Luigi Arcangeli

0/5/1902 - 23/5/1931

Record updated 27-Jul-10

Luigi Arcangeli was an Italian motorcycle racer and racing driver. He was killed at Monza while driving the twin engined Alfa Romeo Tipo A in practice for the Italian Grand Prix.

Luigi Arcangeli
Luigi 'Gigione' Arcangeli was born in Savignano sul Rubicone, in the Province of Forlì-Cesena, in the Italian region Emilia-Romagna, about 90 km southeast of Bologna. He was outgoing and popular, immaculately dressed and regularly surrounded by beautiful women. Nicknamed 'Gigione' or 'E leon d'Rumagna' (the lion of Romagna) he began racing on bicycles before switching to motorcycles and competing against the likes of Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari in races organised by Dr. Francesco 'Checco' Costa at Imola and various other circuits.

He acquired a Motosacoche, once the biggest Swiss motorcycle manufacturer, and later raced many other makes including Indian, Harley Davidson, MAG, Saroléa, Garelli and a Calthorpe, made in Bordesley Green, Birmingham, England.

As his reputation and number of victories increased he joined the works Moto Guzzi team and then later he joined the Bianchi squad.

He had a great season in 1926 winning the Milan-Napels race and the Giro d’Italia riding a 350 cc Bianchi Bialbero. He took wins in the Circuito dell'Infinito and again at Versilia riding a 500 cc Norton and took a second in the Grand Prix des Nations at Monza on a Moto Guzzi 500 C4V, loosing out to Achille Varzi on a 500cc Sumbeam after a great duel. That year Arcangeli, along with Pietro Ghersi and his brother Mario, made the first Italian expedition to the Isle of Man TT. Arcangeli rode a Bianchi to 14th place in the Junior TT.

He returned to the Isle of Man in 1927 contesting both the Senior TT and the Lightweight TT. Riding a Moto Guzzi he could only manage 14th in the Senior race but took a fine second in the Lightweight.

In Italy, riding a 500 cc Sunbeam, he took wins at Helvia Recina, Stradella, Imola and Vercelli. He also won both the Lario and the Grand Prix des Nations. These later two races were the most important motorcycle races in Italy. However the Lario was more than a race, it was also a summer festival that attracted massive crowds from all over Italy. The 36 km course had over 300 corners and a 550 meter drop between la Madonna del Ghisallo and Onno. The race was run between 1921 and 1939 and saw some of the greatest names in the sport competing, including Varzi, Nuvolari, Dorino Serafini, Amedeo Ruggeri and of course Arcangeli.

Gigione's first taste of four wheel competition actually came in 1924 when he drove an 1100cc Amilcar in the Coppa di Garda, a regularity contest which was more of a rally. He did race a Derby SCAP cycle car at Tripoli in 1927 but retired on lap 2.

So it was in 1928 that Arcangeli took to racing cars in a serious way though he still continued to compete on two wheels as well. He made a final trip to the Isle of Man, riding a Sunbeam in the Senior and Junior TT races without any personal success though he did help Sunbeam win the Team prize in the Senior TT.

That year Emilio Materassi, the famous Italian racing driver, founded Scuderia Materassi and purchased four Talbot 700's to add to his Bugatti T35C. Arcangeli joined the team and took a fine win in the Circuito di Senigallia driving the Bugatti T35C and went on to set FTD at the Kilometro Lanciato held on the coast at Rimini.

In March at Tripoli the Talbots were withdrawn but in April, at the Gran Premio Bordino at the Circuito di Alessandria, he was running a close second to Nuvolari when he he spun off into a bridge. He did managed to get going again but then ran out of fuel later in the race. He drove an OM tipo 665 SMM with Cesare Schieppati in the Mille Miglia in April, finishing 4th in class, and in June he won the Circuito di Cremona with a Talbot 700, beating Tazio Nuvolari by two and a half minutes over the 321.87 Km race distance.

At the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara in August, Arcangeli had to retire when he was hit in the face by a stone thrown from another car suffering facial injuries . His car was taken over by Materassi who went on to finish second. However he recovered quickly and won the Circuito di Senigallia later in the month driving the Bugatti T35C.

Then on the 9th September, a terrible accident occurred at the Gran Premio d'Italia. Arcangeli had set the fastest lap of 3 minutes 37.4 seconds at 165.59 kph, but on lap 17 Materassi crashed as he was overtaking Giulio Foresti’s Bugatti 35C on the main straight. He clipped one of the rear tyres of the Bugatti and his car swerved to the left, flew over a four-meter wide ditch and a fence before it plunged into the crowd. Materassi and twenty spectators were killed instantly. Luigi Arcangeli, Antonio Brivio, Gastone Brilli-Peri and Gianfranco Comotti, all Scuderia Materassi drivers, withdrew. Another spectator died of his injuries three days later bringing the toll to 22 making it the worst motorsport tragedy until the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hour race. The race did continue and was won by Louis Chiron driving a Bugatti 37A however the race was cancelled for the next two years.

For 1929 he continued to race the Talbot 700 for Scuderia Materassi. At the Gran Premio di Tripoli in March he retired with a broken differential and also failed to finish the Circuito di Alessandria in April, going out around half distance. A better result followed in May at the Premio Reale di Roma at the Circuito Tre Fontana where he finished 4th overall and won the voiturette class.

He drove a Bugatti 37A in the Circuito di Mugello in June but retired with a broken oil pipe but, back in the Talbot, he finished fourth in the Coppa Ciano in July. He won his Voiturette heat for the Gran Premio di Monza in September but went out of the final on lap 21 of 22 with ignition problems. He rounded out the season later in the month with another Voiturette class win and fourth overall in the Circuito di Cremona.

Gigione joined the works Maserati team for 1930 and at the Gran Premio di Tripoli he drove a Maserati 26B (8C-2000) finishing 2nd in Heat 2 and taking a fine second place in the final behind Baconin Borzacchini. At the Grand Prix de Monaco he retired after 19 laps with a broken differential and in the Targa Florio Arcangeli he went off the road on the third lap due to a locking brake and retired soon after. Three weeks later he won the Premio Reale di Roma on the 25 May at Tre Fontana driving the new 2.5-litre Maserati 26M (8C-2500).

In July he drove an Alfa-Romeo 6C-1750 GS in the Coppa Ciano but retired and a Maserati V4 in the Coppa Acerbo crashing out after four laps. He drove Maserati 26M (8C-2500) in the Gran Premio di Monza in early September winning Heat 2. In the final he had another memorable duel with Achille Varzi with Varzi just taking the win by 1/5th of a second having caught and passed Arcangeli on the last lap. For Luigi it wasn't the first time that he had lost out to Varzi at Monza in a closely fought duel as almost the same thing had happened four years earlier when they were both riding motorcycles.

In June onwards he began his collaboration with the Scuderia Ferrari, driving an Alfa Romeo 1750GS in several sports car events. Arcangeli came third at the Colle della Maddalena mountain climb, fourth at Circuito Principe di Piemonte and Vittorio Veneto Cansiglio climb.

Aside from his Grand Prix duties with Officine Alfieri Maserati he also raced in sportscar events with considerable success though his first race, the Mille Miglia, ended in early retirement for him and Cesare Pastore in a Maserati 26M Sport. Two weeks later he finished second behind the OM 665S of Archimede Rosa and Giuseppe Morandi, driving an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750S with Carlo Gasparin.

Then in June he joined up with Scuderia Ferrari, driving an Alfa Romeo 1750GS. Arcangeli came third at the Colle della Maddalena hill climb, fourth at the Circuito Principe di Piemonte and the Vittorio Veneto Cansiglio hill climb. he finished second in July in the Circuito di Avellino, behind Luigi Fagioli's Maserati and then hit a rich vein of form taking wins in the Circuito Tre Province (Bologna-Pistoia-Modena), the Circuito di Senigallia, as well as setting the fastest lap, the Circuito Automobilistico Del Sud and the Coppa della Sila, all driving a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo 6C 1750.

By the end of 1930 Arcangeli had won 296,000 lire in prize money compared to Nuvolari with 215,080 lire. Varzi had won the most with 340,650 lire.

In 1931 he drove Grand Prix and Sports Cars for Alfa Corse. After failing to start in the Monaco Grand Prix due to tyre problems, he finished fifth in Alessandria. In the Mille Miglia he had already changed tyres nine times before they reached Rome so it was probably with some relief that he retired.

Then came the fateful day, the 23rd May 1931. Alfa Romeo had built two prototype Tipo A monopostos, each powered by two 6-cylinder 1750 cc engines, mounted side by side, each with its own transmission. Giuseppe Campari had won the Coppa Acerbo in Pescara but both Campari and Nuvolari were reluctant to race it in the Italian Grand Prix.

Arcangeli had no reservations and in the practice for the Italian Grand Prix, while trying to beat Campari’s lap time he crashed fatally. There were no eyewitnesses, but from the tyre marks and damage to the trees it appeared that Arcangeli went into a high speed slide in the fast left hand Curva del Vialone after the underpass following Lesmo. Trying to regain control he brushed against a tree. Now completely out of control, he hit a second tree and was thrown from the car, probably dying instantly from the severe head injuries he sustained. The car was found resting on its side and though not extensively damaged, it was not reparable in time for the race. Benito Mussolini sent a telegram demanding that the team to participate and win. The first prototype was thus hastily prepared at the factory and delivered to the track early the next day. Some reports state that Arcangeli's car was repaired and it was this car that Nuvolari drove in the race. In any event Nuvolari was running a distant third when Jano called him in after 33 laps. Nuvolari thus teamed up with Giuseppe Campari and together they took the win in the conventional Alfa-Romeo 8C-2300 though this was little consolation for the loss of Arcangeli.

When his body was taken from Monza to Savignano for the funeral, crowds lined the route wherever it passed through a town or village.