Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Day Fangio was Kidnapped

In 1958, revolutionary unrest disrupted the Gran Premio, the race along Havana’s scenic waterfront. On the eve of the race three pro-Castro rebels stepped up to Juan Fangio (above), the heavy favorite, in the lobby of the Lincoln Hotel in downtown Havana and identified themselves as members of the July 26th Movement. One pressed a .45 Colt revolver to Fangio’s back and bundled him into a waiting car. As the car roared off to a house on the outskirts of Havana the rebels assured Fangio he was safe; the abduction was meant to embarrass the Batista government, and they would release him as soon as the race was over.

The next day President Batista sat in a grandstand with his family while police searched frantically for Fangio. Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and other drivers waited more than an hour at the starting area after an announcer reported that Fangio had been released and was on his way. When Fangio did not appear the drivers were ordered to their cars. Fifteen minutes after the start a privately owned yellow-and-black Ferrari driven by Armando Garcia Cifuentes, an inexperienced 27-year-old Cuban, skidded on a patch of oil as he was coming out of a turn and jumped the curb. He sailed into a grandstand, killing seven people. “It seemed only an instant,” Hill said, “and bodies were being mowed down.” A cloud of dust went up and spectators rushed in to to gawk at the bloodshed. Cifuentes had lacerated face and bruises, but was otherwise unhurt. All over the Malecon officials waved red flags. The race was ended, and spectators were told to go home.

According to international rules, the five laps constituted a race. Stirling Moss was declared the winner, and he collected the $3,000 prize. Von Trips came in fourth. Hill, who had hung back with piston problems, placed fifth.

That evening the rebels turned Fangio over to the Argentine ambassador. Once freed, he made a point of saying that he had been well treated by his kidnappers. They had fed him generously and allowed him to watch the race on television.


  1. There is an account of the kidnapping in the recent book "Havana Nocturne." Not sure if it will provide any new info for you, but you might want to check it out

  2. Automobiliac: Very grateful for the tip. I'll be sure to check it out.