One of the most important early races after the end of World War II was the Grand Prix des Nations held on July 21, 1946 over a street circuit in Geneva, Switzerland. Prewar Grand Prix cars which had been put away in safety over the war years made one of their first appearances after the end of the hostilities. The circuit was quite short, only 2.9 km in length. Spectator safety was not at all a concern, as you can see by the crowd standing right at the edge of the road behind a simple wooden barrier fence.
The leading cars were of course the Alfa Romeo 158s, which had a supercharged 1.5 liter eight cylinder in-line motor (hence the tipo 158 title) which approached 250 bhp. Known as the Alfetta, these prewar “voiturette” cars were the dominant Grand Prix cars during the immediate postwar years, being continually developed until they gave over 400 bhp with the tipo 159 in 1951. Finally in 1951, Ferrari’s 4.5-liter normally aspirated 375/F1 approached their power with much lower fuel consumption and, therefore, a reduced need for pit stops to refuel.
The Grand Prix des Nations was run in two heats and a final, each of about an hour’s duration, thereby giving the crowd more entertainment and the cars and drivers reduced strain versus a single three hour race which was the then normal Grand Prix. Each preliminary heat had a different field of cars with the top six finishers in each heat going through to compete in the final. Alfa Corse, the racing department of Alfa Romeo, had entered four of their 158s, all of which made it to the final. The cars assigned to Jean-Pierre Wimille, the great French champion, and Count Carlo Felice Trossi, a wealthy Italian sportsman and excellent racer, were prewar models with a single-stage supercharger. For Giuseppe “Nino” Farina, a nephew of the great designer and coach builder Pinin Farina, and Achile Varzi, another prewar champion, Alfa had a pair of 158s with two-stage supercharging which were considerably more powerful. Arrayed against the Alfas were several Maseratis, all prewar 4CLs and 6CMs, of which the most competitive were the 4CLs of Scuderia Milan to be driven by the seemingly immortal Tazio Nuvolari as well as by Raymond Sommer and Luigi Villoresi.
On the front row grid for this exciting final were three of the Alfa 158s with eventual winner Farina on pole at the right of the photograph. Wimille’s Alfa is in the middle of the front row and Trossi’s on the left. Varzi’s Alfetta can be seen in the second row between the cars of Farina and Wimille while the second-row Maserati of Nuvolari appears between the Alfas of Wimille and Trossi. The race itself saw a battle between Farina and Wimille. Wimille was pushed off by Nuvolari after lapping the fiery Italian who ignored a black flag. At the end Farina led Trossi by over a minute with Wimille one lap down and Nuvolari two laps in arrears.
Farina would continue to lead the Alfa Corse team and won the first World Championship for Drivers with an Alfa 158 in 1950.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection