«  Porsche Museum's fleet beginning... <- Back to: General Automotive News Paul Koot New Director of European...  »

Remembering AutoDelta’s Ing. Carlo Chiti


Carlo Chiti and Ignazio Giunti, Circuito di Balocco, 1968

Carlo Chiti and Ignazio Giunti, Circuito di Balocco, 1968

Carlo Chiti with wind tunnel models

Carlo Chiti with wind tunnel models

Automotive Giants, 1960 at L'Aerautodromo di Modena

Automotive Giants, 1960 at L'Aerautodromo di Modena

Founders Chizzola and Chiti

Founders Chizzola and Chiti

T33 "Periscope"

T33 "Periscope"

The TZ2, Autodelta's first complete project

The TZ2, Autodelta's first complete project

 

I met Chiti for the first time on one cold and rainy mid-February day in 1968. It was Ignazio Giunti, a great driver and a close friend of mine, who had arranged that appointment at Autodelta in Settimo Milanese. There we were, waiting for “Uncle” (as drivers used to call him), who was running a bit late. When he arrived, huge, volcanic and loud, I immediately felt as if I had known him for long time.

I remember his way of speaking, with a strong Tuscan inflection, his educated yet familiar moods and his omnipresent dogs. He brought us back to downtown Milano to “his” restaurant “Alla Collina Pistoiese”, not far away from the Duomo; kind of an informal office where he performed the role of “Big Boss” with natural generosity.

So started our friendship, and for the almost five years that I was in contact with Autodelta we shared more than our mutual passion for dogs, racing cars, good books and many other things. He was the undisputed master of informal conversation and surprise discussions by virtue of his vast knowledge of culture and erudition, but he was also capable of absolute silence about his professional activity.  Never would he speak of technical details, or any anticipation about the affairs at Autodelta Settimo Milanese.  

It was a kind of a taboo subject, partially because he did not have an ideal relationship with the House of Alfa Romeo. This was true in particular with the staff of the Servizio Esperienze Department. He was considered someone who encroached upon the hard-won honors of team work by Busso, Satta, Nicolis, Garcea, Surace, Russo and others. After all the TZ, GTA and even the initial 33 concept had been planned and produced there, and Chiti’s assignment was to make them victorious.

A lack of sympathy between Chiti and other managers at Portello and Arese was quite evident. Chiti was seen as Luraghi’s invention and only the loud sound of victorious Alfa racing cars gave him permission to continue. Although nobody suspected or appreciated his enormous talent and curriculum at Ferrari and ATS, he was often accused of exploiting the ideas and solutions of others. Obviously, none of there was no truth to that as he was a real genius, capable of immediate solutions and revolutionary innovations and also one of the worlds' most validated and honored engine designers with great intuition.

When the winds had changed in Alfa’s board rooms and Autodelta’s parabola came to an end, the farewell to “Big Carlo” was rather unfair and he left his Alfa Romeo career fairly embittered.

He was never interested in money, and just searched spaces and opportunities to try and prove his ideas, sometimes capable of hours and hours of continuous work that he also expected from all his technicians. As he was generally beloved by his crew, inspiring those around him to extraordinary devotion to their own work. It was common to see him under heavy rain at the Balocco track measuring for hours lap times and vehicle handling dynamics and trying to understand difficulties.

He had considered Teodoro Zeccoli, Autodelta’s test driver... an excellent driver, a kind of his own extended senses, trusting him blindly. There was perfect interplay between him and Teo and that was surely crucial for many of Chiti’s decisions. 

Drivers generally considered Chiti like a close relative. As they all were chosen by Chiti personally, their rapports were good and cordially though he had preferences that he never outwardly manifested or openly confessed to. De Adamich, Giunti, Galli and Hezemans were pilots that he liked more (I am speaking exclusively about early years of Autodelta, until 1973), and personal sympathy with Merzario was evident. 

Among the young, rising stars, the “winning factor” (as journalists called him) Gian Luigi Picchi, had a particular popular standing, but when he suddenly decided to abandon races, Chiti had accepted that decision saying that Picchi was absolutely right, with pilots merely being “cannonball meat” in the cruel racing battles.

His visions of racing were decidedly technical and oriented to the future, and the fact is that he never spoke about past times or 'history' willingly. He was considered a key engineer at Ferrari in the “golden years of 250GT”, the one that had convinced Drake to accept rear engine design as the future solution in racing car engineering, but he was also one of the “Fallen Rebel Angels” of Maranello in ’61. That was discussed in various moods, and seen mainly as a sign of his disagreement with Enzo Ferrari.

In those years I was obsessed with Enzo Ferrari (in positive sense), and so I had asked Chiti to explain his decision to leave SEFAC Ferrari S.p.A.. He told me sincerely (I am sure) that he took part of the group only as a sign of solidarity with Gardini, Giberti, Tavoni and Bizzarrini (who was Tuscan like himself), and that between him and Enzo Ferrari there was not any serious disagreement.

Indeed, he added words of real sincere respect towards Ferrari, depicting him as extremely capable and with good intuition, but somewhat over-sensitive to the gossip and slanders (that was exactly the word he used) that his “spies” regularly presented to him.

The fact is that Chiti was also haunted by “spies” that he was sure were placed all around him, and who reported promptly to the “friends” in Servizio Esperienze everything happening in Settimo Milanese.   

I remember well the episode that explained that sort of his conviction.  He had high opinions about British racing car engineers Chapman, Duckworth, Costin and Campbell. So, one day gave him the book “The Sports Car Engine” by Colin Campbell from Switzerland, the English edition, as it had yet to be published in Italy, and while he was flipping through pages in came one of the engineers Chiti considered a “spy”. 

He showed him the book and with his Tuscan sense of humor told him that after learning important things from that manual, he would be ready to produce a winning car. Later he told me seriously that I could be sure that this fact was relayed back to the “friends” as he called managers from Servizio Esperienze. A year or so later, I was invited at his house at San Siro quarter in Milano, and with immense delight, I spotted my book on his table.

Anyhow, his relationship with the “Big Boss” in Alfa in those years, Giuseppe Luraghi, was good and cordial based on mutual sympathy and respect. He also preserved friendship with the co-founder of Autodelta, Lodovico Chizzola, although the Chizzola brothers had decided to remain in Udine and left the Autodelta enterprise.

Chiti had a somewhat antiquated vision of management. Autodelta was ruled autocratically as his personal domain through the actual motor racing end of the business. Although he delegated pertinent decisions concerning everything else (finances, trading and administration) to qualified personnel. 

After Luraghi was reassigned to other duties followed a short and successful collaboration with Cortesi. Unfortunately Alfa’s new Board of Directors led by Massacesi took a different approach to the sports activity of the Factory, and Chiti’s relationship with “decision board” started to deteriorate rapidly.

Thus he became more isolated by the day, with continuous pressure from the House of Alfa Romeo, but without the time necessary to develop new “weapons”. Victories began to disappear from his Autodelta curriculum.

Almost 'ghettoized' and without support Chiti was disillusioned and quit his more than 20 year long career at his once beloved Alfa Romeo to start a new one with Motori Moderni, being certain that he could still infuse fresh blood into car racing.

A fatal heart attack surprised him in summer 1994 and the great “Chitone” took his last mystic trip towards new racetracks…

Excerpt from "AutoDelta Golden Years"
Author: Vladimir Pajevic