Jacques Swaters has died at the age of 84. Swaters may not be a well known name in the modern era but in his day he was a big player: a Grand Prix driver in his own right; a team owner and the Ferrari concessionaire for Belgium.
The son of a Dutch father and a Belgian mother, Swaters grew up with his grandparents following the death of his mother when he was only two months old. He was fortunate in that his father has made a fortune with a pharmaceutical company called Raadkamp, which produced quinine in Sumatra. His father died when he was 12, just before the start of World War II. Jacques became involved in the resistance in his early teens as his sister Jacqueline was an active participant in a sabotage network called Group G, which was headed by his brother-in-law Georges Marcq, who was later arrested and died in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp.
In May 1944 Jacques and Jacqueline were arrested by the Germans. She was released but he remained a prisoner for two months, being subjected to regular violent interrogations. He was being transported to Germany when the Belgian resistance attacked the train and he was able to escape and was reunited with his family when the Allied Forces liberated Brussels. He began training with a regiment of paratroopers in Belgium and later joined the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment where he completed his training before going to war in Holland. After the war ended Swaters won a place at the Université Catholique de Louvain, where he studied Philology, Literature and Pre-Law but he found life very dull and turned to racing for excitement. When he inherited his fortune he began racing, although he continued his studies until 1952. His first race was in 1948 when he made his debut in the Spa 24 Hours in a pre-war MG which he shared with Paul Frere. They finished fourth in class. He established a team called Ecurie Belgique and ran assorted pre-war machinery for an ever-widening group of friends, including Roger Laurent and Andre Pilette. In 1950 the team had enough cash to buy a Talbot-Lago Grand Prix car which they planned to enter in international events. At that point the Royal Automobile Club de Belgique decided that the name of the team was not acceptable and so it was forced to become Ecurie Francorchamps.
While this was happening Swaters was also in the process of setting up a garage in Brussels which took on the name Garage Francorchamps. Pilette crashed the Talbot at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1951 and so Swaters took over the repaired car. They needed a new car and so Swaters purchased a Formula 2 Ferrari 500 from Gianni Agnelli, thus beginning a relationship with Ferrari which would continue for more than 50 years. In the years that followed the team ran the Ferrari and Swaters won the Formula 2 race at AVUS. That year Ferrari asked Swaters to be their representative at the Brussels Salon and then he became the first Ferrari distributor in Europe. The team also enjoyed success with a Jaguar C-Type in sports car events and finished fourth at Le Mans and third in the Reims 12 Hours with Laurent. Swaters then concentrated on sports cars, taking the team’s D-Type to third place at Le Mans with Johnny Claes in 1955. That same year he and Claes set up Ecurie Nationale Belge at the behest of Shell Belgium. To begin with ENB ran the old Ferrari but then moved on to Cooper-Climax F2 cars and in 1961 a pair of Emeryson-Maseratis. These were not much use and the team switched to Lotus 18s but later reworked the Emerysons and named them ENBs. The team disappeared when these failed to be competitive.
Ecurie Francorchamps continued, however, entering cars in races all over the world right through until the end of the 1970s and became one of the most respected Ferrari privateer organizations alongside Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (NART). Swaters himself retired as a driver in 1957 to concentrate on his business which he would eventually sell to the Inchcape Group.