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‘Nano and Ferrari’

I am sure one day someone will try and list every single driver who has raced a Ferrari and good luck to him or her as there must be thousands. However, there are fewer who have raced for the factory team, if only on a few occasions. One such is our very active member, Hermano da Silva Ramos.

Hermano da Silva Ramos is a French/Brazilian who was born in Paris but originally brought up in Brazil with a Brazilian father and French mother. He has spent most of his life in France.

“Nano” , as he is affectionately called, is good company, rarely without a smile, and has a way of standing back and observing things that went on around him. Indeed he was on the sidelines of the “Behra Affair” that eventually saw Jean Behra booted out of the Ferrari team only to die two weeks later in a sports car accident at the Avus track in a Porsche.

Nano’s first race was back in Brazil with an old MG but then he moved to France and in the early 1950s he visited Le Mans as a spectator. He was intrigued by the Aston Martins and ordered a DB2 Coupe.

When we went to collect the car in Paris he met Mike Sparken, a French-born enthusiast who the same Aston as Nano was about to buy so Mike ordered ordered an identical car.

Ironically both of them were eventually to drive and race Ferraris. At that time a number of racing drivers in Paris used to visit “Jimmy’s Club” and early one morning, about 5.00 am, da Silva Ramos and English racing drivers Peter Collins and Lance Macklin decided to have a race round the famous Arc de Triomphe in the middle of Paris. Not only that, they decided to race round it clockwise which is the wrong way round and were lucky not to meet any traffic. As Nano explained “We were lucky, the streets of Paris were quiet and there were no police around!”

French racing car constructor Amedee Gordini saw da Silva Ramos race his street Aston Martin and was impressed and offered him a Gordini sports car and later grand prix drive but this came to an end in 1957. Nano’s best friend was the Marquis de Portago and when he was killed in the Mille Miglia that year Nano decided to quit racing. A year later, however, thanks to his French racing friend Jean Estager, who owned and raced Ferrari 250GT TdF s/n 0749GT, he came back into racing.

In the 1957 Tour de France Estager had shared the car with grand prix driver Harry Schell who comprehensively damaged it when he hit a little Citroen 2CV that had strayed on to a closed special stage. Now repaired, Estager sold 0749GT to da Silva Ramos who took the former owner with him on the 1958 Tour de France. They finished third overall behind winners Olivier Gendebien/Lucien Bianchi ( TdF 1033GT) and Maurice Trintignant/ Francois Picard (TdF 0901GT).

Nano continued to race the Ferrari but in 1959 was invited by Enzo Ferrari to join Ferrari’s sports car squad which led to him being selected to share a TR59 at Le Mans that year with Jean Behra.

Behra was already grumpy because he thought he was team leader at Ferrari . In fact, Enzo Ferrari had not specifically named a team leader but left the drivers to fight it out between themselves. Everything started to come to a head at Le Mans where the relatively calm team manager Romolo Tavoni was driven to distraction by Behra.

First of all, Behra insisted he did not want to be paired with da Silva Ramos and wanted Dan Gurney to race with him; Tavoni aquiesed placing da Silva Ramos with Cliff Allison and assigning Gurney to the Behra car. But that was not enough, for during first practice da Silva Ramos was quickest of the Ferrari’s.

“Behra was furious. He came up to me and suggested that for the next practice session we go out side by side and when we reached the start of the Mulsanne Straight we have a race to see which car was the quickest.” Recalled Nano. “ Well, my car was certainly quicker and Behra went absolutely mad. He stormed up to Tavoni and they had a terrible argument.”

Jean Behra

Jean Behra, a rugged and hard-driving Frenchman whose temper lost him his Ferrari drive. (Photo Graham Gauld Archive.)

Clearly the atmosphere in the Ferrari pit was electric as everyone had seen what had happened. It was impossible for Ferrari to refuse a car to Behra as they had no spare driver to take his place and so Behra was paired with Dan Gurney.

As da Silva Ramos explains, “ Our Ferrari’s were undergeared for Le Mans that year and Tavoni told all of us that as we were still the quickest cars, to keep the revs to 7,500.

“I set off and was in third place but on the Mulsanne Straight I was horrified to see the hood beginning to lift up. It was only being held by the leather straps as the mechanics had forgotten to use the sprung metal clips. I pulled in just after Mulsanne Corner, clicked the clips shut and then continued.

“I remember Behra coming past me absolutely flat out and he was clearly going over the rev-limit. I was also very lucky for I realised I was running out of fuel and only just managed to coast into the pits to hand over to Cliff.”

Nano da Silva Ramos

Nano da Silva Ramos – in crew-cut and sweater – on the left of the 750 Monza (s/n 0504) at Le Mans in 1955, The car’s owner, Mike Sparken is on the right talking to Harry Schell in waterproof. (Photo Graham Gauld Archive)

During his stint Cliff Allison missed a gear and it was no surprise when the Allison/da Silva Ramos car retired. Indeed all the factory Ferrari’s had trouble, all of them had been over-revved but the last straw was Behra whose rev-counter tell-tale showed over 9,000 rpm and his days at Ferrari were clearly numbered.

At the French Grand Prix, two weeks later, Behra roundly criticised Ferrari, and the grand prix car he had been given, to one of the French newspapers and this was duly reported back to Enzo Ferrari.

Tavoni received a telephone call in France telling him that Jean Behra must report to Maranello on the Monday after the race and apologise. When Behra and Tavoni arrived in Maranello for the Monday meeting they found Enzo Ferrari had brought along two Italian motoring journalists to witness the apology: Behra refused. At this Enzo Ferrari lifted the telephone and asked his financial director Emelio della Casa to confirm any money that was owed to Behra, to make out a cheque and Behra was fired on the spot.

Meanwhile Behra had built his own grand prix car, the Behra-Porsche that Maria Teresa de Fillipis had raced. Behra then decided to race the car himself in the German Grand Prix at the banked and frighteningly fast Avus circuit. Sadly, in a support race for sports cars, his Porsche Spyder slid up the banking and over the edge; Behra was killed instantly.

As for da Silva Ramos, the Le Mans race in 1959 was also his final race as he was faced with family problems and decided to hang up his helmet for good.

Nano da Silva Ramos today

Nano da Silva Ramos today. (Photo Graham Gauld)