The Lost Years

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, this Ferrari wowed racing fans around Ecuador.

June 9, 2016
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This 250 LM (s/n 6107) is famous for two things. First, in 2013, it was sold by Sotheby’s for a staggering $14.7 million, making it the 14th most expensive car ever sold at auction (as well as the 13th most expensive Ferrari). Second, in 1968, Guillermo Ortega and Fausto Merello scraped together enough money to buy the then four-year-old Ferrari and, after doing not much more than adding some racing lights, drove it to a class win in the 24 Hours of Daytona.

After a DNF at that year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, Ortega and Merello shipped the car home to Ecuador. But precious little is known about what happened to the Ferrari between 1969 and 1975, when it arrived in England, and even less about owner Pascal Michelet, who raced the car more than anyone else. To get the missing story, I traveled to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to meet the late Pascal’s eldest son, Jean-Pierre.

Jean-Pierre Michelet works for a film company, but his office’s four walls are covered only in motor-racing memorabilia. He even has some delightful model dioramas of his father’s 250 LM. Like his father, Jean-Pierre is pretty accomplished behind the wheel. He has finished second-in-class at both Daytona and Sebring, and in the corner sits a huge trophy for the local Formula 3 championship he won when he was younger. Michelet has also been Ecuador’s official Formula 1 commentator since 1988.

So Michelet knows motorsport and he knows the family history. After WWII, his grandfather emigrated from France to Venezuela with his family and became the local CEO of Renault. The 250 LM story begins in the mid ’50s, when, before a sports-car race on the streets of Caracas, a very young Pascal wandered around the Renault garages, which had been loaned out to the Ferrari team. An engine started, making Pascal jump backwards in fright; luckily, he was caught by a big, kind man who asked if he liked Ferraris. He did, and his love of the Prancing Horse started there. The kind man? None other than Juan Manuel Fangio.

Some 15 years later the family moved to Quito, and it was here that a 20-year-old Pascal got his first chance to race. But because his father forbade it due to the danger, Pascal had to enter the event under a false name. That first race was in a Renault Dauphine, but he soon stepped up to a Chevrolet Camaro. In his first proper race, on public roads high in the Andes, Pascal beat established names to pull off an impressive win. From that moment, he was hooked.

Pascal’s next car was an AC Bristol, but it was soon upgraded into a full-blown Cobra with a Shelby engine and wider wheels. Michelet actually doesn’t know much about what his father achieved in this car, as all the stories told were about the Ferrari.

Michelet turns to the photo albums stacked on the table. These are personal items, family heirlooms, treasured now that Pascal has passed away, and they’ve never been seen by a journalist before. The first one opens with the sound of crinkling plastic. Michelet shows me photos of a young man who bears a striking resemblance to him sitting at the wheel of the 250 LM, which was then painted yellow. This was the first time his father had seen the car, and later that day, at the tender age of 23, Pascal bought out Guillermo Ortega’s share to become the proud half-owner of a full-blooded racing Ferrari.

And why not? It wasn’t like he had a young family to support. Well, actually, Jean-Pierre was about a year old at the time, and with a rye smile suggests there might have been some familial discord about this decision. He doesn’t mind the appropriation of his college fund, though, because his very first formative memories are of this Ferrari.

“I was about two years old and remember so much,” he says. “The smell, and being frightened when my father started the engine. It was so loud and so close.”

Also from Issue 151

  • 458 Buyer's Guide
  • 250 Europa GT
  • Collector Ferrari prices are falling
  • F1: Mixed results
  • FCA concours judging on 550 Maranello
  • FORZA Tifosi Challenge: New vision
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