STEVE HOLE tells the story of Enrico

Enrico Nardi was born in 1907 in Bologna and began his automotive career with Lancia in 1931 before moving to Etceterini Auto Avio Costruzione in Modena as a test driver.

In 1937 Enrico Nardi moved to Modena to work for Enzo Ferrari and a lifelong friendship was forged. Nardi was Ferrari’s first test driver.

Nardi was a top racer of the day, a gifted engineer, a racing mechanic, and a practical joker although he could be awkward.

The highlight of his driving career was competing in the Mille Miglia before building his first car, the Nardi-Monaco Chichibio with Augusto Monaco in 1932. Technically a very good car under the skin. It featured a transverse air-cooled 998cc, two-cylinder engine. It featured front-wheel drive and had a healthy for its day, 65bhp. It weighed just 300kg and managed a top speed of 110mph at Monza.

In 1948 he joined forces with Renato Danese and set up a workshop on the marvellously named street, Via Vincenzo Lancia in Turin. They built the 750 Nardi-Danese based on a Fiat 500 Topolini. It was visually recognisable by its single headlight. Three examples were entered for the Targa-Florio in 1952 but all failed to finish the race.

They also built a car called the Nardi-Danese 1500 Sport. This one had more power thanks to its twin 746cc engines. It was built for Dr Marco Crespi.

In 1951, Nardi struck out on his own. He specialised in tuning and prototype work.

In 1952 he collaborated with Gianni Lancia on an F2 car that had a Lancia Aurelio engine producing 160bhp. The car’s body was built by Rocco Motto but Nardi wasn’t happy with the result.

Following this Nardi went to work for Enzo Ferrari, for a time, who was very impressed with his coachbuilding skills.

Nardi’s best-known project was the Bisiluro (sounded like an anagram), which was entered at Le Mans in 1955. The body was a streamliner in style. ‘Bisiluro’ means ‘twin torpedo’ in Italian. Rather apt. The car weighed in at just 450kg and its four-cylinder 735cc engine delivered 62bhp.

The engine sat in one ‘pod’ the driver in the other. It managed 134mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. A Jaguar D-type overtook and the Officine Nardi team’s driver, Dr Mario Damante was literally blown off track and the car was wrecked.

Following this disappointment, Nardi went freelance and, his services were for hire. He often helped other companies and builders engineer their cars. He certainly stopped building his own cars.

These projects included a Lancia-based car called the Blue Ray with a Michelotti body and another car called the Silver Ray based on a Plymouth Golden Commando V8.

In 1958, Enrico re-ignited his business relationship with Enzo Ferrari by supplying steering wheels to the iconic marque with most models supplied with a Nardi wheel.

I’ve seen it written that Nardi was like an Italian version of Colin Chapman. He was said to love building racecars as he found roadcar customers a pain to deal with!

I saw it written once that he didn’t like the look of a particular customer and locked him in his office for thirty minutes with his Alsatian.

The Nardi company then got heavy into making and selling a range of accessories and aftermarket parts starting with a beautiful walnut-rimmed steering wheel in 1951. This then led to manifolds, crankshafts, and camshafts among many other items.

Enrico Nardi died in 1966 when his brother Barbero took over until 1968, when the rival brand Personal, based in Varese since 1961, took over. However, in 1990, Although still part of Personal, Nardi became autonomous once more.

A very underrated man in automotive history, considering his considerable skills and contacts. He is deservedly recognised, however, for his beautiful steering wheels but there was so much more to the man than that.

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So, if you have a Mazda MX-5 and it is fitted with a Nardi wheel, maybe you’ll look at it a little differently from now on.