Despite its sculptured Scaglietti flanks, never has an 860 Monza looked quite so good…actress Linda Christian adorns Fon de Portago’s Ferrari

The Marquis Alfonso De Portago, Spanish nobleman and journey-man driver was accompanied by Linda Christian at the 1957 Cuban Grand Prix sports car event.

Fidel Castro’s insurgents were on the move in the countryside but for the Batista’s’ life went on. Keen to attract wealthy American tourists to the country to pump much needed funds into their moribund economy, an annual motor race was part of a plan to raise Cuba’s profile and provide an event to attract the punters.

Out of focus and slightly surreal as a result…Fangio in his Maserati 300S, Malecon Boulevard, Havana, 1957 (Hy Peskin Collection)
cuba 2
Wonderful panorama of Havanas Malecon circuit. 14 is the Phil Hill Ferrari 857S, De Portago’s Monza behind it with Linda Christian alighting. #16 also a Ferrari, driver unknown (Pinterest)

Ferrari 860 Monza…

‘Fon De Portago Ferrari 860 Monza, unprotected nature of the circuit clear, seven spectators were killed in the 1958 event (Pinterest)

The 860 Monza was Ferrari’s front line sports car weapon, together with the V12 290MM in 1956.

It was part of the family of sports cars built over much of the ’50’s based on the Lampredi designed DOHC, two valve, Weber carbed four cylinder engine which first found success in the Tipo 500 F2/F1 cars. Ascari won the World Drivers Championship in 1952 and 1953 in the Tipo 500.

The engine gave circa 310bhp from its 3431cc, gearbox was four speed. The usual Ferrari ladder frame of the period was used, drum brakes all round stopped the relatively light car which tipped the scales at 860kg. The cars curvaceous body was built by Scaglietti.

Independent front suspension by wishbones and coil springs was new for the 860, and effective. A De Dion rear axle was at the rear, sprung by a transverse leaf spring.

 Three cars were built, the model’s most notable victories were at the ’56 Sebring 12 Hours and the Rouen GP.

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The field before lining up pre grid on Malecon Avenue, Havana

The Race and Aftermath…

On the front row, De Portago Ferrari Monza, Phil Hill Fazz 857S Monza and Schell in the yellow Maser 300S, all the fun of the fair, over 100,000 spectators (Pinterest)

De Portago fought a race long battle with Fangio’s 300S and Carroll Shelby’s Ferrari 410, finishing third on the Havana waterfront street circuit.

The public relations opportunities for Batista evaporated when the Presidential motorcade, enroute to his palace, was confronted by a relatively small group of ‘natives’ seeking favours from the President. Armed escorts beat them with unbelievable ferocity and brutality. This fueled the flames of the resistance movement further .

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Start of the race, Moss Maserati 300S, D Type Jag #24 of local driver Alfonso Gomez-Mena (Pinterest)
Fangio #2 passes De Portago who is slowing a bit on lap 69 in Parque Mart. Maserati 300S and Ferrari Monza (Pinterest)

Jumping forward a year Fangio was kidnapped at gunpoint from his hotel the evening before the race by the rebels. He was returned to the Argentinian Embassy after the abortive event in which 40 spectators were injured and seven died after local driver Armando Cifuentes lost control of his Ferrari and ploughed into the unprotected crowd.

The race lasted 15 minutes or six laps, Stirling Moss was declared the winner in his Maserati 300S.

Fangio was later to say he was never concerned for his safety, he was held in a comfortably appointed apartment, was fed well, given a radio to listen to the race, and was personally apologised to by Castro’s second in command.

Joe Sheppard races to victory at Ala-Mar in 1959 aboard Porsche 550RS #550A-0144. (J Shea Collection)

In 1959 a four hour race held around a 2.8-mile course at Ala-Mar, a Havana suburb, was won by ‘The Tampa Hotshoe’, Joe Sheppard and Fritz Schiedel in a Porsche 550RS. It was Sheppard’s first race in his new car – very familiar though he was with 550s – so it was quite a debut! Schiedel was Sheppard’s mechanic.

With Castro’s revolution in its final stages, in 1960 he had power, anxious to create a sense of normality, the race proceeded, albeit on a circuit at army Camp Freedom, Moss was the winner in a Maserati Birdcage.

Such grubby bourgeois activities as motor racing ceased and Camp Freedom was used to house the sort of people who attended such events…

The beauty of the city and enthusiasm of the crowd, and its size come thru in all these shots! De Portago, Ferrari Monza 860 (Pinterest)

Linda Christian and De Portago…

Linda Christian was a successful Mexican/ American actor who starred in the first TV adaptation of the Bond novel Casino Royale and in Tarzan, amongst many others. She was with De Portago during that fateful Mille Miglia weekend later in 1957.

De Portago kissed Christian, jumped into his Ferrari 335S, and 70km before Brescia the car blew a tyre, ploughed into the crowd killing Portago, co-driver Ed Nelson, nine spectators and the Mille Miglia.

De Portago and Phil Hill before the race, Havana 1957 (Pinterest)


Hill/O’Shea Ferrari 857S Monza, Malecon Circuit pits, Cuba 1957 (Pinterest)
The Castellotti Ferrari 290MM, V12 engined compared with the Monza four cylinder engine, both were Ferrari works 1956 Sports Car Championship entries. Castellotti in yellow polo shirt. (Pinterest)
‘Chicken-plucker’ Carroll Shelby in trademark farmers overalls in the third place Ferrari 410, 1957 would be a great year for him. (Pinterest)
Military very much to the fore. Fangio Maserati 300S #2 and Castellotti Ferrari 290MM #10 (Pinterest)
fang 2
Juan Manuel Fangio beside his Maserati 300S in Cuba at the start of his final full season of racing in 1957. He drove for Maserati in both Sports and Grand Prix events, winning his fifth F1 World Title in the fabulous, and by that time evergreen Maserati 250F; that car finally getting the title it long deserved (Pinterest)
Moss Maserati 300S beside the John Edgar owned #78 Ferrari 4.9 driven by Carini (Pinterest)
Hill/O’Shea Ferrari 857S Monza, Cuba 1957. Paul O’Shea checking out the engine (Pinterest)
malecon 4
malecon 3
Fangio after the 1958 Cuban Grand Prix and release by his Castro captors…(Pinterest)
It is not recorded if Che and Fidel attended one of Cuba’s Grands Prix…
Entry list for the 1960 event at Camp Freedom (J Shea Collection)

Photo and Other Credits…

Pinterest, Havana May Blogspot, Hy Peskin Collection, John Shea


  1. Great article about a forgotten era, thanks for that!

  2. alberto says:

    Great! do you have photos about the GT races on Cuba? best Alberto

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Alberto, no I don’t have any more shots than those posted, it constantly amazes me just how popular the article on this Cuban event is! Mark

      • alberto says:

        Thanks Mark.
        I’m preparing an article about the Mercedes 300 SL racing in Cuba in ’50 years, but I need more photos …

      • markbisset says:

        Best of luck, I have done some simple fossicking but found no shots at all, that’s the game we are in I guess, finding stuff most folks haven’t seen! Regards, Mark

  3. Jack Shea says:

    I have info on GT race in Cuba in 1960

  4. […] Primotipo (2014): “Cuban Grand Prix 1957: Batista, Castro, de Portago, Fangio…” […]

  5. Great articles, thanks for sharing. For historic racing images, try The Revs Institute. and their archives

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Keith,
      I have occasionally used ‘Revs’, should contact them to see if they will do me a deal on price, free that is!
      Thanks for your interest, what eras of racing interest you most?

  6. Manel Baró says:

    Hi Mark,
    Just found your atractive site. Tks !
    The smart white-blue Ferrari nº 16 was famous 375+, chassis # 0384, owned at the time by Kimberly who loaned to Howard Hively for the ’57 Cuban G.P. race. It DNF (fire). “Faenza 43” model maker launched a fine 1/43 version of that iconic racing roadster.

  7. Manel Baró says:

    The smart white/blue Ferrari # 16 is the nowadasy famous 375Plus #0384AM,,owned at that time by Jim Kimberly, of Kimberly & Clark, who loaned to Howard Hively for the first Cuban GP. ( DNF: got burnt !).
    Resurrected in recent times, fully restored, it has been the silent protagonist of a very noisy ownership dispute and auctioned at record price, “Faenza 43” did a fne !/43 scale model of it.

  8. Maria Sanchez says:

    Last night we watch Ford vs Ferrari movie with the family. Great movie!

    My husband was in Cuba when the race took place. He went to the race on that day. Your article has brought him a lot of sweet memories.

    I am Cuban. I came to the USA in 1959 when I was ten. These views of Cuba is how I remembered it not the Cuba that it is now. It is so sad to see how deteriorated Cuba is a now.

    • markbisset says:

      So great to hear from you Maria,
      Its such a long time ago that i wrote that piece- i was captivated by the photographs of your country, so glad to have re-kindled some happy memories, Cuba is still very much on my ‘bucket list’, i hope to get there in the next few years. I hope you are managing ok in these difficult times.

    • Manel Baró says:

      You are right Maria. Dignity is always very expensive.

    • John Shea says:

      Mark thanks for including Joe for historical record..Jack

      • markbisset says:

        Cheers Jack,
        Many thanks for getting in touch, clearly The Tampa Hotshoe was a racer of talent!

      • John Shea says:

        Mark I really appreciate you adding the race results for Joe and Fritz. Fritz was a factory trained competition mechanic for Porsche. He took the opportunity granted by Porsche to work in the States for a set period of time. He loved the freedom in America and did not return on time so was terminated. In Cuba the next year the factory discovered a valve clearance issue , he was not told about the problem until 0144 dropped a valve. I have the entry list showing him gridded against the factory RSK’s. If you would like to post it too..Jack

      • markbisset says:

        Thanks Jack,
        Have posted the 1960 entry list, towards the end of the piece.
        Many thanks again,

      • John Shea says:

        Please correct the photo of Joe in the 550. He’s listed as John…thanks

      • markbisset says:

        Getting you muddled.

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