The Cad and the Dummy

The recent death of Alain De Cadenet has produced a great sadness in historic motor racing circles not only because of his breathless enthusiasm for everything to do with cars but his love of Alfa Romeos in particular.

Alain de Cadenet with “Tazio Nuvolari” at the Rolex drivers room at Goodwood. (Photo Ganley)
Alain de Cadenet with “Tazio Nuvolari” at the Rolex drivers room at Goodwood. (Photo Ganley)

There have been many funny stories about Alain on the internet and in the motorsport press and for me he will always be remembered as a knowledgeable historian able to describe his feelings and emotions about cars.

Some thirty years ago he took top billing at a Balloon Debate set up at the Montagu Motor Museum and organised by the then curator Michael Ware. He phoned one day and announced the concept of the debate which was that he wanted four journalists each to debate their all-time greatest racing driver where the invited audience would then vote off the ones whose presenters did not make their case and the one left would be the winner.

I was asked if I would put the obvious case for Jim Clark in which I concentrated on his ability to race, rally or sprint anything and still be victorious. Doug Nye was invited to make the case for Juan-Manuel Fangio which he did efficiently and well and then came the legendary Denis Jenkinson who stood in for journalist Alan Henry and made the case for Ayrton Senna and the last person was Alain de Cadenet.

Typically Alain went one better than all of us by turning up to speak on Tazio Nuvolari accompanied by a ventriloquist’s dummy beautifully dressed in a yellow sweater, as Nuvolari.

Needless to say, the whole debate was an entertaining laugh.

The storyline for it all was that the four of us were to take off in an imaginary hot air balloon to fly the Atlantic and as we went along we shed a passenger. First to go was Jenks who talked for about five minutes then announced that was all he had to say and sat down.

I was next to go and I failed miserably to defend Jim Clark.  Then Doug Nye presented a great case for Juan-Manuel Fangio which should have won him the debate but, no, De Cad went into full flow bouncing the Nuvolari dummy on his knee as he spoke and sat down to great applause. When it came to the bit Alain’s perfect sense of drama and histrionics won the day and he was proclaimed the winner.

For all of us who knew him, Alain was always a winner and was able to laugh and joke about historic cars and racing: he truly was someone special.