Testa Rossa With a Twist

In the early 1960s, two Swiss brothers built and raced their own Ferrari-based sports car. Today, that long-ago machine has been reborn.

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December 5, 2019

At this year’s Goodwood Revival, a small but informed crowd gathered around a car concealed under a red Ferrari cover, behind which hung a large Swiss flag. This was to be the public unveiling of a car that had been four years in the making: a meticulous re-creation of the 1960 Cegga-Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa.

Waiting to pull off that cover were well-known car restorers and race-car preparers Neil and Craig Twyman, who built the re-creation, and the car’s owner, ex-England Rugby Union player turned historic racer David Cooke. The star of the show, however, was an elderly gentleman in a tweed flat cap: 88-year-old Georges Gachnang, who had come all the way from his home in Aigle, Switzerland to be part of the occasion and to witness the car’s racing debut.

You see, Georges and his brother Claude—three years younger, but too unwell to attend—had built the original Cegga-Ferrari back in 1960. It had since been broken up, but now it was re-born. As the cover was slowly peeled back to reveal a sleek, two-seat sports car in bare aluminum, Georges wiped a tear from his cheek and murmured, “Magnifique.”

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The original Cegga-Ferrari TR (s/n 0742TR)

As young men, the Gachnang brothers, both trained mechanics, loved motor racing. However, following the disaster at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955, circuit racing was banned in their native Switzerland. Hillclimbs were still allowed, although, as Georges Gachnang told me through his interpreter and friend Gibbus, “This was ridiculous because hillclimbing was more dangerous than circuit racing.”

That’s certainly true of the venues. The European Hillclimb Championship, first started in 1930 and won by such top-level drivers as Hans Stuck, Rudolf Caracciola, Wolfgang von Trips, and Edgar Barth, was usually contested on long, tortuous roads that ran up the sides of steep mountains, with little or no protection to keep the cars from flying off the side.

Dangerous or not, it would be on the hills that Georges cut his racing teeth. “I was the first in my family to race,” he recalls. “Claude would often test the cars we built on the road but he never raced.”

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Donor car for Cegga re-creation project started life as a 250 GT Boano (s/n 0611GT)

The brothers formed their own race team, called Scuderia Cegga—which stood for Claude Et Georges Gachnang, Aigle. They needed an edge to compete with the works teams and well-heeled private entrants, so they decided to build their own cars. The first was based on an AC Bristol, and Georges raced it at Le Mans in 1960 (he was not classified due to insufficient distance covered), while the second would be a Ferrari.

“The inspiration was to do a car for long-distance races that would be easy to drive, because for long distances, if it is too hard, it becomes very tiring,” said Gachnang. “So this was created for endurance racing.”

Georges went to Basel to buy the engine and gearbox from a crashed 1958 250 TR (s/n 0742TR). “The engine was not in the car,” he recalls. “The owner was going to put the chassis in the dust bin, and said to me, ‘If you want it, take it.’ So I did.”

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David Cooke, Neil Twyman, and Craig Twyman stand behind Georges Gachnang (seated in car).

THE DONOR TR had been bought new by Carl Johan Askolin of Helsinki, who entered it in several races during 1958. The dark blue and white Ferrari finished third in that year’s Helsinki GP and 12th in the Nürburgring 1,000-kms with Swedish driver Curt Lincoln at the wheel.

Following an end-of-season factory overhaul, s/n 0742 passed to Peter Monteverdi in Switzerland, and then swiftly on to Dr. Alfred Hopf in Basel. In October 1960, Hopf crashed the TR during a hillclimb in Freiburg. The car went off the edge of the road, rolled over, and ended up perched in the treetops.

Once the Ferrari’s remains were back at the brothers’ workshop, they hatched a plan to update it in line with then-current thinking. “The AC Bristol we built had independent suspension,” says Gachnang. “We wanted the same for the Ferrari.”

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The first step was to re-align the chassis, after which they cut off the factory rear section and removed the solid rear axle and drum brakes. A strong, tubular-steel cage was then fabricated to accommodate their own independent suspension setup, with adjustable Koni coil-over shocks, inboard Dunlop disc brakes, and a stronger ENV limited-slip differential. This was a fairly similar arrangement to that of the AC Bristol they had built previously, and those parts that weren’t available off the shelf were fabricated in house.

Why inboard discs, which make it more difficult to change brake pads during endurance races? “The works Ferraris had discs on the outside, but we put them inboard as we thought it was better to have less weight on the wheels [i.e., less unsprung weight],” explains Gachnang. “Changing the pads was not so difficult. You just take off the wheels and they are easily accessible.”

The damaged front section of the chassis was likewise cut off. After fitting disc brakes and new coil-over shocks in place of the outdated Houdailles, the brothers built a non-structural framework for a longer, flatter snout which incorporated brake cooling ducts. The car was then packed off to Italy, where Carrozzeria Scaglietti produced a new body.

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Independent rear suspension replaces factory’s solid rear axle.

Compared to the original TR, the section behind the cockpit sat much higher to envelop the taller rear suspension setup. The hump behind the driver’s head disappeared and the flanks were flatter, giving the car a much more modern, more aerodynamic look. A new windscreen wrapped around the sides of the cockpit to mate up with the high rear deck.

Gachnang registered the still-unpainted car as a Cegga (s/n 002/60) and then went hillclimbing with it. In April 1961, he finished second at Mauborget; in May, he won his second event, the Mitholz-Kandersteg Hillclimb. Three weeks later, with the car freshly painted in red, he tackled the demanding Nürburgring 1,000-kms. Gachnang partnered with Maurice Caillet, with whom he’d raced before, but they retired with engine problems.

The Cegga won its next two hillclimbs, in July, then Gachnang and Caillet headed off to southern Italy for the 4 Hours of Pescara, the final round of the Sports Car Manufacturers Championship on August 15, run on a public-road course a tad under 16 miles long and roughly triangular in shape.

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A new front frame supports lower nose.

Stirling Moss had won there in 1957 in his Vanwall, beating Juan Manuel Fangio’s Maserati by over three minutes and setting a new lap record of approximately 98 mph. “That was terrific,” Moss recalled a few years ago. “It was one of the fastest circuits we did. After the enormously long straight it went up into the hills. It was quite a demanding circuit, actually. Over 200,000 people turned out. Well, they didn’t get much racing in the south of Italy.”

In 1961, after victories at Sebring, the Targa Florio, and Le Mans, Ferrari had already clinched the sports-car championship, so only sent one works entry: a rear-engine Dino 246 for Giancarlo Baghetti and Richie Ginther. All eyes were on the Dino, but Dennis Jenkinson’s race report in Motorsport noted the Cegga machine: “From Switzerland came a privately owned 3-litre V12 Testa Rossa sports Ferrari with home-built i.r.s. and a body similar to this year’s factory Ferraris.”

The works car retired but Ferrari still won the day, thanks to a 250 TR/61 driven by Lorenzo Bandini and Giorgio Scarlatti, who covered approximately 360 miles at an average speed of close to 90 mph. The Cegga, at home on this kind of course, finished 12th.

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Cegga-Ferrari showed great potential at Goodwood, with much less understeer than standard TR.

“In Pescara, the Cegga was not as fast as the other Ferraris because they had more powerful engines,” says Gachnang. “Although we were clocked at 280 km/h (175 mph) I had a problem staying with them on the straights, but the handling was better in some of the fast corners. The Ferrari works mechanics said not to rev over 7,500 rpm, but I took 8,500 rpm the whole race without a problem.”

Back home in Switzerland, the Cegga won two more hillclimbs that year. Then, in ’62, Gachnang once again tried his hand at the Nürburgring 1,000-kms, this time co-driving with Edouard Grob. The race was won by Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien in a Dino 246 SP ahead of the 330 LM of Willy Mairesse and Mike Parkes. The Cegga romped home in 17th.

After that, the car contested a couple more hillclimbs before changing hands. “The car went to a Swiss friend,” recalls Gachnang. “He wasn’t a racer. He used it on the road in ’64 and ’65. He drove it to Le Mans with a friend to watch the race as spectators; imagine, without a roof. Then the car stayed in the garage of Jo Siffert, the Swiss F1 driver. It was a nice garage with sports cars in [Fribourg,] Switzerland. Later [in 1967], Pierre Bardinon bought it and it stayed in Mas du Clos in France for several years.”

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3-liter V12 engine remains stock.

In the early ’70’s, Bardinon decided to return the car to its original Ferrari specification. All of the Cegga bits were stripped off, the chassis and mechanicals returned to stock, and a new body, which would be painted red, was made by Carrozzeria Fantuzzi in Modena, Italy.

Bardinon sold s/n 0742 to an American in ’82, and it has since passed through the hands of several owners and been raced extensively. A few years ago, the Ferrari underwent a complete restoration, during which it was repainted in its dark blue Askolin race livery.

THAT’S THE STORY of the Cegga TR. How did this re-creation come about?

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“In 2015 I bought s/n 0611,” explains owner David Cooke. “It started life in ’56 as a 250 GT Boano, but was rebodied in ’88 as a Scaglietti Spyder. It had some amazing period features on it, but the body was horrendous. I was originally going to have it re-bodied in the same pontoon style, but then thought I’d like to do something different. I kept in touch with the man who owned it previously, Peter Heuberger, who was Swiss, and he suggested that I should check out Cegga and see if the Gachnangs were still around. That’s how I got the lead. I started digging around the internet and found the Gachnang Cegga story. That really intrigued me. I thought it was the most beautiful-looking car, and I just loved the story of these guys, against the odds, building racing cars in a country that had banned racing in 1955. And then when I found out they were still alive, I thought, I’ve got to go and meet them.

“I tracked them down through Georges’ son, who has a garage in Aigle,” Cooke continues. “To show you how rich this family is in its racing pedigree, Georges’ granddaughter Natasha ran an LMP2 at Le Mans and his grandson is [former F1 driver and Le Mans winner] Sebastien Buemi. I met Georges. He was very enthusiastic about the project. Through his son he said he’d got the original chassis plate, bonnet surround, and some instrumentation. There wasn’t much but it was something to work off. And I had the chassis from s/n 0611, which was the basis.”

Cooke hired his historic-racing partner and friend Neil Twyman to carry out the work. “I thought this was a great project, a fantastic opportunity to create something that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” says Twyman. “For me, the 250 Testa Rossa is probably one of the best road cars in the world—but as a race car it does have some shortcomings in terms of handling. The weight is too far forward and they tend to understeer and don’t go around corners that nicely. The chassis were immensely strong, and they were built for circuits like Le Mans with long straights and no chicanes.

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“I think the Gachnangs realized that, with an independent rear end and disc brakes and different shocks at the front, there would be an advantage,” he continues. “The Cegga is an important little piece of motor-racing history. I’ve always liked privateers, underdogs, and innovators, and this team was that. Going against the odds with enthusiasm and passion, a bit of innovation, and they came up with a brilliant little car. They were plucky and brave, as well, a proper little team.”

Twyman was no fan of the bodywork on Cooke’s car, describing it as “rough and badly made,” but otherwise approved of the low-mileage, two-owner Ferrari. So he and brother Craig cut off the rear of the chassis and got to work.

“There were no original plans,” says Twyman. “The Gachnangs were a small garage so they didn’t have a draftsman, they built it as they went along—which is what we did, really. They came up with a few pictures, but not many. Luckily, we did have a picture of the back end, and that’s really all we had to go on for the rear suspension. Doing it from pictures and by eye is not so easy, so a lot was done from experience. Georges’ memory is pretty good, so if we had a query he would give us an answer or send us a sketch. He came and saw it mid-project.”

Scaglietti’s Cegga bodywork was re-created using both the English wheel and the old Italian method of sandbags and hammers. “[The latter] is horrendously noisy and very physical,” Twyman notes. “If you want to know if Italian bodywork is original, you look at the inside, not the outside. If it hasn’t been painted, you can see the hammer marks.”

AFTER FOUR YEARS of research and hard work, the Cegga was ready for its Goodwood debut. “It’s fresh out of the box!” exclaims Cooke at the unveiling. “We got in 12 laps of testing at Silverstone earlier this week. I thought, Nothing’s gone wrong, so let’s get it to Goodwood. At least if there’s a problem, it’s here.”

Cooke entered the Cegga in Goodwood’s Sussex Trophy race, qualifying 26th out of 27 and flying through one of the speed traps at 125.4 mph. He finished the race 22nd.

“Well, we got through it,”  he says afterward, breathing a huge sigh of relief. “I had a bit of a spin coming out of St. Mary’s, but that was my fault. The car was fantastic and the engine was amazing. There were lots of knocks and bangs at the back end because we hadn’t had time to set it up properly; Georges said he thought we had it far too soft.

“I have raced TRs here before. The TR used to plow into corners, but this feels a lot more nimble; there’s no massive understeer. This is definitely a step up and feels much, much better. I’m really pleased and it has loads of potential.

“Gibbus said that, in the evening, Georges was emotionally drained, because this is the car that gave him the international respect he had during his career, more than any other car,” Cooke concludes. “It was really the only car, apart from the Le Mans car [the first, AC Bristol-based Cegga], that he ran in big international events against people like Ginther, Bonnier, Jim Clark, and some really big names. At Goodwood, he and Richard Attwood spoke, as they raced against each other in one of the Nürburgring races [in 1962]. He and David Piper also raced against each other, and they were talking about the Pescara 4 Hours. So from a car that was broken up and taken away, to see this brought back memories of all those races he had. He was really happy.”

The Gachnang brothers built around a dozen cars, including Maserati single-seaters and sports cars and five Ferrari-powered specials. After s/n 0742 they built a 3-liter V12 single-seater, which Georges badly crashed at the Kanderstag hillclimb in 1964. Next came an F1 single-seater which paired that same Ferrari engine with a Lotus 24 chassis; Georges drove it to victory at the Limonest Mont Verdun hillclimb in ’67. They also built a couple of V12-powered sports-racers, bodied by Drogo, one of which finished second at the ’69 St. Maurice hillclimb with Hughes Hazard at the wheel.

Much more recently, in 2018, Georges Gachnang completed a 330 P4-inspired Spyder. He’s currently working on another Ferrari sports-car project, and at Goodwood he was proudly brandishing a bandaged finger to prove it.

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