Incongruity, thy name is Cuban Grand Prix

Think of Cuba and many things instantly spring to mind. Old American cars. Dilapidated buildings. Cigars. Socialism. Poverty. Statesmen in military fatigues. Refugees.

Motor racing at the highest level of the sport isn’t one of them.

And yet, as hard as it is to imagine now, over fifty years ago (from 1957 through 1960) that is precisely what took place annually on the Caribbean island nation, including – perhaps most astonishingly – the abduction of one of the sport’s greatest champions in 1958. And then, of course, the Cuban Revolution happened culminating in Fulgencio Batista’s ouster, and the rest is history.

The Cuban Grand Prix was a sports car motor race held for a brief period in the late 1950s. The race is now defunct, having been held for the last time in 1960. The race is best remembered as the backdrop to the kidnapping of Formula One World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio by anti-government rebels linked to the 26th of July Movement.

The race was established in 1957 as the Batista Government envisioned creating an event to attract wealthy tourists, particularly from nearby United States. A street circuit was established on Malecon Avenue on the beachfront of Havana. The first race was a great success. The race was won by Fangio driving a Maserati 300S, leading home Carroll Shelby driving a Ferrari 410 and Alfonso de Portago in a Ferrari 860.

The following year the official Maserati team arrived in force with their fleet of Maserati 300S cars and Fangio and Stirling Moss as drivers. On the eve of the race Fangio was abducted from his hotel by an armed man. The Cuban government ordered the race to continue. Moss and Masten Gregory lead the race which was red flagged after just six laps. Armando Garcia Cifuentes had crashed his Ferrari into the crowd, killing seven.

The 1959 race was cancelled as Fidel Castro’s revolution entered its final stages. The race returned in 1960, at a new venue on service roads around a military airfield. Moss, driving a Maserati Birdcage for privateer team CAMORADI, had a comfortable victory over NART run Ferrari 250 TR59 driven by Pedro Rodríguez with Masten Gregory third in a Porsche 718 (source).

El Maestro (Fangio).

Moss.

Shelby.

Screen beauty Linda Christian bringing some of the glamour.

Moss Roberto Mieres, Fangio, and head of state Batista, who would imminently be overthrown by Castro’s Cuban Revolution.

 

Although not an apples to apples comparison, we wonder if history will look back on the Bahrain GP through a similarly discordant lens. “They held a race where?”

(Hat tip to The Chicane for the idea for this post, and to the Cuba Green Screen forum for use of some of the images.)

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~ by velofinds on February 26, 2013.

8 Responses to “Incongruity, thy name is Cuban Grand Prix”

  1. Great story. Love that image of Shelby in his trademark dungarees.

    That ‘aint Moss next to Batista and Fangio tho!

  2. Great story and some really cool pictures!

  3. What is the odd looking #4 in the second photo? Some kind of amphibious car? Johnny Cash’s 1949-1970 Cadillac?

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