Jacques Swaters became involved in motor racing as he found a need to replace the adrenalin rush he had from his military service during World War II, first by joining the resistance movement and later with the 2nd Regiment Special Air Forces. Life in war-torn Belgium was, in his own words, “worse than a nightmare.” His racing career was funded by a legacy left by his father, who was involved in pharmaceuticals.
Swaters, along with friends Andre Pilette, Roger Laurent and Charles de Tornaco, formed the Ecurie Belgique racing team, a Talbot-Lago Grand Prix car was purchased and the three entered various races with the car—resplendent in its yellow national livery. Ecurie Belgique was later to become Ecurie Francorchamps and ultimately Ecurie Nationale Belge. In 1953, still quite young and very naive, Swaters’s dream was to own a Ferrari that he could race in the Grand Prix des Frontières in Chimay, Belgium. He travelled to the Ferrari factory in Modena, Italy and ordered a Ferrari 500 F2 chassis, which was specially customized to his specifications and painted yellow. In his mind, transporting the car back to Belgium was quite simple—drive it! This was overnight, without lights, number plates or insurance. At the Italian border, officials were stunned, but it was “Forza Ferrari” and he was let through. Similarly, French border customs officers also let him through. It wasn’t until he got to Belgium he encountered problems. The border was closed, the barrier was down and unattended. Fortunately, the barrier was high enough for him to drive underneath. Enzo Ferrari got to learn of this epic 1000-kilometer journey and branded him the “craziest man of all.”
Competing in more than 50 races in both sports cars and formula cars with such marques as Veritas, Talbot-Lago, Ferrari and Jaguar before retirement, it was his first victory at the 1953 Grand Prix de Berlin that gave him the most pleasure. As he stood on the top step of the podium with over 100,000 Germans watching, he heard the Belgium national anthem played. It was an unimaginable feeling of sweet joy as he remembered those Belgians who were persecuted and perished in WWII.
Following his retirement he concentrated on his team management skills, and worked alongside Johnny Claesśand Paul Frére helping young drivers such as Olivier Gendebien, Lucien Bianchi and Mauro Bianchi in Cooper-Climax F2 cars. In 1964, Swaters concentrated on sports car racing and under the banner of Ecurie Francorchamps, which had remained an independent company of his, entered many races with frequent visits to the podium. Willie Mairesse took the team to victory in the 1965 Spa 100kms at the wheel of a Ferrari 250LM.
To augment his racing passion, Swaters set up a Ferrari dealership near to the Spa circuit, Garage Francorchamps. Due to Ferrari SpA taking over the official Belgian dealerships, the garage closed for business and reopened as Swaters private Ferrari museum, sadly that also closed. Later life would also see much litigation over the ownership of a Ferrari 0384AM, involving the estate of the late Karl Kleve of Cincinnati, Ohio, Jacques Swaters and his business partner, Phillipe Lancksweert. It was only in September 2010 that the Court held a management conference to set a date for a trial.
by Mike Jiggle