Simanaitis Says

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A GRAND PRIX on the streets of the half-vertical principality of Monaco is magic, despite occasional comments to the contrary. Here are tidbits from the first five Monaco Grands Prix, 1929–1933.

1929. Monaco had been a Riviera destination for the well heeled since the mid-1800s. Its Casino, for example, was established in 1863.

On April 14, 1929, the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix took place on essentially the same circuit that’s used today. The event’s guiding light was Antony Noghès, Monaco’s agent general de la Regie des tabac and son of Alexandre Noghès who had established the Rallye Monte-Carlo in 1911. Monégasque driver Louis Chiron also provided support.

The original Monaco circuit, 1929–1971.

By the way, describes the 1973 construction of Rainer III Nautical Stadium leading to modifications of the circuit along the harbor. The first of two chicanes there is named in Louis Chiron’s honor. In 1979, the original circuit’s Gazométre corner, the last one before the start-finish straight, was renamed for Antony Noghès.

The 1929 Monaco starting grid, like others of the era, was decided by lot, not by practice times. Sixteen cars included eight Bugattis, Type 35s and 37s; three Alfa Romeo 6Cs; two Maserati 8Cs; a Corre La Licorne (a French carmaker, 1901–1947); a Delage 15S8; and a Mercedes-Benz SSK.

Williams on his way to winning the first Monaco Grand Prix, 1929, in his Bugatti Type 35B. Image from the Bibliothèque National de France.

William Charles Frederick Grover-Williams, who raced as W Williams, won this first Monaco Grand Prix—his Bugatti 35B painted what became known as British Racing Green. (He was destined for heroism as a Brit Special Operations Executive agent who died in World War II.)

1930. Seventeen cars contested the 1930 event, 12 of them Bugattis. Only six cars finished, five Type 35s and a single Type 37. René Dreyfus (he, later, of Manhattan’s Le Chanteclair Restaurant) won as a privateer, much to the dismay of Ettore Bugatti and works driver Louis Chiron.

René Dreyfus and his privateer Bugatti Type 35B won the 1930 Monaco Grand Prix.

Dreyfus outfoxed Chiron by having fitted a larger fuel tank, thus eliminating the need for a pit stop. Adding salt to the Bugatti’s wound, Dreyfus sponsors Dunlop, Champion, and Mobil garnered prestige usually earned by works suppliers Michelin, KLG, and Esso.

Who says F1 commercialism is new?

Other drama described by includes post-race turmoil at the betting booths: Many gamblers thought the race was fixed, and this was the last time that Monaco motor racing supported the principality’s other income stream.

1931. Sixteen of the 23 entries in 1931 were Bugattis, including four Type 51s, one driven by Louis Chiron. There was even a three-car German team of Bugattis. Dreyfus was back, this time in a Maserati 8C 2500.

Williams and Dreyfus dueled at the start. Williams dropped out with mechanical ills on lap 5; Dreyfus’s Maserati had magneto problems on 91 of Monaco’s 100 laps. Chiron’s start was less aggressive, but then he caught up, left competitors in arrears, and beat 2nd-place Luigi Fagioli’s Maserati by almost five seconds.

Louis Chiron wins the 1931 Monaco Grand Prix in his Bugatti Type 51.

According to Wikipedia, “Jean Bugatti [Ettore’s son] could not control his joy and jumped over the parapet of the bleachers and fell into Louis Chiron’s arms.”

Think of this as the 1931 equivalent of Princess Charlene quaffing a bit of Daniel Ricciardo’s champagne at 2018 Monaco.

From left to right, Princess Charlene, Prince Albert II, and 2018 Monaco winner Daniel Ricciardo celebrate on the podium. Image from

1932. Front-runners Tazio Nuvolari and Rudolf Caracciola were both driving Alfa Romeo Monzas in 1932. However, Nuvolari was one of the three Alfa works drivers; Caracciola, a German destined to win the European Drivers’ Championship three times, was a privateer.

Nuvolari and his Alfa Romeo Monza passes through Portier on his way to winning the 1932 Monaco Grand Prix.

Nuvolari beat Caracciola by a scant 2.8 second. On the other hand, the winner’s Monza had been suffering from fuel pick-up problems. Caracciola, a privateer but with an Alfa contract, might have passed him, however….

1933. The year 1933 was significant in Grand Prix history. For the first time, grid positions were decided by practice times, not ballot. Also, the race was an epic battle between Tazio Nuvolari’s Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Monza and German Achilles Varzi’s Bugatti Type 51.

Above, after a furious dice, Nuvolari ends his race on lap 99 because of over-revving. His Alfa Monza is disqualified for receiving a push from bystanders. Below, Varzi’s Bugatti Type 51 receives the checkered flag in the 1933 Grand Prix. Images from Automobile Connoisseur: 3, which has a fine article on this race.

Throughout the race, Nuvolari and Varzi passed and repassed each other numerous times, something thought astonishing in a Monaco Grand Prix these days. The circuit hasn’t changed significantly, but car width has.

By regulation, a 2018 F1 car’s width cannot exceed 1800 mm (70.866 in.). By contrast, a Bugatti Type 51 race car of the 1930s had a track dimension (tread centerline to centerline) of 47.2 in. An Alfa Monza’s track was a tad larger, 55.0 in. front, 53.0 in. rear.

Add a skosh for the era’s narrow tires, and it’s still no contest. Relatively speaking, I’d conjecture that the Monaco circuit seemed a lot wider in the old days. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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