In 1950, Jacques Swaters along with three friends – Charles de Tornaco, André Pilette and Roger Laurent – launched their first racing team, Ecurie Belgique. (Translation: Belgium Racing Team).
Swaters’ first cars included a BMW 328, a Veritas and the MG. He later purchased a Grand Prix Talbot Lago.
But the team’s name, Ecurie Belgique, incurred the wrath of the R.A.C.B (Royal Automobile Club de Belgique), the governing body overseeing Belgium race teams. They announced Swaters could not call his team, Ecurie Belgique. During this same time, Johnny Claes created a racing team named Ecurie Belge, forming two racing teams with virtually the same name.
The R.A.C.B. did not think a team could have the same name as the country and, furthermore, Belgium couldn’t support more than one official team.
So in 1952, Swaters renamed the team Ecurie Francorchamps, which operated from 1952-1982 under his leadership. It was that very same year that Swaters was considered an official racing customer of the Ferrari factory. He purchased a Ferrari 500 F2 (chassis No. 0208) to race in Formula Two events during the next two years.
In 1955, the R.A.C.B. was looking for sponsorship opportunities and Belgian Shell, the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, agreed to become the official sponsor of Belgium’s racing team. To gain this sponsorship, Swaters and Claes agreed to create a new team. Shell wanted a team with a name that was more representative of Belgium, so Equipe National Belge was formed.
Swaters maintained Ecurie Francorchamps. He would race with the Equipe National Belge team for races sponsored by Shell and R.A.C.B, but he would also enter races with his Ecurie Francorchamps team.
Equipe National Belge didn’t last long. It dissolved in 1958.
“A little bit of my freedom was taken away under Belgian Shell’s sponsorship,” Swaters said. “With Claes passing away from cancer in 1956, I decided to dissolve Equipe Nationale Belge and continue racing as Ecurie Francorchamps once again.”
Swaters’ best experiences were not as a driver but as a team manager. Swaters’ journey through racing, managing and ownership was alongside his good friends and fellow drivers Laurent, Pilette, de Tornaco, Olivier Gendebien and Paul Frère.
“I loved working on the cars and preparing for the big race,” Swaters said. “But my lasting memories were the team dinners and long journeys traveling from one track to another. We were living for tomorrow trying to do something better the next day. We had the fantastic Ferrari spirit.”
Ecurie Francorchamps raced in all parts of the world, while sometimes beating the Ferrari factory team’s own performance. One such occasion was at the 1965 Le Mans. At this race, all the factory cars dropped out by midnight because the new, ventilated brake discs broken. This left the Ecurie Francorchamps 250 LM in first place and Luigi Chinetti’s National American Racing Team (NART) 250 LM second.
Swaters shared one of his fondest memories: “By 2 p.m., we thought we had won the race. We were way ahead of the NART entry when the unthinkable happened: Our right rear tire blew. Our driver brought it back to the pits. The rear body was completely destroyed and the repair cost us two to three laps. Chinetti’s car went on to win, and we got second. It was a race the entire team would never forget.”
Ecurie Francorchamps last Le Mans was in 1982, with a Ferrari BBLM.
Swaters and his Belgian teams compiled a record of great success and consistency over a surprisingly long period of time. Swaters used a variety of Ferraris, but certain chassis numbers provided great wins and lasting memories. (See chart) It’s a tribute both to Ferrari and to Swaters, who prepared, maintained and raced such great cars.