This passion for speed and the car could not escape her, incubated by her three pilot uncles who leaned over her cradle, since her birth, on December 11, 1930. Around her, her fairies are called Louis Trintignant, who kills himself with his Bugatti Type 35 during practice for the Picardie Grand Prix when Jean-Louis was three years old. There was also the other uncle, Henri, who ran the French Grand Prix in 1936. And, above all, Maurice, the one for whom the term gentlemen driver was invented, who entered 82 Grand Prix and won twice (with Ferrari and Cooper) the Monaco Grand Prix, which also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1955, with Ferrari, and the Argentine José Froilán González, “El Toro de la Pampa” sharing the wheel.
But the nephew will not follow in his footsteps, not professionally in any case. And not, at least not initially.
Pilot in fiction and in real life
Jean Louis Trintignant, as a teenager, discovered poetry, but occupied the benches of the law school in Aix en Provence, with a moderate enthusiasm because it is already known that “something worthwhile must be done.” It is in this city where he discovers the theater, but also the cinema, two arts that make him abandon the Civil Code. But young Trintignant wants to learn. So he takes acting classes and, at the same time, enrolls in a film school, with the idea of becoming a director for the big screen and an actor on stage. He will direct two feature films, the black comedy “Une journée bien remplie” (1972) in Spanish “A day well used”; and another comedy, “Le maître nageur” (1978). But if he will act in the theater throughout his career, his recognition and notoriety will come to him above all because of his great roles in the cinema.
This notoriety will be acquired at the same time as a young actress with whom he shares the credits in “And God created woman”, by Roger Vadim. But if Brigitte Bardot takes the fame, the film allows Trintignant to chain the roles, until the masterpiece “A man and a woman”, the first (and for some the best) film by Claude Lelouch, released in 1966. The feature film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the Oscar for best foreign film, and propelled its director and stars (Trintignant and the equally unforgettable Anouk Aimée) to the top. At the wheel of his Ford Mustang, Jean-Louis Trintignant, after running the Rallye Monte-Carlo, leaves at night to reach the other end of France, towards Deauville, to meet the woman who wrote that she loved him.
And not only will this first job transform the former law student into a movie star (he will win the acting prize at the same Cannes festival three years later), but it also brings back the good memories of his uncles who were pilots ever since in the film his character, Jean-Louis Duroc, is a car racer.
Interestingly, the character played by Trintignant was not originally a pilot. Originally, in Lelouch’s script, he was a doctor. At the insistence of his interpreter, the director retracted his first idea, not at all bothered by the modification since he himself was passionate about cars.
In the 1980 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a Porsche 935 K3
It is another path that you will find once you have acquired your notoriety and economic facility: that of circuits and rally specials. Because Trintignant has always prided itself on being a car enthusiast. Even if, perhaps in an atavistic way, he was far more talented than most stars who regularly enjoy driving some racing cars.
Thus, in these late sixties, he will take the wheel, first in rallies. He made his debut in 1976 at the Rallye du Var with an Opel Kadett GT/E and in 1977 he took part in Monte-Carlo with a Simca Rallye 2. In 1979 he drove an Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti and in 1979 at the Critérium des Cévennes.
In 1981 he achieved two class victories respectively at the Rallye du Roussillon and the Ronde Nationale de la Durance in an Alpine-Renault A310 1800 and then went on to drive a Porsche 924 in the very tough Rallye du Côte d’Ivoire, an Opel Ascona 400 in the Rallye du Condroz, and a Peugeot 505 TI at Monte-Carlo.
The following year he returned to Monte-Carlo, but now with a Peugeot 104 ZS, and with a Porsche 911 he took part in the Rallye de la Baule and the Rallye National du Périgord Noir. In 1984 it is his last edition of the Montecarlo, this time aboard an Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV6.
In the 1980 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a Porsche 935 K3
And also on the circuits, where he participates in the one-make races (all ran with Simca Rallye 2) of the Star Racing Team, with his companions from the show, Moustache, Guy Marchand or Claude Brasseur.
And he enjoys it a lot, but he is a perfectionist and if he drives, he wants not to do it against amateur rivals, but against real professional drivers. In 1977, when he participated in the French “Production” championship with a Triumph Dolomite of the Leyland France team, for this 47-year-old beginner, it was a completely different story. Trintignant is not the famous actor under the spotlight. He is Jean-Louis, a humble and discreet pilot, without flashes, without courtships of admirers. Every race weekend, the driver replaces the actor, listens to the advice of René Metge, his teammate, exchanges opinions with specialized journalists, only talks about cars, about racing, only about his passion.
For five years he intensely lived the moments of this parenthesis in his life. He competes in all “scenarios”: circuits, rallies, ice races… And he does it with very different cars. The most powerful of which, the 780 hp Porsche 935 K3, gave him the scare of his life. It would be in the 1980 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Xavier Lapeyre and Anne Charlote-Verney sharing the wheel. On Sunday morning, a few hours before the end of the race, a rear wheel of the 935 K3 bursts on the Les Hunaudières straight, at more than 300 km/h. The car bounces off the guardrails before coming to a stop: Trintignant, miraculously, is unharmed. Returning to the pits, he declared, “When people told me about Le Mans, they always told me: we killed each other there on the straight. So I told myself that I was going to die, but I had to try something. I activated the circuit breaker, stepped on the clutch and did a spin.
On the other hand, he continues in endurance tests, and is 7th and 2nd in the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps in 1981 and 1982, respectively, riding a BMW 528 with prestigious teammates such as Derek Bell and Jean-Pierre Jarier and a renowned rally and circuit driver (including four appearances at Le Mans) named Marianne Hoepfner.
Asked about his performance, Jean-Louis Trintignant spoke first of the others: “I hope I was up to the task, that it didn’t prevent my teammates from doing better.” He always humble.
The 80s are the years of the Dakar. The rally-raid attracts the stars and Trintignant allows himself to be convinced to participate, but without results.
In the year 2000, he married Marianne Hoepfner. And there he has been until the end, when Jean Louis Trintignant has taken the start of his last stage last Friday, June 17.
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