Remembering Frank Arciero (1925 – 2012)

By Art Evans | Photographs as credited

Frank Arciero picture
I remember that when I took this portrait of Frank, he wouldn’t take off his glasses. It’s one of the few portraits I have taken with the subject wearing glasses; a no-no in my book. (Photo: Art Evans)

Frank Arciero was one of that small group that included John von Neumann, John Edgar and Tony Paravanno who were responsible for bringing talented American drivers to prominence. For the most part, fifties-era sports car drivers started competing in their own vehicles, often driving their transportation to and from venues. Wealthy sportsmen such as Arciero would spot above-average talent among the flock of amateurs and supply them with rides from the latest machinery made in Italy and England. Phil Hill, John Fitch, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby were among them.

Arciero was born on July 7, 1925 in Santa Elia Fiumerapido, Italy where he lived until he was 14. In 1949, his mother put Frank and his younger brother, Phil, on a ship to the U.S. Ten days later, they were on Ellis Island speaking absolutely no English. From there, they took the train to Detroit where their father worked in construction and then for Chrysler. Frank attended the Chandler School in Detroit and got a part-time job digging ditches.

When Arciero was 20 years old, he married Angelina Morelli, who came from another small town in Italy. They moved to California in 1945. Frank, who was to become one of the premier contractors in the state, started out in construction working for Tony Paravanno.

By 1947, he had saved enough to start a concrete sub-contracting business, now one of the largest in California. This was the catalyst for other enterprises that included commercial and industrial construction, agricultural and farming operations and residential building. Frank was the original contractor of the Portofino Inn complex in Redondo Beach where I lived for a number of years.

In 1954, Frank accompanied Paravanno to a race at Palm Springs. He became enamored with Jim Kimberley’s Ferrari 340 America and decided he had to have one for himself. Not long afterwards, he bought a 2-liter Ferrari and drove it around town. One time at a race, Arciero noticed that young Dan Gurney had a lot of talent, so he put Dan behind the wheel of a 4.9 Ferrari that had replaced the 2-liter model and the rest is history. After a long winning streak in Arciero Ferraris, Dan drove Frank’s Lotus 19 to a handful of major victories, including the 1962 Daytona 3-Hour Continental. The 19 was replaced by a Lotus 23 that brought Bobby Unser a number of successes.

Frank Arciero, Dan Gurney
Frank Arciero (left) congratulating Dan Gurney on his second-place finish at the November 17, 1957 Riverside SCCA National. (Photo: Lester Nehamkin)
Dan Gurney won in Frank Arciero’s 4.9 Ferrari at Paramount Ranch on December 8, 1957. In this photo, Dan leads Bob Oker in Joe Lubin’s Aston Martin DB3S and Harold Dolden in the Sparks & Bonney Special. Oker finished 18 second behind Gurney and Dolden was a dnf. (Photo: Allan Kuhn)
Dan Gurney won in Frank Arciero’s 4.9 Ferrari at Paramount Ranch on December 8, 1957. In this photo, Dan leads Bob Oker in Joe Lubin’s Aston Martin DB3S and Harold Dolden in the Sparks & Bonney Special. Oker finished 18 second behind Gurney and Dolden was a dnf. (Photo: Allan Kuhn)

In 1965, Al Unser started on his road to conquering the Indianapolis 500 at wheel of an Arciero Maserati-powered Champ Car. Others who have piloted an Arciero car include Kevin Cogan, Pete Halsmer, Fabrizio Barbazzara, Jim Clark, Parnelli Jones and Michael Andretti. Frank was one of the original CART franchise owners and became an integral part of the organization.

Noticing the success of the 1985 Palm Springs Vintage Grand Prix, Arciero acquired some property nearby with the idea of building a permanent circuit. After spending $2 million on land and planning, the project was nixed by local government. He kept trying to build a course elsewhere, but nothing ever came to fruition.

In addition to racing, Frank’s other love was his wines. The countryside near Paso Robles reminded him of his hometown of Cassino where his family’s vineyards grew for centuries. Arciero Winery produces 13 varietals and Frank pioneered the planting of several Italian grapes including Nebbiolo and Sangiovese on this continent. I remember one time when we had a large year-end celebration at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Frank brought cases of wine that everyone enjoyed.

Frank died on May 23, 2012 at the age of 86. His is survived by his brothers, Phil and Tony, two sons, Frank Jr. and Albert, plus 12 grand and great-grandchildren. Services were held at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, California, attended by hundreds of friends and family.

[Source: Art Evans]

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