Having been involved in motor racing as a journalist for over sixty years I have been able to straddle the huge changes that have taken place in grand prix racing in that time. Indeed it is sometimes difficult to remember how different attending a grand prix was back then compared to today.

In the 1950’s you paid your money and the paddock was open, the drivers accessible, and usually very friendly to anyone showing interest in what they were doing. The drivers were gentlemen who usually wore shirts and ties when not in their pale cotton racing overalls and when they drove, the cockpits were open and you could see their arms at work at the steering wheel. Today you can hardly even see their hands and, as for the paddock, it is like trying to penetrate the Berlin wall of old with security guards everywhere. And yet, enthusiasts still support grand prix racing despite all the restrictions.

So let me take you back to those days of old and a friendship with one of my favourite Italian racing drivers who was a stalwart of this club in its early days :

Luigi Villoresi
Luigi Villoresi

Always the gentleman he could at times reveal his true feelings, particularly when you talked about Enzo Ferrari, but always with that sly smile of his that told you perhaps he was not as serious as he was making out as you will read later in this story.

I spent much more time in Luigi’s later years, usually over lunch, usually in his friend Lauro Malavolti’s restaurant in Modena. At that time he was  accompanied by Don. Sergio Mantovani who was priest at the St Catherina nursing home where Luigi stayed during his last few years.

Luigi had so many stories to tell, about his father Gaetano Villoresi whose company was involved in electrical power, or more importantly about his grandfather Eugenio Villoresi who was an engineer who became famous as a canal builder in the Milan area.

Luigi would explain how his grandfather had six brothers all of whom went into the ministry and became priests and so he was the one who financed the family. It was Eugenio who took up the challenge to provide a water system to the south west of Milan that included a number of canals that would irrigate the fields for the production of rice. Sadly his grandfather died just two years after work commenced on his main canal, that was to be named after him, so he never saw it completed. If you look on a map you will see Canale Villoresi marked just south west of Milan.

Though his grandfather made a lot of money I remember Luigi telling me that his grandfather “…..spent all his money on that canal.”

Luigi was also one of a large family but here tragedy struck as his sister Rosa was killed in a road accident, one brother committed suicide, a third died of cancer, and of course his beloved younger brother Emilio “Mimi” was killed in an Alfetta at Monza which created Luigi’s distrust of Enzo Ferrari.

He explained that in the accident Enzo Ferrari claimed his brother had eaten too big a lunch at the track before crashing but “……..some time later Consalvo Sanesi the Alfa test driver told me that in fact the steering had broken. I asked Ferrari if I could see the car and Ferrari refused and then I asked about insurance and he told me there was no insurance and then my brother’s 2300 Alfa Romeo disappeared.”

Villoresi at the wheel of his Maserati 4CLT at Berne
Villoresi at the wheel of his Maserati 4CLT at Berne

Luigi was therefore always associated with Maserati and had many successes with their cars both in the 1930s and ‘40s but then in 1949 a strange thing happened.

I was in England racing a Maserati 4CLT in the British Grand Prix and received a telegram from Enzo Ferrai to say that he had a Formula 2 Ferrari for me to drive in the Brussels GP the following weekend and a sports car for a race in Luxemboug and I was to go straight to Brussels.

“I won both races and when I got home I had a telephone call from the journalist Corrado Fillipini to say that I should go to Modena and sign up with Ferrari. When I finally met him in his house, he was in bed ill, so I  told him he didn’t like me and I didn’t like him but I came away not only with a contract for me to race but for my friend Alberto Ascari and Nino Farina also, the three contracts were all the same.

Luigi Villoresi at the wheel of the mighty 4.5 litre 375 “Indianapolis” grand prix car at Snetterton.
Luigi Villoresi at the wheel of the mighty 4.5 litre 375 “Indianapolis” grand prix car at Snetterton.

From time to time Luigi would have various spats with Ferrari such as in the 1951 Coppa Inter Europa at Monza when Ferrari entered him for this sports car race in a Ferrari 340 Coupe. Though he was not happy about this Villoresi not only won the race but enjoyed it so much he asked Ferrari if he could race a Coupe in the upcoming Mille Miglia. Ferrari refused point blank and said he could race a barchetta just like Ascari but Luigi persisted and finally Enzo agreed to let him run with the coupe.

Enzo Ferrari didn’t understand that the Coupe was actually a better car for the Mille Miglia. The race was wet and it was very comfortable. I was also very happy to win so I had proved my point.

When you ask Villoresi about Ferrari’s in those days he is blunt and to the point.  “Normally Ferrari made really good engines but the chassis were never up to the job. In fact by the end of 1955 and the period of the Squalo and Super Squalo Ferrari was lost. Then he was given the Lancia racing team, changed the colour of the cars and went out to win the Championship in 1956”

I asked him about his last season with Ferrari in 1953 and his eyes shot up to the ceiling in a look of despair. So why did he leave at the end of the season? “I was tired” he said but with a glint in his eye. Then he explained.

At the end of 1953 Alberto (Ascari) and I drove to Maranello from Milan to see Enzo Ferrari about our contracts for 1954. Typical of Ferrari ,he took Alberto into his office whilst I was left to go with team manager Ugolini to his office where he and I discussed contracts.

“ When we finished Alberto and I said goodbye to Ferrari and Ugolini, got into the car and set off to drive back to Milan.

“ Alberto was driving and  he reached inside his pocket and pulled out two sheets of paper, handed them to me and said ‘read this’. The first one was a contract from Gianni Lancia for Alberto race for the new Lancia Grand Prix team in 1954 which he had already signed. The other was an identical contract signed by Gianni Lancia with my name on it and Alberto said ‘sign it’. I couldn’t believe it, Alberto had had this long discussion with Enzo Ferrari about a contract for 1954 knowing he had already signed for Lancia and left me to talk to Ugolini not knowing what had been going on! “

As we now know the Lancia’s were not ready for most of the 1954 season so Luigi Villoresi was loaned out to his old friends at Maserati and drove 250F1’s in most of the grand prix races that year.

It was therefore only right that Luigi should end his grand prix career at the Italian Grand Prix of 1956 in a factory Maserati ; sadly it retired. Later, in 1958, Villoresi ran a factory Lancia in the Greek Acropolis Rally and won outright but by this time he was close to 50 years of age.

Since then he was always to be seen on the Maserati stand at motor shows, a fine ambassador for the company but by now all of his family were dead and he was living quietly in Modena.

In the latter years his legs began to fail him which is why he had to switch to a wheelchair, probably as a result of a crash in a Maserati sports car in italy many years before. When he became seriously ill in the early 1990s it was clear that he would need medical care and was moved into the nursing home at Santa Catherina.

An animated Villoresi explains a point at Lauro’s restaurant in Modena. Beside him is the famous priest of Modena, Don Sergio Mantovani. The photo was taken just a few months before he died
An animated Villoresi explains a point at Lauro’s restaurant in Modena. Beside him is the famous priest of Modena, Don Sergio Mantovani. The photo was taken just a few months before he died

The priest, Don Sergio Mantovani approached a number of his racing friends to help Villoresi who was now in need of financial aid. Indeed Don Sergio was quick to point out that many members of the VSCC in England contributed to this which was perhaps appropriate as some of Villoresi’s happiest memories came from places like Silverstone, Goodwood and Snetterton. Sergio also added that Villoresi now had an electric wheelchair and he was the terror of the nursing home as he scooted up and down the ward in his chair.

My lasting memory of Luigi Villoresi came from a lunch in Modena a few months before he died. Out of the blue I suddenly said to him. “ You didn’t really like Enzo Ferrari did you ?” At this he swept his left arm, knocking his glass of bright red Lambrusco wine all over the table amd said  “… I hated him” Then he smiled again and said that about three years before Enzo Ferrari died they were together with friends at a function and Ferrari, as usual, kept referring to Villoresi as “lui “ which means “him”. At this Villoresi turned to Ferrari and said “ Why don’t you refer to me as ‘lei’ “ This is the more personal “you”. At this Ferrari looked up and said “all right ” and from then on they became good friends and could happily talk to each other and reminisce.

Though he was a great ladies man Villoresi never married and as he sadly remarked he was the last member of the Villoresi family.

 

 

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