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Nello Pagani might have started racing bikes in 1928 as a raw 17 year old but it was some two decades before he enjoyed his moment in the sun. Almost a double world champion on two-wheels, motor racing history all but passed this Milanese by.
Car racing career
As a racing driver, the wealthy Pagani first came to the fore in 1947 by winning at Pau with a Scuderia Milan Maserati 4CL in only his third car race. The Italian benefited as better fancied drivers were delayed and he then finished seventh on his Grand Prix debut in the 1947 Swiss GP.
He returned to Pau at the start of 1948 with his 4CL now entered by Enrico Platé. Lightning struck twice after pre-race favourite Raymond Sommer clipped a curb as they diced for the lead during the latter stages. The Frenchman took the lead but his wheel gave way on the last lap and Pagani won for a second year.
Motorcycling World Champion
An official motorcycle world championship was created in 1949 and Pagani could have been excused for turning his back on car racing. He did drive however and qualified a Maserati 4CLT/48 well at the start of the season. However it was in the 125cc class of the new bike championship that he excelled.
His Mondial won at Bremgarten and Assen and Pagani was crowned the first world champion at that level. He also won the Dutch TT and Monza’s Nations GP on a 500cc MV Agusta that year to finish as runner-up to Les Graham in the headline series. Not bad for someone in his 39th year.
Formula 1 World Championship
Formula 1 had its own world championship in 1950 and Pagani replaced the injured José Froilán González for the Swiss GP. He qualified the Scuderia Achille Varzi Maserati 4CLT/48 on the penultimate row and finished his only championship GP in a solid seventh position.
That was his last year in single-seaters, but he competed on bikes until 1955 and in national sports cars for another two years after that.