Algeria's pre-war Bellof
- Felix Muelas, Leif Snellman
- 8W July 2000 issue
- Louis Chiron - The wily old Monagasque, by Leif Snellman
Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo B 2.9-litre
1934 Coppa Acerbo (August 15, 1934)
The scenario is the Marseilles Grand Prix on September 25, 1932. With important names on the grid, that race - which would eventually be won by Raymond Sommer under lucky circumstances with his 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo Monza, from Nuvolari's ditto 2.6-litre car - sees this new name appear: the third man on the podium is someone called Guy Moll, who drives a Bugatti.
Guy Moll was a international racing driver for only two years, and works driver for less that one season. Yet in that short time he made such an impact that his name is forever written into the annals of Grand Prix racing. Enzo Ferrari once compared him to drivers like Moss and Nuvolari and said that if Moll had lived on he would have become one of the real greats.
Northern Africa in not a place easily associated with Grand Prix drivers. However, in the time between the World Wars the French colony of Algeria produced two racers of international class: a good driver named Lehoux and an outstanding one named Moll.
Marcel Lehoux, born in Blois in 1888 from French parents before emigrating to Algeria as a 2-year-old, started racing with a Bugatti in 1924. He raced mainly in Africa, winning the 1924 Casablanca GP, 1928 Tunis GP and the Algerian GPs of 1928 and 1929. He continued as a Bugatti driver before becoming Ferrari works driver in 1934.
22 years younger than Lehoux, the other Algerian, Guy Moll, was the son of a Spanish mother and a French father. In 1932 Guy had just finished his studies, and his family being quite wealthy, there was a world of opportunities out there that would suggest a quiet and happy life. As in many other cases, young Guy Moll's aspirations were not especially focused on an easy life, but more on the need for adventure and challenge.
Without any previous racing experience or connection to the racing world, he took part in a small local race driving a Lorraine-Dietrich. For the fun of it, obviously. It is said that Lehoux witnessed that drive and that it convinced him that young Moll had a lot of potential as a racing driver, and thus decided to help him in his future career.
Lehoux entered Moll in the II Grand Prix of Oran, in April 1932, to drive one of his own cars, a Bugatti 35C. To everyone's surprise, the young Moll immediately took the lead, only to surrender to Jean-Pierre Wimille and later retire with a mechanical problem. Lehoux was over the moon with his pupil's abilities, and in May he took Moll to Morocco and entered him in the II Grand Prix of Casablanca, again driving the old Bugatti. Chronicles remind us that Lehoux won that one, and Moll simply retired. But Marcel Lehoux was so convinced of Moll's future that he proposed to give the boy a taste of "continental" racing later in the summer, at Marseilles, for the Grand Prix to be run at Miramas. The result created much attention from the other drivers and Moll decided he wanted more.
Under advice from Lehoux, and without the problem of financing, Moll ordered a 2300cc "Monza" from Alfa Romeo for 1933. As it would take some time for the new car to be delivered, Moll started the season with another Bugatti on loan from Lehoux: a T51 that wasn't exactly brand new. On 19th February both Lehoux and Moll entered the Grand Prix de Pau, the first one raced on the Monaco-inspired track in the city center. Other important names are found on the starting grid: Wimille, Étancelin and Felix were already driving Alfa 'Monzas'. Selecting mid-February as the date for Pau was to challenge fate even more than hosting a British GP in April. The weather, fine during the week, turned into a snowstorm on Saturday night. After a cancellation of the Grand Prix had been discussed, the race started with the track covered in snow, that soon turned to sludge making the conditions into one of the worst ever in racing history.
On the first lap Moll was already leading the pack, and he would continue to do so until lap 15, when his master Lehoux overtook him and disappeared into the distance. Nonetheless, Moll finished second, a minute away after almost three hours racing. An outstanding performance by Moll who hardly could be expected to have experience in such conditions.
Alfa Romeo delivered the 2300 'Monza' to Moll on May 25, 1933, and subsequently, on June 4, Moll had his first taste of the car at the Nimes Grand Prix. A race remembered by the duel at the front between Nuvolari, who eventually won the race, and Étancelin, who finished second. As far as Moll is concerned, he made another excellent showing and finished on the podium again, this time ahead of Sommer.
Then came the very serious Grand Prix de l'ACF, to be run on June 11 at Montlhéry. No less than 12 Alfa Romeos were to be run, with Nuvolari, Borzacchini and Taruffi driving the Ferrari 2.6-litre cars and Chiron, Sommer, Wimille, Étancelin, Felix, Zanelli, Villars, Waldthausen and Eyston driving 2.3-litre "Monzas". Together with the Alfas there were also two Maseratis for Campari and Zehender and a couple of Bugattis. The race was run over 500km and Moll finished a very creditable 5th.
The next week Moll entered his "Monza" for the Le Mans 24-hour race with Cloitre as his co-driver. Moll held 5th place during the first leg, advancing to 4th after four hours. A jammed starter pinion then pushed him back during the pitstops. Then at midnight Moll had to withdraw. The engine was still running splendidly but problems with the battery made it impossible to start from the pits as push starts were prohibited.
On July 2, at Reims, again surrounded by the big names, Moll was on the verge of winning the race. A 'splash and dash' pit stop on lap 48 (of 50) whilst in the lead ended up in tears as, finishing third, he was disqualified for outside assistance. Étancelin and Wimille finished first and second, with only 2 tenths between them.
On August 6, the II Grand Prix de Nice took place. A typical Nuvolari race, pit-stop and recovery included, that saw him win, whilst Dreyfus was second and Moll again third. As if he was taking pleasure out of getting third spot on the podium, that was the position that he finished again at St Gaudens, for the Grand Prix de Comminges on August 20. And to prove the matter further, if at all needed, he came third again in the II Grand Prix de Marseille at the end of the month.
Then came September 10, 1933, Grand Prix racing's "Black Sunday". The Italian GP was held in the morning, Fagioli winning with Moll finishing 8th. In the afternoon racing continued with the Gran Premio di Monza and at the end of the day the names Borzacchini, Campari and Czaykowski would be forever linked with the event just as Senna and Ratzenberger are connected to Imola 1994. On such days results seem irrelevant but the records will tell you that Moll finished second overall behind Lehoux, Moll also producing the fastest lap of the event. This was the last race of the season for the 23-year-old Algerian, who could be proud of his first 'international' racing year: twice he finished second, five times he was third, with a fifth place added to that.
Of course, such talent was not being overlooked and Enzo Ferrari decided to incorporate the young Algerian into his team. In his debut race for them, at Monaco, on April 3, 1934, Moll suddenly found himself in front when Chiron, with almost a one-lap lead and with only two laps to go, ran into the sandbags at the Station hairpin proving the fact that would be proven over and over again: a Monaco win is not a sure thing until you take the chequered flag, whether your name is Brabham, Chiron, Prost or Senna.
So Monaco 1934 proved to be Moll's greatest moment, winning first time out for Scuderia Ferrari. Let's quote Enzo Ferrari:
"...a debutant. His name was Guy Moll and he was showing that he belonged to the small group of top drivers. It is true that Moll was not the first foreigner that drove for me, but I acknowledge that he was the most sensational one. That day Moll showed his champion style, established his personality as driver and proved me right when choosing him for my team."
Some weeks later, on May 6, the Tripoli Grand Prix was taking place at Mellaha. The big prizes offered to drivers, in conjunction with a lottery that had produced a very serious scandal the previous year, made sure some unusual names were to be found on the entry list; Lou Moore with a 3-litre Miller and Peter De Paolo with another Miller, a four-wheel drive V8 of 5047cc. Among the usual suspects one would find Taruffi with the Maserati V5, Dreyfus and Wimille with Bugattis T59. In the Ferrari team, Chiron, Varzi, Trossi and Moll would drive the Alfa Romeo Tipo B.
The race developed into a straight fight between Varzi and Moll. In the last corner Moll tried to pass Varzi but the veteran driver was not to be surprised and closed the door. Moll later accused Varzi for trying to push him off the road. At the flag Moll was only a car's length behind Varzi.
The History of the Scuderia Ferrari describes this real "down-to-the-wire" finish:
"The first three drivers in a grim-faced, tight lipped group walked together to the dais to be congratulated by Marshal Balbo . . . and beneath the coating of oil and brake dust on their faces the bitterness of that battle could be seen. These were not team-mates, but individuals racing each other in cars that they did not own." Charles Faroux, then the leading French motor journalist, had some sharp things to say in l'Auto about 'The Moll case' after the race. On the other hand, Ferrari avoided comment, preferring to post Moll to the Milan-Laghi Autostrada to try out a specially bodied P3 in preparation for the forthcoming Avus races."
On May 27 in Berlin, the Avusrennen was on the agenda. Ferrari presented the Alfa Romeo streamliner with an enlarged engine for Moll to drive, whilst both Chiron and Varzi raced the normal Tipo Bs. On the entry list, one finds Nuvolari and Lord Howe with Maserati 2900s, Pietsch with an 2600 Alfa, and the awaited presence of Stuck, Momberger and zu Leiningen driving the dramatic-looking new 16-cylinders Auto Unions. Mercedes-Benz, although originally expected to make their debut here, did not participate in this race. Finally, Peter de Paolo also raced his Miller. From mid-race onwards, Moll led the race to win it from Varzi and Momberger.
The next important race where Moll appeared was the French Grand Prix, on July 1st, and on the entry list the Mercedes-Benz team, that made their racing debut in the Eifelrennen a week after the Avus race, was now represented by Caracciola, Fagioli and von Brauchitsch, whilst Auto Union drivers Stuck and Momberger would also compete. Also present were two Maseratis for Étancelin and Zehender, three improved Bugatti 59s for Nuvolari, Benoist and Dreyfus and three Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo Bs for Varzi, Chiron and Trossi. Actually, Moll, was only reserve driver, but would end up taking over Trossi's car, lying in sixth position, but with first and third gears out of use. Nonetheless he would finish the race in third position, just 20 meters away from Varzi, whilst Chiron won the Grand Prix.
On July 8, for the Grand Prix de la Marne at Reims-Gueux, three Tipo Bs were available for Chiron, Varzi and Moll, two Monzas 2600 for Soffietti and Balestrero, two Bugattis T51 for Lord Howe and Brunet, and no less than six Maseratis for Nuvolari, Étancelin, Hamilton, Sommer, Straight and Zehender. In the race, the lead was hardly fought over between Nuvolari, Varzi and Chiron, Chiron eventually winning the race from Moll, with Varzi/Marinoni finishing third.
There is not much to tell about Moll in the German Grand Prix, the following weekend. He was forced to retire with a broken gearbox on lap 6.
On the very busy weekend of July 22nd with three GPs run at Albi, Dieppe and Livorno, Moll, Varzi and Trossi took part in the Coppa Ciano on the Montenero track. With both Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz absent, the main players were Nuvolari with the Maserati and the three Scuderia Ferrari drivers with their Alfa Romeo Tipo Bs. The race developed into another fight between Varzi and Moll and Enzo Ferrari remembered:
"Moll had just overtaken Varzi, but immediately after had a puncture quite close to the pit box. Varzi overtook Moll then, but just after changing the tyre, Moll chased Varzi like a madman and, after just one lap, was breathing over his neck. I decided to make him a signal to hold positions; I do not think it is a good idea for a team to engage the drivers in such battles, which might sometimes be too close of provocation. So I prepared the signal, but just in the moment that I was showing it to Moll, his car started a frightening spin in the middle of the corner. Moll changed gears and managing a science-fiction manoeuvre solved the spin, whilst at the same time he waved his hand at me telling that he had read and understood my message! I have to reckon I was puzzled. I had never witnessed such coolness, such a self-belief and confidence all mixed-up in the middle of an obvious moment of danger. I understood that, at that precise moment, danger for him was more related to others than to himself. He was ready to solve a difficult situation even with an unorthodox manoeuvre, and probably that was exactly what he did."
Both German teams sent full entries to Pescara for the Coppa Acerbo on August 15, 1934, with Caracciola, Fagioli and Henne racing for Mercedes and Stuck and Sebastian for Auto Union. Varzi, Chiron, Moll and Ghersi raced for Ferrari, Nuvolari, Straight, Lord Howe, Hamilton and Zehender raced Maseratis and Penn-Hughes entered a private 'Monza' while Brivio's works T59 was the only Bugatti in the race.
It had been raining and when the race started the track was still wet and slippery. Rain specialist Caracciola immediately took the lead. Behind him there was a terrific battle between Stuck's Auto Union, Varzi's Alfa and Fagioli's Mercedes, the drivers constantly swapping places. Moll did not make a particularly brilliant start, from the fifth row, but he was still fifth after the first lap. On the third lap Varzi took over second place but he soon had to come in for new tyres and fell back. Order: Caracciola, Fagioli, Stuck and Nuvolari.
On the 6th lap Stuck had to retire. Straight was another unlucky driver and Nuvolari had to make an extra pit stop. After 8 laps the rain started again and Caracciola made a mistake and crashed, the Mercedes driver being very fortunate to limp away with only minor bruises. By mid-race the leading Mercedes of Fagioli went in to change tyres and Moll became the new leader followed by Henne and Varzi. Chiron had a serious incident when his car caught fire during the refuelling. Chiron was lucky to escape with minor burns as he protected his face with his hands but the car was completely destroyed as were parts of the pit. The accidents continued as Corsi crashed his difficult to handle the Maserati 'Sedici Cilindri' and broke several ribs.
When Moll went in for refuelling Varzi became the new leader. Fagioli was running really fast and catching the Alfa Romeo and after Varzi went in for new tyres it was the Mercedes driver's turn to take over the top position. Moll in second place clocked the fastest lap of the race in a desperate attempt to catch Fagioli. By the 16th lap Moll had narrowed the gap to just 29s, and if he could maintain that rate of gain he might still win. All around the long circuit the excited home crowd began to scent the possibility of victory for their inspired young hero, who continued to drive, in the words of a contemporary account, "as though possessed of a kind of madness". On the 17th lap Moll lost time that he could so ill afford when he skidded and stalled.
Off again at full speed clearing the village of Capelle, on a very narrow Montesilvano straight Moll caught up with the famous German racing motor cyclist and record-breaker, Ernst Henne, a full lap behind and having his first taste of real Grand Prix racing. Inevitably, accounts of what then happened vary. Some say that Moll was an inexperienced driver "driving over the top of his head"; some that the inexperienced Henne's driving of his Mercedes "was known to be wild and suspect"; and some even mention that Moll had got well clear of Henne before the accident.
Putting all accounts together something like this happened: suddenly Henne, racing at 260 km/h, saw the front wheels of the Alfa near his rear wheels. Realizing that the Alfa driver wasn't going to wait for a wider section further forward but was going to overtake on the narrow section on the still damp track Henne prepared himself for a crash that however, according to him, never happened as Moll suddenly disappeared. Probably hit by the scirocco-wind the Alfa swerved sideways without warning. Moll possibly braked, lost control, nearly missed Henne, ran off the track, almost regained control but then ran into a ditch and the Alfa overturned. The car hit some trees, bounced into a bridge and continued spinning for 400 meters before coming to rest against a barn wall. This was all that was left. The 24-year-old Ferrari star died shortly after the crash. He was buried at Maiseon-Carreé cemetery in Algers.
While Moll had undoubtedly driven some fast and hard races to have risen so rapidly to his fame, there was nothing in his driving before his fatal crash to suggest that he was either dangerously inexperienced or out of his depth. Indeed, the reality was the very opposite, as his growing record of success and achievements from 1932 onwards clearly showed. That he was driving as fast as ever he could on the day was undeniable, but that is surely what top level Grand Prix driving is all about.
At the end of the day, the true rationale of Moll's accident could well have been that of wise old Giovanni Guidotti, for so long Alfa's head tester. By the end of 1933 engine power had so far outstripped chassis design that, with cars like the P3, "the hardest job was not to get them around the corners, but to keep them on the roads where the straights allowed the cars to reach their maximum speeds."
There is another element that could be brought into the equation. Italians mention that 17 cars started the race, and on the 17th lap the tragedy struck on the 17th kilometre on the straight between Montesilvano and Silvi Marina. Well, if Englishmen are allowed to use 13 as Dick Seaman's unlucky number, we don't see why Italians cannot be allowed to do the same with their national unlucky number, 17. Who knows?
On July 19, 1936, Farina tried to lap Lehoux's works ERA at the Deauville Grand Prix. The cars collided, the Italian escaped with minor injuries but the ERA overturned and caught fire. Lehoux was killed instantly. The Algerian GP driver saga was over.
Reader's Why by Alessandro Silva
Guy Moll's last race.
Enzo Ferrari, in his book "Le Mie Gioie Terribili", devotes the space of three pages to the memory of Guy Moll. I am quoting (my translation):
"Among the drivers who arrived in my team, Moll was not the first foreigner, but he was undoubtely the first sensational driver. He was of Spanish mother and French father who emigrated in Algeria where he was born. I would not know if this melange of races and milieu has contibuted to make that boy a wonder; he has been in any case, in my opinion, the only driver to be put in the same class as Nuvolari, together with our days Stirling Moss: alike to Nuvolari because of the affinity of some peculiar mental processes, for the same aggressive spirit, the same coolness in driving, the same faith in taking the extreme risk… (the first drive for the Scuderia was the 1934 Monaco GP…) That day Moll has shown the style of the great champion, he affirmed, blatantly, his personality as a driver, and he legitimated my faith in him. Just to say who he was I want to account for this fact that among the many I have lived strongly impressed me. In the Montenero race, Moll had overtaken Varzi but he blew a tyre in the proximity of the pits. Varzi passed him, but, after a fast change of tyre, Moll was in the back of Varzi in just one lap and was pressing him ferociously. I decided to give him the signal of slowing down (…) So I prepared the signal, but just at the very moment that I was showing it to the wild boy, his car started spinning frightfully in the last turn before the pits. Moll changed gear and attained to the science-fiction of driving in signalling to me that he had understood while pirouetting desperately; finally he set his car back in the right position and started again repeating with his hand that he was going to obey orders. I was astonished. I had never seen such a coolness, such selfpossession, as to split the reasoning in two even under the superhuman stress of danger. I understood that, since that very moment, the danger for him would have consisted mainly in the inferior class of the others (…) And probably this is how it went."
The way for Guy Moll was smoothed to a certain extent by his friendship with Marcel Lehoux, a successful driver in North Africa where he had won the Casablanca, Algerian and Tunisian GP's. Moll began racing in Algeria driving a Lorraine-Dietrich, taking part in local events. By 1932 his mentor Lehoux was driving in Europe since some time and invited Moll to drive his Bugatti in the Marseille GP at the dull Miramas track. This was Moll's first race in Europe and he finished third behind Raymond Sommer and Tazio Nuvolari's Alfa Romeos. His performance attracted much attention. For 1933 Moll began the European season at the Pau GP, held under a snowstorm and won by Lehoux, by taking a second place in a Bugatti under those unfamiliar conditions. Later on during the season, Moll bought an Alfa Romeo "tipo Monza", the racing version of the 2300 8C sports car, a very fast car but not as fast as the Alfa Romeo P3. Despite this handicap, Moll took thirds in the Nimes GP (behind Nuvolari and Etancelin's P3's), Nice, Comminges and Marseille and a second in the Monza GP, a tragic race in which Campari, Borzacchini and Czaikowski had fatal accidents held the same day as the Italian GP.
Moll's skill was immediately recognized by Enzo Ferrari and he was signed for the 1934 season to drive the P3 Alfa Romeo raced by the Scuderia on behalf of the works. This was the year in which the more powerful and modern Mercedes and Auto Union were joining in the GP season, but in the first half of it, Moll had the best results of every other driver. He won the Monaco GP and the Avusrennen (in a ugly looking streamlined version of the P3) and was second in the Tripoli GP, Reims and Coppa Ciano (Montenero Circuit in Leghorn) all behind teammate Varzi (apparently he did not react well to his second place finish by a half car in Tripoli and Ferrari grounded him for some time). He also finished third in the French GP at Monthlery sharing drive with C.F. Trossi.
Even when the powerful German cars were starting to eclipse the Italians, he was still able to race on level terms with them. He was giving proof of this in his last race, the Coppa Acerbo on the Pescara circuit. He was dicing for the lead in his P3 with Fagioli's Mercedes when his car suddendly flew off the road at near maximum speed when both were lapping the Mercedes of Henne. Moll was killed immediately, the cause of the crash never being satisfactorily explained. His mentor Lehoux was killed in a ERA two years later. Seven GP's were raced under the new international formula of maximum weight in that first year 1934. The first two were won by Alfa-Romeo (Monaco and ACF) with Moll and Chiron, two by Auto Union (Nurburgring and Bern) both with Stuck, two by Mercedes (Monza and Barcelona) with Caracciola and Fagioli and one (the Belgian GP), with the Germans absent, by Dreyfus on a Bugatti. Alfa Romeo, representing a short but glorious tradition, had to give up at the end. The decisive fight did not take place in one of the international GP's, but on the beautiful Pescara circuit in a Formula Libre (i.e. no regulations) race.
The two German teams decided to enter the Coppa Acerbo race probably to complete the development of their cars and to settle a question of superiority on that track that with its long straights was favourable to the unchaining of the enormous power of their engines. It was going to be a tremendous fight and a tragic race. Stuck (Auto Union) was leading at the start, followed by Caracciola (Mercedes) and Varzi (Alfa Romeo). Stuck and later Varzi had to give way to the faster Mercedes driven by Caracciola and Fagioli and to Moll and they retired later on. On the 9th lap Caracciola went off the track rather disastrously (the race started on wet surface and during the first half of it, it was raining now and then on certain sections of the long circuit. Moll is not wearing goggles but a rain eye-shade) and Varzi, who had taken Ghersi's car, went into the lead while Fagioli stopped for fuel. Almost at the same moment Chiron (Alfa Romeo) stopped also for fuel and his car took fire. Chiron narrowly escaped with only minor burns by alertly jumping off the car.
In the meanwhile Moll went into the lead (Varzi's second car also broke) and positions were reestablished with Fagioli in the lead and Moll second. Moll started an epic pursuit. Distanced by around twenty seconds he started repeatedly beating the lap record, but on the 17th lap his car skidded laterally for a few hundred meters pulling out small trees and finished its mad run against the supporting wall of a house gate, thus ending the career of the prodigious young Algerian driver.