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THEY CALLED him le Sorcier—the Wizard—because Amédée Gordini performed sorcery in engine tuning. He worked magic as well in contesting Grands Prix and endurance racing in the 1950s against the might of Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. Contesting, yes; winning, only occasionally.
Gordini was born in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, only 15 miles southeast of Modena, birthplace of Enzo Ferrari. Whereas Ferrari established his scuderia down the road in nearby Maranello, Gordini chose Paris for his equipe.
He established a working relationship with French automaker Simca. In the late 1930s, his Gordini (Simca née Fiat 508S-based) sports cars did just fine at Le Mans.
At the last three Le Mans races before World War II, 1937-1939, Gordinis were the only cars in their sub-750-cc class running at the finish, thus garnering class wins. Indeed, in the last two races, they were alone in class. However, Gordinis also earned Index of Performance wins these two years, le Sorcier himself co-driving to 10th place overall in this last year.
After WWII, Gordini continued with Simca-based cars into the early 1950s. Then, for the 1952 season, he built his own sports cars and single-seaters, the latter running in the Formula 2 category that constituted Grands Prix that year.
Ferrari dominated, but Jean Behra piloted his T16 Gordini to a win in a non-championship Grand Prix de la Marne held on the French Reims circuit. Ferraris finished 2nd and 3rd, but another Gordini came in 4th, this one driving by “B. Bira,” (a Siamese prince). Still running at the end, but Not Classified, was a young Englishman in an Alta-HWM: Stirling Moss.
Gordini attracted a fine group of drivers for his Grand Prix and sports cars. These included Jean Behra, B. Bira, Paul Frère, Robert Manzon and even Juan Manuel Fangio—who co-drove a Gordini coupe at Le Mans in 1952.
With only occasional class wins, Gordini sports cars, like the Grand Prix machines, had a reputation for fragility, especially in rear axle design. His equipe was always dramatically underfinanced. But it never lacked espirit.
When English humorist Peter Ustinov devised his Grand Prix of Gibraltar, a wonderful spoof of the sport circa 1955 (and of LP records describing it), his French team owner fashioned after Gordini was Gallic to a fault: “Like a smoke? The cars, they are insured….”
In 1957, Amédée Gordini closed his shoestring effort, soon to guide Renault’s specialty operations. He had built perhaps 50 sports racing and Grand Prix cars, and was no doubt delighted to sell a remaining 14 of them to the Schlumpf brothers, these two renowned for their acquisitive automotive habits. See www.wp.me/p2ETap-LN to learn the outcome of such habits.
As a closing comment about le Sorcier, his handiwork appeared regularly—if subtly—in the pages of R&T.
Residing in the upper left corner of each PS page was a wonderful array of exhaust pipes. These emanated from a Gordini T32 Grand Prix car.
Imagine the glorious sound they transmitted. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013