Of the road races of yesteryear, we certainly know the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio, perhaps even the Carrera Panamericana. However, the “Tour de France” is usually associated with the bicycle race, although there was already such an event for automobiles in 1899 – four years earlier than the first race for cyclists. The first edition was already a tough one: between 16 and 14 July, 2172 kilometres had to be covered from Paris via Vichy and Nantes back to Paris. The first winner was René de Knyff, who needed almost two days on his Panhard & Levassor.
The golden era for the car race, however, did not really begin until 1951. The route led from Nice to Nice, but in between there were 5239 kilometres and several special stages on mountain and circular routes. The race was judged by a difficult formula, so that the fastest team did not necessarily win; sometimes a distinction was made between sports cars and touring cars. Here, however, we are talking about the 1956 race, which knew only one winner: Alfonso de Portago (we will dedicate a separate story to him).
The start was also in Nice in 1956, the total distance was 6020 kilometres in seven days, there were only two night rests. 103 vehicles started, 37 arrived in Paris. On the way, there were various classifications, such as a hill climb up Mont Ventoux and Peyresoude, but also up to 12 laps on the well-known race tracks in Le Mans, Reims, Rouen and Montlhery. It was clear from the start that the winner had to be either Ferrari or Mercedes. The Stuttgart-based company sent half a dozen 300 SLs to France, led by Stirling Moss and Jacques Pollet, who had won in 1954. Ferrari was also at the start with six cars, all 250 GTs, but in different versions. Alfonso de Portago (0557GT) and Jacques Péron (0563GT) drove the latest products with a Scaglietti body, while Olivier Gendebien, Jean Estager, Maurice Trintignant and Paolo Lena were still driving the 250 GT Europa.
The experienced Jacques Pollet led the race for a long time, while Stirling Moss struggled to get to grips with his gullwing; he had only been in it for the first time on the morning of the first day of racing. But de Portago slowly turned up the heat, winning five of the six circuit races and running out of opponents after Pollet retired. It was the start of a long winning streak for Ferrari, Gendebien won in 1957, 1958 and 1959, Willy Mairesse then in 1960 and 1961, by 1964 three more Ferrari wins had been added, the last being Lucien Bianchi in a 250 GTO.
At the beginning, the Ferrari 250 GTs with Scaglietti bodywork were simply called Berlinetta. But after de Portago’s victory, they became known as the “Tour de France” – Gendebien’s race victories cemented this name. We show here the original car of de Portago – it was originally grey.
Chassis number: 0557GT
Engine number: 0557GT
Original colour: grey
special features: no louvre
first owner: Marquis Alfonso de Portago (won the Tour de France with it, 17.-23.9.1956, co-driver Ed Nelson, starting number 73)
other owners: Hans Tanner Team (1957, Santa Ana, USA); Keith Schellenberg (1957, Richmond, England); Paul G. Palumbo (1983, England – painted light blue, stripes); Lorenzo Zambrano (1992, Monterrey, Mexico; paid $803,000 at Brooks auction); RM Sotheby’s, Monterey 2015, sold for $13,200,000.
A nice collection of all “Tour de France” is available: here. And more good material in our archives.
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