Alfonso de Portago

Alfonso de Portago

11/10/1928 - 12/5/1957

de Portago was an extravagant aristocrat, a lover of the adventure and one of the most colourful characters ever in motor racing. 'Fon' was a fantastic all-round sportsman, he was three times French amateur champion jockey, and appeared twice at Aintree in the Grand National steeplechase; he was an international-class swimmer and he formed the Spanish bobsleigh team for the 1956 Winter Olympics.

Born in London Full name: Don Alfonso Antonio Vicente Blas Angel Francisco Borija Cabez de Vaca y Leighton, Carvajal y Are, XVII Marques de Portago, Marques de Moratalla, XIII Conde de La Mejorada, Conde de Pernia, Duke of Alagon, Grande de Espana; Alfonso de Portago was a son of a Spanish aristocrat and an Irish ex-nurse. He came from one of the oldest Spanish families who's ancesters included Alvar Nunez, who crossed the United States on foot. He was an extravagant aristocrat, lover of the adventure. One of the most colourful characters ever to have been seen in motor racing, 'Fon' was a fantastic all-round sportsman.

A Spanish nobleman, he was three times French amateur champion jockey, and appeared twice at Aintree - where he never raced cars - in the Grand National steeplechase; he was an international-class swimmer; and in addition he created the Spanish bobsleigh team to take part in the 1956 Winter Olympics.

"Fon" was married to a North American millionairess and they had two sons. At the time of his death he was in process of getting divorced. He had, among others, an affair with the international model Dorian Leigh and the last six months of his life he was with the ex-wife of Tyrone Power, the actress Linda Christian.

As a sportsman Alfonso de Portago was outstanding in many sports. Excellent swimmer, remarkable player of polo, good in bobsleigh and hunting. In bobsleigh he participated in the Winter Olympics of 1956 held in Cortina d'Ampezzo. He formed a team with three of his Spanish friends (the Marquis of Marino, Gonzalo Taboada and Luis Munoz) in what was the first and last Spanish bobsleigh team. With Alfonso driving they ended up in fourth position only beaten by Switzerland, Italy and the US.

His close friend Edmond Nelson was the man who got him into motor racing. De Portago knew Nelson when he was working as lift-man in the Plaza Hotel in New York. Edmond Nelson, a native of South Dakota and an Air Force veteran, was then 42 years of age. His first race was in 1953 when he participated in the Carrera Panamericana as co-driver to Luigi Chinetti.

In 1954 Harry Schell convinced Alfonso to buy a Ferrari and to share it with him in sportscar races. The car was bought in the United States from Luigi Chinetti In 1954 he briefly shared Schell's big 4.5-litre Ferrari on its way to second place in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km, but usually handled less potent machinery to begin with, his Maserati 2-litre winning a race at Metz.

In 1955 de Portago joined the Scuderia Ferrari and while his F1 outings were restricted to non-championship races his sports car programme saw him take second in the Venezuelan GP and win the Governor's Cup at Nassau.

He was included in Ferrari's large Grand Prix squad during 1956, sharing the second-place car in the British GP with Collins, while in sports cars the highlight of his season was a win in the Tour de France in his Ferrari GT.

The 1957 season started well with a shared fifth place in the Argentine GP and success in sports car events, de Portago taking a win at Montlhery and third places in both the Buenos Aires 1000 Km and the Cuban GP, the latter after a brilliant drive when time was lost at a long pit stop. He was unhappy at taking part in the Mille Miglia, which he considered unnecessarily dangerous, but he competed nevertheless, only for disaster to strike less than 120 km before the finish. It is thought that a tyre burst hurling the Ferrari of de Portago and his long-time friend and co-driver Ed Nelson into the crowd. Ten unfortunate spectators were killed including 5 children, along with the car's occupants, and the famous road race was banned forthwith by the Italian government.

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