Lifestyle

Post-War Italian Beauty


The 1947 Cisitalia 202 SMM Spider Nuvolari was gorgeous and fast, but poor management prevented the company from becoming another Ferrari

Italian industrialist Piero Dusio built up the Consorzio Industriale Sportivo Italia into a successful conglomerate before WWII. He was also an uncommonly good amateur racing driver and like many successful racing drivers, he dreamed of creating a car of his own.

When the war ended, super salesman Dusio enticed Fiat engineers Dante Giocosa and Giovanni Savonuzzi to join in his dream. The first of the new Cisitalia cars were the diminutive 1,100-cc D.46 monopostos. When seven of the new Cisitalias debuted in September 1946 in the Coppa Brezzi in Turin's Valentino Park, it was against Maseratis, Simca-Gordinis, and Enzo Ferrari's Auto Avios.

With some of Europe's top drivers in contention, Dusio was first across the finish line in one of his own cars. Although a Grand Prix car--ultimately designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche--was part of Dusio's plan, the logical next step was to produce a series of road-going sports cars.

The first, known as the 202, was a space-frame chassis bodied by Carrozzeria Colli. This initial car was a dramatic aerodynamic coupe designed by Savonuzzi. The second car was another coupe bodied by Vignale, while the third was an open roadster clothed by Garelli and refined by Stabilimenti Farina. A car similar to the Farina roadster was driven by Tazio Nuvolari in the 1947 Mille Miglia.

One of five Cisitalias entered in the first post-war edition of the famous road race, Nuvolari's mount was one of the least powerful because the aging Mantuan was ill and not expected to be competitive.

Nevertheless, he came in second, a titanic finish for both the tiny 1,100-cc Cisitalia and the ailing Italian champion. As a result, the car officially called the 202 SMM became forever known as the "Spider Nuvolari." Although built in 1947, little is known of Cisitalia 0011 SMM prior to 1949, when car enthusiast and New York plastic surgeon Dr. Samuel Scher imported the two-year-old spider. In 1950, the car ran at Watkins Glen, and two years later, it turned up for the 12 Hours of Sebring with Paul Ceresole and co-driver J. Greenwood at the wheel. It retired for unknown reasons after 105 laps.

That same year, this very car was featured in Fawcett Publications, number 109, Sports Cars in Competition. Ceresole is also said to have driven the car at Mt. Washington in 1954. After passing through several owners, in about 1971, Oscar Koveleski located the unrestored Cisitalia and had it delivered to his Pennsylvania race shop.

Koveleski's race mechanic didn't want to take on the project at the time, so it was acquired by Gary Ford of Pennsylvania. Finishing it in red, Ford was soon vintage-racing the gorgeous Spider Nuvolari at venues such as Lime Rock and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. When he wasn't racing, Ford sometimes found time for the concours circuit.

Although the curves and fins of the Cisitalia's exterior are truly dramatic, in true race-car tradition the interior is extremely spartan. The only upholstery consists of the two bucket seats, which were retrimmed in leather with corduroy inserts. The floors are painted steel and the panels are polished aluminum.

Only a relatively small number of the 202s built received the stunningly beautiful Nuvolari Spider bodywork, and the survivors seldom come to market. With fewer than 15 hours on the Chris Leydon engine, this gorgeous and exceedingly rare Cisitalia is ready and eligible to race anywhere, including the Mille Miglia.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $385,000 at Gooding & Company's Pebble Beach, auction on August 20, 2006.

The story of Cisitalia is one of lost dreams for one man and found fortune for three others. The unfortunate one was Piero Dusio, whose dream of creating a world-class sports racing marque was dashed by reckless spending and the ruinous cost of first line racing.

The fortunate were Battista "Pinin" Farina (who got all the credit for the iconic Cisitalia 202 coupe, which was heavily based on the original design of Giovanni Savonuzzi) and Ferdinand Porsche, who was arguably more responsible for Dusio's bankruptcy than anyone else with the stillborn grand prix car he designed. Luckiest was "Carlo" Abarth, who introduced Porsche to Dusio and started his own auto empire with most of the European assets of Dusio's company when he decamped to Argentina in 1949. In fact, the engine in our subject car is stamped "Abarth," as one of the "payoffs" Abarth received when Cisitalia was dissolved.

Various people attempted to revive Cisitalia for the next 15 years, including Dusio's son Carlo. Sporadically producing Fiat-based specials, and even attempting to forge an alliance with Ford, the company spent its final years customizing Fiats, before finally closing in 1965.

Nevertheless, the cars Dusio created in the three years he was in business have become legends. From the successful D.46 single-seat racer to the sleek 202 Berlinetta that found a place in the landmark 1951 Museum of Modern Art "Eight Automobiles" exhibition in New York, Cisitalia consistently created cars that went as well as they looked.

The car known as the "Spider Nuvolari" came by its name quite honestly, with Tazio Nuvolari's heroic drive in the Mille Miglia. It's a much more aggressive shape than the better-known coupe and owes a great deal to the pioneering aerodynamics of the pre-WWII era.

The Cisitalia 202 is also acknowledged to be the first space-framed sports car. Colin Chapman of Lotus followed a few years later, but it took Ferrari and Maserati almost a decade to build one. Ferdinand Porsche undoubtedly got a great deal of inspiration for his sports car from the Cisitalia model--placing lightweight, streamlined bodies over the modified mechanicals of a humbler car was the same path he took to greatness.

The Cisitalia 202 was very competitive for a number of years, especially in endurance races. However, as Dusio's attention and money were turned to the disastrous grand prix project, the 202 didn't receive the development it deserved.

As an art object, the Spider Nuvolari is hard to beat. As a usable vintage racer, it offers some challenges. It is everything a sports racer should be--beautiful, light, and flexible. But it's also fragile, with thin alloy bodywork and a highly stressed engine. In vintage circuit racing, it's not at its best; most organizations set it against newer 1,100-cc racers such as the Climax-engined British cars and lighter and faster Italians such as OSCAs.

This example has been sensibly updated for vintage racing, with strengthened engine internals and steel rims to replace the delicate (and aged) alloy rims. However, the natural home for this car is vintage rally and tour events, for which it would be a delight.

0011 SMM lacks a distinguished period racing history, but it has a pretty complete ownership trail, was never seriously hacked about, and has a good recent vintage racing log. It was featured by photographer Michael Furman in his 2004 book Automobiles of the Chrome Age 19461960.

The price paid here was market-correct for a car with no stories and no needs. You will be welcomed with open arms on the Mille Miglia Storica and can live out your fantasies in a way few others can.

Years Produced: 194748

Number Produced: 20 SMM Spiders, approx.

Original List Price: N/A

SCM Valuation: $300,000$400,000 (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $300$500

Distributor Caps: $75

Chassis #: 0011 SMM

Chassis # Location: Front transverse leaf-spring upper bracket

Engine # Location: Location upper right front corner, and upper-middle of left side engine block

Club Info: Cisitalia Owners Club of North America

Web Site: http://www.cistitalia.net

Alternatives: 194650 Maserati A61500, 195152 Ferrari 212 Inter, 194850 Abarth 205A

Investment Grade: A


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