Another door to motor racing’s past closed on January 20th with the death of 92- year-old “Toulo” de Graffenried. Only a month after the passing of his Swiss compatriot Clay Regazzoni, de Graffenried was the last of only three Swiss drivers in Grand Prix racing, the other being Jo Siffert. He was also the last survivor of the very first official World Championship Formula One race, the 1950 British Grand Prix. He had won that Grand Prix the previous year in front of the entire British royal family.
His career started long before the war in voiturettes, mainly in Maseratis. He drove for a number of teams including Enrico Plate’s Scuderia Plate in 4CLs and 4CLTs, as well as for the works Maserati team, often as teammate to Prince Bira. He had many successes before the war and, in 1946, was again a formidable competitor, racing in Grand Prix and sports car races, though he was committed to being a true professional single-seater driver. In 1950 and 1951, he took part in the Swiss Grand Prix events for the Alfa Romeo team in the 158 and 159, very much the epitome of his career.
He retired from Formula One in 1956 after the Italian Grand Prix, though he continued to do some lesser races. In the mid-’50s, he was a consultant to the film The Racers, and was a stand-in for Kirk Douglas, and helped VR with our feature on the “Burano” cars in the film [VR, Apr. ‘05]. For de Graffenreid, one of the highlights of the film was meeting Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood. He had a successful garage business in Lausanne selling Alfa Romeos, Rolls Royces and Ferraris. In recent years, he moved into a luxurious residence for older people overlooking the lake at Lausanne. There he would entertain friends from motor racing and often traveled to meetings of the Ancien Pilotes.
Toulo was a dapper, witty and warmly friendly man. His wife died over a year ago at Lausanne and his health had been in decline ever since, but he still could be very funny on the telephone. An era has certainly ended.