The Cisitalia 202S-MM, An Italian Jewel
1947 was a tough year for the people of Europe, still struggling to recover from the apocalypse that was the Second World War. However, all over the continent attempts were made to get life back to "normal" and try to enjoy the benefits of the Allies' victory; in Italy this inevitably included motor racing. So in May 1947 the Mille Miglia was revived, the famous road race had looked as if it would never run again following the disaster in 1938 when ten people were killed after a car left the road and plowed into a spectator enclosure. The route would once again be on public highways of Italy starting in Brescia, then on to Venice, Rimini, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Modena, Turin, Milan and back to Brescia. The total distance to be covered was 1,139 miles which would covered in one bite, expected to be at least 15 hours duration, not for the faint of heart then. There was plenty of local interest from the likes of Alfa Romeo who had dominated the race in the '30s but there were also newcomers, the most important being Ferrari with Enzo's new 125S. However this Italian legend in the making had a serious rival, the Cisitalia which would take the fight to Ferrari on the Mille Miglia. The Cisitalia 202S-MM was a relatively simple but elegant design from the Cisitalia Technical Director, Giovani Savonuzzi. The body was mounted on a space frame built from chrome-molybdenum tubes with independent front suspension by a transverse leaf spring and, at the rear, a live axle suspended by both coil springs and quarter elliptics which doubled up as radius arms. Power was provided by a four-cylinder, 1100cc engine giving around 60bhp. This was the work of Dante Giacosa who took a standard Fiat block and built a new engine that produced double the power of the donor. The Cisitalia ("Compagnia Industriale Sportiva Italia") project was the dream of an Italian industrialist, Piero Dusio, who had competed on the Mille Miglia in pre-War times. Dusio attempted to race in the 1952 Italian Grand Prix with a Cisitalia D46, but he failed to set a time in practice due to engine problems. Five Cisitalias were entered in the Mille Miglia with top drivers such as Piero Taruffi and the legendary Tazio Nuvolari. Indeed considering that hostilities had not long ceased the entry of 245 cars, mainly pre-War and Fiat 508C MMs, was astonishing. When 90 of these failed to make the start the reason became clearer. Tires were strictly rationed and in short supply, so when Pirelli sold a set at a substantial discount to each of the entrants, it was too good an opportunity to miss to get a valuable set of rubber. The race was expected to be a comfortable run for the powerful 1938 Alfa Romeo 2900 Berlinetta of Emilio Romano and Clemente Biondetti with challenges coming from the new cars of Ferrari, Maserati and Cisitalia. At Rome, Nuvolari's Cisitalia was seven minutes ahead of the Alfa Romeo. He was 54 years old and in poor health but his determination to win was undiminished. Still leading the favorites at Bologna, Nuvolari's quest for glory was derailed by the sudden onset of adverse weather. High winds and torrential monsoon-like rain battered the veteran in the open car. I can appreciate the exposed position of the great Italian having spent a day as a passenger in this fine car, that experience can be seen HERE , even in fine weather there is little or no protection in the open cockpit. Nuvolari's performance was, by any measure, heroic. He was finally defeated when the Cisitalia's ignition was flooded and fixing the problem took twenty minutes. He finished second just 16 minutes adrift of the winning Alfa Romeo, all after sixteen and a half hours at the wheel. No wonder observers such as Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Porsche rated Nuvolari as the greatest driver ever. For Cisitalia the 1947 Mille Miglia was the high point of their racing career. Second, third and fourth overall was a great result for the marque, indeed the Cisitalia 202S-MM has been known since as the 'Nuvolari Spider'. The car illustrating this piece being chassis 002, finishing fourth, driven by Piero Facetti and Eugenio Minetti. The expense of running a race program and developing road cars put a strain on the company's finances. The final nail in the coffin came when Dusio commissioned Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to design a Grand Prix car, with advanced features such four-wheel drive and a mid-engined layout, there simply was not enough money available to facilitate such a project. As a consequence Dusio left Italy for Argentina and, with the support of President Juan Perón, set up business there, the story of Cisitalia was at an end, The legacy is still with us today, the 202 coupé and S-MM racers are highly sought after, it is easy to see why.