The Italian race car driver Tazio Nuvolari wins the greatest victory of his career in the Grosser Preis von Deutschland (German Grand Prix) held on the Nurburgring racetrack in Nurburg, Germany on this day in 1935.
Known to his fans as “Il Montavano Volante,” or the Flying Mantuan, for his home city of Mantua, Nuvolari served as a driver in the Italian army before beginning his career racing motorcycles at the age of 28; he won the Italian championship in that sport in 1924 and 1928. His first major victory in a four-wheeled vehicle came in the 1930 Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles), Italy’s most famous automobile road race. Over the course of his career, in addition to racing as part of the Alfa Romeo team (and later the German Auto Union teams), Nuvolari raced as an independent driver in cars constructed by Bugatti, Maserati and MG.
The German Grand Prix of 1935 is remembered as Nuvolari’s greatest victory, and arguably one of the most impressive auto racing victories of all time. At the time, German automakers reigned supreme in the world of race car construction, and the “home team” at the Nurburgring that July day consisted of five Mercedes and four German Auto Union vehicles, all of which overpowered Nuvolari’s older 330 bhp (brake horsepower is a unit used to measure the power of an engine by the energy needed to brake it) Alfa Romeo. An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 spectators turned up to watch the race on that rainy, foggy July day, and drama broke out from the beginning, when Nuvolari’s longtime rival, Achille Varzi, driving for the German Auto Union, hit an auto mechanic working the race.
With one lap left to go, the German driver Manfred von Brauchitsch in his 445 bhp W25 Mercedes Benz–the most powerful car of the day–took a 35-second lead over Nuvolari; the rest of the field, competitive throughout, had fallen behind. Von Brauchitsch’s left rear tire was fraying, however, and with Nuvolari in hot pursuit behind him he declined a pit stop: The tire blew, and von Brauchitsch was forced to slow to 40 mph and guide it to the rim of the track. Nuvolari blew past him for the win, to the great chagrin of the Nazi Party officials at the finish line who had already started to raise the flag of the Reich and prepare the celebration.
Though Nuvolari would later race for the German Auto Union himself, that day he broke German hearts in his little red Alfa Romeo, beating the most powerful cars on the planet on one of the world’s most demanding tracks.