Tazio Nuvolari’s last racing car, the Squadra Carlo Abarth 1950 Cisitalia Abarth 204 A Spyder Sport, heads to auction in November at Motostalgia in Austin, Texas
Words by Kurt Ernst - Hemmings
The history of Abarth is well documented but is rare for such a historically important racing car to come up for auction that links Carlo Abarth and Tazio Nuvolari in the same sentence – a car that marks the end of a motor sport legend and the beginning of another. Even photographs of this historic occasion are hard to find so the fact this historic racing car has survived is remarkable -
Tazio Nuvolari’s prewar racing exploits are the stuff of legend, and Ferdinand Porsche himself once remarked that the Italian was “the greatest driver of the past, the present and the future.” Following the conclusion of the Second World War, Nuvolari, then in his mid-50s, returned to compete in the occasional race, but he was no longer the dominant force he’d been in his youth. His final race, behind the wheel of a 1950 Cisitalia Abarth 204 A Spyder Sport, saw him finish first in class at the 1950 Palermo-Montepellegrino Hillclimb. Now, for the first time since 1978, Nuvolari’s last race car will be offered for sale at auction.
Already significant as the final chapter for Cisitalia and the beginning chapter for Abarth, the 204 A Spyder Sport is an important piece of racing history. Chassis 04, fitted with 1.1-liter engine 014-1090, is well-documented as the car Nuvolari drove in his final race, and has been in the possession of an Argentinean collector for 35 years. Restored in 2010, the car comes complete with the same footrest used by Nuvolari at the Montepellegrino Hillclimb, as well as the original cork-wrapped steering wheel, the latter no longer fitted to the car to preserve its condition. In 2012, the car was awarded the Premio Speciale FIVA (for the most historically significant car) at the Mille Miglia, and was later displayed at the prestigious Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
Chassis 04 was built by Cisitalia in 1948, then modified by Abarth in April of 1949 (at which time it was also given an Abarth chassis number, 08) and titled as a 1950 Abarth. Upgraded with twin Weber carburetors, the single-cam engine was said to make as much as 80 horsepower, more than enough to make the tube-frame racer competitive in its class. Part of the Squadra Carlo Abarth team, the 204 A Spyder Sport was first raced at the 1950 Giro di Sicilia/Targa Florio, where Nuvolari retired early in the race with a broken gearbox. Its next outing was the Palermo-Montepellegrino Hillclimb, where Nuvolari drove to an in-class victory (and fifth overall) in his final race. Though he never officially retired, Nuvolari never again drove competitively and died of a stroke in 1953.
1948 Cisitalia Abarth 204 A Spyder Sport
Squadra Carlo Abarth campaigned the car throughout 1950, earning a single win and a pair of podium finishes. From 1953 until August of 1954, Ernesto Ferri raced the Cisitalia in Europe, but the car was shipped to Argentina later that year. Beginning in October of 1954, chassis 04 was driven at events in South America, first by Jorge Saggese and later by Raul Pereiro and Oscar Victorio Silich.
In 1966, the Cisitalia was acquired by the Asociación Argentina de Automóviles Sport, to be used as a training vehicle for up-and-coming racers. Little is known about the car’s successive history until 1978, when it was acquired by noted Cisitalia Expert Dr. Sergio A. Lugo, who has owned the car since.
The Motostalgia sale, to be held in conjunction with the 2013 FORMULA 1 (TM) UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX in Austin, Texas, represents the first time Nuvolari’s last race car has been on U.S. soil. The last Nuvolari racer to come to auction, a 1935 Alfa-Romeo 8C-35 Grand Prix car, set a record for the brand when it sold at auction earlier this month for $9.4 million. Motostalgia has not released a pre-auction estimate, but it’s worth noting that another Cisitalia Abarth 204 A Spyder Sport, this one without celebrity ties or an extensively documented racing history, was offered at Bonhams 2012 Quail Lodge auction, where it failed to meet the pre-auction estimate of $500,000 to $600,000.
For more information on the Motostalgia sale, scheduled for November 16, visit Motostalgia.com.