Here is the famous prewar Italian driver Achille Varzi at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 158 during the 1946 Grand Prix des Nations at the Geneva street circuit. This was one of the initial Grand Prix races after World War II.
Varzi’s 158 was the more powerful variant with twin-stage supercharging and over 400 hp. So as not to overstress the cars, many of which had been laid up during War, and also to give maximum entertainment to the huge crowd which lined the streets behind only wooden fences, the race was run in two 32-lap heats and a 44-lap final. This street circuit was about 1.8 miles in length with a lap speed of only about 60 mph. Varzi was now 42 years old and finished second in the first heat. However, in the final he had engine problems which resulted in several pit stops giving him only 7th place, two laps down on the winning Alfa of Giuseppe (“Nino”) Farina who would become the first World Champion with an Alfa in 1950.
As with most prewar drivers, Varzi had started his career on motorcycles. He then stepped up to cars with Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Auto Union and was perhaps the closest rival prewar to the great Tazio Nuvolari. Varzi had a somewhat melodramatic life before the War. First, he was involved in a claimed betting scandal to fix the results of the 1933 Tripoli Grand Prix. Then, he became involved with Ilse Pietsch, wife of the German driver/journalist Paul Pietsch. Ilse introduced Varzi to morphine to which they both became addicted, thereby affecting his racing. He returned to racing after the War, having supposedly overcome his addiction.
Varzi was entered with another Alfa 158 for the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix at the difficult Bremgarten circuit at Bern, but lost control on a wet road during practice and was fatally crushed by his overturned car.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection