An American in Paris

Harry Schell, Vanwall, Silverstone

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 –





  1. Jim Sitz · · Reply

    Had the pleasure to see Harry Schell drive for both Ferrari and Maserati
    but regret not seeing him in Vanwall leading both the French and Italian Grand Prix
    in 1956, taking the Ferrari works cars by surprise.!

    By September 1957 he was in Modena and being recruited by BRM who made
    the long trip for this event. Both ‘arrie and friend Jean Behra signed on for 1958
    and proved fast. As Suggested he could not maintain the pace.

    I do not think Schell drove for Cooper Team, but had his own private one as
    used in Sebring Dec. 1959 and then next year with his fatal crash. Sad Day
    indeed as his friend Jean had died the year before.

    ..”Our Man in Paris”

    Jim Sitz


  2. Yes, Jim. It IS 1956. The Cooper Schell died in was entered for him by the British Racing Partnership.


  3. Are you sure he owned the bar in Paris – I think he ‘managed’ it?


    1. We believe that he had at least an ownership interest in L’Action Automobile, if not the sole owner.


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