The son of a farmer who went on to become a racing legend, Tazio Nuvolari was a well-known motorbike champion by the time he moved to cars, winning the 350cc European Championship in 1925. That year he underwent a trial for Alfa Romeo but crashed and on leaving hospital he returned to bikes. In 1927 he borrowed a Bugatti and won the Rome Grand Prix, adding the Tripoli Grand Prix a year later.
The Alfa team gave him another chance and in 1930, aged 38, he raced both cars and bikes, but gave up motorbikes the following year. In 1932 he won the European Championship title with two wins and three seconds, as well as victories in four non-championship grand prix. When Alfa Romeo withdrew from racing in 1933 he remained with Scuderia Ferrari who ran the Alfa Romeo cars on a semi-official basis. Later in the season he switched to Maserati, but it too pulled out at the end of 1934 and although Ferrari initially refused to take him back, the intervention of Mussolini led to a change of heart.
In 1935 he enjoyed his greatest season against the might of the state-sponsored German Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams, winning the grand prix of Pau and Nive. Perhaps his most stunning performance came in the German GP when he beat the fancied home teams despite his car being totally outclassed and a botched pit stop. The 300,000 crowd rose to acclaim him but the Nazi elite looking on were furious. In 1936 he enjoyed similar success.
Almost inevitably the relationship was strained and furthermore Alfa could not keep up with the expenditure of the two German teams. In 1938 he walked out after suffering a ruptured fuel tank in the first race of the year, announcing his retirement. But he ran an Auto Union car at the Swiss Grand Prix, ostensibly as a one-off but the move became permanent in 1938 and he remained until the cessation of racing at the outbreak of World War Two, winning the last race in Belgrade on the day war broke out.
Although he resumed after the war, he was in his mid fifties and his health failing. Nevertheless, there were still triumphs. He won the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois in a Maserati in 1946 and drove brilliantly to finish second in the Mille Miglia the following year.
His final race was in 1950 - by then he admitted he was no longer able to withstand the effects of exhaust fumes, and even before he quit he often coughed up blood while driving. The fuel mixtures at the time produced toxic output. He retired to the property he had bought with his winnings. He suffered a stroke in 1952 and died from a second one a year later.
Dr Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari "the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future". Enzo Ferrari once drove with him and recalled even on bends "he never took his foot from the accelerator".