May/June 2020 edition
Issue #10 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
Fangio, A Pirelli Album by Sir Stirling Moss with Doug Nye
In an ideal world, Juan Manuel Fangio’s biography would be written by a peer or close friend. Happily, the best book about motor racing’s greatest world champion was written by somebody who was both: Sir Stirling Moss, in concert with veteran journalist Doug Nye.
Fangio and Moss went head-to-head at the highest level of motor sports for 10 years. When Fangio came to Europe in 1949 at age 38, he was twice Moss’s age and an accomplished racer and rally driver in South America. The Argentinian would win five Formula One world championships in the next decade, and Moss was runner-up four times. However, Moss won the fastest-ever Mille Miglia in 1955 at 97.94 mph with navigator Dennis Jenkinson. That trophy eluded Fangio who finished 3rd in 1950, 2nd in 1953, 2nd in 1955 and 4th in 1956.
Fangio’s five titles were a world record until Michael Schumacher scored seven between 1994 and 2003. Though Schumacher won 91 races, Fangio’s win ratio of 46.15 percent (24 wins from 52 starts) remains the highest ever. Fangio died in Argentina in 1995 at age 84.
Pirelli’s Fangio album was instigated by his great rival Moss, and beautifully printed in Italy; 168 pages, profusely illustrated. Published by Pavilion Books in 1991. Prices seem to range from a low of $27 to around $200 for a signed copy as seen on eBay. Despite some grainy photographs, the year-long project is the most intimate profile of the genial but ultra-competitive maestro. Fangio and Moss spent two weeks in a hotel in Burgamo, Italy, prompted by Nye to tell stories of their legendary battles.
“I have been fascinated by racers and what made them tick since I was six years old,” said Nye. “I remembered incidents, and the stories would come back to them. They just lit up, striking sparks off each other.”
Moss and Nye’s book gets closer to Fangio than its contemporaries. Karl Ludvigsen’s “Motor Racing’s Grand Master” has crisper photos and solid reporting; “My Racing Life” by Roberto Carozzo with Fangio is less interesting, but maybe it is lost in translation. Dennis Jenkinson’s book “Fangio” is based on the Hudson/Volpi film and while the pictures are comprehensive, the text is sparse.
The Moss/Nye book is encyclopedic, with comprehensive race reports, enjoyable anecdotes and photos as far back as his childhood. The first 50 pages concern Fangio’s first 20 years of racing in South America which ranged from sprints in home-made speedsters, to grueling Paris-Dakar style rallies 6,000 miles long. Not only was Fangio an indefatigable driver, he could rebuild his race cars overnight. His patience and good humor were forged in extreme circumstances, and tempered by time.
Fangio’s adventures in Europe were characterized by the same fortitude. He never complained about the car, he just made it work, whether driving for Gordini, BRM, Maserati, Ferrari, or Mercedes-Benz. In 1949, he won six races, four in a Maserati, one in a Ferrari, and one in a Gordini. And in 1950, he won eight, and was 2nd in the championship. Fangio won his first championship in 1951, followed by four straight titles from 1954-1957.
Fangio’s cuddly demeanor concealed a backbone of spring steel, said Nye. “Jim Clark, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Mike Hawthorn and Jochen Rindt all had the same exceptional skills. It’s the ability to reach inside themselves for something extra they can find in themselves.”
Perhaps the best example of Fangio’s talent was winning the 1957 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring on his way to his 5th title. He broke the track record nine times (seven in a row) in pursuit of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, after a bungled pit stop cost him the lead.
Fangio passed Hawthorn on the last lap to win, and Hawthorn and Collins were the first to congratulate him. “They were so happy it seemed almost as if they had beaten me,” said Fangio. “That day I did things I would never attempt again.”
To read more great columns like this one from collectible book expert Paul Duchene...
Paul Duchene has been a journalist for 50 years.