Considered the inventor of the “Quadrifoglio”, the cloverleaf, the Aversa-born driver’s competitive career with Alfa Romeo was short but very eventful. The 1923 season was particularly visible for him, but his career and life ended dramatically in Monza on 8 September of the same year. One century on, SpeedHolics tells of his adventures, thanks also to a precious testimonial offered by his grandson Giorgio.
Photos by Giorgio Sivocci, Fabio Morlacchi and Alfa Blue Team Archives
15 April 1923, Cerda, a town in the Sicilian hinterland east of Palermo, the starting and finishing line of the “Piccolo Circuito delle Madonie”, the Targa Florio circuit in Sicily. The stands set up in the village of the Sicilian Automobile Club were extended, with a new floor for the press, some covered stands and spaces for a selected audience that wanted or was able to be isolated from the others. The sports reporters were connected directly to the timekeepers’ cabin, a laboratory was available to the photographers wanting to develop their negatives, with the possibility to send packs of photos to their newspapers from the in-house post office. It was the best technology had to offer at the time.
The route was tough, the mountain roads were not tarmacked and were only partially tarred. The race ran anti-clockwise: Cerda, Catavulturo, Polizzi, Collesano, Campofelice and back to Cerda. A total of 432 kilometres, divided into four 108-km stages.
Two-seater cars could enter the race, and in addition to the driver they had to have a mechanic on board, and the weight of the crew must be at least 120 kg. The cars were divided into six categories based on engine size: the first up to 1100 cc, the second from 1101 to 1500 cc, the third from 1501 to 2000 cc, the fourth from 2001 to 3000 cc, the fifth from 3001 to 4500 cc, the sixth from 4501 and above. The start was at 7 in the morning, starting from the lowest category.
The morning of 15 April was cool, after a bout of heavy rain that stopped the dust from being kicked up by the wheels, but there was a strong risk of nasty puddles. This is why some competitors decided to mount temporary front mudguards, perhaps only on the driver's side, but which also hid the main wheel from sight when steering. All that was exactly a century ago...
Alfa Romeo races with a team of five RLSSs prepared specifically for the race. The drivers were Giuseppe Campari, chief tester and driver, Antonio Ascari, driver and Alfa Romeo dealer for Milan and part of Lombardy, Ugo Sivocci and Count Giulio Masetti, all official team drivers along with Enzo Ferrari, racing as a private driver, despite being a regular presence at Portello. Both Masetti and Ferrari were racing with their own RLSS TFs. All the RLs had a 3-litre engine, apart from Sivocci and Ferrari, which had the cylinder capacity increased from 76 to 78 mm, despite the 110 mm stroke, which took the engine capacity to just under 3.2 litres and the power output from 88 hp at 3600 rpm to 95 hp at 3800 rpm.
Campari raced with RL no. 8 and a new lucky symbol, a green cloverleaf on a white round background, located on the sides of the radiator casing, Ascari had RL no. 10 with the green cloverleaf on a white triangle in the same position as Campari, Masetti had the same symbols as Campari on car no. 11 but placed behind the engine compartment. None of the three had front mud guards, and they all raced in the 4thcategory. Sivocci raced with RL no. 13, a 3.2 litre model in the 5th category, with the lucky cloverleaf symbol on a square background rotated 45°, placed on the sides of the radiator casing, and mounted two front mudguards. Ferrari raced with its own 3.2 litre RL, race no. 14, but without the cloverleaf.
So, 100 years of the “cloverleaf”. It seems that the idea of using the cloverleaf as a lucky symbol came from Ugo Sivocci, racing in the 1923 Targa Florio in RL no. 13, demonstrating that, at least apparently, he believed in some form of superstitious symbolism. A few months later, number 17 was no longer to bring him luck.
The differences between the white background and the positioning should have been a choice to ensure the immediate recognition of the Milan cars in the race, all the same, without having to remember the race number and the correspondence with the driver.
Despite the constant rain before the start, huge crowds formed at the interesting points or those most easily reachable along the route, also taken there by special trains or boats. Targa Florio began in 1906, an internationally renowned competition despite the fact that it was held in the distant and far from easy-to-reach Sicily. The newspapers spoke of a strange character in the area, who stated that each of the 19 competitors were more than able to win the race, thus excluding only the non-starters.
At 7 in the morning, luckily the sun was shining. The starter was the Prince of Petrulla. The cars were lined up waiting for the start. The first competitor didn’t turn up, so the first to start was no. 2 in the Bugatti, followed by the other competitors in the lower categories.
Finally, it was the turn of the RLs. Campari set off with the mechanic Fugazza, then Alfieri Maserati in the Diatto 20S with the mechanic Parenti, Ascari with Sozzi in the RLSS, Masetti with Marinoni in another RLSS, then another competitor.
In the fifth category, Sivocci started with the mechanic Guatta, then Ferrari and Ramponi in the other 3.2 litre RLSS, Gastone Brilli Peri with Lumini in the Steyr and other competitors. In total, there were 17 competitors in the race out of the 19 registered. Bodendik started in Chenard & Walcker number 12, and immediately after the RLSS number 13 with Sivocci was pushed onto the starting line. A few last words with the mechanic Guatta, sitting on his left.
It is worth remembering that in Italy, until the introduction of the highway code, which was amended in 1927, cars drove on the left-hand side, so the driving seat was usually on the right.
The mechanics inserted the electric starter in the crank hole, slotted into the engine shaft. A signal, Sivocci delayed the ignition start, turned the Bosch contact switch on the round panel to the right of the steering wheel. The starter triggered the engine, which immediately came to life. Advance in the normal position, engine at 1500 rpm, another couple of minutes until they set off. And they're off, the dry multi-disc clutch engages sharply, 2500, 3000, 4000 rpm, quick double de-clutching, and here you are in second gear. And, please, don't forget the gearbox is unsynchronised.
The RL engine coped well with a moderate overspeed thanks to its strength, and the helicoidal springs on the valve control rods help the rapid closure. The first check is at the hill, 2 kilometres after the starting line, where the Steyrs are 12” ahead of the Alfas, the second check is at Catalvuturo, the 32nd kilometre. Brilli Peri passed with 30', Campari and Maserati with 21'. Brilli Peri had to stop immediately. On the first lap, Hermann Rutzler went wild in the Steyr ahead of the crowd, 1.45'19”, followed by Campari, Maserati, Sivocci at 1.48'35”.
Sivocci, a man of few words, had a precise driving style, respectful of the mechanics, not particularly spectacular, cold and always correct, yet extremely efficient. It always seemed like he was out for a quiet drive, yet almost having fun on the inside. He didn’t stop to refuel, while Ascari, who drove angrily, moved into eighth position. Ferrari was sixth after the first lap, but just after passing the line he went off the road and had to retire.
On the second lap, Ascari put his foot down and caught up with Rutzler, who had to retire on the next lap after a stone punched a hole in the engine casing. Sivocci was first on the third lap, with a time of 5.29'48”, followed by Ferdinando Minoia and Ascari with 5.30'35”. Ascari went into first place in the fourth lap, and from the stands you could see the dusty red RLSS approaching in the distance, on its way to win the race.
Suddenly, Ascari slowed down and stopped, and the engine died. The crowd in the stands saw the driver and his mechanic get out of the Alfa, open the semi bonnet and fiddle with the engine. Only later they would find out that there had been problems with the magnet.
Other mechanics ran from the Alfa Romeo bays, but the RLSS engine fired up again and, without the bonnet, with four people hanging on the car, all in all a very tragicomic scene. But that wasn’t allowed, the cars could only have two people on board! Ascari decided to return to the point where he had stopped, and not finding his mechanic nearby he took a spectator by the arm, threw him into the left-hand seat and set off in reverse to return towards the finishing line. But in the meantime, Sivocci had passed him and won. Ascari had lost around 10 minutes, coming in second, with Minoia in third place.
The Steyr mechanics were spread out along the last kilometre to cheer on their driver, who managed to overtake Masetti in his RLSS. Three Alfa Romeos and four Italian drivers in the top places. Ascari drove impetuously and really fast, but luck turned its back on him. Just before the completing the first lap, a rear tyre exploded on a tight bend, although he managed to hold the road, change the tyre quickly and get back on the track. Then, just a few metres from the finishing line, the magnet, then the risk of being disqualified... for having too many passengers on board. Sivocci won in 7 hours and 18 minutes, while it took Ascari only 2' and 52” more, despite all his troubles.
More than seven hours of bends, practically one after the other, climbs and descents with few straight or flat stretches, in cars with rigid axles and leaf-spring suspensions, equipped only with rear brakes, driven constantly with controlled skids on earth and mud. Definitely heroic times.
This was the first appearance of the lucky cloverleaf, which since then has become a kind of trade mark for the racing Alfa Romeos.
Alfa Romeo and its drivers took part in several races in 1923, ahead of the Italian Grand Prix and the European Grand Prix, held in September in the new Monza circuit, the “motodromo” as it was called at the time.
Saturday 8 September, during an extra test drive, at 10 in the morning Sivocci and the mechanic Guatta were driving the new Gran Premio Alfa Romeo P1. After several laps, they reached the underpass at the elevated curve following the Serraglio curve, followed by a short straight and the broad Vialone curve to the left leading into the long east straight.
The P1 skidded, went off the track and ended up with the left side against a tree, standing just a few metres from the tarmac. The driver and his mechanic were thrown out of the passenger compartment. Enzo Ferrari was in the pits along the parallel straight, and ran over to where his friend Sivocci had crashed. Guatta was injured but alive, but nothing more could be done for Ugo Sivocci. Ferrari lovingly placed his lifeless body in an ambulance and he was taken away.
Alfa Romeo retired from the race as a sign of mourning, but evil tongues whispered that perhaps the choice was also made because of the mediocre performance and poor road holding of the GPR P1.
Shortly afterwards, work began on Vittorio Jano's completely new GP car, the P2 (but that’s another story...). The accident occurred in the same spot on the track where, 32 years later, in 1955, Antonio Ascari’s son Alberto died, on the same day his father died in Monthlery.
Ugo Sivocci had just turned 38, he was born in Aversa, in the province of Caserta, on 29 August 1885. His father Giuseppe, a piano teacher and conductor often travelled for work, with his wife Maria Clerice. He began his test-driving career in 1906 in the Turin-Sestriere race in an O.T.A.V., a Milan-based car and bicycle manufacturer. In 1911 he was hired by De Vecchi in Milan, where he met Antonio Ascari. He took part in the 1913 and 1914 Targa Florios in De Vecchi cars. After WWI De Vecchi was taken over by C.M.N. in Milan, and Sivocci continued to race for them.
Right after the war he met Enzo Ferrari, who had come to Milan from Turin looking for a chance to advance his still-precarious career as a racing driver.
They were hard times, but the friendship and support of Ugo and his family, who lived in Milan in Piazzale Rottole, today Piazza Durante, helped him through it. They would meet in a bar in the centre, the Vittorio Emanuele in Via Orefici, not far from Piazza Duomo and the place where the A.L.F.A. deed of incorporation had been signed a few years earlier in 1910. Ugo helped Enzo join C.M.N., racing the Parma-Poggio di Berceto for them in 1919. The two drivers took part together in the next 10th Targa Florio, driving the racing C.M.N. they were to use in the competition from Milan to Sicily. They took turns at the wheel, often not stopping even at night, and in Abruzzo they were even attacked by a pack of wolves, chased off by Ferrari’s pistol. When they reached Sicily, the episode told by reporters became a legend.
In 1920 they were with Alfa Romeo, Sivocci after Ferrari due to a major death in the family. At Portello they made up the first team of Alfa Romeo drivers, Antonio Ascari, Giuseppe Campari, Enzo Ferrari and Ugo Sivocci. The 4 Musketeers, as named by the great journalist, photographer and writer Orio Vergani.
Three years of racing, then the 1923 Targa Florio...
RICCARDO SIVOCCI - Riccardo was 13 years old when his father Ugo died, and he had just lost his younger brother, who died in 1920 aged 8. After his studies he was taken on in the Racing Department at Alfa Romeo. He became a mechanic for some great drivers, including Nino Farina, he was at the 1938 Le Mans supporting Raymond Sommer and Clemente Biondetti’s 8C 2900 B Touring.
He took part in the first sporting expeditions in South America, where he met Fangio, who would remain his friend even after the end of their sporting careers. He met Tazio Nuvolari, Nello Pagani, Prince Bira, John Behera, Carlo Pintacuda, Jean Pierre Wimille, Onofre Marimon and others. In the Formula Junior, he worked for Lorenzo Bandini and Geki Russo. And, as we heard when talking about Consalvo Sanesi, he also worked with the famous driver and tester from Milan. Having his own Alfa Romeo tuned by Sivocci, in Sanesi's workshop...
Riccardo Sivocci’s son Giorgio told me that as a child, returning home to the flat above the workshop, he met Sanesi who, setting off to test a Duetto, asked him if he wanted to take a ride. Giorgio still remembers that experience very well...
ALFA ROMEO RL - The RL represents both the high point and the swan song of Giuseppe Merosi at Portello, the first Alfa Romeo designer who worked there from 1910 to 1925. Within the production cars, the RL came after the 1910 24 HP and its evolution, the 20-30 ES, the smaller 1911 12 HPs with the evolutions 15 HP and 15-20 HP, the large 1913 40-60 HP and the 1919 G1. The RL is considered Merosi’s masterpiece, it was presented in October 1921 in the company’s executive offices in Via Paleocapa in Milan, a stone's throw from the west corner of Sforzesco Castle, where the Strada del Portello headed towards Gallarate.
It was designed with a 3-litre engine, with an international sporting future in mind, meeting to new formula specifications with a class up to 3 litres. The straight-6 engine had a cast iron cylinder block with a removable cast iron head, the first engine built by Alfa with these characteristics. A separate aluminium crankcase, four main bearings, overhead valves aligned with the piston, valvetrain with camshaft in the crankcase, pushrods and rocker arms. The internal bore and stroke of the piston was 75 x 110 mm, ensuring the original engine capacity of 2,916 cc. With the 1925 6a series, the bore was increased definitively to 76 mm, again with a 110 mm stroke, and an engine capacity of 2,994 cc. The suspensions had rigid axles and semi-elliptical leaf springs, with drum brakes only on the rear wheels, later also on the front wheels, from autumn 1923. The RL came in three versions: Normale, RLS (Sport) and RLSS (Super Sport), with power output from 56 to 83 HP. Production ran from 1921 to 1927, then ending the so-called “Jano Era”, exactly when the production of the more modern, lighter and easy-to-handle 6C 1500 began.
The RL was also used as the basis for the cheaper 4-cylinder RM, with a modern concept of modularity, using many parts from the larger 6-cylinder RL, in order to exploit the machine tools used to produce the mechanical parts to the full. Production began for the sports versions RLS and RLSS respectively at the start and end of 1922, with a wheelbase shortened from 3.44 to 3.14 metres, a larger engine with due vertical monobloc carburettors instead of one.
The RLS made its racing début at the 1922 Targa Florio, driven by Augusto Tarabusi. The RLS and RLSS prototypes were also tested and raced by Ugo Sivocci. With a view to taking part in the 1923 Targa Florio, the RLSS was fine-tuned and improved even more, the wheelbase reduced again to 2.88 metres to improve its handling and further reduce its weight. The bodywork was significantly lightened and made more aerodynamic, with a radiator casing and quite prominent tapering when seen from above. 5 cars were built, called the RLSS TF (Targa Florio), 3 with 3-litre engines and 2 with 3.2-litre engines, the latter for racing in the 3001 to 4500 cc class. For the 1924 Targa Florio, the model was changed again, the bodywork given a more solid but lower appearance with the classic sharp-edged radiator, already seen on the Steyrs and Mercedes of the time. The engine crankcase had seven main bearings, drastically improving the balance of the cranks in the crankshaft. Again with two engine capacities, the usual 3 litres and a new 3.6-litre version, obtained by increasing the bore to 80 mm and the stroke to 120 mm. This advanced engine had already been installed from the summer of 1923 on the RLSS TFs racing after the Targa Florio.
Anyone who has heard its engine revving will confirm that the RLSS had a low, full and slightly rough and thrilling sound, with the typical firing sequence of straight-6 engines. It sang as it approached overspeed seemingly effortlessly, giving the impression that the engine can up the revs infinitely, a characteristic sensation caused by almost all Alfa engines. The two models in the Alfa Museum in Arese are reconstructions built in the mid-60s directly at Portello, starting from modified normal chassis, recovered engines and rebuilt bodywork, using some workers who built them in the 1920s and original drawings found in the archives.
ALFA ROMEO G.P.R. (P1) - The first car designed specifically for Grand Prix racing, after the short-lived 1914 Grand Prix with just one prototype, the G.P.R., acronym of Gran Premio Romeo, was built at the express will of the engineer Nicola Romeo. With the arrival of Jano’s next GP car in 1924, the P2, the G.P.R. was renamed the P1. A new 2-litre engine capacity category was introduced at the European GP in Monza in September 1923.
Merosi got to work, and in just a few months the new racing car was born. Three were built. Straight-6 engine, two overhead camshafts, two valves per cylinder, dual ignition, seven main bearings. Steel twin block covered in metal sheet with integral head, naturally aspirated with two vertical monobloc carburettors. Suspensions with rigid axles and semi-elliptical leaf springs, drum brakes on the four wheels. Bore x stroke 65 x 100 mm, not particularly exciting for a GP car, 95 HP at 5000 rpm.
After Ugo Sivocci’s death during the European G.P. test runs in Monza, the 2 remaining G.P.R.s were withdrawn. In early 1924, the engine of one of the two cars was fitted with a Roots-type supercharger built by Alfa Romeo. One of the technical drawings of this modification is dated 29 December 1923 and shows the compressor placed at the front of the engine block. This is one of the first designs by Vittorio Jano, who joined Alfa in the autumn, as Merosi had no experience of superchargers, while Jano, coming from the excellent FIAT racing department, did. The engine had a single aspirated carburettor mounted on the compressor body, and produced 115 HP at 5000 rpm. Tested briefly, the supercharged G.P.R. was not deemed satisfactory, with poor power output and, perhaps, rumour had it, also for the aspirated version in which Sivocci died, a rather perilous and unstable road performance.
FOUR- AND THREE-LEAF CLOVERS - On a famous website focusing on the Targa Florio, you will find some rather poor-quality photos, probably taken from magazines of the period, with captions that describe how they portray Tarabusi’s RLS no. 28 during the 1922 Targa, with a cloverleaf on a white triangle clearly seen on the front sides near the bonnet, which allows us the imagine that the symbol was already in use in 1922. However, the car in the photos seems too low and streamlined to be one of the first RLSs, and is in fact probably a 1924 RLSS TF. In the 1922 Targa Florio, Augusto Tarabusi raced with the mechanic Guatta in the RLS and did have race no. 28. But from the official photo, of excellent quality, it is clear that this is a different car, and does not have the cloverleaf symbol. It is the racing début of the RL Sport. Tarabusi was stopped by a stone he hit coming out of a curve that bent the front axle. For the record, the RLSS TF no. 28 in the photos appearing on the website is in fact Amedeo Sillitti’s car, which competed in the 1926 Targa.
The error is made worse by Giulio Schmidt who, in his book “The Roaring Races: The True Story of Enzo Ferrari Race Car Driver”, places the cloverleaf on car no. 35, driven by Ascari in the 1922 Targa Florio. On that occasion, Ascari raced in a 20-30 ES Sport, and as we can clearly see in several photographs, the cloverleaf does not appear on the car.
A cloverleaf on a white triangle can be seen on the bonnet of the 20-30 ES Sport driven by Count Franco Caiselli from Udine, with the mechanic Attilio Marinoni. There are two photos of the car, one in a static pose and the other while racing, indicated in the captions as during the 1921 Targa, but there is no record of the car or the driver entering the competition. We can see what seems to be race no. 10 or 18, but unfortunately not clearly because of the reflections off the mirror-polished bonnet.
There are no mudguards mounted, and this is a two-seater baquet with external exhaust pipe on the side which, along with the electric headlights would rather indicate that it is the Sport version of the 20-30 ES.
Count Franco Caiselli raced privately in a standard 20-30 ES in 1921 and '22, and always appears in the following races without the cloverleaf symbol: 1921 Italian GP, Montichiari circuit. The flying kilometre race was held on 9 September, he won in the production car category with the 20-30 ES no. 4, with an average speed of 135.849 km/h. In the next GP Gentlemen on 11 September, he ended up off the road on the Ghedi curve and retired with a damaged front axle and bent front left-hand wheel; on 11-21 August 1922, 2nd Cup of the Alps, in the 20-30 ES no. 25 he came first in the under 4500 cc category and seventh overall. The car had mudguards and carbide headlights, and therefore seems to be a standard 20-30 ES.
The photo thus appears to show the 20-30 ES Sport with the cloverleaf in late 1922 or 1923, even though it is unlikely that the cloverleaf made an appearance prior to the 1923 Targa Florio.
On the other hand, a green three-leaf clover, rather than a four-leaf clover, can be seen on a white background on several occasions, on the bonnet of the winning P2s, during the GP seasons in 1924 and 1925, bringing good luck to a car that was in any case almost unbeatable. Winning its début race in 1924 with Antonio Ascari and the cloverleaf on the bonnet, the P2 won the first GP World Championship in 1925 with Count Gastone Brilli Peri. The three-leaf clover painted on the bonnet was however not lucky for Ascari in Monthlery, during the 1925 French GP, where due to causes that are still not clear today he ran off the road on the 22nd lap and died.
Not always, but the cloverleaf was used throughout the 1920s on racing cars and at least once definitely during the Mille Miglia race on a private 6C 1500 S Zagato in 1930. From 1932 to 1937, when the Alfa Romeo racing department was managed by Ferrari, it was not used officially, and neither from 1938 to 1940 by Alfa Corse. It can be seen again after WWII on 158 and 159 racing cars, the famous “Alfette” that won the first two F1 World Championships, and is still used today. From the 1980s it was also used in green or gold, to identify sports or luxury versions of Alfa Romeo production cars.
Fabio Morlacchi was born in Milan in 1960, and studied architecture and advertising graphics. In 1983, he started working for an advertising agency, on the launch of the Alfa 33. A car fanatic from a young age, Alfa Romeo was a passion at home too, as both his parents worked there: his father was a designer and his mother worked in Sales. His love of planes came from his paternal grandfather, who was a bomber pilot and officer of the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) from 1918 to 1943. He is a member of the Alfa Blue Team, historian, speaker and writer on car history, particularly that of Alfa Romeo, as well as the history of Italian aviation.