#F1 History: Part 2: Juan Manuel Fangio and the Lancia-Ferrari D50

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Jennie Mowbray

“Everything, if you could only see it clearly enough, like this, is beautiful and complete. Everything has its own perfection.”

~Joan Lindsay – The Secret of Hanging Rock~

Lancia was in crisis. Their world champion driver, Alberto Ascari, had been tragically killed and now numerous creditors were clamouring for their money. Faced with ever mounting debt, there were difficult decisions to be made. Their car was capable of winning races and possibly even championships. The powers that be at Lancia were divided. While there were some who were desperate to keep competing, the majority thought that the publicity the company gained from participation in the top echelon of racing wasn’t worth the expenditure. There were debts to be paid. It was madness to continue to throw resources into the ever deepening pit that was Formula One racing – even in the 1950’s.

d50 ferrari

They had received offers for their Formula One cars – one even rumoured to be from Mercedes Benz. Concrete magnate Carlo Presenti was interested in acquiring Lancia, but not necessarily in funding a racing team. Fiat owner Giovanni Agnelli was interested in Jano’s cars and considered it crucial to national pride that Italy have a Formula One team that could compete with the might of the Germans.

Agnelli initially approached Maserati to race the D50 but they had little interest, confident that their 250F would be competitive. Enzo Ferrari was next on the list. He had not had a good year. His cars had been uncompetitive and cash was short on the ground. He was considering pulling out of racing altogether. Fiat offered him a compelling financial incentive to sweeten the deal – 50 million lira a year for 5 years. It was the deal of the century. There was no way Ferrari could lose. As well as being bankrolled by Fiat he also had a car that showed every evidence that it was capable of being competitive.

Lancia Handover

On July 26, 1955 the entire fittings of Scuderia Lancia were handed over to Scuderia Ferrari. Six Lancia D50 cars and 60 crates of spare parts were loaded onto transporters and taken from Turin to Maranello, along with their designer Vittorio Jano. Ferrari’s cause was further aided by Mercedes abandoning motor sport at the end of the year, unsure what the adverse publicity of spectator deaths at races would have on their road car sales. This left Juan Manuel Fangio without a drive and he was persuaded to sign with Ferrari. What would they be able to do with a fast, though unconventional, car and a triple world champion to pilot it?

The Lancia D50 becomes the Lancia-Ferrari D50

During 1956 the D50 underwent progressive alterations, though these did not always meet with the approval of its designer, Vittorio Jano.  The car had been difficult to drive with a low centre of gravity and unusual weight distribution. It didn’t slide and was liable to spin with little warning. The fuel tanks were transferred back to the conventional position in the tail of the car, which resulted in increased weight over the rear wheels. The pannier tanks were merged with the body to improve aerodynamics and housed the exhaust pipes and, on occasions, the reserve fuel tanks. The suspension was modified to cope with the increased weight after the relocation of the fuel tanks.

Ferrari D50 cutaway

The 1956 Formula One Season

The season started well for Ferrari when their “new” car dominated qualifying at the first race in Argentina, taking the top three places on the grid. Fangio was over 2 seconds faster than his teammate Eugenio Castellotti. When Fangio’s car broke a fuel pump on lap 22 he took over Luigi Musso’s car and went on to win the race by over 24 seconds, aided by Stirling Moss’s Maserati engine expiring in a ball of smoke on lap 66 whilst he was in the lead.

Fangio drifting his Ferrari through Mirabeau

Fangio drifting his Ferrari through Mirabeau

Monaco was the next race on the calendar and Fangio described this as his greatest race ever. He was again on pole but Moss trumped him going into the first corner, with Fangio then spinning his Ferrari while trying to catch him. Both Harry Schell (Vanwall) and Musso crashed as they took avoiding action.

Fangio proceeded to spend the whole race trying to close the gap to Moss. He swapped cars with Peter Collins on lap 54 and continued to slowly whittle down the margin, driving every lap close to the limit. Then on lap 86 Cesare Perdisa (Maserati) locked his failing brakes while being lapped by Moss, the two cars coming together. This resulted in damage to the front of Moss’s car, adversely affecting its handling.

For the last few laps Fangio was closing on Moss by two seconds a lap but Moss managed to hold on and win by six seconds. Fangio fought for the win until the very last lap, never settling for second place. He set the fastest lap on his final lap of the race with a time only four tenths slower than his pole position.

For the Belgium Grand Prix Fangio was once again on pole, this time almost five seconds ahead of Moss. The race was wet and Fangio had a poor start, ending up in sixth while Moss took the lead. However, by lap three Fangio was in second place, and by the lap five he was leading the race. Unfortunately Fangio lost his transmission on lap 24 and his teammate Peter Collins took over the lead and eventually his first ever win, also driving a Lancia-Ferrari D50.

The dominance of the D50 continued at the French GP, the Ferrari’s locking out the front of the grid and Peter Collins taking his second win (obviously the Daniel Ricciardo of 1956), with three D50’s finishing in the top four places.

At the British GP Moss would take pole position, almost a second faster than Fangio. However Fangio was racing against doctors’ orders, having been unwell for the 10 days prior to the race with high fevers. He was fortunate when Moss’s axle broke on lap 94 and he was able to take over the lead, winning over a lap ahead of the second Ferrari. It was Fangio’s first victory of the year driving his own car from start to finish. He said after the race, “In England the doctors did not want me to race, but the organizers insisted, so they gave me pills to dull the pain and to make the fever go down. I raced and was lucky to win, but after that I felt dead.”

In Germany Scuderia Ferrari once more headed the front of the grid with the top three qualifying positions, Fangio continuing his dominance. He led the race from start to finish, leading Moss by a gap of 46 seconds. Fangio also broke Herman Lang’s 17 year old lap record with a time of 9:41.600, ten seconds faster than his own Saturday pole time.

lots of D50's

The concluding race was at Monza with Fangio securing his sixth pole position of the season. This time the lightening of the Ferrari had severe consequences. The holes drilled into the steering arm to reduce weight, combined with the heightened stress on the car from the banked areas of the track, combined to cause three of the five Ferraris to have mechanical failures.

Fangio’s steering arm broke on lap 46 while teammates Castellotti and Musso also crashed with steering arm failure suspected. Peter Collins voluntarily relinquished his car to Fangio when he stopped for a routine tyre change. Fangio took Collins car to second place, five seconds behind race winner Moss, and thus won his fourth World Championship title.

Ferrari had won five of the seven European races. Juan Manual Fangio had achieved three wins, five podiums, six pole positions, four fastest laps and his fourth World Championship. Over its career the Lancia-Ferrari D50 raced fourteen races and won five of them.

Ed McDonogh’s beautiful and evocative description of his drive in a rebuilt Lancia-Ferrari D50 really sums it all up. “Into Vernasca in second, the car having been flawless through the quick part, the tail waggled as I turned hard left and aimed it downhill, over the bridge at 140 mph and towards the hill, playing the gearbox like a violin, listening to V8 sonatas as the over-square Lancia engine did its business, pulling the iconic racer up the hill. Because it behaves so well, you can think about it, you can take in what you are driving, and you can enjoy it. Second to third to second to third—a rhythm begins to develop…the tail just begins to go, but is always caught with the throttle. The brakes are fine but not that necessary–this is totally a car and a throttle—it all emanates from the right foot.”

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25 responses to “#F1 History: Part 2: Juan Manuel Fangio and the Lancia-Ferrari D50

  1. This was a fantastic lil’ featurette – the perfect length and so interesting!

    I was reading alonging thinking, “The only thing that could make this better would be some video of Fangio in action or onboard from the D50,” and then I arrived at the embedded YouTube clip – voila!

    magnifique! 😉 well done, Jennie!!

    • Thanks so much for your words of appreciation! I thought the video clip was magical even though I couldn’t understand a word he was saying – thanks for the translation…just watching the rear wheels slide while going around a corner…

      • Here’s a quick translation of the opening:

        “We had everything here, everything here inside.
        All of our [racing] kit was here [opening zipper].
        Look – inside this women’s hat box was everything:
        Goggles, leather gloves, remera [which is an undershirt specifically for sports use, like for a driver or cyclist], and helmet – all here. [then he puts goggle up to his face and says…] vieron [which could be like, ‘they saw [me like this’ – since the film cuts to him driving]”

        so that’s the opening 30 sec or so.

          • You’re welcome, Jennie. Now I’m really going to blow your mind, however [see below]! 😉 lol…

            For now, however, the dialogue continues…

            “Ferrari “2500”
            Powered by a motor from rival Lancia
            Eight cylinders, 8000rpm…it’s the same as the one with which I won the 1956 World Championship.

            In that time, already there were many new technical developments: motor mounts inside the chassis, lateral tanks, shift lever very close to the steering wheel, optimized driving position…but this car had another important history: it was the same type of car that, in 1955, here in Monte Carlo, Ascari finished with in the sea!”

            [that’s through 1:06 or so – whew!]

            Thanks again for writing these two articles. I didn’t know anything about this topic, but as a result of your posts (particularly this second one, which I read first lol), I got to practice my Spanish translating and started researching the origins of the lovely clip you included.

            Apparently it’s extracted from a pseudo-documentary film: ‘Fangio – A Life at 300km Per Hour’ (IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1052346/ billed as “A documentary of Fangio’s life with his own testimony.”)

            The executive producer and director was Hugh Hudson of ‘Chariots of Fire’ fame, and, according to Sports Car Digest, this scene and others were shot “in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, making Fangio approximately 60 years old during filming”. A reader offers that filming specifically took place during the summer of 1971 on location in Monaco, Monza, Reims, Silverstone and at the Nurburgring, but I’m not sure what accounts for the 10 year difference b/w shooting scenes like this Monte Carlo one we’re presently discussing, and the IMDb release date of 1981.

            [now here’s where I blow your mind] Believe it or not, I actually found on YouTube the full documentary as broadcast by RAI1 in Italy, but unfortunately, it’s dubbed over into Italian! So Fangio’s lovely Argentine Spanish isn’t audible, though I think he himself does speak in Italian at points (I obviously haven’t watched all of it – I just found it!):

            I think with that upload you can turn on subtitles and even have them translated automatically, but be warned, the English output doesn’t look to be very intelligible lol.

            During my research this afternoon I saw some discussion suggesting there might be different cuts of the film, or that Fangio footage was combined by Italian producer Gianni Volpi with exploitative coverage of racing drivers’ funerals to create something controversial that was screened in 1993 at the Beaulieu Motor Museum. Like I said though, I haven’t watched the Rai1 video except to find the footage that corresponds to what you linked, and that’s when I discovered it was dubbed.

            Is there more dialogue after 1:06 in your clip to translate? Idk, but I’ll have to take a look. Thanks again though for luring me into spending hours reading about motor-racing history. lol.

          • oops, clipped this last line while copy&pasting:

            The Spanish-English translations above are all my own work, however, and I hope they’ve added to your enjoyment and that of others, too.

            Cheers!

          • Wow!! that is just amazing!! You do realize how easy it is to get addicted to F1 history:)

            I had no idea of any of the background of the video…I just did a quick search to see if it was available in English but it doesn’t look like it…I’d be willing to buy it if it had proper English subtitles…

            Too bad I have to go to work instead of watching it now…

          • Jennie, I think I posted this as a comment to pt. 1, but I actually found the full documentary in Spanish, which apparently had to be hand assembled from clips by the YouTube user in question!

            I checked and you can run subtitles on that one, too, but seemingly not auto-translate them.

            Anyway, here it is, if you ever have the time or interest:

            Cheers!

            PS. Yes, it’s super-easy to get addicted to F1 history! I’m surprised to hear that no commercial DVD of the film is available (w/ English subtitles). What a bummer! But what an opportunity! 😉

          • Wow, what a saga!!

            http://forums.autosport.com/topic/98785-fangio-the-film-directed-by-hugh-hudson/?p=4309106

            Posted 22 April 2010 – 08:35
            Doug Nye, on Jan 25 2008, 15:56, said:

            The Hugh Hudson ‘Fangio’ film became a tragic disaster movie. Hudson’s direction captured miles of magnificent footage with the old boy driving important cars. But Volpi was not the only backer, I believe, and the others developed cold feet when they saw the original cut and deemed it ‘too specialist’ for release. Volpi was always mercurial and (again if I recall correctly) he fell out with the co-financiers, they ordered a re-cut to ‘enhance’ the finished job’s public appeal and the end result was a movie which was about 60/40 sheer genius/horrific schlock fatal accident footage. It was utterly gratuitous and many of those at the preview gave up in disgust and walked out…Jenks included.I think Volpi successfully blocked its release. Hugh Hudson had long since gone off to pastures new working with infinitely better and more discerning people. To find a pristine quality original director’s cut of ‘Fangio’ has become something of a motor racing movie buff’s Holy Grail.DCN

            “I was just thinking about this film this morning for some obscure reason (serendipity, or what). The 750 Motor Club obtained a print to show at their annual (?) film evening at The Commonwealth Institute in London in 1975. I saw the film then, having been aeware of it from 1970. Cameron Millar had loaned one of his Maserati 250Fs to display outside the entrance and the event was very well attended.

            In 1984 I had organsied one of the National Motor Museum’s archive events at The National Film Theatre and the theme was “fiulms that had been produced but not released”. We had a number of gems including “Fangio”. Jenks and Murray Walker were principal guests and I do remember Jenks almost walking out when he realised which print we were showing. I had contacted Hugh Hudson to see if we could use the film and was told that the “later cut” was done for supposedly commercial reasons (it contains many scenes of carnage from well before Fangio’s time to well after including Jochen Rindt’;s accident at Monza in 1970) as described by Doug. This cut has the 1957 German GP (with Murray’s commentary added in the studio at the time of the film’s production) at the beginning. The original cut (that I have not seen) has this towards the end, I believe. I had a private preview viewing in the theatre at Hugh Hudson’s offices prior to the NFT event and did ask if the original cut was available as I just knew it would be controversial.

            Despite all this, the film does contain some great footage. The Argentinian sequences with a recreated Chevrolet are superb but my most vivid memory is of Fangio sliding the Lancia Ferrari (the D50 from the Biscaretti?) around Monaco with some truly magic opposite lock slow motion!

            Is now the time to revisit this for a potential release?”

            I guess you can buy the schlocky cut of the film as a region2 DVD in Italian w/ (only) Italian subs for 12 bucks from amazon:

            http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005IKZSI6/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=

            “Ciao, bella!” lol

          • I was writing my reply below as you were writing this one:) I once translated a German movie from the subtitles by typing them into Google Translate…it took me hours…but it did give me the essence of the plot! I think for this one I’ll just enjoy the footage of Fangio driving the cars – it sounds like that’s the best bit anyway!

        • Loved the Autosport discussion -They have such interesting people that reply – people who were actually there at the time and are telling you what they remember! (I’ve used them before trying to track down information) Loved the comment from the person who was there watching the filming in Monaco…

          From the discussion it sounds like what we’d really like is a “director’s cut”…which will probably never exist and you never know in this day and age…

          Lol about not replying to all your posts – it’s enthusiastic response like yours that keeps us writing:) F1 history is such a niche interest area – most people are only interested in what is happening now!

          Thanks for sharing your excitement!

  2. btw: at about 1:40 into the video, begins a quote fantastic that I’d translate as:

    “When a car goes well, and the engine note is harmonious, the noise makes a form of music; the pilot [driver] is like a [musical] conductor [director de orquesta]…”

    Isn’t that the truth how some mechanical sounds, especially ICE’s, can seem to fans like a form of music played by a maestro?

    Hippo I hope can appreciate this site, but I post it here for you all to hear another engine note that’s like music:

    http://www.twentyninesix.com/main.php?

    What a sound!!!

    • I’m currently researching the Mercedes W196…whose engine design originated from their aircraft engines…amazing sound…

      • Excelent article Jennie – also noticed at 1:40 Fangio is charging up Beau Riavge with road cars parked at the pavement!!
        Looking forward to the next article – if you love that sound try looking on youtube for the 1930s Silver Arrows – particularly the V16 C-Type

  3. Those were two wonderful pieces thanks Jennie.
    Loved the line ‘This resulted to damage to the front….adversely affecting its handling’.
    Seem to have heard something like that very recently….:-)

    • Lol:) I guess cars have been hitting the back of other cars for a long time…i suppose it’s OK as long as you’re not teammates! After all, Alonso hit the back of Vettel at Spa and lost a huge chunk of front wing and I haven’t heard anyone mention that…though Vettel didn’t get a flat tyre out of it either…

      Glad you enjoyed it…

  4. Lovely piece…

    …and Klemantaski photograph is probably my all time favourite racing picture. The video is even better.

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