In 2017, Ferrari celebrated its 70th anniversary. The first chapters of its stunning history unfolded at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a first triumph in 1949. As Luigi Chinetti, the winner that year, became Ferrari's go-to man in the U.S., Belgian native Jacques Swaters (1926-2010) emerged as the marque's top importer in Europe. He also made his mark in competition, namely at the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans up against...Luigi Chinetti. Swaters' love affair with Ferrari is the subject of the next four installments in this series.
From Jaguar to Ferrari - After remarkable success as a driver at Le Mans (third in 1955 and fourth in 1954 and 1956 with Jaguar), it was at a luncheon at the European Motor Show Brussels with Enzo Ferrari's right-hand man Girolami Gardini and Ronnie Hoare, future U.K. importer of the marque under the aegis of Maranello Concessionaires, that Jacques Swaters officially became, after Chinetti, the second Ferrari importer. In competition, the yellow of the cars of his Ecurie Francorchamps team became as famous as the "rosso corsa" of factory Ferraris. The culmination came at the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans when Jacques Swaters very nearly snatched the win.
The 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, a duel between importers - That year, after the factory Ferraris experienced some troubles, the Ferrari 250 LM of Jacques Swaters, driven by Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin, was leading the one with Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory at the wheel. Entered by the Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing Team (NART), the latter came from the back of the field after problems early in the race. Two Ferrari executives, Gaetano Florini and Mauro Forghieri, approached Jacques Swaters and Luigi Chinetti to suggest they cement their positions and ensure a one-two. Swaters agreed, Chinetti did not, hoping instead to reach the top step on the podium. The pursuit continued at a fever pitch until Sunday morning when the yellow 250 LM lost its right rear tire. By the time the rear hood was repaired and the tires were switched out, Rindt and Gregory had taken the lead and won the race as Dumay and Gosselin finished second.
1970, Ferraris for "Le Mans" - During the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, Steve McQueen filmed in-race shots for his movie "Le Mans." This transpired at the height of the duel between the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512. Since the script called for the 917 to win, Enzo Ferrari refused any involvement. As a result, the Ecurie Francorchamps handled the 512's participation in the film and Jacques Swaters had to negotiate the purchase of an additional car. To that end, the private jet of Solar, Steve McQueen's production company, flew Swaters to Modena to the Ferrari factory. He left with a 512 chassis secured to the roof of a Mercedes taxi that drove him all the way back to Le Mans! This high-level transaction allowed him to bail out Ecurie Francorchamps, which finally shut down in 1982.
A 166 MM in New York - Until his death on December 10, 2010, Jacques Swaters was one of the most valuable preservers of the Ferrari legacy. It was something that failed to impress Enzo Ferrari: "What I did yesterday does not interest me at all, what interests me is what I'm going to be doing tomorrow," he was known to say in his typically straightforward manner. Jacques Swaters was regularly called upon by the Italian manufacturer during the creation of Ferrari Classiche, the department dedicated to the restoration and official certification of vintage Ferraris. He also experienced the immense joy of seeing his very own 166 MM, the first Ferrari to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1949), exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was a fitting tribute to his passion for the Ferrari legend to which he amply contributed by way of his dear Ecurie Francorchamps.
Click before for previous installments in this series about Ferrari pioneers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
PHOTO (Copyright - Archives/ACO): The right rear spoiler of the Ferrari 250 LM driven by Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin bears the marks of the escape that cost him the win at the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans.