The Lost Years

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

The Lost Years 1
June 10, 2016

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.

The Lost Years 2

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.

The Lost Years 3

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.”

The Lost Years 4

ONE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS is from the inauguration of Ecuador’s first-ever racetrack, the Autodromo Internacional de Yahuarcocha. Fittingly, the name translates as Lake of Blood.

“It was 10 kilometers long and had straight that was over 2 kms,” says Michelet. “My father told me that they used to get up to nearly 300 km/h [186 mph] every lap down there. The slowest corner was a fourth gear one, so it was incredibly fast. Many people say it resembled the old Spa-Francorchamps circuit.”

Like Spa, Yahuarcocha was dangerous, with both drivers and spectators killed. Because of the accidents, the circuit was closed in 1982.

The Lost Years 5

Pascal’s first big win came a few months after he bought the car, in the 300 kms of Ecuador at Yahuarcocha, which had a large field of international drivers in Porsche 908s and a McLaren M1A. Co-owner Fausto Merello had broken his arm, so Pascal drove the whole race himself. Conspicuously absent from the podium celebrations was Pascal’s wife, who was in hospital giving birth to Jean-Pierre’s sister Christine. The family priorities had already been firmly established.

Another important victory almost came shortly after, at the 6 Hours of Collique in Peru. Pascal and Merello led the race for 5 hours and 55 minutes, but Merello, coming under pressure from the closing Porsche of Peruvian driver Pitty Block, spun off on the last lap. Shortly after that, Pascal bought out Merello’s half-share and became the sole owner of the Ferrari.

The 250 LM was registered to race at Le Mans in ’74, but at the last minute the team decided to race in Ortega’s 908 instead. It was too late to change the details of the entry, so the Ferrari stayed on the list; another piece of the missing history resolved. (Pascal never got to drive the Porsche, as teammate Lothar Ranft crashed the car before it was his turn.)

The Lost Years 6

Pascal expected many more good results from the Ferrari, but while it was fast and handled amazingly well the LM suffered from reliability issues. There were problems caused by the alternator, the water pump, and, especially, overheating. The Yahuarcocha circuit, for example, sat high in the Andes, at 2,300 meters [about 7,500 feet] above sea level, and the thin air meant the fuel mixture ran rich, and therefore hot. Even if an event was run in lower country, the problem didn’t get any better because the rest of Ecuador has a tropical climate and, being on the equator, the sun is directly overhead twice a year.

Ecuador also had some draconian vehicle-importation rules. It was so hard to get parts across the border that on one occasion Pascal went to Maranello himself to buy some. When Enzo Ferrari found out someone from Ecuador was shopping for 250 LM parts, he left his office to meet the man. Ferrari was amazed to learn there was an LM racing in Ecuador, and he spent some time asking Pascal about the circuits. According to the family tale, says Michelet, Enzo was “serious but kind.”

As a direct result of this difficulty in getting parts, s/n 6107 ended up remaining much more original than most of its 31 siblings. Pascal simply wasn’t able to replace things when they broke, and instead was usually forced to repair the original items. 

The Lost Years 7

The LM’s time with the Michelets came to an end in the mid 1970s. This part of the tale begins when the Ferrari was at a garage in Quito, getting some work done, and two Americans, who’d been drinking, decided to take it for a drive. Jean-Pierre doesn’t know who they were, what they were doing at the garage, or if they had permission to drive the car, but he recounts that while raging through the city streets they missed a gear and damaged the engine.

That was only part of the problem. The disaster occurred around the same time Ecuador’s motor-racing governing body decided to reduce maximum engine capacity to 3,000cc, which meant Pascal had a broken 3.3-liter Ferrari he couldn’t race. He did have an out, however, in the form of English businessman Robert Lamplough, who wanted to buy the LM.

“I didn’t want him to give the car away,” Michelet recalls. “It was 1975. I was seven years old and remember crying like a little baby trying to persuade him to keep it.”

The Lost Years 8

It took Lamplough three trips to Ecuador to convince Pascal to sell, and on the last visit he did, for $25,000 with a road-going Dino 246 thrown in for good measure. Jean-Pierre remembers the LM going to its new home with its engine unrepaired and a box of parts that could possibly be used again.

According to Jean-Pierre, Lamplough assured Pascal he would keep and treasure the car. But about six months later, Pascal learned Lamplough had sold the Ferrari for a higher price. He felt taken advantage of, and it didn’t help that the Dino he’d received in part exchange was stuck in customs.

For generations, Ecuador only allowed brand-new cars to be brought into the country. “But there was one little concession, in that national racing champions were allowed to bring a car in as long as they raced it for two years,” says Michelet. “But unfortunately there was something not correct in the paperwork and it was stuck in customs for two years. Can you imagine a new Dino sitting in a container for two years?

The Lost Years 9

“Finally my father got it and raced it for those two years, just for fun so that he could keep it afterwards. But on the very last race, it caught fire and was totally destroyed. He couldn’t live without a Ferrari in his life, though, so in 1979 bought another Dino for daily driving, and this one he kept for the rest of his life.”

THE 250 LM STAYED IN THE UK until 1983, when a secretive Japanese collector bought it. That was the last anyone saw of the Ferrari for 30 years.

“Then one day, completely out of the blue, Sotheby’s emailed me asking if I could tell them the history of the car in Ecuador,” Michelet says. “Of course, it was a tremendous surprise and lots of memories flooded back to my mind, lots of nostalgic feelings. When it sold and was in the local press, I had so many emails from people telling me they remember seeing the car race when they were kids. I used to literally love that car!”

Although Michelet knew his father’s old Ferrari would be worth a lot, he had no idea it would sell for nearly $15 million. “I was shocked when I saw that number, and there was a lot of wondering, if only we’d kept the car, the future for the whole of the family would be secure,” he says, then shrugs. “But what can you do?”

Michelet still has two sets of the LM’s original wheels and he recently purchased a Prancing Horse of his own. His F355 isn’t for racing, just for weekend drives through the Ecuadorian countryside, but at least there’s a Ferrari back in the Michelet family again, and that’s the way it should be.

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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