Grand Prix Nuvolari: Eberhard & Co continues its car racing history
The Piazza Sordello acted as a springboard for hundreds of vintage cars pampered by their buzzing teams in Mantua. There started one of the most important car racing adventures of our times.
Flashback. On the eve of the 26th edition of this race, a huge dinner took place in a place adjoining the starting position. It was in September 2016, with the pleasant weather and the local lifestyle à la dolce vita making the terraces so more inviting.
Legendary racing cars for legendary drivers
The custodian city of the Tazio Nuvolari museum – which incidentally became the Italian Capital of Culture in 2016 – seems to be a sort of meeting point not only for Italy's leading companies, but also for local celebrities and a number of teams from Germany, Switzerland, the rest of Italy and even from places farther afield. All in all, around fifty car racing brands were represented by cars that were built between 1919 and 1969, with an overall 310 competitors.
It was a proper itinerant history lesson on mechanical sports told by legendary models, – icons of the past that featured in films and took part in past races. The 1,050-kilometer race winds through a magnificent and magical part of Italy – from Mantua to Rimini, stopping at Forte dei Marmi, and for the last three days a litte drive on the popular Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit in Imola.
Ferdinand Porsche described Tazio Nuvolari as "the greatest driver of the past, the present and the future". The eponymous Grand Prix, which was held four times between 1954 and 1957, thus celebrates one of the most outstanding car-racing legends of the 20th century. Twenty-six years ago, the Mantua car-racing club decided to revive this spectacular event that was originally created by the organizers of the Mille Miglia. The Swiss brand Eberhard was immediately appointed official timekeeper and most importantly, was co-founder of the event. In retrospect, this is the story of one of the most coherent car/watch partnerships, which is emphasized by unrivaled consistency and a mastered collection of legendary mechanical chronographs.
The Tazio Nuvolari Chronograph or the Scafograf?
Sitting to my right was Marco Peserico, General Manager of Eberhard & Co, the Swiss brand founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1887. I was expecting him to wear a model dedicated to the legendary driver. Actually, I expected one of the pieces in the Tazio Nuvolari 336 limited edition from 2015 that introduced the first double timezone piece in the eponymous collection, which cast aside any user-friendly aspect. The 54-mm Dual Time model, water resistant to 100 meters, with second timezone indication at 12 o'clock, a power reserve at 6 o'clock and a date aperture at 3 o'clock, caught my eye when I first saw it. An older version of it already appealed to me when I launched a watchmaking magazine for Ringier some years earlier.
Unfortunately, on the cusp of the brand's 130th anniversary, the limelight was rather on the Scafograf; a diving watch with a Helium valve. Its reissue at Baselworld was one of the best comebacks of this historical piece from 1959. With accuracy and a regard for the past, the 43-mm piece and its bright blue rubber strap dressed the boss's wrist in all legitimacy. Indeed, two months later, the watch was front stage at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève, as winner of the sports watch category.
And so, despite the excellent food – that I simply couldn't taste in its entirety – my hunger would not have been satisfied had I not spotted a piece of the Tazio Nuvolari chronograph on the wrist of the German Thomas Zettl, one of the brand's most loyal drivers. Still buzzing from their participation at the 2015 edition, his co-driver Ralf Suffa and himself still hoped to finish among the first three even though Miki Biasion, ambassador of Eberhard & Co, and first and only Italian driver to have ever won the world championship in 1988 and 1989, was sitting at the same table. To top it off, he seemed to be armed with a determination worthy of a composure that was almost disturbing with the knowledge of the challenge that lay ahead.
130th anniversary in 2017, car racing legitimacy
Having had my fair share of shining cars and magnificent sceneries, I prematurely stopped my peninsular trip two days before the end of the adventure, on a pontoon of Forte dei Marmi. The car-watch equation certainly has a bright future ahead. Incidentally, at the Grand Prix Nuvolari, other watchmaking brands tried to benefit from the mediatized play dominated by Eberhard & Co.
The brand’s legitimate presence in these (mostly Italian) put-putting territories will not be scarce in 2017. The brand will also attend the Winter Marathon (19-22 January) in Madonna di Campiglio, the Mitiche Sport di Bassano (22-25 June) in Bassano del Grappa, the Rally Legend in San Marino in October, and shortly after, the 27th edition of the Gran Premio Tazio Nuvolari (14-17 September).