Lucien Bianchi and the ENB-née-Emeryson
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W August 2000 issue
- Aiden-Cooper - The prelude to Paul Emery's last disaster, by Mattijs Diepraam
- Alan Brown - Driver-entrepeneur that scored Cooper's first points, by Felix Muelas/Mattijs Diepraam
- Emeryson Special - Colin Chapman's single Emeryson appearance, by Mattijs Diepraam/John Cross
- Paul Frère - A stylist on tarmac and paper, by Felix Muelas/John Cross
- Olivier Gendebien - The ultimate sportscar driver, by Felix Muelas/Mattijs Diepraam/Don Capps
- Scirocco - American heir buys British disaster cars, by Mattijs Diepraam
1962 German GP (5 August 1962)
While in those glorious sportscar days of the fifties the bright yellow hue of the Belgian national team was often seen in front, the Grand Prix history of the Equipe Nationale Belge wasn't what you might call a bed of roses. A bed of nails would be closer to the truth, looking at the sort of machinery the ENB squad had at their disposal. Or to put it bluntly, put at their disposal themselves… For the single car that the team ever fielded under their own name had a poor service record to go with, the dismal Emeryson-Maserati 1000 series having performed embarrassingly the year before.
To be fair, they were tricked into it. Having seen a creditable performance from the car at the end of 1960, in the Coupe du Salon F2 event at Montlhéry, ENB were encouraged to buy two of them. What they didn't know was that the driver, little known John Turner, had been cutting off a chicane at the back of the circuit to claw back his disadvantage to the leaders after an early spin. As soon as the cars were entered in serious events it became clear to the ENB that they'd been had. At Monaco, entered as wildcards for their first World Championship appearance, the cars were miles off the pace and had no chance in qualifying for the four remaining non-guaranteed grid spots.
With the 1962 ENB-Maserati it was a different story. That particular disaster they could have seen coming from miles away - since the car was generally based on the 1961 Emeryson! So was it the car, the underpowered engine or a poorly executed combination of the two? We will probably never know.
Founded in the disastrous 1955 season by Ecurie Francorchamps boss Jacques Swaters (the Belgian Ferrari importer until this very day) and Ecurie Belge patron Johnny Claes, the two teaming up on the instigation of Shell Belgium, the ENB ran an ancient ex-Swaters Ferrari 500 upgraded to F1 spec for Claes in the 1955 Dutch Grand Prix and several minor events as a side activity to running sportscars, its yellow Jaguar D-types and Ferrari 250GT cars becoming a familiar sight at Le Mans and other classic sportscar races. It was Belgium's finest crop that was employed by their national squad: Olivier Gendebien, Paul Frère, Willy Mairesse, Lucien Bianchi, Alain de Changy and of course Claes and Swaters, respectable pilots themselves.
Swaters' Ecurie Francorchamps - the main force behind the ENB - goes back to 1948 when he and his best friend Charles de Tornaco bought a pre-war MG PB to compete in the Spa 24 hours. A law student held from a career at the bar through his interest in racing cars, Swaters finished fourth in class, sharing with Frère, but during those 24 hours had seen the sight of Luigi Chinetti's NART Ferrari 166 Barchetta quite a lot! It spurred his ambition to drive a Ferrari one day. What was he to know that he would also be selling them by the dozens…
After the Spa race, Jacques set up Ecurie Belgique, which ran assorted pre-war German cars such a Veritas and a BMW 328s for de Tornaco and his other pals André Pilette and Roger Laurent, who would remain faithful to Swaters throughout their international careers. In 1950, the squad went as far as buying a Talbot-Lago Grand Prix machine but as they wanted to enter the car in international events the the Belgian Auto Club RACB went wild over their Ecurie Belgique name. With a starting licence not forthcoming in case Swaters and de Tornaco did not change the name, they decided to rename the team into Ecurie Francorchamps. At the same time, the Brussels garage of Swaters was redubbed Garage Francorchamps.
In 1951, Jacques' ambition of driving a Ferrari finally became reality as he bought an F2 Ferrari 166, its previous owner being none less than Gianni Agnelli. The car changed hands several times over the years before Swaters decided to keep it himself. It wasn't to be the main car of the Ecurie's Grand Prix challenge. That privilege was granted to a brand-new Ferrari 500 (chassis 0208), which was to be fielded in F2 events over the next few years. Then, with the World Championship suddenly overturned to be run to F2 regs, Swaters, Laurent and de Tornaco found their car eligible for Championship events.
Still, it was intended to take part in minor traditionals such as the Grand Prix de Frontières. In fact, the 500 was ordered so that it would be finished just days before that very race in June 1952. But then typical Italian planning got in the way. In MotorSport magazine, Swaters vividly recalls how it all nearly went wrong. With the car not ready in time for Swaters to transport it back to Belgium on the trailer he brought with him to Modena, there was only one alternative: drive it home himself. "I had a girlfriend with me in a little Citroen and we set off in convoy. Then there was no autostrada and no ring road around Milan. I drove through the Piazza Duomo to the applause of pedestrians. Of course, the Ferrari had no lights so I had to follow my girlfriend pretty closely. And I had no mudguards, no licence plates, no insurance - nothing!" You could hardly overlook a yellow-painted F2 Ferrari, its open exhausts crying all the way to the border, but this is the kind of story of which you would say: "Imagine that happening today." Suffice it to say: it wouldn't. As it happened then, and not today, the Italian customs enthousiastically waved him through to Switzerland. Then to be sure, at the border with Belgium, he ducked down in the cockpit and plainly drove under the barrier. He was expecting to be hunted down by dozens of police vehicles but nothing happened. The adventure ended by arriving in time at Chimay, only for Roger Laurent to crash on the opening lap…
The car - campaigned by Swaters, de Tornaco and Laurent, and in 2.5-litre guise by Claes in 1955 - remained in service for four more years. Sadly, it took Charles de Tornaco's life when he rolled it in the 1954 Modena GP. Without a doctor present, Charles was driven to the local hospital where he died of a fractured skull. On the other hand, Swaters took the team's only single-seater win with it in the Berlin GP at Avus in July 1953. About that time Jacques' business association with Ferrari started off. And the way it came to be was just as remarkable as Swaters' long journey home with the 500 just one year earlier. It began with a phone call from Ferrari general manager Gerolamo Gardini. "He called one day to say, 'We have sent a car to the Brussels Show and it is on a train somewhere. I have no time to deal with it, can you?' I went to the station, found the car on a wagon, sorted out the import details and took it to the Show. Gardini called again to say he could not come to Brussels and would I look after the stand? I did, and sold my first Ferrari. As a result, I was asked to become the Ferrari importer for Belgium. For 30 years I had no contract with Maranello - everything was done on a handshake with Enzo Ferrari. To begin with I took three or four cars per year, but in 1957 I took 17."
Meanwhile, the Ecurie Francorchamps gained its biggest successes by branching off into sportscars. While their most famous results were scored in Ferraris, it all started off with Jaguars, also in 1953. "Joska Bourgeois, the Belgian importer for Jaguar, was a good friend of ours. She was very close to the factory and introduced me to Lofty England. I ordered a C-type for Ecurie Francorchamps." They entered it for Le Mans, where the car (XKC 047) was serviced by two Jaguar mechanics on loan to the team. The duo of Laurent and de Tornaco weren't on the pace but did well to finish 9th, miles adrift of the winning works C-type combo of Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton. Three months later, de Tornaco was killed at Modena.
The following year, amidst general confusion concerning the admittance of their car crashed by a works mechanic on the way from Calais, Laurent and Swaters placed their brand-new car (flown in just in time from the Coventry factory) fourth overall. A wonderful result, since they were forced to start at the back, having been able to do just the two obligatory practice laps after a very late scrutineering. A couple of weeks later, they finished third in the Reims 12 hours, with only the works D-types ahead of them. In a fierce battle for the final podium spot Swaters beat Masten Gregory to the line in a C-type with a front wheel that hardly had any spokes intact…
Then in 1955 Swaters teamed up with Johnny Claes and André Pilette of the Ecurie Belge. As the team's supporter, Shell Belgium, wanted a more appropriate name to reflect the national pride that was behind the team, Swaters formed the Ecurie Nationale Belge. In their first year they finished second and third at Spa (Laurent trailing Swaters in a couple of newly-acquired Ferrari 750 Monzas) and did the same at the tragic Le Mans race, this time in a new Jaguar D-type (XKD 503). In 1956, another new D-type (XKB 573) brought Swaters and Freddy Rousselle fourth at Le Mans, while André Pilette placed second at Montlhéry. The same car then went on to finish fourth again at the 1957 Le Mans edition, Rousselle sharing with Frère. Swaters describes it as the best D-type he ever drove, although he himself drove a Ferrari 290MM with Alain de Changy that race, which turned out to be Swaters' last. He decided to concentrate on his booming garage business.
Fortunately, a young upstart named Olivier Gendebien had just joined the team and he had been doing miracles in the team's new Ferrari 250GT in both rally and sportscar events. The squad interchanging between their 250GTs and a set of 500 Testa Rossa cars, their selection of fine Belgian drivers took impressive results during 1957 and 1958, by which times the ENB tag had been dropped again, cause of stir-up with Shell over a new general manager the oil company brought in. The Tour de France, the Tour of Sicily, the last Mille Miglia, Le Mans, the Reims 12 hours - completing the list of victories and top placings during those days would take up several pages. For instance, in 1959 Gendebien and Bianchi completed a Tour de France hat-trick, while in 1961 Willy Mairesse made it five in a row for the Ecurie Francorchamps. The team's sportscar fame continued well into the sixties, collecting Le Mans podium finishes on the trot until 1967, always in those bright yellow Ferraris. Famously, Swaters' repainted works 330P4 took on the mighty Fords in 1967, Mairesse and 'Beurlys' (Jean Blaton) finishing third, directly behind the works P4 of Parkes and Scarfiotti and the winning combination of Gurney and Foyt. The Ecurie's last Le Mans outing came in 1982 when Swaters entered a Ferrari 512BB-LM.
Back to the fifties, which in 1959 also saw a inconspicuous return to the Grand Prix scene (and of the ENB name), the team fielding two Cooper-Climax T51s for Bianchi and de Changy at the Monaco GP. They both failed to qualify. It was in stark contrast with team's sportscar form. The squad was back for 1960 for the Belgian GP, now with an elderly T45 for Bianchi to drive. The entry numbers being greatly reduced compared to 1959, Bianchi had no trouble in making the race, qualifying 14th out of 17 runners. Meanwhile, national hero Gendebien had been drafted in for the third BRP Cooper, alongside Brooks and the young Chris Bristow. While the race would end in drama, with both Bristow and Stacey getting killed, Bianchi soldiered on to finish last. Only in this case last meant 6th and thus a point, ENB profiting from the new-for-1960 rule which replaced the fastest-lap point with a point for 6th place. It was the team's first and only World Championship point.
In France, Bianchi was back again but luckless as his transmission failed on lap 36, as Gendebien took a sensational second place for BRP with his new team-mate Henry Taylor (replacing Bristow) in an equally impressive fourth. Finishing off what had became some sort of a genuine GP season, the ENB continued in Britain, again failing to complete the race. After that, they were a no-show.
Then came 1961 and the new 1.5-litre rules, making the ENB Coopers obsolete on the spot, when suddenly the opportunity came up to acquire a set of slick Emeryson wheels. Oh, how misguided the decision was to go for the Maserati-engined Emerysons and not travel the safe route of becoming a Lotus customer, the Lotus 18 having become the trusted tool of many a privateer, including Rob Walker and the BRP.
At the hand-over the team and the people at the former Connaught factory - Paul Emery, Connaught director Dick Claydon, Connaught sponsor Alan Brown, driver Bianchi and ENB secretary-general Jo Liévin - were all laughs, but soon they found out the car-and-engine's real character. After a few troubled but sometimes encouraging performances (mainly at their poorly-supported Brussels home event around the Heysel Expo complex), the team lined up the cars for their World Championship debut. It was a huge disaster. Gendebien, lured back to the old nest, and team regular Bianchi made fools of themselves at Monaco, not coming anywhere near meaningful times. They wisely skipped Zandvoort (which - probably courtesy of ENB's absence! - still holds that strange record of each and every car finishing the race without a single pit stop) but were back at their home race at Spa. With Gendebien gladly taking the fourth Ferrari sharknose available (the prototype example with the 65-degree V6 unit Giancarlo Baghetti was later to star in, now on loan to ENB and thus painted in lively Belgian yellow, Willy Mairesse was taken on board for the second Emeryson. During practice, the Monaco trend continued unabatedly, the Emerysons being left for dead as the others pounded the track. Gendebien on the other hand was a serious pole contender and finally ended up third, pipped by von Trips on the final lap of Friday qualifying, with Hill doing a sensational sub-3-minute time on Saturday, taking pole in the process.
On the other end of the grid, Bianchi had been a whopping 27 seconds slower in his Emeryson while Mairesse had also practiced the Team Lotus spare, setting a time of 4.20.6. The ENB cars (with the exception of the yellow Ferrari of course) had been dreadfully slow, so what were they to do? Then, opportunistically, ENB struck deals with Seidel and Tony Marsh to hand over their Lotus 18s. The Englishman and the German were among the privateers given the boot after qualifying for showing a distinct lack of pace. So their cars were hastily painted yellow, as both Mairesse and Bianchi were waived through qualifying by the organizers. A very strange detour of becoming a Lotus privateer after all! On race day, it came out that it had all been to no avail as the local heroes found their Lotus 18s ill-prepared by their owners. They were both out by lap 9.
At the next race at Reims Bianchi had become a Lotus 18 regular after all as he teamed up with the UDT Laystall BRP team, replacing the unlucky Cliff Allison, who had seen his career come to a premature end with a serious practice crash at Spa. Lucien would also go on to do the British GP for BRP before he in turn was replaced by Masten Gregory at Monza. Meanwhile, Mairesse, who had already practiced a works Lotus at Spa, was in a one-off third works Lotus 21 at Reims before being given the fourth Ferrari 156 at the 'Ring.
Having wrestled through summer the ENB team was back at Monza with the Emeryson, hoping to have the car sorted out. This time, an ENB co-founder - now the new official owner of the car - volunteered to take the drive. With the race again held on the long 10kms track combining banking and road track an unusually high number of cars would be allowed on the grid. So no trouble there, right? In one of the best entered races in years (certainly compared to the 1960 edition!) 32 cars made the grid, the last one being local hero Roberto Lippi in the hapless De Tomaso-OSCA entered by Scuderia Settecolli (one of the mainstays from the local Italian Drivers Championship). One did not. It was André Pilette's Emeryson. The car was a stunning 25s off the pace, a full three seconds off Lippi's plainly dismal effort. It was the last time an Emeryson-Maserati tried to qualify for a World Championship event.
Or was it? The following season, they should have been happy to let Paul Emery's works team and Wolfgang Seidel get on with their now Climax-engined Emerysons. Clearly, they must have thought something else, and it was probably something along the lines of this: "Hey, we have this car sitting in our garage. Why not turn it into a championship-winning Ferrari sharknose-lookalike supercar?" And so they did. That is, they managed to pull off the sharknose-lookalike part…
Taking bits and pieces from the wrecked 1002 and 1003 chassis, they used the 1001 frame to build up their ENB-Maserati, shoeforking in the old 150S powerhorse by Maserati. Wildly parodying the twin-nostril air intake from the title-winning Ferrari 156, they paid some attentions to looks but forgot about the general aerodynamics. Underpowered from the start, the ENB-Maserati was a lost cause at its debut at the 1962 Brussels GP, Bianchi driving the monster. Lucien was nearly half a minute off the pace and retired in the first heat, the trusty old 150S not proving very trustworthy. At Pau Bianchi managed to get the car to qualify mid-field, but then followed on the 1961 tradition by crashing it during the race.
And so we come to the 1962 German GP, the scenery of our picture. This would be the first occasion on which the ENB-Maserati would take part in a World Championship event.
While Dan Gurney's Porsche had no trouble smashing the 9-minute mark Phil Hill had broken the previous year, Lucien Bianchi struggled to no end to set sub-11-minute times. Ultimately, his final time was 10.40.7, almost two minutes (!) slower than that of pole man Gurney. Oddly enough, non-qualifiers Tony Shelly and Wolfgang Seidel were faster (not by much, but enough), but they had not run the required minimum of five laps to have their times counted. The same applied to Trevor Taylor, who had set a time good enough for 21st on the grid. But after some heated argument he was allowed in - but at the back of the grid, right after Bianchi.
And that is why an Emeryson-Maserati did start a World Championship event after all, though thinly disguised as an ENB. The squad now convinced the car was a dud, it sold the thing to Belgian hillclimber Nicolas Koob, who had some modest uphill success with it.
You would have thought we had seen the best part of Bianchi's Grand Prix career (and for the moment we certainly had), but the Italian-born Belgian was to be spotted in F1 cars until 1968, his final season in fact being the one coming closest to a regular full season. Before that, he had been a universally versatile racer, occupying himself with sportscars, GT racing and rallying, the occasional F1 drive, and sometimes F2, right down to F3. Especially in sportscar racing his services were in demand, since Milan-born Luciano was a very reliable driver. Next to being a regular in ENB's sportscar and rally squad, he capped several works drives for Porsche and Ferrari. In 1967 he even crossed the pond to qualify for the Indy 500! Having comfortably qualified on Pole Day, he flew back to Europe to take part in the Nürburgring 1000kms, almost winning for Porsche but for a cruel electrical failure on the very last lap. Having slipped to fourth across the line he was then told he had been bumped from the Indy grid. Being on the other side of the world on Bump Day was not quite the way to retaliate and take back his rightful place.
A year later he was finally given his full-time F1 break, replacing Brian Redman, but unfortunately the offer came from a Cooper team in steep decline. For the first time the team had been unable to attract star drivers, starting off the year with Redman and Ludovico Scarfiotti. To be seen from their disappointing grid positions, it was obvious that the year-old B-spec T86 tubs, now equipped with BRM power, were a shadow of the Maserati-engined cars that had flattered to deceive in the hands of Rindt and Pedro Rodriguez. Still Lucien did well to bring his car home in the points on his first two tries, his very first even getting him on the podium of the Monaco GP, although he was a very distant third, 4 laps down in a race of unseen attrition, but ahead of team mate Scarfiotti. At his home race, now with Redman coming back to act as his team mate, Bianchi again blew away his team mate in qualifying before going on to finish a creditable sixth. After that, first as a single entry, later paired with the similarly versatile Vic Elford, he was a tail-ender, only qualifying off the last row once, in Canada.
Mid-season, he momentarily relinquished his Cooper seat to Johnny Servoz-Gavin (in France) and Robin Widdows (in Britain), instead concentrating on his Le Mans assault. It proved to be a very wise decision. While his substitute Widdows was making up the numbers at Brands in his only Championship appearance, Bianchi was at the Sarthe with Pedro Rodriguez, taking the John Wyer Porsche to Lucien's greatest sporting moment: winning the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was the crowning of a very successful sportscar season in which he also took the Watkins Glen 6 Hours with Ickx (also for Wyer) and the Circuit of Mugello, this time on board a works Alfa.
The Alfa Romeo liaison continued into 1969, Lucien signing for Autodelta to race their T33 sportscar. Unfortunately his season got off to a slow start as his co-driver during the late-1968 London-Sydney Marathon rammed their leading Citroën into a non-competing vehicle, leaving Bianchi with a broken ankle. However, that shock was small pickings compared to the fate that awaited Lucien on the Mulsanne Straight during Le Mans testing, his T33 suddenly veering off the track into a telegraph pole. The Alfa exploded on impact, killing the luckless Bianchi on the spot.
Reader's Why by Don Capps
Why did I wince when I saw this photo? Please pass me an airsick bag… That is one ugly racing car. And an even uglier story.
This is not an ENB! It is an Emeryson (Mark 2) from the previous season that the Equipe Nationale Belge - ENB - had procured from Paul Emeryson.
The reason that Jacques Swaters - an otherwise reasonable person - ended up squandering the resources on such a dud came about as the result of an F2 driver - a certain John Turner - carving up the field in the prototype Emeryson F2 car at Montlhery. Swaters was hugely impressed and recommended that rather than buy customer cars from Lotus or Cooper, ENB purchase some of the fabulous Emeryson cars for their team.
What Swaters and team did not know at the time was the reason Turner was storming up through the grid in such a ferocious manner was that he was skipping the chicane every lap! Little wonder then that he was making such a dramatic run through the field. Naturally, Paul Emery did not refuse the check nor did he explain the real reason Turner was so quick.
When the cars arrived, it was soon apparent that they were not quite as rapid as the Turner car had been. After struggling at Pau, Brussels, and Siracusa then not qualifying at Monte Carlo the team finally realized that they had been had and secured several Lotus 18's for their drivers.
Rather than being used as landfill or some other appropriate use, the cars were generally handed about and used from time to time. In 1962, from the bits and pieces and the original cars, the folks at ENB used chassis '1001' as the basis of what was to be called the "ENB." They put that horrid bodywork on '1001' with the frightening nose further proving they had taken complete leave of their senses. Powered by the Maserati 150S engine, the car was a doomed puppy. The 150S engine worked well enough, but not very well when jammed in an Emeryson.
The ENB had three of the Emeryson cars inflicted upon it: '1001,' '1002,' and '1003.' The '1001' chassis was the beast upon which the team placed new bodywork and that wretched nose: the addition of the twin nostril nose cone only made a lousy car into a lousy, ugly car. Indeed, about the entire extent of turning the Emeryson into the 'ENB' was the bodywork. The mechanical bits were largely untouched and therefore it ran just as poorly as before.
At its only Championship appearance, it actually managed to finish the race. However, it record was otherwise abysmal at best. Lucien Bianchi received a measure of respect for manfully keeping a straight face while driving the dud and not doing anyone much harm as it wandered about the circuits it did serve upon.
While ENB was suffering through the Mark 2, Paul Emery was still on the hustle and find another 'patron' for his work, American Hugh Powell. The Mark 3 was intended to be a monocoque like the Lotus 25 (out of fiberglass no less), but Emery stayed with a spaceframe design which was (very) little more than a tarted up Mark 2 fixed to take a vee-eight. The cars were run during 1962 as Emeryson cars, but when Powell plunked down some serious dinero they became known as Scirocco cars. And performed just as poorly as ever.
Italo-Belgian Lucien Bianchi was a talented driver with whatever that special ability is that makes some drivers excellent endurance racers. He was successful in the Tour de France during the 1950's with several good performances and a GT class win, and won a number of endurance races: 1000km of Paris in 1960; Sebring in 1962 with Joakim Bonnier; 1968 Watkins Glen Six Hours with Jacky Ickx; and the 1968 Le Mans with Pedro Rodriguez. He also managed to get back into GP racing in 1968 with Cooper, but after an impressive initial few races, not even talent could turn back the lack of resources as the season started to go downhill for the team.
In 1969, Bianchi moved to Alfa Romeo and was killed when his car crashed during the test weekend. It was just as he was being realized as a talent and getting the opportunities he deserved.