Louis Chiron Biography
Born in August 1899, the son of a French hotelier in Monaco he became that principalities most famous sportsman. Holding dual citizenship Chiron joined the French army prior to his 18th birthday, serving as an artilleryman during World War I. He later became the personal driver to Marshal Foch in 1919. After leaving the Army he started his racing career driving Bugatti’s.
He began by entering local events organized by the Moto Club de Nice. In 1926 he raced for Alfred Hoffman heir to the Hoffman-La Roche pharmaceutical company. One of Hoffman’s companies produced spark plugs and to promote his company he entered a Bugatti for Chiron. The Bugatti with Chiron as its driver made many visits to the winner’s circle. According to Rudolf Caracciola:
“Before a race he used to walk round his car, stroke it, talk to it as if to a horse and then sit smilingly at the wheel.”
In 1928 he split his time between driving for Hoffman and the Bugatti works team. Hoffman’s wife Alice, but known as Baby attended all of the races and soon took an appreciation of their star driver. Romantic involvement was not far away, and became an open secret to all but her husband or so it seemed but Hoffman got his revenge when Chiron was fired and replaced by his best friend Rene Dreyfus.
In 1933 two of the greatest drivers in the world found themselves without a ride for the upcoming season. Rudolf Caracciola and Louis Chiron decided to pool their talents and formed the Scuderia CC. They bought a couple of Alfas and hired two mechanics from Milan.
Caracciola’s car was painted white with a blue stripe while the car of Chiron was painted blue with a white stripe. Both cars carried the team insignia of two Cs back to back. The team was almost finished before it started when Caracciola crashed prior to the start of the Monaco GP when his brakes failed during a practice session. Chiron continued to race and achieved several good results.
In 1934 He drove for the Scuderia Ferrari in an Alfa Romeo. At Manaco he led for practically the whole race only to have the steering gear brake. Gingerly he was still able to finish in second place to Guy Moll. Later he was able to score his greatest victory at the French Grand Prix.
Both Auto Union and Mercedes were there in full force. Chiron led the race at the start but he was closely followed by the Mercedes’ of Fagioli and Caracciola with the Auto Union of Hans Stuck fourth. Each German car in turn challenged the Alfa of Chiron. The French spectators were cheering wildly for even though Chiron was from Monaco, the French would claim him as one of their own when it served their purpose!
Now it was Fagioli’s turn, starting from the back of the grid due to a bad draw he closed on Chiron and looked ready to pass when his car suddenly slowed and finally stopped. Caracciola too stopped, as did Von Brauchitsch. Chiron led two other Alfa Romeos to victory and scored the last major triumph over the Silver Arrows until Nuvolari’s great victory a year later.
Largely at Caracciola’s insistence Louis Chiron was added to the Mercedes roster for 1936. He might not have bothered as that year belonged to Auto Union and in particular, Bernd Rosemeyer. The year started with Chiron making fastest lap during practice at Monaco. All was set for Chiron to produce a victory before his fans only to come to grief on the second lap.
The circuit was slick from the rain and shortly after the start the oil pipe of Tadini’s Alfa broke leaving a trail of oil as the Italian blissfully continued on his way. Chiron hit the oil as he entered the chicane only to continue straight on, followed at once by Farina’s Alfa, von Brauchitsch’s Mercedes and Trossi’s Maserati. A measure of revenge was exacted when Tadini himself joined his victims on the next lap!
Seven laps later they were joined by Fagioli’s Mercedes, bringing the total to three of the German cars out on the same corner. In fact Chiron’s career, at least when it came to results went into decline after his crash in the German Grand Prix later that year. He was released from his contract at Mercedes. In 1939 he was given some trials by the increasingly desperate Auto Union but eventually Chiron would retire to his native Monaco. His former girlfriend Alice Hoffman would marry Caracciola.
At the outbreak of World War II he found himself again in active service but with the collapse of France he was able to secure his way to the free zone. Later when that too was overrun he crossed over into Switzerland. While there, he helped in the smuggling of downed Allied airman out of neutral Switzerland into occupied France, then across the Pyrenees to Spain and eventually England.
After the World War II many of the pre-war drivers attempted to renew their careers. Amongst them were Louis Chiron as well as Achille Varzi back from his drug addiction. They were two old war-horses, their skills eroded by time and countless battles, driving more on instinct than ability.
To call them rivals no longer had any meaning, better to call them members of a brotherhood, relics from another age. Varzi the great Italian who had wasted away the last years of a brilliant career in a battle with morphine was now back to avenge his reputation. Chiron ever the stylist simply loved racing too much to retire easily as had his friend Rene Dreyfus. In 1948 they found themselves on the same racetrack in Switzerland racing against drivers too young to remember who they were. The practice session was run on a wet track and Chiron was following Varzi as he entered a curve in an elegant power-slide. But a corner that both had driven hundreds of times before took its revenge on the Italian and the car he was driving was soon heading towards the wooden barricades that lined the corner.
Witnesses told of how Varzi seemed to have survived the worse of the accident only to roll the car when it hit the curb. Varzi unprotected by a helmet that many of the younger drivers were now wearing was killed instantly. Chiron stopped his car immediately but there was nothing that could be done. The tears came freely as much for his fallen friend as for their lost youth.
Chiron would continue to race until his sixtieth birthday. Chiron was know for his polished driving style and his joie de vivre. It was said that he preferred driving in traffic on shorter circuits where his competitors were within site. Long distance racing like the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio did not appeal to him nor did record breaking. The Germans called him the “Wily Fox” while others called him a perfectionist – to sobriquets attached to a more recent French driver known as the Professor.