This car owes its name to Nuvolari’s heroic drive in the 1947 Mille Miglia, while its aggressive shape owes a great deal to pre-WWII aerodynamics
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.