Obituary - Phillipe Etancelin

Those who remember the dashing driving. cloth-cap back-to-front, of “Phi-Phi” Etancelin will be sorry to hear of the French racing-driver’s death, at the age of 85. in Paris in mid-October. As a wealthy farmer and wool-merchant, Etancelin was able to indulge his love of motor racing largely as an independent, which he did from 1926. aged 30, with a Bugatti. After gaining experience in French speed-trials and hill-climbs Etancelin won the GP de la Marne in 1927 and by 1929 he was scoring first places in several races, including winning again the GP de la Marne.

By 1930 Etancelin had become a driver of note, winning the Algerian GP from Marcel Lehoux and Rend Dreyfus, all driving Bugattis. Returning to his native land that year he won the formulae libre French GP at Pau, his Bugatti holding off Birkin’s stripped 4 1/2-litre blower Bentley, and he was first at Grenoble. When the independents were quick to buy the new twin-cam Type 51 Bugattis, Etancelin decided to await the advent of the equally-new Alfa Romeo. Even so, he won two of the similar French races in his ageing Bugatti and he had unsuccessful bids at the 10-hour races of 1931, sharing Lehoux’s Bugatti. After taking delivery of his Alfa Romeo Etancelin won at Dieppe, Comminges, and Grenoble. During the 1932 season the Frenchman was seen in most of the Grands Prix, winning at Picardy.

It all got better in 1933, when Etancelin won again at Picardy, was second in the Nimes and French GPs, and beat Wimille to a very close first place at Reims, always in an Alfa Romeo. For the new-formula OP season of 1934 “Phi-Phi” invested in a 3-litre Maserati, with which he gained a number of second places, proving his ability to harry the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo, which he beat at Dieppe. With Chinetti he won the 1934 Le Mans 24-hour race for Alfa Romeo. After this it was clear that the independents would have a thin time against the might of the new Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union GP teams, so Etancelin signed-up with the Scuderia Sub-Alpina. for whom he drove the 3.7-litre and vee-cight 4.4-litre Maseratis. His gritty driving was nearly a match for Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz over the punishing Monaco circuit but victory now eluded him, although places were scored. In 1936, however, Etancelin won at Pau on the big Maserati. Sports-car racing did not appeal so much, apparently, but “Phi-Phi” could not stay away and in 1938 he became a member of the Talbot-Lago team, for whom he was 3rd at Pau in 1939.

When the war was over “Phi-Phi”, at the age of 49. remained as keen as over on his motor racing. and what is more he had lost none of his determination. as have will agree who saw him in action at Boreham, Ulster and Silverstone. with Talbot-Lagos. Besides many good places in 1949. Etancelin won the GP de Paris and he gained more places in 1951 and 1952, after wh,h he retired. He ranks very high among the top French drivers and he was one of the old-school, making it obvious, for instance, that he disliked the compulsory wearing of crash helmets. — W.B.