Filipinetti: triumph before tragedy

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Scuderia Filipinetti. Cadaverous-looking, chainsmoking, big-spending Georges Filipinetti was a very successful Swiss-Italian motor trader and property entrepreneur at least until it all went terribly wrong for him into the 1970s...

As a would-be amateur racer in 1939 he had been a member of the Ecurie Genevoise campaigning Maseratis. Post-war his sponsorship helped elevate the Rallye Geneve to International stature, and into the 1960s he became President of the Swiss Karting authority. He wangled himself diplomatic status as San Marino's representative at the United Nations in Geneva, while his SAVAF company Societe Anonyme pour la Vente des Automobiles Ferrari prospered as the marques Swiss concessionaire.

Madame Filipinetti, the German-born Marhe Armleder, was the former wife of Swiss racing driver Ciro Basadonna. She was also heiress to Geneva's ritzy Hotel Richemond. While Filipineffi imported Ferraris, Basadonna imported Maseratis...

Through 1961, Filipinetti admired promising young former racing motorcyclist Jo Siffert, then making his name on four wheels in a Formula Junior Lotus 18, soon replaced by a Lotus 20. Georges Filipinetti decided to foster such Swiss talent in the 1962 season. His natural tendency towards the grand gesture saw him claim the title Ecurie Nationale Suisse, only for the Automobile Club de Suisse to object violently, on the grounds that no such private team should claim 'national' stature.

So he changed the name to his own and Ecurie Filipinetti was born, then speedily ltalianised as Scuderia Filipinetti. Jo Siffert made his World Championship Formula 1 debut in that year's Monaco Grand Prix, driving a Lotus 'special' combining a Type 21 forward frame and suspension with type 24-style rear end, powered by an upright-mounted Climax FPF four-cylinder engine. While this Monaco entry had been made as Ecurie Nationale Suisse, by the time practice began Seppi's bright red Lotus special wore jazzy Ecurie Filipineffi leffering across its scuffle. True V8-engined Lotus 24s were later acquired, while Filipinetti also entered an FJ/F1 Lotus 22, Porsche 718 and eventually the ex-Serenissima/Edgar Berney Ferrari 250GT0 with drivers Siffert, Heinz Schiller and Herbert Willer that same year.

But 'Seppi' Siffert proved too independentlyminded for Georges Filipinetti. Into 1963 he actually owned and ran the Type 24 which Filipinetti entered for him and covered expenses. Filipinetti was thrilled when Siffert won the early '63 Syracuse GP in Sicily, but he then wanted Seppi to run in the glamour event at Monaco while the driver himself fancied the prize money in the Rome GP at Vallelunga the preceding weekend. Filipineffi cancelled their Rome entry, and cabled Siffert there, accusing him of 'grave indiscipline' and literally ordering him to report with the car at Monte Carlo the following Wednesday. Their transporter crashed, bending the Lotus, and after cobbling a repair to start in Monte Carlo and retire early Siffert left Filipineffi's new team.

The Swiss Scuderia went on to compete primarily in World Championship endurance racing. Its greatest day came in 1966 on the rain-damped byways of north-western Sicily when Herbie Willer and Willy Mairesse won the Targa Florio in Filipinetti's Porsche 906. The Scuderia's name also appeared on assorted Ford GTs, Cortinas and Mustangs that year. They were also involved with Cobras, including the Daytona Coupe, and Joakim Bonnier's Formula 1 CooperMaserati, and even Dan Gurney's prototype EagleClimax Fl car which Herbie Willer campaigned in occasional mountain climb events. The Scuderia later ran Chevrolet Corveffes, a Lola T70 GT and Ferrari 512S and M, then assorted 2 and 3-litre Lola sports-racing cars, Formula 3 Martinis and a Trivellato Fiat 128 touring car project for 1972.

Scuderia Filipinetti drivers between 1962 and '73 included Jim Clark, Phil Hill, Vic Elford, Masten Gregory, Henri Pescarolo, Ronnie Peterson, Lodovico Scatioffi, Peter Sutcliffe, Peter Westbury, Jonathan Williams, Reine Wisell, Jean-Louis Lafosse and Jacques Coulon. Michael Parkes served lafferly as the Scuderia's technical director-cum-number one driver but the Scuderia's career ended abruptly on June 6 1973, a month after Le Patron had died, on May 3. He was said to have been aged only 65, born in 1907, which is odd since his 1939 racing licence pictured in Ed Heuvink's Filipineffi book published by Chronosports SA, St Sulpice, 2002 shows his date of birth as August 13, 1901,which would have made him 72.

The magnate's unfortunate son, Jean-Pierre Filipinetti, was left saddled with a crumbling business and property empire and burgeoning debts. Little went right for him and in 1987 he commiffed suicide, leaving a wife and two children. Marthe Filipineffi, Georges' widow, also ended her own life. Sad postscripts to the influential and largely successful life of an extraordinary enthusiast.

Doug Nye