Monaco 1933 – Icons and the Silver Screen

Racing Daydreams - 1933 Monaco poster by Georges Hamel

How fortunate we are to have YouTube. Luckier still to have enthusiasts uploading footage, new & old, for our entertainment… and education.

In that spirit, enjoy this Movietone newsreel of the 1933 Monaco Grand Prix – presented by the excellent ‘Raceday Replay’ channel.

Fantastic, isn’t it? The lack of commentary letting us really hear the cars around the original circuit – a literal ’round the houses’ track, with the harbourside and paved promenade.

But even presented on the big screen, with its Presto tempo introduction, this film is underselling the event.

The 1933 Monaco meeting had opened with Caracciola and Chiron putting on a show with their ‘Scuderia C.C.’ Alfa Romeos. On Thursday morning, as others prepared or waited for kit to arrive, the two ‘Monzas’ (one white, one blue) took to the track. Two great drivers, at the height of their powers. Caracciola ahead on the road, pushing like hell – Chiron just behind, appearing more relaxed. Sublime – until in an instant, it wasn’t.

Caracciola arrived hot at the end of the Quai le Plaisance straight. Braking too late & too hard, the big Alfa shook its head and locked a front wheel – just as they hit the ramp up to Tabac corner. Onto the promenade paving – weight transfer unsettled – car pitching left – even Rudi wasn’t going to catch this one.

A sideways hit – rear of the car – straight into the stone steps leading down to the promenade. Dust settling, adrenaline pumping, Rudi climbed out of the Alfa – and crumpled onto the track the moment he put weight on his broken leg and crushed pelvis.

The great Caracciola, race favourite – crippled, carried away. Life would get harder still in the months to come.

Racing Daydreams - Caracciola leaves his wrecked Alfa Romeo, Monaco 1933
Racing Daydreams - Caracciola, Monaco 1933

Noon on Sunday, and the police are clearing the streets. Teams start the final preparations, and line-up the cars on Boulevard Albert I. For the first time a starting grid has been decided on times set in practice, and all the main contenders are towards the front, as expected.

1pm – as French radio goes live to the race, the flag drops. Varzi gets away cleanly from pole – leading the dash to Sainte Dévote, from Borzacchini on a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa ‘Monza’. Lehoux rockets from 7th to 3rd on his private Bugatti, as Chiron’s Alfa bogs-down at the start. Nuvolari is 4th… for the moment.

By the end of the second lap Nuvolari is up to second place. On lap three, he passes Varzi… and with that Achille & Tazio were gone!

Ninety-seven laps of racing ahead, and it is all about these two men. Varzi on the works’ Bugatti T51, Nuvolari on the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa ‘Monza’ – the iconic image of each man.

Racing Daydreams - Monaco 1933 by Turner

Three hours of tough, relentless racing have passed – neither Nuvolari nor Varzi have given an inch. Nuvolari leads, just… Varzi pushing hard to bridge the gap on lap 96, 97…

Out of the tunnel for the ninety-eighth time – the two cars flash through the chicane, at barely unchecked speed… Varzi leads! The crowd roars, as the azure-blue Bugatti and blood-red Alfa sail through Tabac as one… then side-by-side… Tazio sends it at the Gasometer hairpin… and scrabbles past!

Lap 99 – a new lap record for Varzi, as he closes right up on the Alfa… across the line… final lap… now or never!

Through Sainte Dévote and up the hill – Varzi holds the Bugatti in third gear, runs it to 7,500 rpm… Nuvolari mashes the centre throttle on the Alfa… they sail into Massenet together, millimetres from disaster… and out of sight.

All along the harbour and promenade, along Boulevard Albert I and Beau Rivage – everyone is watching & waiting. Looking towards the tunnel exit, the chicane… who will it be?

Any moment…

That sound… it’s… one engine only!.. it’s… VARZI! Achille Varzi wins the 5th Monaco Grand Prix for Bugatti!

But what of Nuvolari?

Here comes the Alfa, rolling out of the tunnel. Black smoke pouring from the car, Tazio standing on the seat. The motor had cried enough, leaving Casino Square.

When the Alfa rolled to a halt, Tazio leapt off the seat and started to push. More concerned with dignity than disqualification, a Ferrari mechanic jumped the wall and ran to help Tazio push the Monza to the line.

Racing Daydreams - Nuvolari, Monaco 1933
Racing Daydreams - Nuvolari, Monaco 1933

What a battle. What an almighty scrap between two greats. Motor Sport’s reporter noted with delight that,

This result suggests that Bugatti and Alfa Romeo will this season meet on more even terms than in 1932, which will help to maintain interest in the finest of sports

Motor Sport – June 1933

But there was a storm coming – it was brewing in Untertürkheim & Zwickau – and Grand Prix racing would never be the same again.

Now… you really should watch that Movietone film again.

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