Vittorio Jano along
with Colin Chapman could arguably be called the greatest race car engineer in history.
Born in 1891, he joined Fiat at the age of 20. Working as a junior draughtsman
under Carlo Cavalli, the brilliant head of the Fiat design section, he eventually became
head of the design team in 1921. While at Fiat he worked along side its test driver Luigi
Bazzi. It was Bazzi who had left Fiat to join the newly formed Alfa Romeo, who recommended
his former associate. Alfa Romeo's car the P1 turned out to be a big disappointment and
Jano was hired in 1923 to design a completely new car from scratch. That car was the P2
which won its first race in 1924 and continue winning races for the next six years in one
form or another.
The 1932 season would be fought without the German cars from Daimler
Benz. It would also be one with an open formula which limited only the length of the races
to five hours. Building upon the lessons learned with the
P2, Jano created the P3. The P3 Monoposto was the first genuine single-seat racing car
in Grand Prix racing. It
was powered by an eight-cylinder engine built around two four-cylinder blocks, each fed by
its own Roots supercharger. One of the engines major strengths was its low-speed torque.
Power to the rear wheels was transmitted through twin driveshafts that allowed for the
drivers seat to be placed lower in the chassis. The original leaf spring
suspension was replaced in 1935 by an independent Dubonnet front
suspension. The complete car weighed in at only 1,545 lbs. and were it not for its cast-iron block engine, it would
have weighed considerably less.
Winning its first race out of the box,
the P3 went on to win 5 more major races in 1932. With the two best drivers of the day,
Nuvolari and Caracciola racing them 1932 was a successful year. Some
said that with a Jano designed car and their two great drivers they
should not expect anything less. Financial troubles that had come to a
head in 1933 saw the factory hand over racing to the Scuderia Ferrari
team after going missing at the beginning of the year. Losing some of
their initial superiority they still continued to wrack up victories
later that year. 1934 found a new formula and new rivals from Germany.
In the face of this Teutonic onslaught even Jano's Monoposto could not
stem the tide except for one race that has come down through the ages.
most famous victory came very late in its career when Tazio Nuvolari beat the combined
German might of five Mercedes and four Auto Unions. That race, the German Grand Prix at the
Nurburgring, in front of dozens of Nazi officials is considered one of Nuvolari's greatest
victories of all time while the car that took him to victory, the P3 is
enshrined in the pantheon of great Grand Prix cars.