José Froilán González

There was something about José Froilán González which seemed indestructible… making the announcement of his passing this weekend, even at the ripe age of 90, something of a shock. Known as the ‘Pampas Bull’ by the British press and ‘El Cabezón’ (fathead), by his countrymen, he was the Argentine star who claimed Enzo Ferrari’s first Grand Prix victory as a constructor enjoyed tremendous affection from fans both in his prime and in his latter years.

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

The Pampas Bull prepares to wrestle his Ferrari, 1952

Rotund and ready-smiling, González was born in the city of Arrecifes and was a keen athlete in his youth – whose competitiveness was somewhat at odds with his naturally chunky frame. At 10 years of age he got himself behind the wheel of a car and this produced an even bigger thrill, so he contrived to find ways to drive vehicles of all shapes and sizes from that moment on.

Racing duly followed, at the age of 24, when he embarked on some of the great cross-country events of the era. He took a typically South American approach by using a pseudonym to avoid his family finding out about his antics – although they did, despite his best efforts. His father then helped González establish a trucking business – no doubt hoping that this would occupy him too fully to go racing – but although it was successful, the whole operation was duly sold after a couple of years in order to pay for a Maserati 4CL with which to make his international debut in Buenos Aires.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari's first Formula One win

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ferrari’s first Formula One win

González clearly had talent and this earned him sponsorship from the Argentine government of Juan Peron – just like his older rival from national road races, Juan Manuel Fangio – which took him to Europe in 1950. Once again his talent was clear and he was signed up by Enzo Ferrari – although with some reservations from the Old Man about the state of high anxiety that González would work himself into before a race.

On July 14th 1951, fate decreed that it was González who would enter the record books as the first man to drive a Ferrari to victory in a Grand Prix, when he mastered a race-long battle with Fangio’s Alfa Romeo 158 to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He drove out of his skin that day, hurling the big unblown V12 around with all his might to hold the waspish supercharged Alfetta at bay in what was undoubtedly his finest Grand Prix performance.

There was no onward momentum from that first victory, however, in what fast became the ‘Fangio era’. He would win at Silverstone with Ferrari once again in 1954, the year when he also anchored the Scuderia’s victory at Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant, but spent the majority of his European racing days as a journeyman. González not only drove for Ferrari but also Maserati, BRM and Tony Vandervell’s Thinwall operation – the British teams usually in non-championship events such as Goodwood meetings.

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the BRM at Goodwood

Gonzales (no.5) blasts off in the mighty V16 BRM at Goodwood

González returned to live in Argentina before the start of the 1955 season, establishing a successful car dealership business. He did not often choose to hark back to his racing days, but when he did he was always cheerful and grateful – if somewhat bemused – by the affection in which he was held by fans of the sport from thousands of miles away. He will be missed.

 

The four-wheeled ambassadors

Today, the good folk of the motor racing fraternity get a little green about the gills when the grey tendrils of politics are seen to encroach upon the virgin purity of their vocation. Mind you, trying to keep up with Damon Hill’s many back-flips over whether or not he believes a particular race should happen on political grounds would make anyone a touch queasy…

The fact remains, however, that in the days of Scarf & Goggles motor sport was quite simply an extension of foreign policy for most participating nations – be they hosts or participants. After all, once internal combustion had proven itself to be far superior to electricity, steam and any other form of motivation in the great races of the 1890s, there had to be a point to competition.

That point was granted by James Gordon Bennett Jr, the millionaire owner of the New York Herald. In 1899 Gordon Bennett inaugurated a trophy to be raced for annually by the automobile clubs of the various countries. Manufacturers would build cars that would be painted in the uniform colour of their nation: blue for France, white for Germany, red for Italy and green for Great Britain.

Racing for Britain: Napier shows off its Gordon Bennett entries

Racing for Britain: Napier shows off its green fleet of Gordon Bennett entries

The early 1900s were a time of fierce nationalism, sabre-rattling and military expansion which ultimately ended in World War 1. The whole of Europe was in a state of fervour, and motor racing provided a white hot crucible in which the technology of the arms race and the national status of the military powers could be trumpeted. Gordon Bennett was on to a winner from the outset.

The Gordon Bennett races were succeeded in 1906 by Grand Prix racing, but the nationalistic fervour which surrounded these races was no different – nor indeed were the racing colours. While the 1914 Grand Prix contest between the vast, organised might of Mercedes and the quixotic local hero Georges Boillot’s Peugeot was certainly spectacular in itself, it was undoubtedly given piquancy to the hundreds of thousands of French fans in the wake of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and the mustering of arms that would soon be locked in battle.

Boillot (5) and the Peugeot team carry French hopes into battle

Boillot (5) and the Peugeot team carry French hopes into battle in 1914

After World War 1 motor racing had a short break from political life but it bounced back with a vengeance with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini. Il Duce wanted more than just the trains to run on time, he wanted to rebuild the Roman empire and to do that would mean making the whole of the Mediterranean aware that their neighbours could take on and beat the world in matters of might and technology.

Mussolini’s patronage of, and benefits from, the great racing programme at Alfa Romeo were a match made in heaven, in his view. The scarlet cars from Portello would howl their way to victory in Grand Prix and sports car races across the whole of Europe, only to be greeted by a beatifically smiling Duce upon their return home.

Mussolini in the hotseat as he greets Tazio Nuvoleri (centre) and the Alfa team

Mussolini in the hotseat to greet Tazio Nuvolari (centre) and the Alfa team

While Italy triumphed, a certain Austrian politician was busy making all sorts of promises about funding racing cars if he was to get into power in Germany. Adolf Hitler was wooed by the motor manufacturers and wooed them back in return, forming a triumvirate with Deutsche Bank that effectively created the mechanical power of the regime and sold it to the masses via motor racing.

Millions of Reichmarks were poured in to the racing funds of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union by Hitler’s chancellery through the era of the ‘silver arrows’. The formidable German technology on show not only chewed up and spat out the competition across Europe, Africa and North America but also bred technology that was soon to be put to work in the latest weapons of war.

Ernst von Delius prepares for the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup in New York

Ernst von Delius prepares for the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup in New York

But it wasn’t only Grand Prix racing. Motorcycle racing and sports cars were equally important to the NSKK (Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahrkorps, responsible for all automotive matters in the Reich) as the means to show German supremacy.

As for the races themselves, Germany and Italy turned their major race meetings into idealogical pageants, with flags a-flutter and uniformed stormtroops aplenty… the crowds at the Nürburgring were also treated to such pre-race entertainment as a display by the prototype Stuka dive-bomber.

BMW ace Huschke von Hanstein made his sponsorship clear

BMW ace Huschke von Hanstein made his sponsorship clear

Both the German and Italian teams also had to be selective in their driver line-ups. For the German teams in particular, hiring non-German drivers was only ever done in line with national priorities. Occasionally the teams were then ‘requested’ by NSKK officials to deploy team orders, such as when Auto Union was required to allow Hans Stuck to surrender certain victory in the 1935 Tripoli Grand Prix to his Italian team-mate Achille Varzi.

You might be forgiven for thinking that, in the wake of World War 2, such political engineering would be consigned to history – but such was not the case. The cars retained their national racing colours, and when Tony Vandervell set out to create his world championship-winning Vanwall team in the mid-1950s, he did so with the sole objective of beating ‘those bloody red cars’.

Flying the flag: Hawthorn keeps a corner of Maranello forever England

Flying the flag: Hawthorn keeps a corner of Maranello forever England

Among the drivers, too, there was strong feeling. Stirling Moss always wished for a competitive British car, and when none was available made certain that his mount would at least carry British colours. Mike Hawthorn raced a green Ferrari in his first races of 1953 as a tribute from Enzo Ferrari himself, and later added a green windcheater to his racing uniform to ensure that, even when the cars were red, a flash of green was on show.

Of course Stirling also benefited from the pre-war ethos of team orders when at Mercedes-Benz, being handed his victory at Aintree in 1955 by his team-mate Fangio as a handy bit of PR for the Stuttgart marque.

Moss beats Fangio at home to Mercedes' great relief

Moss beats Fangio at Aintree – to Mercedes’ great relief

Today the modern version of Grand Prix racing takes the sport to nations which pay for the spectacle from public funds and seek to gain something back in terms of status, tourism, business and PR. The Caterham team, meanwhile, is owned by 1Malaysia, a government organization intended to promote racial harmony among its discordant Chinese, Indian and Malay population.

So it’s clear that, today, the sport is still carrying on at least some of the traditions that have kept it in rude health for more than a century. Politics are part of the fabric of life in all walks – although motor sport still has a long way to go to catch up with the Olympics!

Graham Turner: Master at Work

Graham Turner is one of the best artists working today, bar none. He brings the trademark rivet-perfect detail to his subjects and passion for the stories behind each picture that have long typified the work of his father, Michael. But there is a freshness and vibrancy there that rejuvenates even the best-known subjects and renders them anew – like this recent offering: Master at Work.

Stirling Moss and the Vanwall remain one of the most-painted combinations in motor sport history. When new work like this appears, you have to believe that this will be the case for many years to come.

Graham Turner's portrait of Stirling Moss in the 1958 Dutch GP

Graham Turner’s portrait of Stirling Moss in the 1958 Dutch GP

To see all of Michael and Graham Turner’s work, visit www.studio88.co.uk

Stirling’s Land Speed Records

Stirling at 240mph in the 'Rolling Raindrop'

Stirling at 240mph in the ‘Rolling Raindrop’

The summer of 1957 was an incredible period in Sir Stirling Moss’s illustrious career. He had finally got a British car worthy of his talents for Grand Prix racing in the form of the Vanwall and with it delivered three victories – the first for a British car and driver combination in the world championship’s history. That the first race win came at Aintree in the British Grand Prix was also a boon.

The second win came at Pescara, a majestic and terrifying open road circuit – the last time that a world championship event would be held on such a traditional layout in Europe. Then, days later, Stirling hopped gamely on a plane and set off for the United States.

The reason was that he had been engaged by another British brand to fly the flag – M.G.

With the launch of its MGA in 1955, M.G. moved away from its familiar ‘square rigger’ sports cars such as the TD and TF and instead produced a modern, streamlined beauty with no echoes of pre-war design to be found in her. This had proven to be something of a shock to the marketplace… so honours needed to be won.

The MGA’s twin-cam 1500cc engine was duly mated to a supercharger which was almost exactly the same size as the basic powerplant, and its technical guru Syd Enever juiced it up on a special fuel mix of 86% methanol laced with nitrobenzene, acetone and sulphuric ether. The result was a rather manic unit that generated 290bhp at 7,300rpm.

This remarkable engine was placed in a dramatic setting – mid-mounted in a spaceframe chassis that was then wrapped in an extreme form of aerodynamic bodywork. Commonly referred to as looking like a tadpole and given the nickname ‘rolling raindrop’ the EX-181 was an extraordinary thing.

The complete car measured 15 feet long and only three feet high, requiring the driver to lie down underneath the steering wheel. It had been tested by the promising young American ace Phil Hill, who warned Moss to be particularly careful when slowing down, as the cockpit was liable to fill with toxic and highly inflammable fuel vapour so it was best to hold your breath and go easy on the brakes!

On 23rd August, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Moss hopped inside the car and its bodywork was latched down over him. He then proceeded to shatter no fewer than five records in the 1100-1500cc class over 1km, 1 mile, 5km, 5 miles and 10km – with his fastest run being clocked at 245.64mph. This was more than 20% quicker than the previous record, and comfortably made EX-181 the fastest M.G. yet built.

Stirling looks well pleased with his day's work

Stirling looks well pleased with his day’s work

The dynamic young Englishman and his futuristic-looking steed took the world by storm, and M.G. saw its fortunes take a great leap. It would later add another 10mph to EX-181’s top speed and set new records with Phil Hill at the wheel, but in the summer of ’57 it was Stirling who was the fastest man in the world. Three weeks later he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in Vanwall’s final triumph of the summer.

For his combined achievements in racing and record breaking, Moss was awarded the Royal Automobile Club’s prestigious Segrave Trophy. Today EX-181 stands as one of the most prized exhibits in the Motor Heritage Centre in Gaydon, where her outlandish looks still attract considerable awe and interest from subsequent generations.