Remember When Lupin the Third Almost Won the Monaco Grand Prix?

In the end Lupin prioritized a heist over getting the win, but who can blame him?

In 1977, Niki Lauda won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Sorry, no, not the real Monaco Grand Prix. The real one was won by Jody Scheckter, with Lauda coming in second. (Though Lauda did go on to win the championship that year.) I’m talking about the fictional 1977 Monaco Grand Prix that took place in episode 11 (“Bet on the Monaco Grand Prix”) of Lupin the Third Part 2, during which Arsène Lupin III, world-renowned gentleman thief, entered the Monaco Grand Prix under the Japanese flag, and almost won.

It’s a good episode. Lupin, Jigen, and Goemon lose their money, clothes, and Lupin’s race car at a casino the night before the race to the cheating millionaire Socrates Nexus. Nexus’ scheme is to run bets on the race, expecting his nouveau riche friends to all bet on the top professional drivers instead of the unproven Lupin, who has to win the race if he wants his car back. Nexus’ payout is sure to be great when Lupin— the most talented driver of the bunch— naturally wins. Fujiko is in on it, and, of course, approaches Lupin with a plan to double cross Nexus and take all the money for themselves.

Nexus’ scheme doesn’t make the most sense, but he’s far from the first or last Lupin villain to do a lot of unnecessary work for not much gain. He’s not even the first or last Lupin villain to do a lot of unnecessary work for not much gain using motorsports. Maybe he’s worried Lupin was going to bring his 1977 Formula One car to the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix and then decide not to race. It’s best not to question these things.

While Lupin fends off race favorite Niki Lauda and avoids his eternal adversary Inspector Zenigata, Fujiko and Goemon rob Nexus’ armored van. They hide the money in a set of tires and head to the pits. With his fresh set of cash-stuffed Goodyears, Lupin gives up his first Monaco race win and puts his car — a six wheeled Tyrrell P34— into the water. Goemon is ready with his katana to cut open the tires and retrieve the spoils, and Lauda handily wins the race. Lupin had been his only real competition.

Then Lupin and company gamble all the money away, because they never get to keep any money they steal on this show.

 

How often does Lupin race?

I did technically say “it’s best not to question these things” earlier, but I’ve changed. I’m a different person now and I have questions.

When he arrives, Zenigata says that Lupin’s weakness for grands prix made it obvious he’d be racing at Monaco. So, how frequently was Lupin racing that Zenigata got that impression? Was he doing Japanese Super Formula? Touring? Formula Two? Did Lupin double back in São Paolo after stealing Christ the Redeemer (Lupin the Third Pt. 2 Episode 2) to race at Interlagos? Back in those days, they were a lot looser about who could show up and race. 61 different guys participated throughout the 1977 F1 season, so Lupin showing up at a race or two is certainly feasible.

Lupin’s car is referred to vaguely as a “Formula machine,” but it’s very clearly a Tyrrell P34— even if the six wheels weren’t a bit of a giveaway, it has the 1977 blue and white livery and Ronnie Peterson’s number 3. In some respects, it’s an odd choice, considering that Peterson retired his P34 in lap ten of the real 1977 Monaco GP and Tyrrell only finished sixth in the constructors championship that year, but it ends up working out great for Lupin. Having two extra wheels works beautifully with Team Lupin’s “stuffing them with bags full of stolen money” tire strategy. More tires literally means more money. Also, it’s just a cool looking car!

Also… are you allowed to do that? Do the bags of stolen money help or hurt when it comes to tire degradation? It would surely impact tire temperature… I think you’re not supposed to do that, so even if Lupin won the race instead of yeeting his car into the water, they probably would have disqualified him. Would he have gotten into trouble with the governing body that issued his racing license? What about for doing things like chasing Zenigata with his car in the pit lane? That’s got to be an unsafe release, even if Lupin managed to jump his P34 over Zenigata instead of killing him. Did you get penalties for killing people in the 70s? I’m not joking. I really don’t know. Motorsports back then were insanely dangerous.

Which reminds me…

They added a ‘k’ to his name. For plausible deniability? No one’s quite sure.

That’s just Niki Lauda, you know, from real life.

“Bet on the Monaco Grand Prix” is a rare Lupin episode that portrays a real, living person. While most of the drivers shown are amalgamations of different people (including a Jackie Stewart from America with short, curly hair), Niki Lauda is just Niki Lauda. Austrian guy, red car, looks exactly like he had before his 1976 accident, Niki Lauda. I could speculate endlessly about why this choice was made, from “he was champion that year, and everyone was really impressed with him for not being dead” to “what if this is a dig at James Hunt for not even bothering to attend the podium ceremony after winning the 1977 Japanese Grand Prix” to “I don’t know, maybe the director just really liked Niki Lauda.”

If you’re really upset that Lupin only got one chance at Monaco, I have great news for you. There’s a manga chapter from 1968 where he races at a Monaco-esque grand prix. It’s in the 2021 Greatest Heists collection, and it’s really gorgeous! There aren’t a ton more examples of Lupin racing, since he opted for the less dangerous career of international gentleman thief, but the ones we have are pretty cool.