Jacques Swaters (1926 – 2010)

By Will Silk

Team Ecurie Francorchamps Ferrari 512S at Le Mans 1970Belgium is a nation that many will associate with some of the finest racing drivers ever to come to the top levels of the world hierarchy of motorsports; however, it was Jacques Swaters who did so much more for racers in Belgium than most people realize. 

Swaters’ made his international debut in sports car racing at the 1948 running of the 24 Hours of Spa in a MG Midget PB that he shared with the legendary driver/journalist Paul Frere.  The two would survive the race to be classified 15th in the 24 hour classic that year.  From there, Swaters moved to driving a Veritas, a small sports racing car based largely on pre-war BMW 328 running gear and made in Hausern, Bavaria, West Germany at the time.  Throughout 1950 and 1951, Swaters drove the Veritas at events in Germany, France, and Luxembourg achieving a podium finish at the latter nation’s 1950 Grand Prix.  That same year Swaters, along with Frere and Andre Pilette formed Ecurie Belgique. 

In 1952, Swaters would co-find Ecurie Francorchamps with Charles de Tornaco, the Ecurie Francorchamps name having been the team name that Jacques and Paul Frere entered a number of races under in 1950.  Swaters and de Tornaco concentrated mainly on racing Ferraris, particularly the 500TR that Jacques piloted at a number of events, including an F2 win at the 1953 Avusrennen event. 

The 1954 season saw Jacques taking up the driving duties of Jaguar #XKC 012, a Jaguar C-Type entered under the Ecurie Francorchamps banner.  Swaters took 4th at Le Mans that year alongside fellow countryman Roger Laurent, followed by a 3rd place at the 12 Hours of Reims held a month later. 

Jacques returned to competition in 1955 with a drive in a Ferrari 750 Monza at the Grand Prix of Spa where he took the Equipe Nationale Belge entered car to a fine 2nd place finish just behind Paul Frere in an Aston Martin DB3S.  Later that year, at Le Mans, Swaters would drive Jaguar D-Type #503 to a 3rd place finish with Johnny Claes.  He would return to the French classic in 1956, again in a D-Type but this time sharing the duties behind the wheel with Freddy Rousselle, and again finishing a fine 4th place overall.

In 1957, Swaters decided to step out of the cockpit and concentrate on management duties.  Swaters merged his Ecurie Francorchamps with Ecurie Belgique of Paul Frere and Claes’ Ecurie Belge in 1955.  Upon his retirement, Swaters’ moved into managing the team full-time, which had taken on the name of Ecurie Nationale Belge, or more commonly, ENB.  The ENB team was mostly focused on formula car racing, often running cars manufactured by John Cooper for a number of up and coming drivers from Belgium.  Lucien and Mauro Bianchi, as well as Olivier Gendebien all received help in launching their careers by driving for ENB.

By the early 1960s Swaters had become more interested in running sports cars again and by 1964 returned to running Ecurie Francorchamps, which he managed to keep as an independent side team during his venture with ENB.  Ecurie Francorchamps continued to run at the top levels of sports car racing until 1982.  During that time the team operated some of the highest echelon cars, often from Maranello as Jacques was a Ferrari dealer. Such machines as the beautiful 250LM, the awesome 512S, and immortal 365GTB/4 all passed through the Ecurie Francorchamps stable usually dressed in brilliant, bright yellow paint work.  The team won the 500Km of Spa in their home country in 1965, with Willy Mairesse bringing home the laurels in Belgium that weekend piloting a Ferrari 250LM. 

Jacques Swaters passed away December 10th in Brussels, Belgium. Without Jacques and his infinite passion for racing, both as a driver and team manager, the golden era of sports car racing would indeed not have been so vibrant.

[Source: photo credit: Autosports Marketing Assoc.]

Show Comments (8)

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  1. It is a pity that such a Belgian Legend -Jacques Swaters did not take it on himself to clear his name in the harboring of that Stolen Ferrari 375 Plus chassis 0384AM. We followed the story through all the google links and considering all there was at the end of his life was honor to preserve , his death left a past association that will be considered cheating. I guess it’s a new world and the real legends checked out long ago – it’s a pity

    1. I suspect that the impression one gets solely from following Google links on this story creates something that is far from a balanced story.

      I knew Jacques Swaters for the past 25 years or so, and he was a gentleman at all times — including in the matter of the 375 Plus (and I have personal knowledge).

      Mr. Swaters was vital to the post-war development of motorsport in Belgium, and in collecting and documenting Ferrari history. His death is a great loss.

  2. Nice article. He was a little more than a Ferrari dealer, he was also the Ferrari distributor for many years for the Beneluxe countries comprising Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

    Jacques Swaters was a gentleman. Wish he had done more to clear his name. I’ll always remember his kindness towards me and his great help when we produced models of his Barchetta.

  3. I only knew Jacques for a few days during the Ferrari Club of Belgium meeting in ’83, and he couldn’t’ve been more of a gentleman and new friend. He’s another of those people we all plan to get in touch with real soon, and now he’s gone like too darn many others!

  4. The demise of my friend Jacques Swaters is not only the loss of a true Ferrari legend. It is also the loss of a gentle and very warm personality with style, ‘savoir vivre’ and creativity. He gave confidence to the people he liked and one could trust him at all times. Awarding a favour was often more important than making money. A rare quality.
    Without him my ‘Ferrari life’ should have been a different one. I am proud that I was his representative in The Netherlands in the late sixties until 1970, an idea and request of Jacques that I could never have turned down. He opened many doors for me and his personal drive was his ongoing passion for motorsport, Ferrari and his love for the many real friends and racing drivers who surrounded him. We lost a great man.

  5. Jacques Swaters in his last 15 years assumed the role of a true gentlemen, he afforded himself of that. Prior to that, he was a rogue. His ”savoir vivre” was that of a pirate. Once his mind was fixed on something, there were no laws that stopped him. He was a member of Brussels Bourgeoisie Club, a social network well heeled and connected. The police were in his pocket, and he knew how to use the gypsy Belgian laws of the 1980’s. Prior to his ”gentlemen’ atonement Swaters did what he wanted, when he wanted, with little regard to the law. Certainly his knavish deeds played out to profit and wins at any cost – for all those around him also. He loved the edge , it was adrenalin for him all his life. When he wanted something, he had the ‘anything goes” mind set and protection to make unreal decisions – risky decisions of the real world that never existed in his own world. In his own mind he did not care of the moral ground he was threading. His contacts around him shielded him of much, taking the heat for part of the booty . His class and social group was more than privileged , he started as a rich young man that flew by the seat of his pants and died with a cloud over his grave – forever there. I hope those parts are in the book. He wasn’t one of a kind, but he was kind to one; himself.