Before the End…

Ferrari, de Portago, Mille Miglia

It is May 12, 1957 at the Ravenna control during the last Mille Miglia. The car is a Ferrari 335 Sport driven by Alfonso de Portago with his American friend Edmund Nelson as his passenger.

The 335 Sport was perhaps the ultimate front-engined Ferrari sports-racer with a 4.1 liter four-cam motor which put out about 400 hp and led Ferrari to the 1957 World Championship for Manufacturers. Four of these four-cam racers were in action in 1957 with engines varying from 3.8 to 4.1 liters. Two additional modified versions were constructed for private American owners in 1958.

Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, Marquis of Portago, was the ultimate free-living and romantic sportsman of the period. A Spanish nobleman, he was talented at many sports, from polo to bobsledding, but had concentrated on automobile racing and became a member of Ferrari’s Grand Prix team in 1956. He did not like the Mille Miglia which he felt was very dangerous and believed that no non-Italian could do well in that race. His friend Edmund Nelson had been an elevator operator at the Plaza Hotel in New York when de Portago stayed there with his mother some years before. Nelson subsequently became de Portago’s “batman” as Louis Klemantaski described him.

In 1957 at Sebring de Portago gave a long recorded interview to author Ken W. Purdy. Purdy asked him about living with fear. “A lot of nonsense,” Portago said. “I’m often frightened. I can get frightened crossing the street in heavy traffic… As for enjoying fear. I don’t think anybody enjoys fear, at least in my definition, which is a mental awareness of a danger to your body. You can enjoy courage—the performance of an act which frightens you—but not fear… If I die tomorrow,” he told Purdy the day before Sebring, “still I have had 28 wonderful years.”

Some hours after this photograph was taken on a straight stretch of road near the small village of Guidizzolo not far south of Brescia a tire burst on de Portago’s car at over 150 mph. The resulting loss of control and crash would kill de Portago and Nelson and nine spectators, several of them children. That was the end of the Mille Miglia. Today a monument to those killed stands at the site of the crash.

Photo by Edward Eves ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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One comment

  1. Jim Sitz · · Reply

    Notice the Englebert tires on Ferrari 335 S which may have been a factor
    in the crash, so close to end of 1000 miles for de Portago and Nelson.

    I do know the tire firm paid handsome bonus and yet the drivers
    were not so keen on using them.

    Car confiscated by government, finally released and the wonderful
    motor used for Monza 500 and then in 412 MI commissioned by John
    von Neumann to create a car to take on the mighty Scarab in 1958.

    jim sitz


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