This tough looking guy behind the wheel of his Vanwall is Harry Schell, a Franco-American living in Paris, but wearing a USAC emblem on his helmet. This photograph was taken on May 5, 1956, just before the start of the Daily Express International Trophy, then an annual non-Championship F1 race held at Silverstone. Schell shared pole position time on the front row with a similar Vanwall driven by Stirling Moss. In the race, Schell would retire with fuel system problems while Moss achieved to a popular victory after the Lancia-Ferraris retired.
Harry O’Reilly Schell was the son of famous rallying parents Laury Schell and Lucy O’Reilly Schell who had great prewar successes, primarily with Delahayes, and also sponsored various racing drivers under their “Ecurie Bleue” team. Their most important success was backing René Dreyfus when he beat the Mercedes team driving a Delahaye at Pau in 1938. In 1940 Lucy entered two Maserati 8CTFs at Indianapolis with Luigi Chinetti as team manager.
After spending the War years in America with his mother, Schell returned to France. His mother’s money supplied the means for him to enter postwar racing and see some initial good results. In his early racing days he sometimes dropped the letter “c” from his name, thereby hoping for better starting money as the organizers might believe he was somehow connected to the oil company. Schell was a true bon vivant in the style of his great friend Alfonso de Portago for whom he acted as a racing mentor, although the student was to prove faster, and unquestionably braver, than the teacher. In addition to his racing, Schell also owned L’Action Automobile, a bar and bistro for the racing fraternity in Paris at 65 Avenue d’Iena just off the Champs Elysées. Although Schell was capable of putting up strong performances for short periods during races, he was probably not committed enough mentally to do so for a three-hour Grand Prix. Also, the deaths of many of his close compatriots in the 1950s no doubt had some sobering effects on him.
In 1960 Harry Schell, then 39 years old, joined the fledgling Cooper F1 team. On a wet May practice day at Silverstone before the International Trophy he lost control in the very fast Abbey Curve and impacted with a bank on the outside. Not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown into the windshield, breaking his neck and dying instantly, but doing what he had always loved.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com