“The World of Racing” is the first feature in our new “History and Stories from the World of Pirelli” series, which will look at 145 years of history, products and successes of the Pirelli Group: sports competitions on two and four wheels, visual communication and design, sustainability, and much more besides. Follow us!
He would stop for a moment to breathe, and then press down hard on the accelerator. If he had had the chance, he might also have closed his eyes. But it was best not to, because the wall was too close. Far too close. A hundred times. At each of the hundred malignant corners of the Trampolim do Diabo, the Devil’s Springboard.
For everyone else, it was just the Circuito da Gávea, but for the locals in Rio de Janeiro that infernal motorcar racetrack through the city was the Trampolim do Diabo: eleven kilometres of lamp posts and walls, tram rails, stretches of beach and sand, concrete and cliffs towering over the sea.
You had to hold your breath and keep your eyes wide open, on the Gávea. And, possibly, pray one more time that your Pirelli Stella Bianca tyres would last the course. Carlo Pintacuda was well aware of this, for he’d almost captured the Trampolim do Diabo in 1936 in his Alfa 8C, missing victory by a hair’s breadth.
Born in Florence in September 1900 and World Champion, with Count Gastone Brilli-Peri, in 1925, with Giulio Masetti, who by 1926 had already lost his life in the Targa Florio, and with Clemente Biondetti, a Sardinian from Buddusò but by then an adopted son of the “Florentine school”. Carlo Pintacuda was one of a little band of foreign champions of the steering wheel who, in that fateful 1936, landed in Brazil to see if they could bring a bit of spice into the local sports scene.
And with Pintacuda came the Alfa Romeos of the Scuderia Ferrari, fitted with Pirelli Stella Bianca tyres. “We’ve tested our new chassis with your new Superflex Cord tyres. We’re really pleased…” Ingegner Nicola Romeo had written to the Agenzia Italiana Gomme Pirelli back in 1924, when the “Casa del Biscione” was preparing to make a clean sweep of all the motorcar races in Europe and go on to win the World Cup championship the following year.
Carlo Pintacuda did not take his defeat in ’36 too well. On the other hand, on Copacabana Beach he had been able to appreciate the bikini flaunted by the scandalous French driver Hellé Nice, who was also in the race. But he had got his own back straight away, winning the São Paulo Grand Prix shortly after. Because the historic rival of the Carioca city had immediately put on a Grand Prix of its own. Too bad about the accident caused in that race by Elle est Nice – a nice Anglo-French pun on “Hellé Nice”, right? But actually, her real name was Mariette Hélène Delange – causing the death of four spectators.
Victory on the Devil was close now. For the Florentine Pintacuda, the real triumph came in the following two years, when he emerged victorious in Gávea in his Alfa 8C in June 1937, ahead of the Austrian Stuck, and in the 308 in 1938. Devil or no devil, it was also thanks to Pirelli tyres that Pintacuda – often in torrential rain – always managed to come first and build up his fame in Brazil as the “winning madman”.
Sou momole pra falar, mas sou um Pintacuda pra beijar. I talk in snatches but I kiss like Pintacuda: so sounded the Marcha de Gago – the little stutterer’s march brought out by Armando Cavalcanti and Klécius Caldas in the 1950s. Carlo Pintacuda, “o Herói da Gávea”, was by now a legend in the Pais Tropical. And the crazy daredevil drivers of Brazil had become “i pintacudas”.
Few photos remain of Pintacuda, who died in 1971 in Buenos Aires, where he had opened a grocery store. One, however, is in the Pirelli Historical Archive: we see him at the finish of the 1935 Mille Miglia, which he won in an Alfa P3 Grand Prix single-seater specially modified for him by the Scuderia Ferrari with the addition of a seat for the “navigator” – Marquis Alessandro della Stufa – and a minimum of headlights. As always, Pintacuda is wearing his chic white racing suit, with a cigarette in his mouth and a cocky air about him. Next to him, Marquis della Stufa looks somewhat out of sorts: maybe because his seat really was tiny, or maybe because night has come and he’s ready for bed. Or maybe because he’s just completed a thousand-mile race next to an authentic pintacuda…
Standing next to them is an overjoyed Enzo Ferrari. Just for the record, sixteen of the first seventeen over the line were Alfa Romeos…