Piero Dusio

Piero Dusio

13/10/1899 - 7/11/1975

Dusio, an Italian amateur pre-war champion, founded Cisitalia whose little D46 racers found wide favour, unlike the Porsche-based Tipo 360 Grand Prix car. Attempted to qualify a self-entered Cisitalia D46 for the 1952 Italian GP when well into his fifties.

Piero Dusio was born in Scurzolengo, Asti, Italy. A handsome professional footballer who played for Juventus, Turin's professional soccer team, he had to quit when he sustained a serious knee injury. He was helled by supporters of the club to find work with a Swiss-backed textile company. He was an instant success, selling more fabric in his first week than his predecessor had in a year. Then in 1926, at the age of 27, Dusio opened his own textile company, producing Italy's first oil cloth.

He also expanded into banking, sporting goods such as tennis rackets and racing bicycles (the Beltrame brand) and expanded his textile firm into apparel, manufacturing uniforms and somewhat camp casual clothing. In 1932 he landed a contract with Mussolini to supply military uniforms, and became one of Il Duce's favorites.

His wealth enabled him to indulge his passion for motor racing and in 1929 he purchased his first Maserati. He raced often in national events over the next six years, finishing sixth in the Italian Grand Prix and taking a class win in the Mille Miglia in 1937 driving a 500cc SIATA Sport. In 1938 he formed his own team, Scuderia Torino.

In 1938 he finished third overall in the Mille Miglia and won the Stelvio hillclimb, but the war was looming and after his house in Turin was damaged by bombing, he moved his family out into the country. The war however did not dent his enthusiasm for racing and in 1944, with the end of the war in Italy in sight, he commissioned Fiat engineer, Dante Giacosa to design a single-seater racing car cheap enough to tempt the amateur. It was to be called the Cisitalia - Consorzio Industriale Sportive Italia.

One of his ideas was to build a car for a one make series where driver ability would determine the winner, a concept quite common now but completely unheard of back then.

While still working for Fiat, Giacosa designed the first tubular space-frame racing car, powered by a modified Fiat 1100 engine. Dusio put the design into construction but once the war was over, Fiat's demands on Giacosa made it impossible for him to continue this work on the side and recommended Giovanni Savonuzzi as his replacement. Savonuzzi, was head of Fiat's experimental aircraft division, and was looking for a change in direction. Savonuzzi accepted the role of chief engineer at Cisitalia in August 1945, at ten times the salary he was on at Fiat, plus a company car.

By the spring of 1946, the single-seater D46 prototype was ready, and by August seven race-ready cars were complete. Dusio engaged Piero Taruffi to hone the Dante Giacosa penned design and in September, all seven cars lined up for the start of the Coppa Brezzi, the first postwar road race in Italy, held on the streets of Turin's Parco Valentino.

He had engage a formitable team of drivers, with Nuvolari joined by Taruffi, Clemente Biondetti, Franco Cortese, Raymond Sommer and Louis Chiron. This was the race where Nuvolari made racing history when the steering wheel, which was hinged to make getting in and out easier, snapped off in his hands. "Nivola," waved his steering wheel at the crowd in a ‘Look mum, no hands!’ spectacle and kept on racing, driving with one hand on the stub of the steering column.

Dusio himself raced the seventh car and ended up taking the win.

At the time Ferdinand Porsche was in a French prison being held as a German war criminal. Ferry Porsche and Carlo Abarth asked Dusio to post bond for Dr. Porsche in exchange for their services in building a race car. Thus the partnership between Porsche and Cistialia began. Abarth began working for Cisitalia as the technical and racing director.

Porsche designed a single-seater, mid-engined, Cisitalia Formula 1 car. It featured four-wheel drive, an innovative quality of its time. Unfortunately over production of the D46 and the spiraling cost of the F1 car put Dusion in severe financial straights. In 1948 he did a deal with Argentina’s dictator Juan Perón that involved setting up a company to manufacture performance cars in Argentina, based on Porsche designs.

Auto Motores Argentinos or Autoar was slow in showing any return and with presure mounting on Dusio at home, in 1949 Perón offered to pay all of his debts on the condition that he closed down his Italian operations and moved everything down South. The Porsche designed F1 car was shipped to Argentina in 1950. But time ran out on the most advanced Grand Prix car of the immediate post-war era as before the car was every ready for competition, the regualtions changed.

Dusio, now well in to his 50s, returned to Italy to try to revive the now debt-free Cisitalia company and even found time to enter his home GP in 1952 in one of his ancient D46s. However he failed to set a time in practice due to engine problems.

The Autoar company had one last go at trying to get the abortive F1 project going, adapting it for the Argentinian Temporada regulations. The car was resprayed in national colours and entered it for the Buenos Aires Grand Prix of January 1954. Felice Bonetto was invited to race it but ran into trouble after a single lap in practice. Clemar Bucci then took over but he too had problems as the gearbox kept selecting neutral.

Piero died in 1975 and was buried in his adopted country of Argentina.

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