There have been Le Mans racers, and there have been ambitious, potentially zany Le Mans racers, fantastical bouts of engineering and bizarre pseudo-innovation that its builders intended would lead to something greater. Why else would they showcase their cars at the greatest endurance race in the world? Probably because it was there. ( of the truly weird that ran down Mulsanne, including the car you see above.)
But perhaps the weirdest race car to ever enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans—the weirdest race car ever, one of the weirdest cars ever—may just be a missile-shaped, twin-boom race car with an oval steering wheel and a strange, brilliant, fantastical combination of catamaran, airplane, and motorcycle influences. It's a 1950s belly lake dragster, doubled. Born from jets? Baby, this thing is born from torpedo tubes.
Nardi, known today for wooden steering wheels and shift knobs, began life as a race car builder. Enrico Nardi was an accomplished mechanic and driver with Lancia, and he began building bizarre, Fiat-based sports cars powered by BMW motorcycle engines. There was the Nardi-Monaco Chichibio, named after co-creator Augusto Monaco's dog; a front-drive, V2-powered spindly little thing that could reach 80 kilometers per hour. Look at the 750 Nardi-Danese: exposed cylinder heads, one single headlight. Or the , named the "Boby Sport" with a goofy grin for a grille and a bulging proboscis that makes various mid-2000s Mercedes-Benz sports cars look subtle. Laugh you will, and you just might, but these cars dominated local hillclimbs, whooping MG Midgets the whole way up.
Unsurprisingly, Nardi's most ambitious project carried on a proud tradition of the Strange.
Asymmetry is a highly underrated quality in design. It messes with our brains. Humans seek out symmetrical shapes in nearly everything we see: art and architecture, leaves on the ground, even our own faces (which are not at all symmetrical). And certainly in cars, where any bold dash of asymmetry is relegated mostly to hood scoops and ephemera: the Ford SVO, the Mazda RX-7, the hood bulge on a Mitsubishi Eclipse, the rear door on a Nissan Cube, the driver's head fin on a Jaguar D-Type.
Not for Enrico and his associates. Here was Nardi's ultimate project, the Nardi-Danese 750 Bisiluro. What's in a name, asked another famous Italian, and while this car has had a few, its formal name was Damolnar, combining the last names of chief engineers Mario Dalmonte, Carlo Mollino and Enrico Nardi. And in Italian, "bisiluro" means, rather appropriately, "twin torpedo."
But of course. On one side: a 55-horsepower, Giannini-tuned, BMW 750 engine. On the other: the driver. Both were encased in slippery, streamlined pods, with a flat-facing airplane-style radiator in the middle. Built on a Fiat 500 chassis, again, it weighed a tick under 1000 pounds and reportedly churned out as much as 62 horsepower. The result is unlike any race car that ever existed. It looks like the underside of a fighter-bomber's wing, where the driver is nothing more than a physical nuisance, bulging out and getting in the way of such aerodynamic slipperiness—in a time when aero was developed by simply, pardon the pun, "winging it."
Nardi and company entered the 1955 running of Le Mans. Did it do well? It did not do well at all. Legend has it that a passing Jaguar D-Type kicked up so much wind that it literally blew the Bisiluro off the track.
None other than Chris Bangle, whom despite your opinions on him and various buttock-esque stylistic flourishes is still more imminently qualified than you or I to write about design, —and how it captures functional naval and aeronautical references—Lockheed's equally bizarre F-82 "Twin Mustang" comes to mind—as well as the zany world of motorcycle sidecar racing.
It fits into the capital-lettered world of Car Design the same way any phallic shape does ("Car Design loves sexual innuendos," Bangle quips) but perhaps more so: after all, there's two of 'em. Two rounded, organic forms, symbolic of an age. "A wonderful car made by special people for a celebrated race in a glorious Age of Car Design Innocence," the former BMW designer ultimately concludes: "designers everywhere have been finding excuses to homage the Bisiluro and its kind in every possible project including Star Wars, and we should all be thankful that this unique example is well cared for and still here to inspire us."