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.
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.