The good thing about being a semi-retired chap is that there is time to do stuff for no other purpose than filling in time. Doing this newsletter for instance. But that takes research, and the prime objective of research is to identify avenues for further research.
A while back, when putting the Maserati series together, I came across this car on an auction website. The auction notes say that it was built by/for Fangio after the crash that nearly ended his career in 1952.
Research Rule 1. Never take auction site papers at face value. The notes for this car say that the chassis was provided by Maserati for a home build convalescence project – a car intended for the Argentine mecanica nacional formula. But this is no Maserati. It is much like the locally made specials in its suspension and chassis detailing. To top it off no race records for it appear on the Museo Fangio website. Even so it is still a fine looking car. The engine is a 6 cylinder Chevy, a favoured engine in Fangio’s mecanica nacional specials. The same engine type was used in an earlier car that took him to a series of national championships from 1947 onwards.
Fangio’s early racing was done under pseudonym, so his mother would not know that he was racing, but the secret soon came out and parental sanction was given. With a little help from his footballing friends a workshop was built on the family property and he and his brother got into car building. The footballers didn’t want to watch him race, they wanted him to stay in town and continue to play for the local team. (His El Chueco nickname – the bandy legged one- comes from his footballing days). The brothers build a model T based car and shoehorned a GMC/Chevy 6 into it. It was soon abandoned for a more promising car. A search for a chassis with better prospects netted them a Rickenbacker engined Volpi.
Rickenbacker was a post WW1 American manufacturer that ceased operations in the mid 20’s. Conrado Volpi was a serial specials builder, with a dozen or so mecanica nacional cars to his credit. (Google Volpi cars Argentina to find some of them). The Chevy engine from the T was installed in the Volpi and Fangio’s world was set to change.
Mecanica nacional successes put him in the frame for a sponsored drive in the 1948 Temporada. The Auto Club of Argentina had obtained two 4CL Formula One Maserati’s and went looking for locals to drive them. Fangio got one (apparently he was favoured over younger aspirants as he didn’t ask how much appearance money he would get, rather he asked what he, or rather his sponsors, would have to pay for the drive). The ACA also leased a Gordini for a couple of the races and allocated it to Fangio. In it he out-qualified the team leader (Wimmile) and lead much of his first Gordini race, before retirement stopped the fun. Impressive driving during the 1948 Temporada lead to the contacts in Europe that set up his European career.
In 1948 an ACA delegation, including Fangio, went on a fact finding mission to the USA and Europe. Their aim was to check out prospects for an Argentinian team in international racing in 1949, and to purchase a couple of cars for them to do it with. Following the death of Archille Varzi in practice for the 1948 Swiss GP, the ACA team was offered the use of the Varzi family workshop as a base. (The team ran as Scuadra Archille Varzi). Also in Switzerland Trintignant had flipped his Gordini and was not fit to drive in the following French Grand Prix. (In those years formula two machines also ran in the Grand Prix fields). On the strength of his Temporada Gordini drives Fangio was offered the Trintignant car and did it full justice.
The delegation returned to Argentina with two brand new Maserati 4CLT formula one cars. Fangio won one of the 1949 Temporada races and placed highly in two others. The team then returned to Europe with Fangio and Campos doing the driving. If you were a Maserati driver that year the timing was perfect. The hitherto dominant Alfa Romeo team were taking a gap year, the Ferrari’s were still developing, and the Maseratis were the cars to have. Fangio pulled 4 wins in the CLT, one more for Gordini and another in a brand new F2 Ferrari, beating the entire works team at Monza. These performances resulted in an invitation to join Alfa Romeo for 1950, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That was the end of Fangio’s involvement in mecanica nacional racing. But what of his cars? The Volpi Chevrolet was passed on to the Marimon family and brought young Onofre many wins before he too joined the talent drain to Europe.
But the Fangio shed also contained another Volpi project. This one in the throes of being fitted with the mechanical bits of a pre war Grand Prix 8C Alfa Romeo. These bits came from a car crashed during the 1949 Temporarda, and included a 6C 2.5 litre marine engine. The car’s previous owners had intended to use the marine engine in the 8C for mechanica nacional races. Fangio took up the idea, but with a Volpi frame. With the F1 drive in place work on the Alfa project ceased, and the 6C engine passed on to Alberto Crespo for use in his own national formula car. Then there may or may not have been a convalescence project and we are back to where we began.
1.The Rickenbacker Car Company was founded by WW1 flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. This chap had a most interesting life, being an engineer/driver both before and after being an aviator. Look him up and join in the fun of doing stuff just to fill in time.
2. The remains of the 8C were found in Argentina in the 1990’s in “dismal condition” and have since been rebuilt into the cars original form.