Nicknamed "Taffy" by Mike Hawthorn, von Trops had reputation for erratic driving early in his career however, hitting top form in1961, he won the Dutch and British Grands Prix and went into Italian GP at Monza on the verge of winning the World Championship. Tragically he collided with Jim Clark's Lotus on the second lap of the race and was killed along with 14 spectators.
Wolfgang Alexander Albert Eduard Maximilian Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips was born in Kerpen-Horrem near Cologne in Germany. Nicknamed Wölfchen (little wolf) by his parents, the dashing young German Count, descended from a 700 year old dynasty of knights, was raised in a castle on the family estates near Cologne.
His childhood was complicated by a number of illnesses that rendered him unfit for any form of military service. However his courage and spirit shone through and he made a full recovery only to worry his parents further with his love of speed, making his racing debut in 1950, riding a 500cc BMW motorcycle, breaking his arm in a crash in one the races.
Due to his mother's concerns he started racing under the pseudonym of Axel Linther and though his early career was beset with crashes, he was never the less a fearless and skillful driver, proving his ability in the mid-fifties racing Porsche and Mercedes sports cars.
In 1954 he won the 1300cc class (33rd overall) in the Mille Miglia driving a his Porsche 356 Super with Walter Hampel and took second in the 1600cc class in the ADAC-Eifel-Rennen at the Nürburgring. He also finished 5th in the Berlin Sports Car Grand Prix at Avus.
The following year he finished well in the Mille Miglia again, taking second in the GT class before winning the 1300cc class in the ADAC-Eifel-Rennen at the Nürburgring with a Porsche 356. He took another win in a Porsche at the Nürburgring in the 500Km race before driving a Mercedes 300SLR to third in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod with Claude Simon.
The British crowds named him Count Crash but ultimately he was know almost universally as Taffy. A name bestowed upon him by Mike Hawthorn. Taffy was a name the Welsh immigrants to America gave to their bravest and most fearless men after the River Taff that flows through Cardiff.
He started 1956 with a class win for Porsche at Sebring with Hans Herrmann in a Porsche 550 and a 1st in the 1500cc class (4th overall) in the 1000Km race at the Nürburgring in May driving with Umberto Maglioli. He made his Grand Prix debut that year in the Italian Grand Prix where Enzo Ferrari had given him an opportunity in the Lancia-Ferrari. However he didn't start as he crashed heavily in practice. The car was later stripped down for examination and it was revealed that the steering had broken. He made the trip to Le Mans as well finishing 5th overall and taking the 1500cc class win.
In 1957 he drove in three GPs for Ferrari. A sixth in Argentina was followed by a retirement in Monaco when his engine failed ten laps from the finish.
Later in the year he drove in the Italian Grand Prix finishing on the podium in third place behind Moss and Fangio. He also had a number of good results in sports cars.
The following year he stayed on at Ferrari and had a reasonable season. He retired at Monaco but then, after missing the Grand Prix in Holland and Belgium as well as the Indy 500, he finished on the podium in third place in France having come from 21st on the grid. He retired from the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July, when he pitted on lap 60 with no oil. He finished 4th in Germany and 5th in Portugal before colliding with Harry Schell on the opening lap of the Italian Grand Prix, ending up with a broken leg.
That year he also won the European hill-climb championship in a works Porsche RSK.
With Jo Bonnier on the Targa Florio in 1959 where they failed to finish.
He switched to Porsche in the F2 class in the first Grand Prix of 1959 at Monaco he spun on the incline to Casino. Allison's Ferrari crashed into him as he spun followed by the Lotus of Bruce Halford. Allison and his Ferrari suffered the least damage while von Trips sustained a gashed face and Halford had a cut to his arm. All three retired. He was withdrawn from the German Grand Prix after Behra's accident and at the end of the season returned to Ferrari for the American Grand Prix, finishing 6th with a Ferrari Dino 246.
In sports cars he took the Porsche to third at Sebring as well as winning the Berlin Grand Prix and finishing second in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood ahead of Brooks' Ferrari.
Returning to Ferrari in 1960, he was a consistent top ten finisher with a best result of fourth in Portugal. He ended the season racing a Scuderia Centro Sud Cooper T51-Maserati in the USA. He also won the non-championship races at Syracuse and Solitude for Ferrari and finished second in the F2 German GP for Porsche.
On his way to winning the Dutch Grand Prix in 1961 in the Ferrari 156.
Then in 1961 he hit top form. In sports cars he won the Targa Florio with Gendebien and driving the works 'shark nose' Ferrari 156 he finished fourth in Monaco followed by a dominant win in Holland. After a second in Belgium and a retirement in France, he then won the British Grand Prix. After another podium in Germany, finishing second, he went into the Italian GP leading the World Championship and only needing a third to secure the title.
He put the Ferrari on pole but was not the quickest off the line. On the second lap he was under pressure from Jim Clark's Lotus. However when Clark pulled out of his slipstream to attempt a pass, von Trips moved over as well. His Ferrari clipped the front wheel of Jim Clark's Lotus sending Taffy into the air. He crashed into a retaining fence behind which spectators were tightly packed. von Trips was thrown out of the car landing back on the circuit. Tragically he died along with 14 spectators.
It was rumored that von Trips was scheduled to fly to the USA from Düsseldorf with a friend later on the day he died. The plane went down over Ireland with the loss of all onboard. A plane did crash that day on a flight from Shannon to Gander in Canada but since it took off at 3.55 AM there's no way Van Tripps could have ever made the flight. As an aside, the Douglas DC-6B Registration N90773 had been involved in a hijack a few years earlier when it was being run by American Airlines. On July 6th 1954, five minutes prior to takeoff from Cleveland, Ohio, the hijacker, Raymond A. Kuchenmeister, burst into the cockpit and demanded to be taken to Cuba where upon the captain, William F. Bonnell, shot him twice! Kuchenmeister died an hour later at a local hospital.
Von Trips had been involved in the promotion of karting in Germany and in 1961 he opened a kart track in Kerpen, Germany which was later leased by Rolf Schumacher, whose sons Michael and Ralph took their first steps on the motor racing ladder there.