A Precariously Perched Silver Arrow

Mercedes W154 being unloaded at Tripoli

I’ve been reading Sandro Martini’s wonderful novel Tracks: Racing the Sun about the golden age of Grand Prix racing and the exploits of Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi and other (mostly Italian) heroes of the 1930s racing scene and the worrisome political climate of the era (full review to come—short version: I love it).

The passages that take place during the contentious and controversial Grands Prix of Tripoli are so evocative and romantic that I couldn’t help trying to dig up some photos of the era. This dockside image of the Mercedes W154 so perfectly captures the clash between the huge technological leaps that racing machines were making with the almost quaint simplicity of the rest of society. These ropes and cables jerkily transferring this rocketship of a car to the docks must have been as much a test of nerves as the race itself. You think about racing teams having to trust their drivers but rarely do you consider the faith being placed in the longshoremen.

Gorgeous Silver Arrows-era Comic

You don’t have to be able to read French to enjoy Marvano’s Grand Prix series of graphic novels. These images speak for themselves and should probably work their way onto your bookshelf. I’m afraid I suffer from that dreaded affliction of believing that color was invented somewhere around 1959 so seeing the vibrance in these renderings of the French Gran Prix and Tripoli Grand Prix and Brooklands is a wonderful treat.

Marvano’s vibrant and wonderfully realized ligne claire illustrations naturally bring to mind fellow Belgian Hergé and—like Hergé’s Tintin–the characters surrounding the Silver Arrows in the 1930’s take us to marvelously exotic locations and stirring drama. And that’s all without being able to read a word of it. Reviews say, and Marzano appears to have confirmed, that while the people and locations are true, the story is somewhat fictionalized. As the author puts it: “The ingredients are historical but the dishes are fictitious.”

I suspect that this doesn’t diminish the work in the slightest but race historians may cry fowl as they see cars that crashed out early in Avus continuing to circle the track. I will not be among them and quite enjoyed the first volume of the three part series, which is currently available on Amazon (Grand prix, Tome 1 : Renaissance) with a forward by Jackie Ickx.

Here’s an interview with Marvano on the work.