It is with regret that we have to record that Alf Francis died last month after a short illness. Alf appeared on the racing scene immediately after the war as mechanic to the rising star Stirling Moss and he looked after the HWM team in the days when John Heath and George Abecassis were forging a lonely path into European motor racing with their British team. Alf then rejoined Moss for his Maserati days in the mid-fifties and then ran Rob Walker’s successful little team from the Dorking premises. After a spell in Italy with Valerio Colotti on gearbox design Alf tried to resurrect the Italian ATS marque, but time was catching up and he eventually went to Arnerica where he worked with various classic car restorers and collectors. He died in Oklohoma, it was said at the age of 65, but those of us who know Alf from his early days would put him at nearer 70.
Born in Poland, Alphons Frantisek Kowalski, he escaped from occupied Poland in the early part of the war and crossed Europe to Portugal where he got a boat to what he thought was America. By his own admission he escaped capture all the way across Europe “. . . thanks to womens skirts .” The boat he took landed him at Liverpool! He could not believe he was in England with a war in progress for no-one there seemed to realise what war meant. This happy carefree outlook really struck home and he took out British nationality as soon as he could and became so pro-British it was hard to believe became from Poland, until he spoke, for he never lost his heavy mid-European accent.
Alf was a “fender” of the first order and could conjure things up in the fields using fencing wire and a welding plant, where others would admit defeat. His book “Racing Mechanic” which Peter Lewis wrote for him in 1957 is a classic for all time, telling unit does of the life of a mechanic in the post-war years when Europe was still recovering from near annihilation and Motor racing was primitive by comparison with today. — DSJ.