PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.
Have you heard of the Marquis Alfonso de Portago? No? Not many of the current generation have, it seems, and not surprising, since he died 56 years ago. The few who might know of him probably remember him as the driver whose Ferrari cartwheeled into the crowd near the end of the 1957 Mille Miglia.
That was the end of the dashing playboy, who died along with his co-driver and 10 spectators. The tragedy also brought about the end of the Mille Miglia, as an all-out road race.
Alfonso de Portago’s name will again come up here Aug. 18 when Gooding & Co. auctions off a rare 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Competitizione, which de Portago sold shortly before his horrible accident.
In a touching tribute to de Portago, the automotive journalist Ken Purdy wrote, “Portago was not a great racing driver, although it is certain that he would have been, had he lived…He was not an artist, he left nothing of beauty behind him and nothing of use to the world. He moved no mountains, wrote no books, bridged no rivers. He saved no lives, indeed, he took innocents with him to his death…Yet it would be a flinty heart which did not mourn his death. At the very least, he was an adornment in the world, an excitement, a pollar of fire in the night, producing no useful heat or light, but a glory to see nonetheless. At most he was an inspiration…for he proved that if anything at all is meant for us, we are meant to live life…”
Alfonso, the 17th Marquis of Portago in Spain, was among the last of a breed of titled heirs, princes and other scions of the rich and famous who endeavored to make a life in motorsport. Like most of his peers, he lived hard, drove fast, and died young.
When he raced – and he loved racing for Ferrari – he usually won, broke or crashed. Accumulating points for also-ran finishes was not his thing. One of his co-drivers predicted he would not live to the age of 30. He was right; de Portago was 29 at the time of his fatal accident.
Finished in creamy white, the 250 GT Berlinetta, chassis # 0415 GT, was one of 10 of its type. De Portago took delivery in time to race it in the Nassau Speed Weeks in The Bahamas in late 1955. Sometime in 1956, he traded the car, which came with a body by Pininfarina, for a similar one with a body by Scaglietti. Within a year, he was dead.
The car passed through several hands over the years, and at one time was owned by Hein Gericke – who, if it is the guy I’m thinking of, makes all the motorcycle and extreme sports apparel.
The Ferrari had a fairly rough life – crashed, rolled, and generally beaten up – by a succession of wannabe racers and gentlemen sportsmen. At one point in the early 1970s, it was stolen. It was recovered, but its engine was gone. Though it was fitted with a correct type of replacement engine, the loss of such original equipment might be considered by purists as something of a black mark against its value.
Losses like these are hard to recover from, but in 2008, a miracle happened. Someone found the original engine. Although it has not been re-installed in the car, Gooding notes, “the unrestored matching-numbers engine block is offered with the sale.”
Maybe that is why Gooding has placed a pre-sale estimate on it of $6,500,000-$7,500,000.
As a footnote to this story, David Gooding, the auction house’s principal, related an interesting story about what happened to de Portago’s fatal Ferrari. The body was totaled, he noted, “but the V-12 engine went back to Ferrari. They reworked it and installed in another car – one of the most famous Ferraris ever – the 412 MI.”
That car was raced by Phil Hill, Luigi Musso, Mike Hawthorn, Richie Ginther and others to great distinction. It is renown for the deafening roar. Ironically, that car, which is currently in the collection of Christopher Cox, has probably crossed paths with chassis # 0415 GT over the years at a vintage race or two.
August 2, 2013