Vittorio Jano was a famed Italian automobile designer from the 1920s through 1960s.
Born in San Giorgio Canavese, Piedmont, Vittorio Jano was the son of the Technical Director of one of Turin's two arsenals. At 18, after completing his studies at the Instituto Professionale Operaio in Turin he took a job as a draughtsman at the Rapid motor works.
He joined Fiat in 1911 under Luigi Bazzi and Carlo Cavalli. In 1921 he became head of a design team within Fiat and worked on the historic 2 liter 805 race car.
In 1923 he moved with Bazzi to Alfa Romeo and there he designed the Alfa Romeo P2. The P2 was based on knowledge he had gained at Fiat and at the first race Antonio Ascari drove the new car to victory. Later the P2 would win at the Grand Prix of Europe at Lyons, this time with Campari driving. Sadly a year later Antonio Ascari was killed in the same race the next year.
The Alfa-Romeo's began to dominate racing, too the point where some of the more nationalistic spectators would begin to heckle the Italian team. One incident has become a part of racing lore. During the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in 1925 the local favorite Delage team had retired all of their cars and the race became an Alfa-Romeo parade led by Ascari and Campari. The fans began to make their displeasure known and Jano in response ordered his cars to pit. While they were being refueled the cars were cleaned and buffed. During this pitstop he had a table placed in full view whereupon he imperiously ate lunch, deaf to the howls of the spectators. The cars rejoined the race and won with ease.
When Alfa deceided not to race the P2, Enzo Ferrari took them over, continuing to race them through the 1930s.
Turning to sports car racing in 1929, Jano designed the 1750 Sport and P3. The P3 was the first genuine single-seat racing car and won the Italian Grand Prix its first time out in the hands of Tazio Nuvolari. Once again, Alfa deceided not ot race Jano's cars and Ferrari took them over to great success.
Now designing aircraft engines, Jano watched as Tazio Nuvolari drove a P3 to victory in the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring in 1935 beating the combined German might of Mercedes and Auto Union in front of dozens of Nazi officials. That race is considered one of Nuvolari's greatest victories of all time.
Ferrari requested that Alfa have Jano work on a new car, the Alfetta, in 1937. In 1945, after World War II, Jano moved to Lancia's Grand Prix efforts. His car, the Lancia D50, was introduced in 1954, but 1955's loss of Alberto Ascari and the Le Mans disaster soured the company to GP racing. Ferrari took over the effort and inherited Jano that same year.
Jano had known Enzo Ferrari from his earliest Alfa Romeo days now joined Ferrari full-time and was instrumental in establishing the foundation for Ferrari's future racing efforts. With the encouragement of Enzo's son, Dino, Jano's V6 and V8 engines pushed the older Lampredi and Colombo engines aside in racing. After Dino's death, Jano's "Dino" V6 became the basis for the company's first mid-engined road car, the 1966 206 Dino. The V6 and V8 went on to displace Ferrari's V12 focus and their descendents continue to be used today.
Like Enzo Ferrari, Jano lost his own son in 1966. He became gravely ill the same year and chose to end his life at the age of 75 by his own hand, committing suicide rather than face the prospect of failing powers.