“It seems perfectly apparent,” wrote Sammy Davis after the 1932 race, “that the prospects for next year are not particularly good.” They did, indeed, look bleak a week or two before the race, with no more to support the MGs than half a dozen or so Rileys, a pair of Invictas, and three straight-eight Alfas, manned this time by Rose-Richards and Brian Lewis, who had shifted their allegiance from Talbots, and by Earl Howe. Apart from this there was only a promised pair of tuned and supercharged Irish Morris Minors, but with a lap speed of little above 60 mph they were not likely to provide much excitement.
When it suddenly became known that Whitney Straight had persuaded Tazio Nuvolari to handle his new K-type supercharged MG Magnette; the event took on an entirely different complexion. Nuvolari dominated the scene from the moment he arrived for the first morning’s practice until he came in with a dry tank on Saturday evening, the trophy safely his, and with both the race speed and class lap records in his pocket. He broke the class lap record by some seven miles an hour.
The four factory-entered, class F 1 1/2 -liter Rileys was the most dangerous opposition to the four MG Magnettes. The Rileys were based on the rather unimpressive machine Maclure had driven in 1932, but had many modifications, including the use of new light alloys in both engine and chassis; they had six cylinders w three main crankshaft bearings. With the marquee’s great racing experience, and their superlative road holding, they should have been formidable. But they were not, and never found their last I 000 revs throughout the race for that old, old reason, lack of preparation. The smaller Rileys turned out to be a different proposition altogether and were a constant menace to the MGs. There were three of them, two entered by Victor Gillow. The third, tuned to perfection, specially lightened and much faster than the factory 11/2 s, was entered by Freddie Dixon.
Rose-Richards’ Alfa promised to be very fast. It was the car Chiron had driven at Le Mans and which had nearly killed his co-driver Cortese in a spectacular somersault.
The new J4 MG Midget, with the fashionable slab gasoline tank, had a special doorless racing body in light alloy. Among the other modifications involved was an increase in the brakedrum diameter from eight to twelve inches. The 1087-cc. K3 Magnettes, which had appeared in the Spring in the same month as the J4 Midgets, had the preselector planetary self-changing gearbox, operated by a fore-and-aft quadrant on an extension of the gearbox top. Even by modern standards they were phenomenally fast and could have comfortably left a 1961 MG-A. In their Mille Miglia debut they had frequently exceeded 110 mph in full touring trim.
Nuvolari saw this car for the first time soon after breakfast on the first practice morning. The working principles of the Wilson gearbox were explained to him by a blend of sign language and odd Italian words. There was no interpreter, and Nuvolari knew no English. In a very few minutes he climbed in beside Alec Hounslow, who was to be his mechanic, and set off.
Some wild things have been written about Nuvolari’s practice driving at Ards, including a report that he executed three 360degree turns in Newtownards Square on his first lap. Tazio was much too wise a driver to become involved in such extravagances. Determination and concentration, each to the ultimate degree, made him the greatest champion of all, and he displayed these qualities in familiarizing himself with this new and impressive car and intriguing gearbox, and in refamiliarizing himself with the course. The main impression he gave was one of extreme enjoyment. It is true he took a little time to get the hang of the box, but he was soon preselecting the appropriate gear for the next comer as he straightened out from the last. And it is true he went through eight sets of tires rather quickly (he used two sets in the race), but then what is practice for if not for experimentation? By half-past eleven the same day, Nuvolari knew as much as anyone about the handling of the blown K3 Magnette.
On the day of the race Ards was astir early. Trolleys clattered out to Dundonald hairpin in packed convoys. Ten thousand cars and half a million people scattered themselves around the course. At eleven o’clock “Ebby” (Mr. Ebblewhite) dropped the flag for Dixon’s, Baird’s and Gillow’s Rileys-a formidable trio and the blown Midgets screamed away just thirteen seconds later. The blown Magnettes and 11/2 Rileys followed in a pack, Nuvolari rather slowly. Earl Howe led the Alfas that left in one rush. Gillow was ahead at Ballystockart when the Invictas left the grandstands to silence and an empty road. Everyone came around safely except Fontes, who split his MG’s connecting rods through the crankcase. Earl Howe, who finished fifth overall, had decided that tires were going to be the principal factor for the big cars and deliberately allowed Brian Lewis and Rose-Richards to set the pace, which they did together with great gusto.
There were never more than a couple of seconds between them and at the end of the first hour they were keeping such close company that no one could tell them apart. Nobody else had left the field and everyone was having a good time. But, as always in the T.T., the first hour showed clearly who was going to be important-Hamilton, lapping furiously at 75 mph and leading on handicap by 53 seconds; Nuvolari, over a minute ahead of Eddie Hall and five minutes ahead of the big Rileys; Dixon and Gillow in close company in the 1100-cc. Rileys; and Brian Lewis and Rose-Richards in the Alfas.
Brian Lewis did a couple of laps at 83 mph, “and then I broke my transmission on that diabolical bump out of Newtownards.” Soon after, the first cars came in for their routine stops. How important the pit stops were in these T.T.’s with their Einstein like handicapping and quantities of identical machines! A misplaced blow with the hub hammer could lose a place; a trace of agitation could lose the race. And so it happened in 1933.
Dixon, who had been trailing his exhaust quite a lot, had been obliged to hitch it up from time to time. He lost more minutes at the pit with wire and pliers and was eventually disqualified. But the carefree manner in which he lifted his black Riley onto the axle stands created a sensation. Both Howe and Rose Richards were fast and efficient, but not spectacular.
At twenty minutes of two Nuvolari came in. Everyone watched with great interest, for it was known that he and Hounslow had had no pit practice. Everything went remarkably smoothly, the driver refueling and filling up the oil, and whipping around all four wheels to give them a final blow after Hounslow. A quick bite, a quick drink, and they were away in 3 min. 9 sec. It was a characteristically smooth performance, efficient and unflustered. Nuvolari did the next lap at 7 8.5 mph and then settled down to some remarkably fast and consistent driving, varying his lap time for the next three hours by no more than 19 seconds.
Hamilton had a handicap lead of only a few seconds before Nuvolari came in, and at once he speeded up still further, leaving the rest of his class ten minutes behind and breaking the class lap record again and again. At two o’clock he came charging in and at once began throwing away the race. Never calm or untemperamental, he shouted instructions at his mechanic, who responded the wrong way and became more ham-fisted as Hamilton became angrier. Fuel was thrown everywhere. The filler cap was left undone. It took a minute to raise the front axle. Then the starter failed, and the hood was raised again while the mechanic did his best to use a wrench as a switch, succeeding only in setting fire to his gasoline-soaked gloves and overalls with a spark from the terminals. The poor man was in such a state that he could not buckle the hood strap and-well, all in all it was nearly seven minutes before the furious Hammy was away.
Nuvolari took the lead again by a few seconds. The race was now between the wild, dark Irishman with the flashing, screwed-up eyes, who was tragically to be killed in the Swiss Grand Prix ten months later, and the great Italian, who was to pass away quietly in his bed twenty years later. Nuvolari was touching his brakes only momentarily at Comber and Dundonald, varying his distance, so it is said, from hubcap to stone wall at Comber by between three and nine inches lap after lap. Once he grazed a telegraph pole but even that moment gave Hounslow little cause for anxiety. Taking someone around Ards in an 1100-cc. car at 81 mph without creating any concern was perhaps his greatest achievement in a spectacular performance that resulted in his rounding off his Mille Miglia and Le Mans wins with the Tourist Trophy.
After 400 miles there were still only seconds between Hamilton and Nuvolari. These are their respective times in minutes and seconds for the last six laps:
On the next-to-last lap Hamilton’s fuel gauge was registering zero; he knew he would never get around again. To everyone’s bewilderment he tore in in a flurry of dust, threw in a can of gasoline in 20 seconds, and tore away again. It was remarkably fast work, but not fast enough. Nuvolari came by then, and Magnette led Midget. A few miles back Nuvolari’s engine had cut out; he had raised his hands in despair but replaced them promptly on the wheel as Hounslow switched over the fuel line to the reserve tank. This gave him enough, just enough, to keep ahead and complete the last lap, though the man with the checkered flag had Number 25 behind Number 17 in his right hand as he stepped forward.