Number two of one | Ferrari Testa rossa
In 1960, the Swiss Gachnang brothers re-engineered and re-bodied a wrecked Ferrari Testa Rossa.
Georges Gachnang is clearly emotional as he lowers himself into the driver’s seat. Looking out over the long bonnet, he’s no doubt evoking memories of
competing at great venues such as the Nürburgring and Pescara. Now, nearly 60 years later, he’s back in the cockpit of ‘his’ unique sports-racer and savouring the moment. He looks up at the car’s owner, David Cooke, and, with a smile, taps his heart with his fingers.
The story of how the two men got to this moment can trace its roots back to the late 1950s, when Georges and his brother Claude established CEGGA. The name was taken from the initials of ‘Claude et Georges Gachnang Aigle’, and the Swiss duo went on to build a series of racing cars that included front-engined sports-racers, a mid-engined prototype and single-seaters – some with Maserati engines, others with Ferrari power.
‘At the beginning,’ remembers Georges, ‘we planned to race motorbikes, but our parents were not keen on the idea. So in the end we decided to race cars. We began with an old MG that was not in very good condition, so we quickly changed to an AC Ace-Bristol. The goal at that point was not to drive – it was to build cars and modify them.
We improved the AC-Bristol so that we could use it in hillclimbing. We also raced at Spa, then we found another AC Ace-Bristol that we planned to prepare and modify for the Le Mans 24 Hours. We added a roof to make it more aerodynamic and more comfortable at night, in case of rain. We raced there in 1960 and managed to finish, then we drove the car back to Switzerland!’
CEGGA’s next project was based on a pontoon-fender Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, chassis 0742, that was owned by Peter Monteverdi but which had been crashed
heavily at Freiburg in 1960. ‘The initial plan was to buy only the engine and gearbox. My brother was in Basel to buy the engine and Monteverdi said: “There’s the rest of the car if you want it – I can do nothing with it. If you don’t take it, I’ll scrap it.” So Claude said that we’d take it all.
‘Without knowing exactly what we were going to do with it, we started to rebuild it. The rear end of the car was damaged the worst and we always tried to be innovative, to try new things, so we put in an English ENV differential and independent rear suspension as well as inboard disc brakes.’
At the front, they introduced negative camber by lengthening the lower suspension arms. In effect, only the central section was still Ferrari; the rest was CEGGA.
‘When we’d finished the chassis and suspension, we took the car to Scaglietti in Modena and asked him to do a new body. Scaglietti was working with Ferrari but he wanted to do something for us that was different from the original Testa Rossa. The car was there for about four or five months while he did the work.’
The CEGGA-Ferrari’s first outing came at Mauborget on 12 April 1961. Georges drove it in a number of hillclimbs that year, and shared it with Maurice Caillet at the Nürburgring 1000km and Pescara Four Hours. There were fewer events with it the following year, but Georges nonetheless returned to the Nordschleife.
‘Pescara was fantastic,’ he recalls, ‘but the Nürburgring in 1962 is my favourite memory. On the straights the works Ferraris were faster, but the handling of the CEGGA was very efficient. My co-driver, Edouard Grob, was a member of Scuderia CEGGA at this time – he lived near us – and we made a good team.’
‘They measured the pictures and the new size of the wheels, so they could scale it up from that'
Ferrari works driver Willy Mairesse asked to try the car because he was so impressed with the way it handled, but Claude refused. ‘We don’t share it,’ he told the Belgian ace.
After the Gachnangs stopped racing the CEGGA-Ferrari in late 1962, a good friend of theirs in Switzerland bought it. He used it on the road, on one occasion driving it from Aigle to Le Mans. It was then sold – minus its engine, which Georges retained – to a new owner, from whom Ferrari collector Pierre Bardinon later bought it. When Bardinon subsequently converted the car back to Testa Rossa specification, Georges sold him the correct engine but the majority of CEGGA components, such as the bodywork and the rear suspension, were lost.
Georges himself continued to race until 1969, when he had a big shunt in the 3-litre CEGGA-Maserati at a French hillclimb: ‘I lost pressure in a front tyre and rolled – the car was destroyed. I stopped racing because I had no more time and my family was not very happy after the accident – the children were young.
Claude had a small garage and I thought I’d be a mechanic. Then, in the early 1970s, I opened a Toyota dealership. At that time, Toyota was not very well known but we built it up into a big garage, which is still in business now with my son and daughter in charge.’
With the original CEGGA-Ferrari having long since been returned to Testa Rossa form, it could have remained an interesting but little- known footnote in motorsport history. Enter David Cooke – former England rugby international turned successful businessman. Cooke got involved in Historic racing during the 1990s, and his cars have always been looked after by Neil Twyman.