Features

Maurice Trintignant

By Bob Constanduros

It’s well known that Stirling Moss – our president – drove an HK500 and that his patron, Rob Walker, owned three Facels. But it was Moss’s regular understudy at RRC Walker Racing Team – as Rob’s team was known – France’s Maurice Trintignant who almost certainly started what became a Facel epidemic in Grand Prix paddocks at the end of the fifties, start of the sixties. He had three Facels.

The first of Trintignant’s Facels has just returned across the channel to a new home in France after a few months at J D Classics, Maldon in Essex. This is a pretty top classic car dealer with a staff of 60, not only selling but restoring classic cars.

Trintignant’s 1958 FV3B was the last of 91 built of this model. It still has its 4.9 litre V8 Plymouth engine and a three speed automatic Chrysler Torqueflite gearbox. When it was sold by Artcurial at Retromobile in 2015, it was to be sold with its original wire wheels rather than the Borranis on which it was shown in the catalogue, so it was in highly original condition.  There was a file of bills covering the last fifty – yes, fifty – years.

Trintignant went on to own two more Facels, both HK500s, and one wonders how much he influenced other motor racing personalities to buy the French cars. He drove for both Rob Walker and Tony Vandervell – who had a 11 – and was a longtime rival and teammate of Stirling Moss who of course was maybe loaned two HK500s for his continental trips.

Maurice Bienvenu Jean Paul Trintignant was the darling of French motor sport for many years. He was born in 1917 in the Vaucluse area of France. Avignon is the most famous town in the region, which is bordered by the Rhone and includes Mont Ventoux.

Maurice was the fourth and youngest son of a farmer and viticulturist. His oldest brother, Louis, was also a race driver but was killed in 1933 in a Bugatti. Although the car was then sold, 21-year old Maurice bought it back five years later and began racing just before WW11, with some success including victories in Pau and the Grand Prix des Frontieres at Chimay in Belgium.

The Bugatti – nicknamed Grandma – was stored in a barn during the war and pressed into service for a race at the Bois de Boulogne in 1945, the Coupe de la Liberation or Coupe des Prisonniers, but it ground to a halt with fuel starvation when well placed. It was subsequently found that rat droppings had clogged up the carburettor, something that its owner/driver had failed to overhaul before the race. Winner Jean-Pierre Wimille exclaimed loudly that Trintignant could now be nicknamed Le Petoulet, little rat shit, a moniker Trintignant bore thereafter with such good grace that he even gave one of his wines the same name.

In these post-war years, Trintignant won again at Pau, the GP de Caen twice and twice more at Chimay. In 1948, he had two significant accidents. He crashed at Reims and was replaced in the Gordini team by a young Argentine driver who had just arrived in Europe: Juan-Manuel Fangio who would go on to win five World Championships. Much worse was a massive accident in a voiturette race at Bremgarten in Bern where Trintignant was thrown from his car and declared clinically dead. Consequently, a corner was named after him according to tradition, but he recovered to race again, now always with a little teddy bear given to him by his wife for luck.

Over the next couple of years, his performances in the underpowered Gordini would earn him a works Ferrari drive in 1954 and 1955 when he finished fourth in the World Championship, partially thanks to his first Grand Prix win at Monaco once the Mercedes of Fangio and Moss had retired. It was the first win by a French driver in the World Championship, a feat which earned him a special place in the hearts of his compatriots . He also won the 1954 Le Mans 24 hours with Froilan Gonzalez in a 4.1 Ferrari.

He drove Vandervell’s Vanwall in 1956, was the last man to race a Bugatti in Formula One, and drove a Cooper for Rob Walker in 1957, winning his second Grand Prix at Monaco the following year when once again Moss – among others – retired. At that time, he had just taken delivery of the last FV3B to be built, chassis 357 although in Jean Daninos’s own book – for which Trintignant writes the preface – it is numbered 337.

By the year’s end, Trintignant had replaced this car with an HK500 (HK G6, again inaccurately listed in the EPA book). He would then race a Maserati, Aston Martin and a Lotus for Walker in 1962. By this time Moss had taken delivery of his first HK500 (HK L5 in March 1959) and Walker had his first (possibly HK U1) six months later. The F1 paddocks were crawling with Facels!

In March 1961, they all got new HK500s; Trintignant took delivery of HK1 CB2, Moss was loaned HK1 CC2 and Walker took delivery of HK1 BY5 which had come into the UK four months before. At some stage Trintignant took either his or someone else’s Facel around the 22 kilometers of the Nurburgring – and broke 17 spokes of the wire wheels in a single lap. Walker was the only customer to graduate to a Facel 11 – and would specify solid wheels thereafter.

Trintignant raced a Lola and a BRM in Formula One towards the end of his career when he had replaced Moss after our president’s accident at Goodwood. But this accident and advancing years meant the Frenchman was no longer fully committed and therefore wasn’t particularly competitive; Le Petoulet had his last Grands Prix – after 81 starts and two wins – in 1964, aged 47.

He retired to Nimes in the Gard area where he went into wine production as well as becoming mayor of his local town, Vergeze. He would mentor future Grand Prix driver Jean Alesi as well as his actor nephew, Jean-Louis Trintignant (see Un Homme and Une Femme). It was in August 1981 that he would take to the roads again in an HK500, loaned to him by Jean Daninos, and write the preface to Daninos’s book.

In it, he writes “two cars stand out for me for their speed, comfort and safety : the supercharged 3.3-litre Bugatti 57 C (…) and the three Facels that I drove across Europe to get me from one Grand Prix to another. ” No higher compliment could be forthcoming from such an experienced driver.

In 2005, Maurice Trintignant died at Nimes aged 87, still remembered as France’s first World Championship Grand Prix winner – and Facel driver, as the FV3B owner’s manual, signed by Daninos and Trintignant, will attest.

Ends

 

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