Several of last Century’s Latin American leaders viewed to Europe and discovered the possibility that car racing can promote their country and with this, their-selves. Already in 1949 arrived a special Ferrari 166 MM in Buenos Aires. It was unique, not only that the car was painted in the Argentinian national color light blue (“celeste) and yellow, but also it included both available options, the luxury and the competition package. Unusually as luxury means weight, what reduces the car’s performance in races. The buyer was the Automobile Club of Argentina (ACA), what created the rumor that the 166 MM should had been a gift the country’s first lady Evita Peron. Nevertheless it seems more likely that it was the idea of the Argentinian race driver Carlos Menditeguy, who hoped to bypass the high import taxes that way. Similar to European dictators at that time, President Juan Domingo Peron liked motorsports and its image of competition, speed and technological progress. For this he not only supported local racing events, but also strongly the ACA and a talented young driver named Juan Manuel Fangio, who had later a successful career with Mercedes Benz until the company withdraw from motorsports after the tragic race accident at Le Mans, where more than 80 spectators got killed. The following year he joined for just one season the Ferrari team, where we won the Formula 1 World Championship on a D50.
In 1950 Carlos Mediteguy won the Mar de Plata open race, but already the same year the car had been shipped back to Italy, as the temporal import license, never had been made permanent.Evita never got seen with this car, but she and her husband had a known preference for Italian luxury cars. President Juan Peron bought in 1953 a Ferrari 212 Inter Ghia Coupe and Evita owned a ’50 Maserati A6 1500.
Seven years later, the talented Fangio already had been a champion and beside other known drivers went to Havana, Cuba to compete there at the “Grand Prix de Cuba”. The island was still ruled by the dictator Fulgencio Batista, who invested into this new event, to please the local upper class as also rich US tourists, but revolution was on the raise. The British driver Sterling Moss remembered: “Racing along the waterfront on the Malecon in the vibrant city of Havana was a remarkable experience.” At the end Juan Manual Fangio won on a Maserati 300S before Carrol Shelby on a Ferrari 410 and Alfonso De Portago on a Ferrari 860 Monza.
Due to this success, the next year should see the second Cuban Grand Prix, but this time it became a less positive event. The day before the race, kidnappers which had been near to the Revolution took Fangio and brought him to a hide-out. Here they wanted to keep him until the race was over. This with the idea to sabotage the race itself and its possibilities to use it for Batista’s propaganda. Police forces started at once a search for Fangio, including closing the airport, but detected no sign of him. Nevertheless the star-driver could not be found up at the event, the organizers, including the government, decided to start the race, also to please the big crowd of spectators.
As if it was an omen of the things to come, the race was overshadowed by a fatal accident. On lap number 7, the Cuban driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes lost the control over his Ferrari at the curve near the US Embassy. The car went into a group of people. Seven died and about 40 had been injured. The accident stopped the race and Moss was declared the winner.
The rebels treated Fangio relatively good, so the Argentinian himself took it more as an adventure and not felt a real treat to his health or life. As announced, the evening after the race, he was duly released.
In 1960 the US capped not yet their cultural and business relations to the island and the Grand Prix came a last time to Cuba. In opposite to its earlier editions, it has to move out of Havana and be held near a military airfield. A logical step, as a socialistic regime has only few relations to commercial events as a Grand Prix race, even if it served to please the masses. In the third and last of these events, Sterling Moss won on a Maserati Birdcage and Mexican driver Pedro Rodriguez came in as second on a Ferrari 250 TR59.
Motorsports started as a competition between drivers, later used by car manufacturers to prove the technological capabilities of their creations. Nevertheless, and as is true for all mayor cultural or sports event, this often gets exploited to support the political appearance of governments.
- Coachbuild.com: Touring Ferrari 166MM Barchetta #0024M”
- Dye, Noug (2002): “How Evita helped Fangio to the top”
- Henz, Patrick (2016): “Alfa Romeo, Ferrari & Art & History”
- Henz, Patrick (2016): “Business Philosophy according to Enzo Ferrari”
- Henz, Patrick (2017): “Italian Car Tales”
- Primotipo (2014): “Cuban Grand Prix 1957: Batista, Castro, de Portago, Fangio…”
- Saward, Joe (2011): “How Fidel Castro kidnapped the world’s greatest racer”
- Sports Car Market (2002): “1951 Ferrari 212 Inter Ghia Coupe”