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The kiss of death: the tragic end of the playboy that Ferrari forced to run


Alfonso de Portago was an aristocrat, an Olympic athlete, godson of the King of Spain and prodigal in love. But he couldn't twist the arm of Enzo Ferrari, who pressured him to take part in the most dangerous race in Italy. The letter that anticipated his death.

Mille Miglia: one thousand miles, one thousand six hundred kilometers, a test on the edge of danger and a death that sentenced his fate.

The protagonist of that final edition, number 24, was

a man raised in a cradle of gold but who lived at full speed


Aristocrat, dandy and sportsman, however he defined it better by another nickname.

Alfonso de Portago was a playboy.

He could do anything, from participating in the Olympic Games to

making the most beautiful women of the time fall in love.

She also managed to get on a


and debut in

Formula 1

at an advanced age, almost 30 years old.

What he could not do was twist the arm of

Il Commendatore

, Enzo Ferrari, the boss who with an iron hand forced him to participate in that 1957 Mille Miglia. The fatal edition, the one that mourned motorsports, in which not even a kiss helped to avoid the tragedy of the Marquis de Portago.

Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Ángel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca and Leighton

had many names.

He also had high-ranking ancestry.

He was born in London on October 11, 1928, the son of Antonio Cabeza de Vaca and Olga Leighton.

On his father's side, the family line continued with a grandfather mayor of Madrid and reached Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the explorer who, enchanted by the lullaby of the waterfalls, saw the Iguazú Falls open before him.

From them he inherited the courage and the Spanish nationality.

On her mother's side there was Irish blood and millions: Olga was the widow of Franck Mackey, a co-founder of HSBC bank who committed suicide and left her his fortune.

Maybe that's where the drama came from.

The Spaniard was one of the great playboys of Formula 1.

Alfonso de Portago cultivated a taste for sports, at a time when the British tradition of sport was still in force: chivalry and competition.

Golf, tennis and turf were his specialty areas.

But he stood out in bobsleigh -a rarity for Spain- and in motor racing, a competition that he discovered after his youth, if he ever stopped being an enthusiastic young man who went through life at full speed, leaving rivals, loves and kisses on the way. .

Playboy and ladyboy, his mouth found in Rome the lips of the actress Linda Christian, the lover who waited for him in the middle of the Mille Miglia to fulfill the promise.

He sensed that it could be the last kiss.

Nothing, not even a bitter hunch, could move the stern Enzo Ferrari.

When Alfonso met Ferrari

Although he was educated in distinguished Biarritz, the Marquis de Portago lived from the beginning in the hops and span between Italy, France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States.

The whole world was his home, like a good aristocrat.

Not for nothing, his first name already carried nobility: he had been baptized in homage to Alfonso XIII, his godfather and king of Spain until the advent of the Second Republic.

Alfonso de Portago with Enzo Ferrari.

The passion for the sport was inherited from his father, a golfer who left his body on a playing field: he died of a heart attack just after a polo match.

Athletic, Fon (as he was nicknamed) excelled in the least expected discipline: bobsleigh.

It was at the Winter Olympic Games that were organized in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, where he finished in a surprise fourth place in the duet event.

It was 1956. His engine was already running.

His infatuation with cars had occurred three years before, in the United States, the country where his mother had lived and where he was now spending a season in cosmopolitan New York.

At a car show he ran into a friend of a friend.

It was Luigi Chinetti, competition pilot and importer of the Prancing Horse.

It didn't take much to convince Alfonso.

At the end, at just 17 years old, he had accepted another challenge and, in exchange for 500 dollars (a symbolic sum for him), he

had passed with a small plane under London Bridge.

Chinetti's words reignited his audacity a decade later: he came out of the exhibition with a Ferrari 250 MM and with an invitation to be a navigator for the Italian in the Pan-American Race between Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Ciudad Juárez, in Mexico.

He played just 5 F1 Grand Prix.

With Harry Schell, an American who would die at Silverstone in 1960, he ended up taking a liking to speed.

Together they participated in 1954 of the 1,000 Miles of Buenos Aires

, included in the Road Tourism calendar and that in that edition united San Vicente, Mar del Plata, Tres Arroyos, Tandil and Buenos Aires.

They finished second, behind Dante and Torcuato Emiliozzi, unstoppable with their Ford V8.

A year later he suffered his first serious accident.

It was at the International Trophy, an off-season Formula 1 test. There he had his eye on Il Commendatore, who was also a friend of his initiator, Chinetti.

It was the jump of the marquis to the Olympus of the steering wheel.

Pressure, an intuition and the kiss at the end: the tragic day of the Mille Miglia

Alfonso was about to turn 28 when he made his debut in the top flight.

He was in the prime of life, though he had never left spring.

He's not even in relationship issues.

Alfonso de Portago always wanted to race in F1 for Ferrari.

At barely 20 years old, he had married the American mannequin Carroll McDaniel.

They had two children: Andrea and Anthony.

Golden bachelor, even having passed through the altar, the marquis began a parallel relationship with another magazine beauty, the American Dorian Leigh, the first supermodel in history.

They married via Mexico and had a son: Kim.

But neither was she the one who received the Marquis de Portago in Rome.

The kiss was given by

Linda Christian, a Mexican actress remembered as the first Bond Girl, for her appearance in the TV movie Casino Royale (1954).

Alfonso's career in Formula 1 was short.

Barely five races, from the 1956 French Grand Prix, in Reims, to the Argentine Grand Prix, at the Buenos Aires racetrack,

on the first date of 1957. It was enough to finish second at Silverstone, the first podium for a Spaniard.

The sixth date was to be in Monaco, a land of luxury, jet set and aristocracy.

Before Monte Carlo, however, there was a test that touched Italian pride: the Mille Miglia.

From the foot of the Alps, the vehicles descended 800 kilometers along the dangerous routes that led to Rome, before crossing the Apennines again and returning to Brescia.

The marquis did not want to participate in the competition.

He highlighted it in a letter that he sent to Roberto "Bitito" Mieres from Mar del Plata.

He alluded to the obligation and the pressure that Don Enzo put in to enforce the contract, which included F1 and sports car tests like the one that was about to start.

“Life here continues the same, I'm screwing around a lot and I'm very happy.

Ferrari forces me to race in the Mille Miglia, first they told me that I had to do it with a Gran Turismo but after my first practice lap they told me that I had to do it with the 3,800 Sport and today they announced that Taruffi and I have the new 4,000cc.

What the hell, but I plan to go like Turismo, not even Gran Turismo, ”he lamented in the letter typed on the letterhead of the Hotel Reale Modena.

It was dated May 8, 1957, just four days before departure.

The kiss of the death

The tragic story of the Ferrari driver who died in the 1957 Mille Miglia.

Under the rigor of the Commendatore,

Alfonso went to the Mille Miglia to replace Luigi Musso.

Another fatal sign: the Italian would die in an accident at the French Grand Prix, in Reims, the following year.

Death was around.

The Ferrari 335 S left Brescia on May 12 at 5:31 in the morning.

American Edmund Nelson was co-pilot.

Alfonso kept up with the leaders, Piero Taruffi (whom he mentioned in the letter) and Olivier Gendebien (Ferrari 250 GT LWB Scaglietti).

He retained a chance of victory by entering Rome.

There he stopped for a couple of minutes to fulfill his promise:

the kiss to Linda Christian


On his return he had to make up for that time, even more so under the direct gaze of the boss.

In Bologna, the mechanics warned him that a front wheel was badly damaged and needed to be replaced.

The change would take more time, so the chances of winning would be lost between nuts, bolts and tires.

Fon, conditioned by the boss, decided to go ahead.

De Portago was part of the European aristocracy.

Between Cerlongo and Guidizzolo, about 40 kilometers south of the finish line, the rubber exploded.

The Ferrari collided at 250 kilometers per hour against a telephone pole, broke in two and embedded itself in an area with a public.

A dozen spectators, including five minors, died.

Escort Ed Nelson also lost his life.

The inert body of the marquis was destroyed on one side of the remains of the vehicle.

His unbridled heart had already fallen asleep forever.

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Source: clarin

All tech articles on 2023-03-18

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