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Luis Fontes

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#1 O Volante

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 13:57

... and another try to tap the collective knowledge of TNFers ...

I'm looking for information about Luis Fontes, private Alfa driver and Le Mans winner 1935 (Lagonda) from Britain: born 1914, killed in action 1942 (plane shot down?), from a family of Portuguese origin.

Anybody around who can detail the dates and places of birth and death? And the circumstances of his death? Or elaborate on the family background? Is it possible Fontes' origins were rather Brazilian???

Many thanks in advance! :)


#2 Doug Nye

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 15:38

Luis Fontes was thought of here in England as being 'Anglo-Portuguese'. He suffered his fatal crash in 1940, not 1942. The 'Motor Sport' obituary for him appears in the November 1940 issue - page 214 Hans - and it reads as follows:

"We regret to announce that Luis Fontes has been killed while flying on active service with Air Transport Auxiliary. He had an opportunity in 1935 which is of the sort about enthusiasts dream - that of handling the ex-Brian Lewis 2.3 Alfa Romeo in the International Trophy Race when his own MG was not ready in time. He carried No. 13 and showed his great driving ability by winning the race with this difficult car. he was third in the Isle of Man Mannin Moar and second at Phoenis Park in 1935 with this car and also won the Limerick Race. He drove a 4 1/2-litre Lagonda to victory with Hindmarsh at Le Mans. He then disappeared from racing and later flew a Comper Swift in a number of air races."

As discussed in other TNF threads the reason he "disappeared from racing" was because he was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving (on the public road) and served a prison sentence. By coincidence I have only recently learned that he and his wife were great family friends of Connie Monkhouse's - wife of racing photorgapher George Monkhouse although she had not met George at that time and would marry him postwar. It was Fontes who encouraged her to join the ATA who were seeking secretarial staff at the start of the war.

I believe Luis Fontes stalled-in - or struck rising ground in zero visibility conditions - while attempting to deliver either a Wellington twin or Stirling four-engined bomber to an aerodrome in South Wales, Pembrey is the location I have heard quoted most often... but I cannot be sure.

Incidentally, the same issue of 'Motor Sport' - in fact the same page - carried the obituary for Tim Rose-Richards of pre-war Brooklands, Napier-Railton, Bugatti, ERA, Aston Martin, Talbot and Alfa Romeo fame. His full name is cited as Thomas Essery Rose-Richards, nicknamed 'Tim' - wealthy stockbroker-cum-Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, killed flying on active service...

It is worth remembering - regrettably - that perhaps at least as many fatalities were suffered 'on active service' due to accidents and/or mechanical failures as those due to "enemy action".


#3 WGD706

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 15:42

A Jekyll - Hyde type of character with such an appearence that many people could not imagine him as a race driver. Behind the wheel the bespectacled youngster turned into an incredibly competitive driver. His after race parties also became infamous (as when he was balancing on the window ledge four stories up with a girl on his shouders!). He hired an ex-Lewis Alfa Romeo Monza for the 1935 International Trophy as his MG had an engine failure and sensationally went on to win the race. Later he bought the Alfa and entered it in a few events. His greatest moment was his 1935 Le Mans victory. He joined the RAF and was killed in action during the war.

#4 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 18:26

Thank you. Something I had wanted to know some time ago. :up:

#5 Vitesse2

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Posted 06 October 2002 - 22:11

Fontes in the above-mentioned Alfa in the 1935 JCC International Trophy. Note the number, which was painted in "unlucky" green: according to the report in The Motor, Fontes requested number 13, but if you look carefully, it appears that the number surround is oval, rather than round, and the 1 appears slightly larger than the 3 and painted in a different style. So perhaps the car was originally numbered 3 (look at the grille) and this was just a way of avoiding a complete repaint?

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#6 Doug Nye

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 09:20

I'm having second thoughts on Pembrey as the site of poor Fontes' fatal incident. Something in the back of my mind is telling me Llandow - another of the Welsh aerodromes taken up postwar for motor racing - although I might be confusing this in memory with the major civil airliner crash in that vicinity in the 1950s which I believe involved an Avro Tudor.... The thing of which I feel most confident, again in memory, is that Fontes's crash occurred in Wales.

Confidence level? About 50 per cent!


#7 O Volante

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 07:01

Thank's a lot! :)
On the balance, I would think, despite straightening out my obvious typo (1940/1942) :blush: and adding the details about his death :) , the central question of his family background remains unfortunately open ...