In the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans, none of the five Ferraris that started on Saturday passed the finish line on Sunday, June 24. It is undoubtedly a bitter defeat for the Scuderia who could not renew the triumph obtained in the previous edition by Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thompson. The five Ferraris would have to abandon, including the number 28, a 166 that broke the clutch at 11 at night. In the motoring scene, he was far from among the favorites. And yet many glances followed that Touring boat for another reason: its owner and pilot. And it is that this was none other than Porfirio Rubirosa, the archetype of the playboy, who filled pages and pages of what was then called the social chronicle, today seen as the information of the heart.
Polo player, occasional boxer and car racer, the long list of female names that marked Rubirosa’s career began with that of Flor de Oro, neither more nor less than the daughter of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, owner and lord of Santo Domingo. We are in 1936, in Germany that is experiencing the fullness of the national-socialist regime, and Rubirosa is appointed secretary of the embassy in Berlin. Through the streets of the capital of the III Reich, in the heat of its Olympic Games, the diplomat and the daughter of the dictator Trujillo (whom he married in 1932), walk in a spectacular light beige Packard V12 with brown fins, which does not it went, precisely, unnoticed.
But Rubirosa preferred France, where he had lived between the ages of six and seventeen (his father, a military man and a diplomat, had been head of the Dominican embassy in Paris) and succeeded in being transferred, as advisor to the diplomatic representation, to the capital. French in December 1936.
The reunion with the ‘joie de vivre’ had its effect and in 1937 he separated from Flor de Oro. In 1940 Germany invaded France and ‘Rubi’, as his friends knew him, was transferred to Vichy, headquarters of the French collaborationist government. In his garage he keeps a spectacular Delahaye 135 MS, with a convertible body made by Figoni, a Daimler and a Citroën 15, the latter destined for his diplomatic duties as his country’s business manager.
Vichy is not much fun for him, and he often goes to Paris (the license plate “CD” is a perfect pass). In the city of light he meets the famous and beautiful French actress Danielle Darrieux. Despite his youth, 24 years old, he has already shot thirty films, some of them with directors of the Willy Bilder category. Danielle separates from her husband Henri Decoin, a former war pilot, «L’Auto« journalist, writer and film director, and married Rubirosa in September 1942. Five years later, in 1947, Danielle is filming in Marrakech. Rubirosa, stationed at the embassy in Rome, meets journalist Doris Duke, a billionaire heir to Camel cigars. Divorce, Rubi’s third marriage and destiny at the head of the embassy in Buenos Aires.
In the 24 Hours of 1950, Rubirosa has just divorced the wealthy heiress. Part of the money he receives, he invests in a Ferrari 166 MM that he shares with Pierre Leygonie, with the result that we already know. From there he enters a stage in which he is dedicated to business and is not seen again in a competition. In 1953, he plans to participate in Le Mans with Pierre Leygonie in a Ferrari 166 MM / 53, but his pre-registration is not accepted. A month later, the team starts at the 12 Hours of Reims, with a Ferrari 166 painted in white and blue: Ruby’s name is carefully handwritten next to that of Vignale, author of the car body that, incidentally, bears the Diplomatic registration CD 4454X.
Rubi jumps back into newspapers and magazines not because of her (poor) sporting results at the wheel of her Ferrari but because of her marriage to billionaire Barbara Hutton. With an immense fortune (she is heir to the Woolworth warehouse empire), she in turn had divorced in 1951 from her fourth husband, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, a Frenchman of Russian origin, good sportsman and racing driver with Simca-Gordini and Ferrari.
One of the most inexplicable things about Rubirosa in relation to motorsports, happens shortly after. After his two lackluster appearances in competition, in March 1954 the Dominican was incorporated to compete in the 12 Hours of Sebring, to the official Lancia team. It is a strong team, competing with four D24s piloted by figures of the stature of Fangio, Ascari, Castellotti, Villoresi, Taruffi, Manzon and Valenzano. Gino Valenzano told a few years ago that Gianni Lancia had warned him that he would share a flyer with Porifirio Rubirosa, whom he had hired for being famous “because you had to think about advertising.”
Rubi takes the exit and then the car is no longer seen passing by. Valenzano starts running around the circuit until he finds his partner, with the car stopped at the side of the track, sitting on the wing and signing autographs: “the gearbox has broken”, is all his explanation. Valenzano starts the car, returns to the track and realizes that, except for the third gear that did not enter, the rest of the mechanics worked perfectly. The D24 finished second, behind Stirling Moss who carried an Osca 1500.
In June 1954, the Dominican, who had just divorced Barbara Hutton, prepared to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Innocente Baggio. Although the divorce has brought him a succulent amount of money, it is the Italian aristocrat who covers the expenses and puts the car. This time it is a Ferrari 375 MM with more than 300 hp, which had been exhibited a few months earlier at the Geneva Motor Show. The spectacular car shares photographers’ interest with the Dominican’s latest conquest, the statuesque Hungarian-born actress ZsaZsa Gabor. Shortly after starting the race, Baggio leaves and in the arena of Tertre Rouge the adventure ends.
In August, at a race in Santa Bárbara (California), Rubirosa debuts a Ferrari 500 Mondial, a Spyder with four cylinders, 2 liters and 160 hp, bodied by Pininfarina and painted in navy blue, with which he fell in love after discovering it in the garage of Ernie McAffe, Ferrari agent in Los Angeles.
In November, the famous Carrera Panamericana takes place, a test “a mixture of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Thousand Miles, the Tripoli Grand Prix and the Nurburgring” in the words of Alfred Neubahuer, the famous boss of the Mercedes team. Of course, that test of eight stages and 3,200 kilometers along the Mexican roads was extremely hard and very dangerous. Rubirosa teams up with Ernie McAffe and drives the latest version of the Ferrari 500 Mondial, a spyder with a more aerodynamic body by Scaglietti. Rubirosa finishes the first stage in position 45 and leaves.
He will reappear four months later to participate in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1955. He wears the same 500 Mondial from the Panamericana, but with a different paint job. And the test does not end. He is seen again in Nassau, for December Speed Week. This time it has a third version of the Ferrari 500, with the front suspension with coil springs and a five-speed gearbox. This spyder Scaglietti has had a magnificent season, winning his class in Venezuela with Harry Schell and Eugenio Castellotti sharing the wheel. Rubirosa will participate in two or three races in Nassau, achieving the triumph of his class in the Governor’s Trophy.
In March 1955 he joined the 500 Mondial in the 12 Hours of Sebring, sharing the wheel with the American Jim Pauley. And both have an excellent race that takes them to tenth place in the general classification and to victory in the 1.5 to 2-liter sport category.
And he is not seen again on a track until November 1956, on the occasion of the Venezuelan Grand Prix. He has just married French actress Odile Rodin, and debuts one of the three 500 Testa Rossa bodied by Touring exclusively to be used by the official team at Monza (with a 2-liter engine) and at Le Mans (with a 2.5-liter ). After these races they were sold (with 2-liter engines) to private pilots, one of them Rubirosa. The Venezuelan Grand Prix is won by Moss with a Maserati 300S, after the abandonment of the Spanish De Portago (Ferrari 857), ahead of Fangio (Ferrari 860. Rubirosa finishes in eleventh position, in a race depleted by dropouts ( the heat was crushing mechanics and pilots).
Shortly afterwards, he ordered his first ‘street’ Ferrari, a 1957 Pinin Farina convertible 250 GT body. As for the competition, Rubirosa was seen again at the 1957 Cuban Grand Prix where he debuted another 500 TRC, the last Ferrari sport four-cylinder; It seems that the 500 were the cars that were best suited. He ended up in third place, but the newspapers focused more on another issue: the kidnapping of Fangio by the Castroites.
With this same car, a month later, sharing the wheel with Parisian financier Jean François Malle and New York fashion photographer Bill Herburn, he competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing in eleventh place. It would be the end of his racing career, but not of his love affair with Ferrari. This is how he buys two other 250 Pinin Farina convertibles in Brussels, at the Spa Francorchamps garage (one in 1959 and the other in 1960).
At the wheel of the latter will come its end. One night in 1965, after celebrating the triumph of his polo team (his great passion) ‘Cibao Pampa’ at the White Elephant and later in the Calvados nightclub, he crashed into a tree in the Bois de Boulogne at dawn. Many would be surprised if Rubi drove after a night out, as she always avoided him. There was even talk that his state of mind was not going through one of his best moments.
In any case, his end, at the wheel of a Ferrari, was the epilogue to the story of one of his few loyalties.
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