of his Ferrari, who also records the fastest lap in the last practice, but does not equal the record he set on Friday. Hawthorn, in fact, sets a time of 2'23"1, while Juan Manuel Fangio sets a 2'24"0; this, in part, because the Argentine driver is repeatedly forced to stop in the pits to tune his Maserati’s defective carburetor. Musso is saddened by the engine of the car assigned to him, since it seems to no longer perform as well as it did on the first day of practice, and he recommends that the technicians check everything properly again. Though argumentative (this happens to him often, but with no bitterness), he is cheerful, and jokingly exclaims:
"You'll see my engine blow up after two laps".
During practice, Harry Schell approaches Luigi, and exclaims while laughing:
"Luigi, you did me a big favor by not driving the B.R.M...".
The B.R.M. is indeed an excellent car and if it had ended up in Luigi Musso’s hands, who is considered the best Formula 1 driver in 1958, it would have been difficult for anyone to beat him. His Ferrari, on the other hand, can only defend itself on fast circuits, since it is a rather jumpy car to drive, with a tendency to lighten the front axle when facing turns under acceleration. However, Luigi is not thinking about that, but rather that he was not able to do better than Hawthorn. So he seeks advice from the master, Juan Manuel Fangio, taking Eraldo Sculati with him. The two drivers talk about the Calvaire, a 240 km/h corner that Fangio, and he only, can do at 270 km/h. The Argentine explains to the Italian driver that it can be done, but by brushing the curb and sticking to it for the whole time. It can be done, at the cost of assessing everything, not lifting the foot off the accelerator, and actually driving on the edge of balance. After that, Luigi lights a cigarette. Then he goes back to the pits and asks Tavoni if he could replace the engine, even though there would be no possibility of testing it before the race, since Saturday is not a designated testing day. Luigi is convinced that his engine has lost 500 of the original 7,500 revolutions. Having a spare engine, Tavoni shows Luigi the relevant documents, with the power curve showing a loss of 10 horsepower at high rpm (275 horsepower instead of 285 horsepower). Musso asks for this engine be fitted to his car and, before leaving the circuit, he recommends to mechanic Cassani to check everything well because he wants to win the race. Now Luigi is calm, to the point that on Friday night he has the idea of playing a prank on Harry Schell: he takes the little Vespa 400, a micro economy vehicle just presented in France, up to the second floor of the Grand Hotel du Lion d'Or via a flight of stairs and in front of the American racer's room.
To do this, with the hotel manager's permission, colleagues, porters, friends and managers handpick the small car and carry it in front of the door. A photographer even captures the moment when Luigi, wearing a T-shirt and with a cigarette in his mouth, supports and pulls the rear hood, aided by Bonnier, Hawthorn and Ruttman. Fangio, wearing a suit and tie, amusedly looks on from a few steps above. In the morning, it will take a lot of work for Schell to leave his room. To do this, he will be forced to go through the car doors; “for sale” is written in lipstick on the windows. Naturally, Schell will be angry, while his colleagues will laugh. Soon after, the drivers will have to take the car out of the hotel. From Monza to Reims: eight days devoted to pure speed: if the Italian racetrack's bowl is now the fastest in the world, the Reims circuit - a sort of large 8301-meter triangle - bears the same record among road circuits. Until four years earlier, 200 km/h on the lap was considered an insurmountable limit but is now largely exceeded: 210 km/h has become the norm, at least during practice, and the French Grand Prix’s expected overall average is precisely above 200 km/h. Especially since the total distance has been reduced to fifty laps. This Grand Prix is crucial in the 1958 World Championship. Both in the technical aspect and in the sporting one, this Grand Prix will have to answer big questions for both aspects, and perhaps give a precise orientation to what has so far remained unsolved. In the four previous trials worth the highest title, Cooper won twice (in Argentina and Monaco) and Vanwall won twice too (in Holland and Belgium). In short, the English have dominated but Ferrari has very valid justifications, though it had given the impression occasions that it could win with some ease at least a couple of times. All in all, even though the results make perfect sense, the balance of mechanical means is self-evident.
The response from Reims could give a decisive on the question of whether Vanwall or Ferrari is superior this season, without discarding the B.R.M. and Maserati, but not considering the small Cooper, whose fearsomeness is limited to low-speed circuits. In the fight for the World Drivers' Championship, after four races, Moss is in the lead with 17 points, followed by Hawthorn at 14, Musso at 12, Schell at 10, Brooks and Trintignant at 8, Behra at 6, and Fangio at 4. Never before this year has the championship gone on with such uncertainty. And all the aforementioned drivers could theoretically win the 1958 Championship, including Fangio, who competed only in Buenos Aires and returns to the French Grand Prix at the wheel of a Maserati prepared just for him which is lighter and more powerful than the old model. The Modenese company has officially retired from racing, but it has not abandoned its activity when it comes to technical research: the Formula 1 single-seater entrusted to the world champion is precisely the example. And since Fangio is not one to go off the rails if he lacks confidence in the mechanical means, it would not be surprising if Maserati were to become the executioner in the Ferrari-Vanwall struggle. This Fangio-Maserati revival constitutes perhaps the most interesting and expected element of the French Grand Prix. The line-ups are the usual ones with an exception. Peter Collins, whom Enzo Ferrari is no longer quite happy with, in addition to participating in the Grand Prix will seek rehabilitation in the Formula 2 race, which should see a very uncertain struggle between the Englishman's Ferrari and the Coopers. The Reims meeting is completed by the 12 Hours for Gran Turismo cars, starting at midnight. There is no doubt here: the Ferraris of Gendebien-Frère and Hill-Da Silva are the favorites. The Reims meeting begins at midnight on Saturday, July 5, 1958, with the 12 Hours race, reserved for grand tourer cars.
The race is dominated, as was easily predictable, by the three-liter Ferraris. The Belgian pair Gendebien-Frère immediately take the lead, going at an average speed of over 175 km/h during the night. Proceeding with absolute steadiness and confidence, the pair secure an unbridgeable lead. During the fourth hour of the race, Frenchman Guelfi's Ferrari collides with Davis's Aston-Martin and goes off the road: the driver is not seriously injured but is still hospitalized at the Reims hospital. During this time, Luigi Musso is not particularly nervous on the eve of the race. At least, not more than any driver is before a Grand Prix. The Italian journalists spend the evening with him on Saturday and will go watch the start of the 12 Hours together. Musso is first and foremost a genuine motorsport enthusiast and likes to observe the other less famous racers, and avoids disdainful idolizing. Finally, they return together from the circuit to Reims in Cerino Gerini's large American car. Musso refuses the last drink of the day, and asks for a wake-up call for 10:30 AM, before going to bed absolutely serene. On Sunday morning, Tavoni knocks on Luigi Musso's door, who decides to go to the bathroom instead of opening the door. It is Fiamma who opens the door, finding the sports director with a telegram in his hand. Fiamma takes it to Luigi, who is petrified upon reading. Inside the telegram sent by his partner Bornigia, he finds written:
"I await you in Rome with the five million".
Luigi stays still for a couple of seconds with the telegram in his hand, before crumpling it up and throwing it in the trash. Soon after, Luigi Musso and Fiamma Breschi argue. The Italian pilot blames her for not reminding him to send a postcard to his daughter Lucietta. Luigi is divorced from his wife, but his daughter wrote:
"Dad, mom is always mom, but we are happy to see you even if you come with someone else".
But Fiamma replies:
"You spend more time playing than thinking...".
After this quarrel, Luigi and Fiamma leave the hotel without speaking to each other. Throughout the morning, the circuit laid out in the picturesque undulating plain of Champagne becomes crowded, until the grandstands are crammed to capacity. On Sunday, July 6, 1958, at 2:00 p.m., the twenty-five cars take part in the International Speed Cup for Formula 2 cars (up to 1.500 cubic centimeters). The race gets underway but does not live up to the promises of struggle because of the presence of cars and drivers of great renown. The new Porsche debuted in this test, a German car that, driven by Behra, proved to be the fastest right off the bat. At first, Moss in the Cooper tries to hold on, while Collins, driving the only Ferrari in the race, almost immediately loses contact. Moss's car then gives way and Behra easily cruises to victory, with an average speed of over 187 km/h. Next, the Formula 1 single-seaters line up for the forty-fourth French Grand Prix. Starting on the front row are Hawthorn and Musso in Ferraris, followed by Schell in a B.R.M. In the second row are Collins (Ferrari) and Brooks (Vanwall), the third features Moss (Vanwall), Trintignant (B.R.M.) and Fangio (Maserati), then all the others, completing a lineup that has a total of twenty-one racers. In the minutes before the race, Luigi Musso asks Tavoni if he can help him win the French Grand Prix. At stake is 10,000 francs, an amount that Luigi could use to settle the debt with his partner Bornigia, the owner of a small store where used cars are sold whom he went into business with.
"Luigi, no team and no sports director will ever let you win. But I can tell you one thing: it is better to race and not win, with the hope of winning the next one, than to go beyond your means".
But Luigi replies:
"But Romolo, there are more prizes here than in any other race".
And he shows Tavoni the telegram sent by Bornigia. So the sports director retorts:
"It doesn't mean anything. The promissory note expires, so what? I know of people who have renewed promissory notes ten times".
But Luigi insists:
"But if I win here, I'll fix everything".
Tavoni, shaken by the conversation, tries to help Musso:
"Luigi, tell me want you want from the race and I will give you all the information I can".
"You have to signal to me how far ahead of second place I am".
Shortly before the start, Musso's blue eyes take on a grave expression; but he is calm, and wears the yellow helmet he has been using for years with precise gestures. The helmet which he (and all the other drivers) is very fond. After qualifying, the Italian driver had said:
"I am in third place in the World Championship and I start with the intention of securing the victory. I don't want to be too rash, but I want to win at all costs".
Just a few moments before the start, Luigi Musso speaks to Eraldo Sculati, confessing, after shaking his hand:
"I start in the front row, take the lead immediately and then leave them to attack each other behind me. I wait a while to see what the others are doing and, when the time comes, I jump out".
"But even second or third place aren’t bad at the French Grand Prix".
But Musso retorts:
"Yes, they are; I’ll win today".
After that he gives the pack of cigarettes and lighter to Sculati, keeping the cigarette he lit moments earlier. As is customary, he smokes just before departure. Then he makes the sign of the cross. A few minutes later, at 4:00 PM, the start is given: after a lightning fast start by Schell, Hawthorn takes the lead, followed by Musso, Collins, Brooks, Fangio, Moss and Behra. Ferrari's hopes of ending the race this result lasts four laps, since a hose from the air intake used for cooling breaks on Collins' car and, as if that were not enough, the hose gets stuck right under the brake pedal. Inevitably, the British driver finds himself having major problems when braking: he can’t brake on time in corners where a decisive deceleration of the single-seater is required. Fortunately Collins’ problem can be solved, but when he reenters the race he finds himself in fourth-to-last place; he then spins and ends up last. In the meantime, his two teammates slowly pull away from the pursuers, a group consisting of Fangio, Behra, Schell, and Moss, who are put up an impressive fight. At the beginning of the ninth lap, Luigi Musso passes in front of the grandstands, just two hundred meters from his teammate. Then he does not reappear, while the drivers behind him, i.e. Brooks, Moss, Fangio, Schell, dart to the front of the refueling pits and point to a spot ahead of them. It is 4:20 p-m-, and for a few minutes no one knows anything, leading to think that it was an accident without consequences, since bad news typically reach the grandstands very quickly. Then we learn - in part - the truth: the driver who went off the road is taken to the hospital by helicopter, but no one is able to give further details.
On lap 12 Brooks, in second place, comes slowly into the pits with a seizing gearbox and though he restarts it is only for a few laps before he retires. The Moss, Fangio and Behra duel is still continuing but they have no hope of challenging the fixing Hawthorn, though they are now battling for second place. Lewis-Evans, whose Vanwall is not running properly, is flagged in and Brooks takes over very quickly; then on lap 25 Fangio drops out of the race for second place, as he calls briefly to his pit to complain about the gear-change. This lets Moss and Behra gets well ahead, and Schell, Trintignant and Collins also go by, making up ground fast after his incident. Von Trips is steadily gaining places after his bad start, but his progress goes almost unnoticed due to the terrific hauling going on at the front of the field. Graham Hill has already retired the new Lotus due to a variety of troubles, such as the fact that the cockpit is becoming unbearably hot; Allison with a 2.2-litre engine in one of the old cars is not getting anywhere, though Brabham with a similar engine in a works Cooper is going great. More troubles appear around half-distance: Trintignant stops out on the circuit with a defective fuel pump and Godia spins off the course, unharmed but out of the race. Hawthorn is still in an unassailable position in the lead, with Behra and Maas still at it for second place, there seems to be absolutely no difference at all between the performance or the two cars, and with only one bend on the circuit to bring out driver prowess, the neck-and-neck dice they are having is not surprising. Schell arrives at the pits with a very hot B.R.M.; a water pipe has leaked and he tells everyone about it as the mechanics try to repair it. With the factory cars setting such a fantastic pace, the leader averaging over 200 km/h, it is not surprising that the few privately-owned Maserati are left a long way behind, and they are running in the following order: Bonnier, Phil Hill, Shelby and Ruttman; the Indianapolis driver finding road-racing not an easy proposition, there being so much to do all at the same time.
The German driver von Trips is doing remarkably well and is now lying in fourth place, followed by Collins after Schell’s pit stop, while Fangio is next, unable to make up for his brief pit stop because of the incredibly fast pace; on lap 40 the Moss-Behra duel comes to an end when the B.R.M. dies out on the circuit, reported as fuel pump failure, and this left Moss in a comfortable second place, but quite unable to do anything about the royal progress of Hawthorn in the lead, who is now coming up past the pits shading his eyes with one band against the lowering sun. It is not a day for British cars, for just before Behra goes out Brooks retires at the pits with the Lewis-Evans Vanwall, with smoke coming front the exhaust, the car never having run properly from the start of the race. Just to show that he has the situation well in hand, for he is driving right on top of his form, Hawthorn sets up a new race lap record on his 45th lap with a time of 2'24"9 and comes sailing home a joyous, and jubilant victor of the French Grand Prix for the second time in his career. A soundly trounced Moss arrives second, the Vanwall never giving of its best, or else meeting its match in the Dino Ferrari, and third after a really hard drive comes von Trips. As Collins is awaited at the conclusion of his 50th lap, he runs out of fuel just after the Thillois hairpin and pushes the car into the finish to gain fifth place behind Fangio who places fourth, passing Collins while the Ferrari driver is pushing in. All the remaining runners have been lapped once or more. Hawthorn therefore wins, and at the end of the race he is on the verge of lapping Fangio, but as a sign of respect for the great champion he slammed on the brakes and allowed Fangio to complete the race at full throttle, followed by Moss and the regular von Trips, who eventually came in third, thus completing the great affirmation of Ferrari, on which, however, anguish hung over the health condition of its Italian champion. Finishing fourth and fifth were Fangio and Collins. Juan Manuel Fangio, five-time World Champion, at the end of the race announces his Immediate retirement from all competitive activities. The rider himself confessed this to the press. For more than a year there had been talk of such a decision, but all the times in which he had been explicitly asked about it, Fangio had given evasive answers. Before today:
"Here, on this track, exactly ten years ago, I took part in my first Grand Prix. I think it is a very good occasion because today's is my last race".
Only later, from the press box, will it be possible for journalists to get in touch with the hospital center in Reims, and only at this moment will it be discovered that Luigi Musso is under the oxygen tent. And though the surgeons have noted the serious condition of the injured man they cannot intervene, but can give blood transfusions while waiting for the coma to come to an end. Hopes of salvation are thus slim: only a miracle can at this point thwart his death. Given the impossibility for health officials to subject the injured man to a full examination, the approximate diagnosis is severe shock; fractured skull base, right femur and nasal septum; and multiple contusions. Unfortunately, at 7:00 p.m. an internal bleeding occurs, and the hospital's chief physician - Professor Ledoux, who has meanwhile been called to intervene after the driver’s admission - decides to perform a desperate operation to stop the bleeding. Aided by three assistants, he enters the operating room shortly after 7:00 p.m., leaving half an hour later undone. He shakes his head to the group of pilots, managers and journalists who rushed to the hospital as soon as the race was over. The surgeon confesses to those anxiously waiting for good news in the hallway:
"There is no more hope; rarely in my professional career have I seen a human being reduced to this condition. I did everything possible and that medical science suggests. I consulted with other doctors, we applied the most modern methods and devices that our experience advised. But everything was in vain. Luigi Musso died without regaining consciousness".
Fifteen minutes later, at 7:45 p.m., Musso passes away without having regained consciousness. After the announcement, Ferrari's sporting director, Romolo Tavoni, collapses and has to be taken care of by doctors. Initially it is difficult to reconstruct the causes and phases of the accident, since there are almost no direct witnesses. In the short straight following the first very fast right turn after the grandstands’ straight, near the village of Guex, the road runs between wheat fields which the public had no access to. Only Sergeant Lariviere of the gendarmerie, who was the first to approach the half-destroyed Ferrari, will recount:
"I was on duty at the Muizon corner, a very fast corner. I saw Hawthorn's car approaching on the straight, tailed by the Italian’s. The Englishman took the corner with his wheels just barely touching the side ditch but managed to pass it by thundering away with a powerful rumble. The Roman driver entered the curve at high speed and in my opinion, I have been watching these races for years, taking it well. However, as he was about to come out of the very regular skid that all, or almost all, drivers make the car perform to finish the corner, the car counter-skidded violently and spun off the track, crumpling as if it had been made of tissue paper. I rushed with others and picked up Musso, lifeless, abandoned as if he were a rag doll. A trickle of blood was coming out of the edge of his safety helmet".
The reporters go to the site of the accident shortly afterwards, at dusk, for a quick investigation, questioning the officer who had been closest to the accident spot and carefully observing the marks left by Musso's car on the asphalt and in the middle of the wheat. From these marks, one might imagine that Luigi Musso had just passed the Guex curve and entered the next straight. He was going at over 200 km/h, since he wanted to decrease the distance between himself and Hawthorn. The British driver had skillfully managed to overtake Ruttman, while Musso, in an attempt to emulate his teammate's move to avoid losing contact, went a little too long at the narrow and treacherous Thillois corner, losing ground to the race leader. To try to immediately recover, Musso decides to take the next corner, the Calvaire, at full speed, without lifting his foot off the accelerator. But exiting the Calvaire corner, perhaps in an attempt to correct a bit of skidding, the driver attempted to close the line. But the maneuver changed the attitude of the vehicle too much; the rubber deposit caused by the side races created lower grip, making the car turn toward the inside edge (the road is bordered on both sides by a kind of rounded concrete curb, seven or eight centimeters high).
The right wheel therefore went up the rise (where tire marks are visible), sinking into the small ditch that runs along the concrete boundary, exceeding the track edge by a few centimeters. Then Musso tried to pull the Ferrari, which went sideways, back to the left, and traveled sixty meters in this position, while the driver tried to brake desperately, before hitting the left curb and taking off over the wheat field. The car made a flight of about a hundred meters, performing a series of spins in the air, before falling back into the wheat and knocking down about twenty square meters of wheat. Before the car could plummet back to the ground, Musso jolted from the driver's seat (or managed to throw himself out, in a desperate attempt to defend himself) and ended up in the same trajectory as the car, though approximately ten meters ahead. A patch of blood in the green corn plot is the last trace of the chilling end of poor Musso, who had captured the finest victory of his career right here in Reims in 1957. Musso plummeted to the ground, hitting his head and breaking his cervical vertebrae. Jean Behra, who knows the Reims circuit perhaps better than any other, will also try to speculate on the same dynamic:
"It may be that, having realized that he had gone wide as he exited the curve, with the danger of going out along the outer tangent, Musso corrected the car's trajectory too abruptly, drawing it back by steering to the opposite side, which resulted in the car hitting the slightly rounded rise that delimits the roadway".
Eraldo Sculati will recount:
"At Reims, you enter Calvaire with a power-to-weight ratio equal to two horses per kilogram. The speed is about sixty meters per second. The psycho-technical time of the most perfect human being is at least half a second; and in half a second the car has already covered thirty-five meters of the turn before the driver has been able to react in any way. His sensory system must therefore act independently, without having time to wait for the effect of his reflexes".
And Harry Schell will also report a personal memory of his late friend:
"On the eve of the race it was as if Musso had a bad feeling: he spent Saturday sitting in an armchair. Before the start, as always, he made the sign of the cross. But his face was white. When his car had difficulty starting, I understood that was the signal".
In the hospital's funeral chamber, the drivers watch over the mangled body of their comrade over the course of the night. The poor driver’s body is wrapped in the tricolor Italian flag; his face is composed, with a few traces of clotted blood at the corners of his mouth and nostrils. At his feet lies his yellow helmet, broken at a right angle down the center of the front part and laterally to the right. The riders are petrified with pain but know that they will not stop racing and will go on with their destiny. Many of them are elderly, they are tired, but they can't stay away from racing. Already from the early hours of the morning, many people visit there with compassion. The teams of the drivers who participated in the tragic Grand Prix, the Scuderia Ferrari to which Musso belonged, and the Automobil Club of Champagne brought large bouquets of flowers. In the motor racing world, where everyone knows each other because it’s like a crew traveling together from one circuit to another almost every Sunday, there is no sleep for the whole night. Fangio, in front of the remains of his fallen young colleague, bursts into tears: only the sweet firmness of his wife will be able to calm the crisis of despair of the world champion, a driver who has seen so many colleagues fall throughout his fifteen-year career.
The causes of the accident are thus reconstructed with sufficient clarity; however, the initial reason and the origin of the tragedy, will remain confined to the realm of hypotheses. Two factors can certainly be excluded: the driver did not experience any sudden illness, nor was there another car which unintentionally obstructed his maneuver at that time and at that point of the circuit. Musso had overtaken American Troy Ruttman’s Maserati at the beginning of the previous corner, but he had no one in front of him except his teammate Hawthorn, whom he was at least one hundred and fifty meters from. Ultimately, it can be assumed that only excessive speed, in relation to the planimetric characteristics of the curve, led Luigi Musso's Ferrari to enter the next straight with an incorrect longitudinal stance, that is, beyond the permitted grip limit. Subsequent attempts by the driver to correct the single-seater’s trajectory failed to avert the disaster. All spectators, experts, and even racers are unanimous in attributing the tragedy to excessive speed. Luigi Musso intended to win the Grand Prix for the second time precisely by playing boldly on that turn. He had told the Ferrari engineers as early as Saturday that he wanted to subtract a few seconds on that stretch of road each time, which he was able to drive on at over 240 km/h. At the hospital, where he was immediately transported, doctors did the impossible to save his life. For Fangio, too, the misfortune was due to speed. The still-reigning World Champion says:
"I don't understand how this could happen, unless Musso took the curve at excessive speed. We are now very sad. For us drivers it is a tremendous pain".
Collins, his wife Louise and Hawthorn also arrive at the hospital after Luigi has passed away. Upon being informed, the three choose to drive back to the hotel before deciding to go out for drinks. Hawthorn will recount:
"When I passed under the Dunlop Bridge, on the descent at the end of the straight, Luigi was very close. I was going 240-260 km/h. As I came out of the corner, I looked in the mirror to see if I had gained anything on Musso. Horrified, I saw him cross the track and disappear out of my sight. Passing the finish line, I slowly transited the crash site, but there was no one around to ask. At the end of the race I was told that he was seriously injured and had been taken to the hospital by helicopter. So Pete, Louise and I went there. There we met a friend of Luigi's, Commendatore Ferrario, who owns the Hotel Quirinale in Rome. He told us that Luigi had died. Maybe it was not the right thing to do, but that's what we did".
It is now late in the evening when Nello Ugolini accompanies Fiamma Breschi to the hospital to see Luigi's body, which in the meantime has been placed in the cold room. The visit lasts barely five minutes, as Fiamma begins to scream. The French press, while admitting that speed was the primary cause of the tragedy, recalls that Anna Bousquet went off the road on the same curve and died in 1956, and in 1957 (when Musso won) the American ace Mac Kay Frazer died there. L'Aurore writes:
"This tragic curve in three years has caused the death of three very able racers. It is a permanent danger in racing and even in normal traffic; and yet, despite the requests of the riders, no changes had been made to it".
It is therefore necessary to point out two objective circumstances that undoubtedly contributed to the aggravation and perhaps irreparable resolution of the accident. Firstly, the limited width of the roadway, which was no larger than seven and a half meters in the offending section. Secondly, the concrete elevation that limits the circuit on both sides. The drivers agree on this point. They then complain that, in general, the organizers are very concerned, though rightly so, about the safety of the public and very little about the safety of those who risk their lives throughout the whole race. The Luigi Musso’s death is a stark reminder of their responsibilities, and it would be monstrous to attempt to pass this off as an inevitable fatality. The news of Luigi Musso's passing, broadcast by radio late in the evening in Italy, causes a sense of deep dismay. Musso was from Rome and therefore adored by all Roman sportsmen, who came in thousands to cheer him on when the driver raced his red bolides on the Circuito delle Terme di Caracalla, or the Castelfusano circuit, or the Vallelunga racetrack. Musso lived in a luxurious villa in the center of the city at number 48 in Via Piemonte, a few steps from Via Veneto and surrounded by a large park. Musso and his wife had been de facto separated for a few years; his mother, sister, and daughter lived with him. He would have been thirty-four years old on July 28, 1958, and his siblings had already organized a big party for his return from Reims. However, the first news of the incident were given to Luciano by a journalist from a Roman newspaper. The latter had learned of Musso’s death from agency dispatches from Reims. Distraught and stunned, Luciano and his other brothers run to the house on Via Piemonte to be near their mother in these moments of immense grief.
At first, a small family council takes place in the Musso household among Luigi's brothers and sisters, and they plan to hide the news from their mother. Then, wise suggestions from some friends lead to the determination to inform her of the incident. Mrs. Maria comes to the point of death when she is told about Luigi’s death but, having recovered, she immediately calls for little Lucia Vittoria, Luigi's 12-year-old daughter, who lives with her paternal grandparents. The driver was married but had been living separately from his wife for some time; at the end of July, the former spouses were to meet again in court, since Luigi Musso had been sued for failure to pay alimony. Another child, seven-year-old Geppetto, born from the ill-fated marriage, lives with his mother in Imola. The latter will arrive during the evening in Rome, while his ex-wife is expected in Rome at any moment. When reporters go to Via Piemonte on Sunday evening, Luigi Musso's villa is shrouded in half-light. The screams and cries of the champion's poor mother can be distinctly heard from a room on the second floor; the woman had been cautiously informed of the tragic accident that had befallen her son just moments before. All of her children are close to her: Matilde, Elena, married to Mr. Camici (a lawyer), Luciano and Giuseppe, also talented race car drivers. Shortly thereafter, around midnight, Luciano and Matilde Musso leave for Reims from Rome on the first available airplane flight, although without passports, thanks to the mediation of the Italian embassy in Paris. They are met at the Orly airport by a friend who immediately drives them to Reims. In this connection, the Italian Embassy in Paris sends one of its officials, Dr. Marco Pisa, consul attaché, to Reims to make himself available to the Musso family and try to expedite the procedure. Upon arriving in Reims, Matilde asks a shocked Romolo Tavoni how much money his brother should still have had from Ferrari. The Ferrari sports director, shocked by the question, replies:
"Madam, when you come to Modena, ask Mr. Della Casa".
After that Tavoni heads to the hotel, and bursts into tears inside his room. Later, at about 11:30 a.m., Luciano and Matilde go to the hospital, but here the doctors reject the relatives' visit, telling them that they will not be able to see Luigi until the afternoon, as preparation for the next transport is in place. Therefore Luciano and Matilde decide to go to the hotel, where many are awake. Among them is Juan Manuel Fangio, who sits next to Matilde and admits:
"Madam, what happened to Luigi can happen to me. I don't race anymore".
Next, Matilde will reach the Reims track, and the turn where her brother lost his life:
"It was one of those turns that you think they can be done in a, I would say, wonderful way when you see them. Instead they are the most dangerous. A wheel had gone over the dirt road that bordered the asphalt. Luigi had almost managed to get the car back on track but encountered a water drain. The very low nose got stuck and the car went almost five hundred meters in the air. I don't think there was a car failure".
Meanwhile, the winners’ award ceremony takes place at the Reims City Hall on Monday morning and the president of the local Automobile Club remembers Luigi, while the drivers listen in silence. In a way, the award ceremony, which takes place in a sad atmosphere, seems more like a funeral mass for the recently deceased colleague. In Modena, Enzo Ferrari learns the news of Luigi Musso's tragic end from a phone call from his technical director (engineer Giacomo Amoretti) in Reims. Ferrari immediately requests to be given a detailed report of the accident and the causes behind it. Questioned later, Ferrari will state:
"In Reims I won but it is a victory that costs me too dearly. With Musso we lost the last of the great Italian drivers. If we want to continue racing, for at least five years we will not be able to line up another driver of equal class on a racing field. Musso was a generous man, and it was this generosity that betrayed him. He knew the value of what was at stake today in Reims, and he wholeheartedly committed himself to it. The corner where the accident occurred could not be accomplished at full speed: only one racer in the world has managed to do so, and that is Juan Manuel Fangio. For every other racer a gear change is required to reduce their speed from 270 km/h to less than 240 km/h. Today Musso was in second place behind Hawthorn when he boarded the curve: he decided not to make the gear change and entered at 270 km/h. Here is the cause of the accident. From the detailed technical report given to me by phone, it appears that the car has no fault: the steering was perfect, the tires unharmed".
On Tuesday, July 8, 1958, one does not have the courage to stay in the house at 48 Via Piemonte for long; one cannot, in fact, endure the sight of the driver's two small children in tears without the deepest sorrow. At first, the atrocious truth was kept from Lucia and Geppetto; they were told that their Dad was sick, but would be back soon. During the course of the morning, however, the little ones quickly understood that their father would never come back because of the weeping family members and the continuous arrival of flowers, telegrams, and condolence visits; they indulged in heartbreaking scenes of grief: their mother, Mrs. Maria Tirapanni, who had been living separately from her husband Luigi for four years, left Imola to embrace and comfort them. In Rome, the impression of Luigi Musso's death is immense; the racer was immensely popular and everyone remembers him with words of affectionate regret:
"He was a friend and a great champion, one of the best in the world".
Taruffi admits this and the Automobil Club of Rome’s President Canaletti Gaudenti adds:
"We will never forget him; he was good, cheerful, optimistic, always ready to help others; a good guy and a thoroughbred driver".
Everyone leaving the house of the deceased has an anecdote to tell. Everyone tries - vainly - to explain the reasons for the horrible misfortune:
"Musso, though daring, was not reckless: before each race he would walk the circuit to become familiar with the curves. Reasoning prevailed over impetus in him; he was, in short, a driver of the school of Varzi, rather than that of Nuvolari".
The truth is that by now the speeds reached by racing cars are prohibitive and nullify safety limits, as Mr. Foderaro notes, saying:
"Current speeds have reached such high peaks that they are beyond the driver's control: I think the whole problem of motor racing should be re-examined both from the point of view of the possible death of the driver and the safety of the spectators".
Similar concepts are expressed by Senator Giuliana Nenni who interrogates the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, requesting that the Italian government promote action in the international, and particularly European, arena for the abolition of speed races, even on closed circuits, which pose a tragic danger to drivers and spectators. Perhaps this was not Luigi Musso's wish. Like all young people and fans of the sport of driving he could not see the danger of racing, and when a fellow driver fell, he would exclaim:
"It was a misfortune, a fatality that will not happen to me".
A few months earlier, Musso had told to a journalist preparing articles about his life in a serious yet witty manner:
"And I recommend, while writing my biography, do not, for charity's sake, claim the abolition of racing".
After his tragic end, while telegrams of condolences are piling up in Via Piemonte, it is legitimate to wonder whether we should respect Luigi's wishes. This is especially true when remembering his outburst on another occasion, when conversing with Prince Caracciolo, president of ACI:
"We alone know what it is like to be behind the wheel of a racing car, the pains we suffer on the eve of a race, the fear that grips us when we come face to face with death".
Maria Puma, Luigi Musso’s mother, is practically intoxicated with grief. Since Sunday evening, the poor lady seems not to recognize anyone: she has been wandering around the house crying and desperately calling out her missing son's name. The family members, who are constantly by her side, do not hide their concern; Maria Puma has a heart condition and strong emotions could be fatal for her. On Tuesday, July 8, 1958, the attending physician succeeds in administering a sleeping pill and the elderly lady can doze off for a few hours: she then locks herself in her room with a large roll of photographs which trace the driver's whole short life. From the years of early youth, when Luigi released his natural exuberance in less dangerous sports than motor racing, such as soccer, fencing, shooting, and bowling, to his first experiences in racing and, finally, to the great international successes of these last years. The shock has seemingly passed, but the woman continues to be a prisoner of a confused stupor in which only her son's memories are evident and clear, in a sequence of images ranging from Luigi’s first steps to the day he first held the steering wheel of a racing car. Gathered in a couch in the living room of the Villa Musso on Via Piemonte, in the hours that follow Ms. Maria only kisses and clutches to her breast a portrait in which Luigi is wearing a helmet and racing lenses. It is one of many scattered around the house, which the poor woman picked up as soon as her eyes could see. Thus, refusing any food they try to make her eat, the champion's mother waits for the body to arrive from Reims. Maria Puma, until two years before, when she was stricken with a heart attack, had always been close to her son; from the edges of the tracks she eagerly followed Luigi Musso's races and was the first to congratulate or console him on a defeat; when the illness prevented her from moving she made a habit of spending race Sundays next to the radio and telephone waiting for news, chasing back to the bottom of her heart the anguish and fear of possible misfortune. Now the poor lady says she had a tragic foreboding:
"He should not have run; he was tired, he had not yet recovered from last Sunday's intoxication at the Monza race".
These are his mother’s reasons, but they are not confirmed by other family members. Giuseppe, Mrs. Puma's other son who, along with his sister Elena, remained in Rome in the beautiful house on Via Piemonte, speaks instead of fatality, and says:
"Luigi had left with a smile on his face, as always; he was healthy and the rumors of his nervous disorders are also inaccurate. In Reims he was sure to make it: perhaps he dared too much...".
Then he runs to the phone, which is ringing off the hook: it is a call from Reims, where Luciano and Matilde, the great pilot's last two siblings, have rushed in:
"We will return by plane, taking Luigi's body with us".
On Tuesday, July 8, 1958, at 9:00 a.m., Luigi Musso's coffin will be taken to Paris with a funeral van; a plane will then provide direct transportation to Rome, where arrival is expected shortly after noon. The funeral chamber will be set up on the second floor of Villa Musso, the same villa where Luigi was born and lived. The living room where Musso collected antique jades and precious 18th century furniture with a collector’s love has already been transformed into the funeral chamber, and on the console are lined up in good order the hundred cups that the driver won in his short but dazzling career. This is the reason why Ms. Maria insisted that the body be reassembled in one of the rooms that saw her son happy and full of hope. She wants the Romans to walk before her boy’s body, around which all the trophies of the victories he was able to win at the price of courage and bravery will be displayed. With the love for grandchildren and the affection the Romans hold for the young pilot. Meanwhile, we learn that Luigi Musso had gone to the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute on June 25, 1958, to undergo an X-ray checkup. The driver feared that he had sustained injuries to his spine when he crashed at Spa and wanted to hear Professor Goidsnich’s opinion at the orthopedic center. Conversing with reporters, Professor Goidsnith confesses that the outcome of the visit was good for the driver:
"Not only did we not find anything he feared, but we found that the previous fractures, in his forearm and spine, had healed perfectly".
Musso had many friends at the Rizzoli, and among them was Professor Vittorio Vecchi:
"I too saw him for the last time on June 25. He was thrilled at the idea of participating in the races at Monza and Reims. I was then surprised to see the drive and impetuosity that poor Musso revealed for the upcoming competitions that day".
Musso's tragic end moves the Italian sports world. After Castellotti passed away, the Roman was the standard bearer of Italian motor racing. At Reims, he was in contention for the world title at the beginning of the race. After a few laps, fate nipped him. Motorists bow down to the memory of the Roman driver, but the tragic accident that occurred on the French track, one of the fastest - if not the fastest in the world in an absolute sense - highlights a technical detail of the utmost importance. It is Giuseppe Farina, a former world champion and certainly one of the best-known motorsport experts, who points this out:
"I am dismayed by the misfortune that befell the young racer. But my mind cannot find suitable words to express the horror at the forgetfulness of prudential rules, forgetfulness that undoubtedly played a serious part in the tragedy. One cannot run two Grand Prix with only a seven-day interval. A driver should not be asked to race in Monza at 280 km/h and then show up at the start, a week later, in Reims, on one of the fastest tracks in the world".
It had been agreed that drivers should not have to participate in two consecutive Grands Prix unless there was an adequate time interval between them. Musso, on the other hand, had competed at Monza the previous Sunday, lapping at speeds between 260 km/h and 280 km/h, becoming intoxicated by gas fumes, to the point that he appeared exhausted at the end of the race - in which he had to retire. Nevertheless, seven days later the Italian was taking the start of a Formula 1 race on a circuit where the average speed is over 200 km/h. These types of stress and nervous tensions are deadly. Moreover, on June 15, 1958, Luigi Musso had competed at Spa-Francorchamps, another high speed track, saving himself from a frightening run off the road. Assuming that the interval between the Belgian test and the one at Monza was sufficient, the tremendous mental and physical strain which the Roman was subsequently subjected to will certainly be evident. The transition from Monza to Reims, the exertions of the transfer, the need for almost continuous testing (first on the Monza bowl, and then on the French track), required an effort that bordered on and perhaps exceeded the limits of human endurance. Continue with Giuseppe Farina's saying:
"At this time, I do not know the reasons that caused the tragedy, and I hope that they do not directly involve the driver’s fatigue. However, I cannot limit myself today to words of condolence. I am compelled to point out a serious imprudence, to call for new precise and well-defined regulations, as well as medical and technical controls for the guarantee of the pilot".
These issues following Musso’s fatal accident lead Senator Giuliana Nenni to ask the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to find out whether the Italian government intends to promote action in the international arena, and in particular in Europe, to abolish speed car racing. The next day, in Rome, July 9, 1958, Luigi Musso's last meeting with his mother is heartbreaking. The poor lady, very pale and circled-eyed, waits on the threshold of the building in Via Piemonte for the arrival of her son's body, lovingly supported by her family members. When the walnut coffin, carried on the shoulders of Ferrari mechanics, is placed on the bier, Ms. Maria Puma looks like she is about to faint; she wills herself to recover and, approaching the coffin, bows her head, abandoning herself to a long, silent cry. Those present cannot hold their emotion: Piero Taruffi embraces Ms. Maria Puma without speaking, before fleeing the mortuary to hide his grief. In a corner Lucietta, the driver’ little daughter, sobs desperately, with the disbelief and terror of childhood in her eyes as she comes face to face with death for the first time. Uncle Giuseppe and uncle Luciano take the child in their arms and escort her out of the room; in the afternoon Lucietta leaves for the countryside, where she will be aguest at some friends’ villa, so that she will not be further disturbed by the family misfortune. The driver’s funeral will take place on Thursday, May 10, 1958, leaving from the Saint Camillo church, and it is easy to foresee that the coffin will be followed by a large crowd; already on Wednesday, when the body arrives in Ciampino from Paris, it is easy to notice how many admirers and friends Luigi Musso had.
At the airport, in fact, there are more than five hundred people waiting for him, including racers such as Taruffi, Maria Teresa De Filippis, Scarlatti, and Sesto Leonardi, CSAI president Senator De Unterrichter, the managers of the Automobil Club of Italy and Rome, and representatives of all the Italian car manufacturers. The procession of more than 100 cars, which accompanies Musso's coffin from Ciampino to his home, blocked the city’s traffic for several minutes and was escorted by police. In the afternoon, when the funeral chamber is opened to the public, the tribute of esteem and affection bestowed on the deceased by the Roman population is even more vast and impressive. People from all walks of life enter the Umbertine-style building, many of whom had not known Luigi Musso personally but admired him for his sporting exploits; mechanics who have briefly suspended their work, still wearing overalls smeared with oil, enter; tourists passing through Rome and some English small-engine drivers who have come to Italy to participate in regional races. The mournful pilgrimage of visitors lasts until late in the evening uninterrupted; then the wrought-iron gates are closed and the home plunges back into silence, punctuated by the prayers of the wake. On Thursday, at the funeral - also attended by Fangio and actress Delia Scala - Luigi Musso's family members will not wear mourning clothes. This is because Luigi’s brother Giuseppe found a letter from the driver in a drawer, which states verbatim:
"Death does not frighten me; what I fear most is being paralyzed or maimed. So please, if anything should happen to me, do not take mourning, not even for a day. Do it for me, if you really love me".
Luigi Musso's funeral will take place on Thursday at 10:00 a.m., at the Automobil Club's expense. The club’s president, Filippo Caracciolo himself, communicates the decision of automobile club’s leaders to the driver's mother.
"Musso's death strikes us as a catastrophe. He will remain in our memory as a great heart. I saw him a few days ago at Monza, committed in such a way as to force his American opponents to repeatedly overcome themselves, although his physical condition was not perfect, although he had to demand a strain from his body that a hundred other drivers would have refused. Tomorrow others will properly evaluate his career and his talents. Today we are overwhelmed by the injustice of fate and the immense pain it causes us. The only comfort is the certainty that in the sacrifice of Luigi Musso the highest virtues of a people always revive and shine".
The unfortunate driver deserves this tribute. He was a champion who gave countless joys sportsmen and sports at a very dear price: his life, at the age of thirty-four. The last of the great Italian racers has passed away, writes France-Soir on Monday, July 7, 1958. Luigi Musso belonged to the lineage of the Nuvolari, the Fagioli, the Ascari, the Castellotti, the lineage of the departed greats. Like them, he had piloted red cars in all the great races of the world. His death deals a terrible blow to Italian motor sports. He worked in the textile industrys, and he raced with passion. He was one of the most beloved drivers. L'Equipe, headlined its report: The last great Italian driver, Luigi Musso, is no more. And John Gibson, secretary of the British Automobile Drivers Association, comments:
"With Musso's death, the world of motor racing has lost one of its most valuable drivers, and one of its most pleasant protagonists".
In recent days Fiamma attempted suicide by jumping from a window, but those who were with her managed to grab her legs. So the woman closes the house in Rome and returns to Florence, where her parents live. Later Ferrari will send her an affectionate letter, inviting her to Maranello. Luigi Musso was mindful of what had happened in the past, when Italian and/or European journalism had condemned motor racing, and had written a letter, addressed to Matilde and her brother-in-law Jsmael Jové, which not only to asked her to take care of Lucietta and justify the nine years of racing, but also stated:
"Swear to me that you will never make me say a word against motor racing. It would be to repudiate me".
Yet, the Italian press would not wait long before lashing out again against motor racing and even Luigi Musso himself. Ettore Squarzi, a journalist for the Orizzonti magazine, will write that the Italian driver lost his life because he had not been a test driver for a car manufacturer, and had grown up relying on instinct and certain rough approaches just like Ascari and Castellotti instinct. The official Vatican newspaper, in particular, takes a stand against Enzo Ferrari, through an unprecedented intervention. On Wednesday, July 9, 1958, three days after the Reims accident, L'Osservatore Romano publishes an unsigned censorship editorial with the extremely significant title:
The personal attack on Enzo Ferrari - who is not mentioned by name - is contained in the first lines of the article’s total ninety-six, divided into two columns, placed on the fourth and last page:
"The modernized Saturn, who became captain of industry, continues to devour his own children. As in the myth, the same happens unfortunately in reality. Luigi Musso is the last of its victims, around whom, once again, we gather with a solidarity of mourning and regret that has only one serious defect: of never drawing from their so frequent repetition a salutary advice; of not sensing how, from the subconsciousness of such heartfelt astonishment, a sentiment rises, an invocation bursts forth: enough".
L'Osservatore Romano thus creates a debate based on the question of morality and mentions a pretext of science and progress from the Modenese manufacturer’s side that would instead conceal an industrial, economic interest that makes the stopwatch a means of publicity, even if it is identified with the statistics of victims. The Catholic Church declares war on Enzo Ferrari and auto racing, as well as - as defined by the official Vatican newspaper - on the unintentional suicides of great sports champions. Though after L'Osservatore Romano’s intervention Canestrini, in the Gazzetta dello Sport, on July 13, 1958 will boldly call the tragic accident at Reims a pretext for speculating against motor racing, the fact is that the Milan sports paper will be one of the very few voices in support of Ferrari. In the days following Musso's passing, two different newspapers from Turin even publish letters from readers complaining that the Roman driver had been called a hero. Frightened by the weight and sacredness of the speaker, in an Italy where the Christian Democrat party rules, the relevant sporting bodies - ACI and Csai - would not take a stand and, once again, Ferrari finds himself alone. Abandoned by those whose duty would have been to protect him, Ferrari resorts to a tactic he has tried in the past and will let his intention to stop racing at the end of the year, or at least to limit his commitment by a great deal, slip. Thus, through the Gazzetta dello Sport, on July 13, 1958 Ferrari will manage to get the word out that, if not for the ongoing duel with Vanwall, he would immediately withdraw from the Formula 1 World Championship.
Simone Pietro Zazza
Translated by Livia Alegi