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Monaco back in the day
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 May 2011   |  8:10 am GMT  |  37 comments

It’s a rest day at Monaco today. No F1 on track.

This was sent to me on twitter by a reader and I loved it so thought I’d share. It’s the 1931 Monaco Grand Prix video, with some great lines of commentary, like the one about the race featuring lots of ‘accidents and burning cars’.

It’s amazing to think how differently they considered danger back then. When the cars come down by the water side there are no barriers to stop them falling into the harbour!

The race was won by local driver Louis Chiron, after whom the swimming pool corner, my favourite corner on this track to stand and watch at, has been renamed,

He was racing against Achille Varzi in the Bugatti. I’m fascinated by Varzi; he had an affair with a rival driver’s wife and was addicted to morphine. These days he’d probably take out a super injunction, but back in the 1930s he was just scandalous. He had an amazing look in his eyes, very intense and quite dangerous.

He raced at the time of some very talented drivers like Rosemeyer, Caracciola and Nuvolari and held his own until his personal problems got the better of him. After the war, he made a comeback in his 40s and was killed at a Grand Prix in 1948. I always thought he’d make a great subject for a movie.

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F1 is a farce. Just when we are going to get a race at last Vettle and Alonso are allowed to change tyres during a stoppage making a farce of the whole thing. I’m no longer a fan and won’t watch any more. Hooray for Moto GP


Great video. Just noticed this post now.

And thought I’d add some class…

A pre WWII driver, driving most notably for Mercedes was Dick Seaman

Are there are more videos of other trakcs, say Suzuka, Monza etc.. That would be great


That is just a sweet video. From what I hear, the announcer is better than Eddie Jordan!


I dig how some of the camera spots haven’t changed. The placement of the shot at Portier is almost an exact match for the modern footage.


Awesome !

And the first concept sports car who started the Bugatty Veyron madness was colled Bugatty 18/3 Chiron .


Motor racing has the greatest, most genuinely passionate and meaningful heritage of all sports because it has been built not just on the machines that have always been fantastic for their age but on human sacrifice, by people for whom the ‘need for speed’ was as much worth the risk as defending their country (and certainly more so than the various unvaccinated diseases that could cut short an already lesser life expectancy than we enjoy today).

I love the dichotomy: it is so brilliant that the best and most analytical of today’s writers (James) is truly interested in the sport’s history, while today’s F1 rules are recapturing some of the gladiatorial past – with a modern strategic overlay – to make us oldies feel young again but without the rather too many tragedies we had to live through.


And here’s the first Monaco GP from 1929 which was won by Grover Williams [] who was a spy in WWII with the Special Operations Executive (SOE).


Wonderful film. I love the guy at the finish, just wandering into the track in his Sunday suit and nonchalantly dropping the flag – doesn’t even take his hand out of his pocket!

Did he say “pole position lottery?” Sounds like one of Bernie’s ideas.


Great article. Varzi did have quite a story, but so too did Chiron, still racing that circuit 25 years later…

If there’s a movie to be made of drivers of the period though, i’d start with William Grover-Williams (fellow Monaco GP winner) and Robert Benoist. How that hasn’t already made, i’ll never know…


Love the enthusiasm of the Guy who waves the checkered flag at the end.

Great footage


Wonderful 🙂 I can’t help thinking what todays drivers would say about Tram tracks in the circuit 😀


You are not the only one who feels the life of Varzi – or racing drivers of those days in general – is an exiting story. A Danish author wrote a story some 20 years ago which – although it is fiction – is heavily inspired by the lives of racing drivers from the thirties. Among those Varzi as one of the figures in the story is a morphine addict. It is an excellent story with just as excellent drawings – but as far as I know it is only published in Danish.

It is titled ‘Guder før mørket’ (Gods prior to Darkness)


Unfortunately such a film probably won’t be made, at least by any major studio. Ed Hinton of ESPN said in a recent chat that he and his agent have tried to interest Hollywood in making a film about stock car drivers before World War II such as Lloyd Seay. No luck. They aren’t interested in “period pieces”, just vampire and “futuristic” movies.

And since we are talking about the dangerous habits of old time race car drivers, Jules Goux credited his 1912 Indianapolis 500 to the champagne he sipped during pit stops.


Thanks for that. Anyone else got any Varzi stories?


Good stuff there James. Also on the same Youtube page is the 1961 Monte Carlo being won by Stirling Moss, still no armaco to speak of. A nice touch that he stopped to light a cigarette to take on his victory lap. Also noted his explanation of strategy for the race.


On the topic of historic Monaco, Vettel has a great helmet this weekend, made up of old promotional posters of previous Monaco Grand Prix.

Cameron Isles

That is spectacular. Props to the airbrush guy.

Speaking of helmets, whose featured an arrow down the middle and was told by a witch doctor to make it face the other way because it was bad luck?

(And, knowing the old boys, was he killed racing anyway?)




In the picture, maybe he’s high on morphine.


Fantastic post James, thanks for this. Usually it’s all about the forthcoming race’s tyres, the paddock rumours, the off-track political happenings. It’s good just to have a breath away from the febrile intensity of a season in full swing, and to look back over the sport.


A great book to read is the biography of Alfred Neubauer. I am sure you must have read it. Just had to think of it since you mentioned Varzi. Wasn’t it he who always had his mechanics on stand by with a burning cigar and a snifter of brandy when he came in for his pit stop? Or was it Nuvolari? Can’t remember… Just imagine that happening in this day and age. 😛


Yes I have read it many years ago


Do you think that Manish Pandey and Asif Kapadia can be convinced to make a movie or maybe 2 about that era? 🙂 I am very sure that I am not the only one that would love to see that… Maybe take the biographies of Neubauer and Enzo as guidelines and create 2 stories, one from Ferrari and one from the Mercedes side… Just an idea… 🙂


That’s why Monaco is special – WOW.

I think burning cars was more thrilling back then because it didn’t involve burning drivers, they were thrown clear!


And probably still faster than Hispania racing.


Thanks James that was great. I wonder what they would have thought of the DRS tunnel ban for safety reasons. I love the casual line from the commentator,’Crashes and burning cars dominated the race.’


For some reason, the hill up to Masenet/Casino doesn’t look any way near as steep on modern TV.


Yes, I’ve noticed thsi many times too. I think it must just be that we don’t get the same camera angle, because there are now barriers, and the buildings in front of the ‘arches’ are larger.


Accidents and burning cars…. Sounds like the 80s turbo era, remember the lay down engine BMW built for Brabham? If there was a cloud of Dark Smoke on the other side of the track you would see if a Brabham was missing and sure enough it was….


I agree James,

The tales of Varzi & Nuvolari present them as almost mythical characters who make todays modern athletes seem like ordinary mortals.

I don’t know if you (or the other readers) have read Enzo Ferrari: A Life by Richard Williams ( – Though the books is based on Ferrari’s life, the tales regarding these pre-war racers and magical, especially the one where Enzo was Nuvolari’s mechanic during the Targa Floria of 1932.

Great to see that footage – a great find!

As you’ve got the day off James, are you going to get started on the Varzi screeplay?


I think nobody cares but Varzi won 3 times the Tunisian GrandPrix (30 32 35). Nuovolari won it in 33


Thanks for posting this. Why do you think that their attitude to risk was so different to current drivers? I’ve always assumed that due to the ongoing conflicts in Europe they were just more used to real danger, however I do wonder if it is because they did not think there was an alternative (pardon the pun but look at the barriers JYS faced when he started his safety campaigning).




Cool film.

I wonder if the commentary has been added by a later narrator – it doesn’t sound quite right for the ’30s.


Yes definitely

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