The Ferrari Importer

January 1953 - Swaters'  first participation in the Salon De L'Auto (© ECLAIR-PHOTO)
1963 - The First Garage Francorchamps located  at Rue De La Brasserie (© Collection Swaters)
Garage Francorchamps at Rue De La Brasserie (© Collection Swaters)
Garage Francorchamps at Rue De La Brasserie (© Collection Swaters)
Garage Francorchamps at Rue De La Brasserie (© Collection Swaters)
January 1965 - Swaters - (© André Van Bever - Collection Nicole Englebert)
January 1965 - Ecurie Francorchamps exhibit at the Salon De L'Auto (© Agence Unitas)
January 1971 - Exhibits at the Salon De L'Auto (© San Marco)
1973 - Arrival of the first Belgian BB at the second location of Garage Francorchamps, Rue Goffart (© Collection Swates)
May 1975 - Swaters and Florini, Ferrari's commercial director, at Garage Francorchamps (© Collection Swates)
1983 - Swaters and Enzo Ferrari on a trip to Maranello, Italy (© Collection Swatesr)

During the 1950s, the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, was much smaller than it is today.

Enzo Ferrari was only interested in building race cars. He was obsessed with speed and driven to build faster, more competitive race cars. However, Ferrari’s main source of revenue was his street cars. Since he had very little interest in street cars, he entrusted his assistant, Girolamo Gardini, with the task of managing and selling them.

Enter driver Jacques Swaters.

“My relationship with the factory, indirectly with Enzo, began in January 1953 over a lost Ferrari,” Swaters said. “I received a telephone call from Girolamo Gardini, who was in need of help. The Ferrari factory had sent a car to Belgium by train that became lost during transit. With no contacts in Belgium and Gardini still in Italy, they asked that I find the car and bring it to the Salon de l’Auto (car show).”

Swaters located the car quickly at Brussels’ customs. Nervous something would happen to it, Gardini asked Swaters if he could look after it during the show.

And so the story began: Swaters sold his first Ferrari during the Salon de l’Auto to a Belgian client.
“By this mishap I was given the opportunity to build a friendship with Enzo 10 years after the Salon de l’Auto,” Swaters said. “I showed patience, tenacity, confidence, passion and commitment for race cars.”

During monthly visits to the Ferrari factory in Italy, Swaters’ admiration for Enzo Ferrari developed. They talked about life and the future of Ferrari. Enzo became the male role model Swaters never had; Swaters’ father died when he was just 12 years old.

“I remember how Enzo could speak about everything and nothing all in the same conversation,” Swaters recalled. “He was such a brilliant man.”

Their passions were the same but the men were different: Ferrari was a strong and hard man, passionate about fast race cars. Jacques shared those interests but was more sentimental.

And it is that big difference that made Jacques a collector. For sentimental reasons, Swaters was interested in collecting stories of the past.

In 1953, Garage Francorchamps became the official importer for BENELUX, which included Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Garage Francorchamps had one agent in Luxembourg, one agent in the Netherlands and three in Belgium. Swaters sold his rights to import in the Netherlands and Luxembourg in the 1980s to concentrate on business in Belgium.

Sign outside the third Garage Francorchamps, Rue Colonel Bourg (© Collection Swaters)
Outside view of Garage Farncorchamps, located on Rue Colonel Bourg (© Collection Swaters)
The Ferrari store inside Garage Francorchamps (© Collection Swaters)
1991 - The fourth Garage Francorchamps, located in Lozenberg (© Collection Swaters)
1991 - The fourth Garage Francorchamps, located in Lozenberg (© Collection Swaters)
1991 - Swaters standing outside the Lozenberg location of Garage Francorchamps  (© Collection Swaters)
September 1992 - Poster celebrating Swaters 40 years of Ferrari Importation with Concours D' Elegance (© Collection Swaters)
September 1992 - Poster celebrating Swaters' 40 years of Ferrari importation with Sports Meeting (© Collection Swaters)
1992 - Swaters celebrated his 40th anniversary of Garage Francorchamps, known as FF40 (© Etienne Cassart)
1992 - Official presentation of the Ferrari 456GT at the FF40 (© Etienne Cassart)
1992 - Official presentation of the Ferrari 456GT at the FF40 (© Etienne Cassart)
1992 - Piero Ferrari, Sergio Pininfarina, Gerolamo Gardini, Jacques Swaters and Luca Di Montezemol at the FF40 (© Etienne Cassart)
1992 - View of the Concours D'Elegance at the FF40 (© Claude Hertogs)
1992 - Swaters with the official Ferrari racing team at FF40 (© unknown)
1992 - Swaters driving his Ferrari 166MM at the FF40 (© Collection Swaters)
1992 - Swaters driving Luigi Chinetti in the same 166MM, 45 years after their original race (© Andreas Meiniger)
1993 - Swaters with his team outside Garage Francorchamps (© Alessandro Giudice)
1993 - An incredibly happy Swaters at Mugello (© Collection Swaters)
1996 - The Ferrari showroom at Salon De L'Auto (© Collection Swaters)
1999 - Swaters with Sergio Scaglietti outside Garage Francorchamps (© Collection Swaters)
October 2005 - Pierre Englebert's tribute to Swaters (© Collection Swaters)

Jacques Swaters sold roughly 3,500 cars, totaling a year of the actual factory’s production.

But there were highs and lows throughout Swaters career as an importer.

“I strongly recall my success in 1957. I sold 17 cars that year when only 150 were in production,” Swaters said. “I sold 10% of the entire fleet. Now that’s success.”

He recalls almost declaring bankruptcy in 1973 when the Yom Kippur war – between Israel and several Arab states – broke out.

“We didn’t receive enough fuel in Belgium and the government decided to instate a rule where cars could not be driven on Sundays,” Swaters said. “People were neither driving nor buying Ferraris resulting in near bankruptcy for Garage Francorchamps.”

Enzo Ferrari passed away in 1988. After his death, people started to view Ferraris as not only a dream car but also an investment value. Swaters sold 150 cars per year after his death.

In 1998, Swaters sold Garage Francorchamps to a multi-national firm that continued importing until 2004.

Swaters was an official importer from 1953 to 1998.