Jump to content


Photo

Robert O'Brien - mystery man...


  • Please log in to reply
214 replies to this topic

#101 KJJ

KJJ
  • Member

  • 702 posts
  • Joined: February 02

Posted 31 March 2006 - 09:19

This is a fascinating mystery and in one way it will be a pity when it is finally solved.

Rather than chasing after what are possibly false leads isn't there a need now to start at the very beginning. Does anyone have access to contemporary foreign language reports of the race, Belgian newspapers of the time or whatever which might give some clues as to the identity of this driver?

Advertisement

#102 alessandro silva

alessandro silva
  • Member

  • 756 posts
  • Joined: August 00

Posted 31 March 2006 - 11:26

I do not know if this had been ever mentioned before:

Huet in his Gordini book writes that "the car usually driven by Claes was driven by Belgian O'Brien". Just to muddle things a bit more.....

If Richie Jenkins reads this:
I went to the site you mentioned earlier and found all the short drivers' bio I wrote for Leif's Golden Era site copied there. What do you suggest that Leif and I do about this?
Please email me.

#103 Tomas Karlsson

Tomas Karlsson
  • Member

  • 640 posts
  • Joined: October 04

Posted 31 March 2006 - 11:31

Looking at photographs of drivers in Gordinis in 1952 most of them have their shoulders lower than the rear bodywork of the car. Trintignant and Manzon were fairly short I think and Behra was no taller although his torso was longer and his legs shorter so his shoulders are almost level. O'Brien in the Belgian GP appears to have his shoulders above the rear bodywork which would indicate he was quite tall. Photographs of O'Brien out of car suggests this was not the case.



He doesn't seem to bee any taller than Frere or Behra, from the pictures that I can compare with. Note that he is leaning in the car.
And he also seem to have a raincoat on (just like some other of the drivers that day) and since that has blown up in the wind, he looks a lot bigger then he probably is/was.

#104 Hugo Boecker

Hugo Boecker
  • Member

  • 689 posts
  • Joined: May 04

Posted 31 March 2006 - 11:51

Originally posted by alessandro silva
I do not know if this had been ever mentioned before:

Huet in his Gordini book writes that "the car usually driven by Claes was driven by Belgian O'Brien". Just to muddle things a bit more.....

If Richie Jenkins reads this:
I went to the site you mentioned earlier and found all the short drivers' bio I wrote for Leif's Golden Era site copied there. What do you suggest that Leif and I do about this?
Please email me.


May be you can see this in some context with the fact that his car was entered and owned by Comtess de Walkiers.

#105 KJJ

KJJ
  • Member

  • 702 posts
  • Joined: February 02

Posted 31 March 2006 - 14:54

This Comtesse or Viscomtesse de Walkiers (both versions appear on TNF), is there an alternative spelling of the surname? There don't seem to be very many references on Google for what I assume was a prominent aristocratic family.

#106 Hugo Boecker

Hugo Boecker
  • Member

  • 689 posts
  • Joined: May 04

Posted 31 March 2006 - 15:11

Originally posted by KJJ
This Comtesse or Viscomtesse de Walkiers (both versions appear on TNF), is there an alternative spelling of the surname? There don't seem to be very many references on Google for what I assume was a prominent aristocratic family.

I also found WALCHIERS but if you try WALCKIERS google will help

#107 KJJ

KJJ
  • Member

  • 702 posts
  • Joined: February 02

Posted 31 March 2006 - 17:57

Mmh..... it seems that this Vicontesse de Walckiers only exists on motor racing sites. Any more information about her? I would have thought her name might have popped up on various genealogical sites being a toff and all.....but no.

#108 Adam F

Adam F
  • Member

  • 430 posts
  • Joined: October 02

Posted 05 June 2006 - 17:54

A couple more bits of information............

The Walckiers family does exist on several genealogy sites on the web. They seem to come from a place called Denderhoutem, east of Brussels.

The Robert O'Brien pictured pushing Frere's car at Zandvoort, is also clearly pictured in the Gordini pit at Spa in 1952 in a photo in Delsaux's book "50 Grands Prix de Belgique". (Pity it can't be posted due to "copyright"). So we know he was there!

Also, the racing image of Gordini No.44 is definitely taken at Spa (identified by Roger Clark as photographed from the infield below the pits, approaching Eau Rouge).

#109 KJJ

KJJ
  • Member

  • 702 posts
  • Joined: February 02

Posted 05 June 2006 - 19:55

Adam, my point was that there is no mention of this Comtesse or Viscomtesse de Walkiers (Walckiers, Walchiers) on the web except on motor racing sites. I would have expected a titled person like this to be mentioned in other contexts, but she isn't. I find that strange.

I hope this O'Brien mystery can be solved from the Belgian end by someone who has access to the Belgian (French or Flemish) newspapers and magazines of the period.

#110 VDP

VDP
  • Member

  • 659 posts
  • Joined: October 01

Posted 05 June 2006 - 20:24

Adam

de Walckiers seems more likely to be a bankier family active in 18 and 19 century

Robert

#111 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 05 June 2006 - 22:07

Originally posted by KJJ
I hope this O'Brien mystery can be solved from the Belgian end by someone who has access to the Belgian (French or Flemish) newspapers and magazines of the period.


No need for the Belgians. ;)

We think we've cracked this.
Adam sent me an e-mail earlier with the findings of his request for info from the IMMRC. With his permission, and for the benefit of all, I reproduce it below.

I have now received a reply from the IMMRC at Watkins Glen.
I asked them for :-
1) copies of two programme entry lists for U.S. races which we know RO'B competed in (1951 Palm Shores & 1952 Vero Beach).
2) copies of the lists of new SCCA members for 1951 from the SCCA bi-monthly magazine "Sports Car", as Mike Argetsinger's post said the RO'B joined the SCCA in 1951.

Of the two entry lists, at Vero Beach O'Brien isn't listed, so he must have been a last minute entry
However, at Palm Shores he is listed as "Bob O'Brien......Hackensack, New Jersey".

The Sports Car new members lists for 1951 don't list anyone called Robert O'Brien. However, for whatever reason, they only sent me copies up to October 1951. I'll follow up and see whether he is listed in Nov/Dec 1951 or later.

Of course, a middle initial would still help things greatly!

Roger Clark also discovered that RO'B was entered for the Targa Florio in a Frazer Nash, one week after the Belgian Grand Prix, but didn't start. This would tie with the quote from Considine's book "O'Brien toured Europe that season, towing his Frazer Nash behind a Cadillac".

Conclusion (so far........)
I think we know that :-
The "Robert O'Brien" who appeared in Europe in 1952 was the same guy who raced in East Coast racing in the U.S. in 1951/52 (photos show this)
This guy was from Hackensack, New Jersey (in 1951) and Nassau, New York (according to Mike Argesinger), hence his racing was exclusively on the East Coast.
He entered/raced under the same name in Europe as in the U.S., so there is no reason to suppose that Robert O'Brien was not his real name.
He was definitely at Spa for the 1952 Belgian GP (see latest photo)
He was about 30-35 years old in June 1952 (see photos)
So, we are looking for a Robert O'Brien, based on the East Coast, who was born around 1917 to 1922. Does the US SSDI give any candidates?
I'll post something on TNF re. the Spa photo of O'Brien.
Hope all this helps.


That's the background.

Then we realised that one of the 30 "probables" I found way back fits, very, very snugly indeed, with the above information and the probable age taking that photo into account.

and that is:

born 11 April 1908 (appears to be Lyndhurst, New Jersey) d. 10 February 1987, Hackensack, New Jersey

I think this is our man for a few reasons:-
1) Hackensack is a HUGE co-incidence. There are others who fall in that category, but not of the right age. Of course, ROB may've moved, but there's no evidence for that - certainly he was still in NJ in the 1960's.
2) The man is clearly over 35 in the photo. 44 seems a fair age, taking the photo in account, and it fits in enough with a brief racing career after WW2. If he were younger, you'd expect his career to go on longer.
3) Above ROB has no middle initial I can ascertain. Neither does the SCCA man.
4) Crucially, it appears ROB spent most of his time in NJ or NY. 1908-1987 ROB died in NJ, was born in NJ, but also lived in NY, one of these places included....... Nassau.....

Of course, this isn't 100% cast-iron, but I don't think it ever will be, such is his obscurity. But as I said to Adam, who deserves a huge pat on the back :clap: for all his efforts, there quite simply isn't anyone else who comes close, considering all the evidence.

So it's up to you folks, but for now, I will be submitting & using the 1908-1987 theory around & its up to everyone to make their own minds up.

#112 Paul Taylor

Paul Taylor
  • Member

  • 1,094 posts
  • Joined: March 02

Posted 06 June 2006 - 00:43

The research you've done on this has been amazing and if what you've found is the most likely 'answer' to this myth, then it's safe to assume you have cracked it. Congrats! :up: :clap:

#113 KJJ

KJJ
  • Member

  • 702 posts
  • Joined: February 02

Posted 06 June 2006 - 05:48

Originally posted by Richie Jenkins

I think we know that :-
The "Robert O'Brien" who appeared in Europe in 1952 was the same guy who raced in East Coast racing in the U.S. in 1951/52 (photos show this)


This seems to be the key to the identification, I think we need to see these photographs.

#114 Adam F

Adam F
  • Member

  • 430 posts
  • Joined: October 02

Posted 06 June 2006 - 08:45

Ken,

I think we need to see these photographs



Unfortunately, due to Bira's much appreciated restrictions on posting photos, I can't post them.

I will e-mail you a copy, and to anyone else who is interested.

#115 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 07 June 2006 - 16:58

Hello. I live five minutes or so from Hackensack. If someone is looking for Robert Obrien's obituary, it would probubly be in the Bergen Record, published in Hackensack. thanks, D Scags

#116 Allen Brown

Allen Brown
  • Member

  • 4,903 posts
  • Joined: December 00

Posted 07 June 2006 - 17:10

Hi scags

I'll be in New Jersey in early August and was going to volunteer to do some digging but I'll be based down in Hopewell so I guess you're much better placed. Do you know if the Bergen Record has a public library?

Allen

#117 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 07 June 2006 - 17:19

Their site is www.northjersey.com/therecord. I'll try to find the obit, but I can't get to it for a week or two.

#118 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 07 June 2006 - 18:36

Originally posted by scags
Their site is www.northjersey.com/therecord. I'll try to find the obit, but I can't get to it for a week or two.


That would be great. :up: At best, it could confirm it. At the worst, it would remove another possibility, or a few, actually. Would you mind looking for any other Hackensack Robert O'Brien's, Scags, just in case?

#119 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 07 June 2006 - 20:26

Ritchie, I sent an e-mail to the paper's library, requesting the obituary, using your date of death. As far as other O'Briens in Hackensack, there are 45, 000 people in Hackensack, including a LOT of Irish, but I'll see what I can do.

Advertisement

#120 Allen Brown

Allen Brown
  • Member

  • 4,903 posts
  • Joined: December 00

Posted 08 June 2006 - 19:35

Hey scags, I think they've mixed up your request with mine. I emailed the Bergen Record asking if they had a library that the public could access and explained why. A nice man called Leonard Iannaccone just emailed me back having already looked up the obit "in our database" and found nothing. So they're a lot better organised and a lot more helpful than I expected.

But - unfortunately - we are no closer.

Allen

#121 Allen Brown

Allen Brown
  • Member

  • 4,903 posts
  • Joined: December 00

Posted 08 June 2006 - 20:18

scags - is it worth trying the Newark Star Ledger? My wife lived in Woodridge and in Union City in the late 1980s (small world isn't it?) and just suggested it.

Richie - anything else you'd like me to ask the Bergen Record?

Allen

#122 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 08 June 2006 - 20:27

Allen, the only thing I can think of is either
a) Do they have ANY newspaper reports or anything on him? Surely, if he was from Hackensack at some point, there might have been a report either in the 1950's or a nostalgia report later on.
b) There was a garage he owned nearby, I believe. would they be able to track back & confirm local businesses, ie. a garage named Robert O'Brien... Ford or whatever?

Cheers

#123 humphries

humphries
  • Member

  • 918 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 09 June 2006 - 11:41

In Tim Considine's book "American Grand Prix Racing" he refers to Bob O'Brien touring round Europe in 1952, towing a Frazer Nash.

Although he does not appear to have actually raced the car in Europe, O'Brien or a W.O'Brien (New York) did acquire a Frazer-Nash Mille Miglia, 421/100/163 in 1952, although the delivery date was February, according to the appendix in Jenk's "From chain drive to turbocharger", the book about the marque.

Another Frazer-Nash, a Mk II Le Mans Replica, 421/200/193, was delivered to W.O'Brien (New York) in January, 1954.

Possibly the Frazer-Nash Club has more details about these cars and subsequent owners.

Slowly a profile is being built up about this man, if indeed W.O'Brien (New York) is our Robert "Bob" O'Brien!!

Also there is a likely reason O'Brien received no recognition, if indeed that is the case (!!), from the SCCA on his Belgian GP drive.

Included in the restrictions placed on the amateurs drivers of the SCCA was one that stated members could participate in an international FIA race provided they were granted permission by the club. Possibly O'Brien jumped at the chance to drive at Spa and failed to get official sanction from the SCCA before the race. This would lead to his expulsion from the club; thus no mention of his exploits. However there would be a terse statement about his ban in their journal "SportsCar".

Does any TNTer have a run of the magazine?

John

#124 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 09 June 2006 - 20:44

We can try the Star- Ledger, but I believe the owners are the same as the Record's. Their data base might be merged, but it's worth a try. As far as I recall,there hasn't been an O'brien ford in the area, at least as a dealer. I'll try to get a look at some old local phone books, but again, there are a lot of Irish in the area, so his name might as well be smith...

#125 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 09 June 2006 - 20:56

I just tried the Star- Ledger. Hope for the best. d

#126 KJJ

KJJ
  • Member

  • 702 posts
  • Joined: February 02

Posted 10 June 2006 - 08:19

This appears to be the Connaught that O'Brien drove at Bridgehampton in 1952. How strange that the man himself remains such a mystery.

#127 humphries

humphries
  • Member

  • 918 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 13 June 2006 - 20:17

Whilst researching races held in Scotland I saw in the programme entry list for the Charterhall meeting (11 Oct, 1952) the name Johnny Claes entered by Ecurie Belge in the 1500cc Gordini, the car used by Bob O'Brien at Spa. With the race number 28 Claes was entered in both the Newcastle Trophy for F2 cars and the Formule Libre race for the Daily Record Trophy.

Little information can be gleaned from the British journals of the day about the F2 race but I turned to an old notebook compiled back in the 1970s and, to my surprise, I had recorded that amongst the starters for the F.Libre race was - R.O'Brien (Gordini)!

Checks in Motor Sport, Autosport, The Motor, no mention, but in The Autocar there was a list of all the starters in the F.Libre race and sure enough - R.O'Brien (Gordini)! Whether O'Brien or Johnny Claes drove the car in the F2 race is not known.

Now Graham any photographs of #28 would be useful.

John

#128 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 13 June 2006 - 21:52

So far, no luck from the Star -Ledger, but it might be interesting if someone (AKA Ritchie), who knows all the details so far, would email the Record and pitch it as a story for their paper. If they're up for it, they would use their library for info, and if printed, it might bring friends and family of our mystery man out of the woodwork.

#129 Allen Brown

Allen Brown
  • Member

  • 4,903 posts
  • Joined: December 00

Posted 14 June 2006 - 07:22

that's an excellent idea!

#130 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 14 June 2006 - 11:56

Originally posted by scags
So far, no luck from the Star -Ledger, but it might be interesting if someone (AKA Ritchie), who knows all the details so far, would email the Record and pitch it as a story for their paper. If they're up for it, they would use their library for info, and if printed, it might bring friends and family of our mystery man out of the woodwork.


Okay, but with a slight difference.
I'd do a rough write-up of everything, then send it to you, via e-mail, Scags, if that's alright, and then you take it from there? It also gives you a chance to proof-read it before you send it to them.
What with the World Cup & a heap of other stuff to do, I hope to have it done by the end of the week at the earliest, probably over the weekend.

#131 Allen Brown

Allen Brown
  • Member

  • 4,903 posts
  • Joined: December 00

Posted 14 June 2006 - 17:02

I'm glad I'm not the only man who sees the World Cup as the main priority for the month.

#132 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 14 June 2006 - 18:49

Originally posted by Allen Brown
I'm glad I'm not the only man who sees the World Cup as the main priority for the month.


At the moment, I'm having to pack all the "Must-Do's" & other bits & pieces like shopping etc. into the day before two. Eating comes in between the 2nd match and the start of the 3rd!! I'll be glad when it's only two games a day, gives a bit more lee-way. :lol:

#133 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 14 June 2006 - 20:18

Fine with me. Do you have my e-mail address? By the way, there are 224 O'briens listed in the Hackensack area white pages.....

#134 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 14 June 2006 - 21:13

Originally posted by scags
Fine with me. Do you have my e-mail address? By the way, there are 224 O'briens listed in the Hackensack area white pages.....


I'll send it via Atlas.

Surely 1 of those 224 O'Brien's must know something.....



David, we know you hate football, but please let us on TNF who love the sport, enjoy it, just for once, with another sniping or sniffy comment? :evil:

I'm sure you wouldn't like it if I polluted every motorbike thread in TNF with the same, for I feel the same way about motorcycling as you do football.

#135 Vitesse2

Vitesse2
  • Nostalgia Forum Moderator

  • 24,353 posts
  • Joined: April 01

Posted 14 June 2006 - 23:27

O/T and I'm only watching it because I can't be bothered to change the channel, I already knew there was a German footballer called Ballack, but the Poles also appear to have a goalkeeper called Borrocks ....

#136 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 25 June 2006 - 12:48

Hello. I sent the story idea, and picture, to the Record, (hope for the best). Also, I'm doing some work for a client Wednsday, and he raced and rallied, in the Fifties and Sixties, both in NJ and Europe. I'll see in he knew O'Brien

#137 Trigwell

Trigwell
  • New Member

  • 19 posts
  • Joined: June 06

Posted 28 June 2006 - 17:29

John Humphries - the O'Brien who bought the 2 Frazer Nashes was William (Bill) O'Brien and he lived in Hamden Connecticut. His initials were WTF. He was not the same man who raced Gordinis in Europe or the man who trailed a Nash around Europe looking for race entries.

I know this because I own both the O'Brien Nashes and am in touch with the person who not only helped deliver the second car to him in early 1954 but also bought it from him in 1957. He said that this man never raced and hardly travelled.

I am also the Frazer Nash Car Club's registrar for the post-war Frazer Nashes and a trustee of the Frazer Nash Archives in Henley-upon-Thames. I would dearly like to know which Frazer Nash Bob O'Brien did own in 1952 as I have been unable to identify it out of the 84 built post-war.

James Trigwell

#138 humphries

humphries
  • Member

  • 918 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 28 June 2006 - 18:03

Thanks James for answering my query. I did not know you were a TNFer!

That's one avenue closed. Just a long shot but did Miles Collier ever own a Frazer Nash?

John

#139 Trigwell

Trigwell
  • New Member

  • 19 posts
  • Joined: June 06

Posted 28 June 2006 - 18:24

John,
I'm new and dont know what a TNFer is !! Is it good or bad?

Miles Collier did not (an MG man n'est-ce pas?) but Briggs Cunningham did.

: James

Advertisement

#140 David McKinney

David McKinney
  • Member

  • 14,156 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 28 June 2006 - 18:53

Originally posted by Trigwell
I'm new and dont know what a TNFer is !! Is it good or bad?

It's the highest possible accolade - it means you are a member of The Nostalgia Forum :cool:

#141 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 30 June 2006 - 18:52

I had a talk today with a guy named Klaus Rexroth, who raced in the northeast during the fifties & sixties. He rembered a guy named O'brien, and believed he ran an Alfa-Romeo dealership, in Patterson, nj. I also got to hear some great stories about driving against Sterling Moss in the coup d' alps.

#142 David Beard

David Beard
  • Member

  • 4,892 posts
  • Joined: July 02

Posted 30 June 2006 - 18:59

Originally posted by scags
I I also got to hear some great stories about driving against Sterling Moss in the coup d' alps.


Was that a NASCAR race?

#143 Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins
  • Member

  • 6,165 posts
  • Joined: November 00

Posted 30 June 2006 - 21:40

Originally posted by scags
I had a talk today with a guy named Klaus Rexroth, who raced in the northeast during the fifties & sixties. He rembered a guy named O'brien, and believed he ran an Alfa-Romeo dealership, in Patterson, nj.


Well, that fits in, with the possible garage/dealership in New Jersey, that's for sure. (providing it's the same man)

Thanks for the info. :up:

How far is Patterson from Hackensack?

#144 Adam F

Adam F
  • Member

  • 430 posts
  • Joined: October 02

Posted 30 June 2006 - 22:56

Multimap shows Paterson (note spelling) as being just west of Hackensack, so that fits :)

#145 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 30 June 2006 - 23:05

yes, Paterson is maybe 15 minutes west of Hackensack, and I would doubt there were more than 1 Alfa dealership there.

#146 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 30 June 2006 - 23:18

and for "coupd' alps, substitute 1954 Alpine rally. "not Nascar."

#147 cosworth bdg

cosworth bdg
  • Member

  • 1,350 posts
  • Joined: December 04

Posted 01 July 2006 - 05:29

Originally posted by Paul Taylor
'Tis this!:

http://www.crasheram.../52_BelgianGP_O

In bad taste, i am disabled...............................................................................

#148 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 01 July 2006 - 10:09

I posted a quesion on the New jersey alfa owner's board. Let's see if anyone there has some info.

#149 Allen Brown

Allen Brown
  • Member

  • 4,903 posts
  • Joined: December 00

Posted 01 July 2006 - 10:35

Good idea scags!

#150 scags

scags
  • Member

  • 405 posts
  • Joined: February 03

Posted 11 July 2006 - 22:31

so far, 40 people on the NJ Alfa site read my message, but no replies. Any luck, guys?