When Tony Lanfranchi lost his battle against cancer aged 69. British motor racing lost a true character, whose career spanned six decades.
Born of Swiss stock in Yorkshire. Lanfranchi began racing motorbikes after several road tumbles. But his interest soon turned to cars and he competed in autotests before making his race debut at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day 1957 in a Healey Silverstone.
By the early 1960s he was carving a reputation in club racing and in ’64 won the Autosport Championship in an Elva BMW. This was perhaps the golden age of his 45-year odyssey piloting a diverse range of cars in countless events.
A versatile racer, his successes in F3. Formula Libre and sports/GT racing were copious. He even competed in non-championship F1 races at Brands and OuIton Park. The equipment may have been outclassed, but Lanfranchi showed his ability.
In the late 1960s he earned the tag ‘King of Brands’ for his Formula Libre success, but some feel his F3 outings of the late 1960s showed his true speed. The 1-litre cars suited his neat driving style and his results even came to the notice of Enzo Ferrari. Legend tells that he turned down an invitation to test an F2 Ferrari when Enzo declined to cover his airfare. “Tony could have gone a lot further in single-seaters,” says his long-time pal Gerry Marshall. “He was much better than people realised.”
Having scored international success in a Nomad-BRM, Lanfranchi also raced in the Temporada series in South America. Typically for a man who enjoyed life away from racing, the trip was a chance to explore more than just racetracks.
In the 1970s a serious road crash put him out of action for a while. but Marshall helped him return to racing in saloons and a new chapter began. Armed first with an unlikely Moskvich, and later a series of Opels, wins came thick and fast.
As recently as 2003 he partnered his brother Peter in a Lotus Cortina in historic events, before illness took over.
“He was the archetypal racing driver of yesteryear – booze, birds and fast cars, though in which order of priority was always up for debate,” says Brian Jones, the ‘Voice of Brands Hatch’.
Though the later years of his life were rather more sedate. Lanfranchi was from an era when racing drivers raced hard. drank hard and played hard. Racing is the poorer for his loss. PL