In the early 1950s, Alejandro De Tomaso convinced his friend Fulgencio Batista, then the president of Cuba, to organize an automobile race in the streets of Havana, in the winter, during the off season.
In February 1957, 60 years ago, the project came to fruition and the Cuban government put up a good engagement bonus to attract the European teams and their drivers…and so it did.
The poster for the first-ever GP of Cuba in 1957 was designed and printed in Havana and only 200 copies were made and distributed there and in Miami.
Even so, the event was called a Grand Prix, though it was really a sports car race more similar to Sebring and Le Mans, with Juan Manuel Fangio winning the race in his Maserati 300 S, followed by Carroll Shelby in his Ferrari 410 Sport.
After the success of the 1957 event, a 1958 race was organized, again in February, and De Tomaso took over the poster project to be designed and printed in Italy. It turned out to be a very nice poster and, when ready, shipped to Cuba, but unfortunately instead of going by air, it traveled by ship and arrived two weeks after the event. These posters were sadly never used, so they ended up being burned. As a result, to announce the 1958 race, the organizers simply and quickly reprinted the 1957 poster.
A few years later, in the early 1960s, Jacques Grelley, an avid racing enthusiast, race driver, racing poster collector, and the researcher behind this whole story, decided to reprint 500 of the 1958 poster. Being friendly with Fangio, he had him sign some copies. (Side note: Having fallen in love with the poster for the event, Fangio acquired an inventory for himself to sell at his museum in his home town of Balcarce, Argentina, and later, running out of them, had yet another batch printed. It is also interesting to note that the 1958 event was the infamous race where Fangio was kidnapped by militants of Castro’s movement, yet treated very well by his captors!)
Grelley, now owning several of the 1958 posters signed by Fangio, decided to also have them signed by other personalities involved in the event. This became an obsession that took him almost 50 years. Grelley was able to get a handful signed by Fidel Castro Ruz himself (president of Cuba), as well as General Roberto Fernandez Miranda (Batista’s brother-in-law and Cuba sports minister) and many race drivers such as Phil Hill, Baron Huschke von Hanstein, Stirling Moss (the 1958 winner), Juan Manuel Fangio, Maurice Trintignant, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, three Cuban racers (Armando Garcia Cifuentes, Manolo Perez de la Mesa and Santiago “Chaguito” Gonzalez), as well as two reporter/photographer; Bernard Cahier and Denise McCluggage (also an accomplished racer who unfortunately couldn’t participate in the race because the country wouldn’t allow women to do so at the time!).
Many of these personalities are shown in photographs below signing the posters. For Fidel Castro it was a bit more complicated as Jacques Grelley had to send a few to one of his aides to have them autographed, but unfortunately no photos of Castro signing the posters were ever taken.
Currently, the full 14-signature poster is available for $7,500, the Fangio-only signed one for $575, while the unsigned 1957/1958 posters are only $85. Note that while these Cuba GP posters are reproductions, supplies are very limited (first-come, first-served) and l’art et l’automobile [830-864-5040] and the estate of Mr. Grelley guarantee all signatures to be genuine.