Doug Nye: The most amicable racer in Goodwood's history

18th April 2017
new-mustang-tease.jpg Doug Nye

I have to say it was a pleasure to see some mutual respect – and indeed a degree of amicability – shown by the defeated Lewis Hamilton and the triumphant Sebastian Vettel in Bahrein last Sunday. Through the past few seasons it had become relatively rare to see near geniality surface so publicly at this level.


It reminded me of the virtually faultless good cheer radiated by one of Goodwood’s great early Easter Monday feature-race winners. He was the Swiss Baron Emmanuel Leo Ludwig ‘Toulo’ de Graffenried who competed worldwide into the mid-1950s, mainly as the private owner/driver of assorted Maserati cars.

Of course, you might say, it must have been quite easy for a truly comfortably-moneyed, neutral Swiss aristo to be cheerful, genial, hail-fellow-well-met as he globe-trotted within his chosen sport back in those days. This is undeniably true, but I got to know him reasonably well during the 1960s and ’70s, and when he attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed in later years – though far into his 80s – he remained friendly and still good fun…

‘Toulo’ as he’d been nicknamed as a child was born in Paris on May 18th, 1914, but grew up in Switzerland, educated at Le Rosey – the famously expensive boarding school with its split campuses at Rolle and Gstaad. He became a car-mad teenager, and with his American school chum, John du Puy became determined to get into motor racing. 

So what do you do if it’s the mid-1930s, you are that keen and have independent wealth, a like-minded bosom buddy and the opportunity? That’s right – you buy an Alfa Romeo sports car and enter it in the round-Italy Mille Miglia…

This is exactly what the teenaged ‘Toulo’ de Graffenried and John du Puy did in 1936. They didn’t finish, but as ‘de Graff’ once told me, gurgling at the memory: “The very best part was doing the reconnaissance before the race, you know driving the course, stopping in good hotels…and the girls…! Ooh – was a great time for two young men, I tell you…”.

‘De Graff’ in the Enrico Plate-prepared and run Maserati A6GCM at Goodwood, 1953 - happy chap returning to the paddock

‘De Graff’ in the Enrico Plate-prepared and run Maserati A6GCM at Goodwood, 1953 - happy chap returning to the paddock

Get the picture? Well, he never looked back…

He subsequently bought himself a Maserati vetturetta single-seater racing car for 1937, campaigning it at Naples, Chimay, Douglas on the Isle of Man, Picardy, Albi and elsewhere. Still racing with his pal John du Puy they ended up with a pair of Maseratis, the vetturetta and a full Grand Prix car, but the results were more personal entertainment than record shattering. Certainly, they became valued clients of the Maserati works, and they were never shy of spending on their sporting hobby. 

After World War 2, de Graffenried returned to the motor racing scene, reviving his pre-war informal racing partnership with du Puy and forming the Swiss Team Autosport with fellow war-bridging Swiss racing driver Christian Kautz, amongst other enthusiastic compatriots.

He formed a great partnership – upon an independent client and independent-preparer basis – with the Italian former driver-turned-technician Enrico Platé. The Baron paid the bills – as did his new team-mate Prince ‘Bira’ - while Platé maintained, transported and ran the cars in the races for which the stars would arrive on the right day, right place, and find their Maseratis all fettled-up and ready to rumble.

Chris Kautz had been killed in a crash during the same 1948 Swiss Grand Prix meeting at Berne’s daunting Bremgarten forest circuit in which the great Achille Varzi also lost his life, crashing a works Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta

De Graffenried was almost universally well-liked, and he built quite a dependable reputation as a decent second-level driver, a safe pair of hands. In fact, Alfa Romeo gave him the occasional drive in their dominant Alfetta cars into 1951, and in between single-seater Formula car races he also campaigned sports cars – whenever the start or prize money might beckon... 

Very dapper-looking Mike Hawthorn (left) and Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried - 1953

Very dapper-looking Mike Hawthorn (left) and Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried - 1953

His greatest success was victory at Silverstone in the 1949 British GP, driving his Platé -prepared Maserati 4CLT and profiting – as he would readily admit – from troubles which befell his Maserati-driving friends and rivals Prince ‘Bira’ and ‘Gigi’ Villoresi.

He became an early supporter of Goodwood events, making his debut upon our circuit on Easter Monday, 1950, and immediately finishing second in the Formule Libre Chichester Cup to ‘Bira’s sister Maserati 4CLT. He was second again in the Richmond Trophy Formula 1 race, this time behind Reg Parnell’s ‘San Remo’ 4CLT.

That September saw de Graffenried back at Goodwood for the Woodcote Cup (placing third) and Goodwood Trophy (fourth). In 1951 he missed the Easter Monday meeting, driving instead at Whitsun - second again to Parnell in the Festival of Britain Trophy race Heat, then third behind the 4CLTs (those cars yet again) of ‘Nino’ Farina and Reg Parnell.

The moustachioed Swiss returned for the 1953 Easter Meeting, this time in the 2-litre naturally aspirated Maserati A6GCM, and on this visit he won the F2 Lavant Cup race outright – then won again in the Formule Libre Chichester Cup, when he held off the BRM V16s and the ‘ThinWall Special’ Ferrari V12 in a fine drive on a part-wet track. In the Richmond Trophy race, he finished third, and in a handicap (busy day) fourth. That year also saw him score a lucky win in the Syracuse GP ahead of Louis Chiron’s OSCA, after the entire Ferrari team struck trouble.

In the following year’s Argentine Temporada race series, Enrico Platé was standing in front of their pits during the Buenos Aires City Grand Prix when local driver Jorge Daponte lost control of his Maserati A6GCM and spun into the pit lane. The car struck poor unsuspecting Platé from behind, inflicting fatal head injuries. De Graffenried was appalled and decided to retire from racing forthwith.

All geared-up and ready to race - the Swiss Baron in his Maserati A6GCM, the Goodwood assembly area, 1953…

All geared-up and ready to race - the Swiss Baron in his Maserati A6GCM, the Goodwood assembly area, 1953…

Semi-retirement did not last long. He helped as technical advisor in filming Henry Hathaway’s 20th Century Fox motor racing movie "The Racers” which he recalled as being “… enjoyable, but I didn't much like the idea of cutting off my moustache in order to double for Kirk Douglas. I drove one lap behind the field after the start of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, and I had to reach down and actually activate the camera when I needed it".

Entrepreneurially, he helped provide racing cars for the movie unit, including the two Platé-Maseratis…and he couldn’t really drop driving entirely. Through 1955 he drove a Ferrari Monza sports car to finish fourth at Bari and third in the Venezuelan GP at Caracas, and also placed second in a Maserati 300S in Lisbon, Portugal. Into 1956 he reappeared in the Supercortemaggiore 2-litre sports car GP at Monza, and he dabbled with a Maserati 250F Grand Prix car – before finally retiring for good from race driving...

In later years, living in the Lonay area in Switzerland, ‘Toulo’ ran a prominent quality car dealership in Lausanne, offering Alfa Romeo, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari products. He also became a favoured ambassador for the Philip Morris Marlboro motor racing sponsorship programme – and his son would become involved in the press liaison side of the Marlboro-Lancia rally team – “…fortunately, although he raced, he decided that it was too expensive. That is, fortunately for me…”, as Dad would say. 

‘Toulo’ was also co-founder and a leading light of the convivial Club International des Anciens Pilotes de Grand Prix F1 – the ‘ancient pilots club’ which became such a haven for superannuated top-line racing drivers, before – it could be argued – such Historic attractions as Goodwood provided its entire membership with an assured haven. The Baron had indeed been instrumental in securing Marlboro support for the Club, and he served as its popular President from 1980 to 2002 then subsequently as Honorary President.

Here indeed was a lifelong racing enthusiast, living until he was 92. He passed away in Lonay, Switzerland, on January 22nd, 2007. 

On-grid driver-briefing time before the 1953 Italian Grand Prix at Monza - de Graffenried in helmet, complete with two pairs of goggles, right.

On-grid driver-briefing time before the 1953 Italian Grand Prix at Monza - de Graffenried in helmet, complete with two pairs of goggles, right.

I vividly recall one time there at his Swiss home when my photographer colleague Geoff Goddard and I were being kept entertained by the old boy’s memories, in his carnozet “man-cave” cellar retreat, and his butler appeared at the foot of the stairs to announce, “Monsieur le Baron, messieurs, voici le Baron von Hanstein…” – and who should appear but the beaming Baron Fritz Huschke von Hanstein – fellow retired racing driver, 1940 Mille Miglia winner (for BMW) and former racing director, of course, of Porsche. “Ahaah!”, roared ‘de Graff’, reaching for yet another bottle of wine and turning to us: “You see, you have a surfeit of Barons…”.

Indeed we did – but as a double act, they were both good fun…and both motor racing figures of considerable stature.

One story that ‘Toulo’ always enjoyed telling starred the FIA’s first-ever World Champion Driver, ‘Nino’ Farina, no less – on his way home after some early postwar British race. “It was at Heathrow Airport which in those days just had big canvas marquees as the terminals. I walked in and there was ‘Nino’ – you know, typical Farina, still in his racing overalls, crash helmet over his arm, striking the pose – “Io”, the great racing driver. 

But he said to me ‘Ugh, Toulo, I don’t feel so good, terrible stomach pains…’ and he was rubbing his tummy. But I had some of those new Alka Seltzer tablets in my bag and I said ‘Here, take two of these’ intending he should get some water, you know, to dissolve them before drinking. But instead, he just said ‘Aah, thank you” and immediately popped both tablets straight into his mouth.

“And so it was that within moments there was the World Champion racing driver – Io, the Great Farina – in his racing overalls, helmet over one arm, in the check-in area at Heathrow…foaming at the mouth…” And I still relish the image of ‘Toulo’ de Graffenried doubled-up with laughter at the mind-picture he had just recalled – enabling us to reach back into history…

Images courtesy of The GP Library

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