Nardi Bisiluro Is the Strangest Car to Race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
You know the name Nardi as the steering wheel put in virtually everything with a classic sports car vibe, from a vintage Ferrari to a late-model Miata. Enrico Nardi did much more than just build steering wheels, though. A contemporary of Enzo Ferrari, Nardi raced and built his own cars using Fiat underpinnings (just as Enzo did in the early days, before constructing his own cars). The absolutely bonkers car you see here is perhaps the most famous of his creations and quite possibly the strangest car to ever run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans: the Bisiluro.
Bisiluro means “twin-torpedo” in Italian, and you can see why this car donned such a name. It’s a fascinating machine with an unconventional asymmetrical shape, sponson-like pods, extreme streamlining, and charming dual headlights. The shape alone is enough to get a car designer going on at length, examining the aircraft and motorcycle influences in its design. If you want to read that, you can—famous ex-BMW designer Chris Bangle’s critique is captivating.
But the Bisiluro is first and foremost a race car. It utilized a Gianni engine—Gianni was an Abarth-like tuner and engine builder from the period—displacing just 0.7 liter and pushing out a remarkable 62 hp. The engine and transmission sat in the left pod, while the driver (and the gasoline) sat in the right. In between was a lower, airfoil-shaped section with an exposed, curved radiator.
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Like many race cars of the time, the Bisiluro relied on drag reduction rather than huge power to achieve speed. It’s claimed that the Bisiluro could hit 134 mph, but perhaps that wasn’t advisable. That’s because the Bisiluro’s biggest weakness was its unusual shape. Entered in the 1955 Le Mans (yes, the tragic scene of one of the worst motorsports disasters of all time), the car’s aerodynamic shape led to its demise when a passing Jaguar created a side draft that blew the Bisiluro right off the track. Too far gone to race, the Bisiluro was a DNF. It now resides at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, Italy.
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When it was racing, the Bisiluro was impressively fast. The Da Vinci museum claims it averaged 89 mph over the course of the race prior to its accident. While many unconventional cars have run at Le Mans, few were so strangely shaped. Perhaps the closet thing in sheer weirdness is the later Nissan DeltaWing, which had outsized ambition and swagger but never delivered on the promise of its unconventional layout—despite heroic efforts to save the entry at the 2012 race.
If the Bisiluro—inarguably one of the more iconic designs to ever turn a wheel at Le Mans—captures your imagination, then the fact you can actually put a piece of it in your car might further interest you. Nardi makes an exacting replica of the race car’s steering wheel that any customer can buy. And yes, the steering wheel is asymmetrical, too. It’ll set you back at least four figures, though.
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