Gabriele Fabbri : The Shark

Gabriele Fabbri featured large at our recent General Assembly at his hotel and spa, The Promenade in Riccione on the Adriatic coast, and he has been a good and close friend of the Grand Prix Drivers Club for a number of years. What is less known about him is that he was an active and successful National and International racing driver.

Gabriele Fabbri with his “shark” helmet in 1978
Gabriele Fabbri with his “shark” helmet in 1978

So, who is Gabriele Fabbri ?

He was born in Riccione where his family is well known in this popular area of the Adriatic.His grandfather built probably the biggest turn-of-the-century hotels in the town, The Grand Hotel de Bains, in 1906. Hotels were the family business and his father duly came into the hotel business at the Grand Hotel des Bains.

Hotel des Bains
Hotel des Bains

However, Gabriele, who was a child of the sixties, was less sure about hotels but duly studied the business in England, Switzerland in France and so was all prepared to come back and understudy his father but he had other ideas. This was the swinging sixties and he decided to go into the youth market setting up a jeans and sport wear company he called Bullit after the famous Steve McQueen movie.

Gabriele with his Fiat 500 Abarth in a hill climb.
Gabriele with his Fiat 500 Abarth in a hill climb

The business did well and financed his motor racing which started out with a pre-war supercharged MG he bought when training in England. This was replaced by one of those chunky Fiat 500 Abarths that he used for local hill climbs and events. Not only did he enjoy it but he was successful and so bought a bigger 750 Abarth to race. However, like many Italians, he decided to keep his motor sport low key and decided to invent a nickname. Many Italian drivers at the time raced with nicknames to stop the family knowing what they were doing but what would he call himself ?  “ I lived here by the sea and was quite an aggressive driver and so I decided to call myself “Shark”. 

Obviously Gabriele was in the jeans business and promoted his company Bullit to great effect. And, as he explained, he preferred sports cars and saloon cars so the Abarths were followed by an Alfa Romeo GTA. It is clear it was one of his favourite cars and in the winter he even took it ice racing in Courmayeur and Sestriere.

Imola:The SIATA single seater he bought which could race as a sports car with mudguards added
Imola:The SIATA single seater he bought which could race as a sports car with mudguards added

He then moved out of character and bought a rare single seater. It was a SIATA that looked like a miniature Ferrari 166 and, like that early Ferrari, could be raced as a monoposto and then as a sports car with mudguards added.

Meanwhile his father decided to sell the big and famous Grand Hotel des Bains as he probably felt that Gabriele was not interested in the hotel trade. However, this was not the case, and some years later when his father died Gabriele decided that he really did like the hotel trade as he had lived in it all his life. First, he sold his Jeans business and looked around Riccione for a hotel to buy.He found the Hotel Promenade beautifully placed right on the sea front, totally refurbished it and added a health spa so that today it is one of the best beachside hotels in Riccione. The hotel is just a few hundred metres from the Grand Hotel des Bains which is still one of the classic Victorian hotels in the area.

Before making this important change in his life Gabriele still had some racing to do and he moved into more important races.

I preferred racing sports cars because at that time some of the great names in motor racing were racing sports cars. I bought an early Lotus 7 before moving on to more powerful sports cars”.

Gabriele was a steady customer of Enzo Osella and his first was a PA3 that he bought from his friend Arturo Merzario. He also had a P1, and a P5 that he raced and hill climbed. “ I loved the Giro d’Italia where you had five days of racing on circuits all over Italy which was something fantastic.”

At the Predappio hill climb Gabriele with his P1 Osella Cosworth.
At the Predappio hill climb Gabriele with his P1 Osella Cosworth
One of his last race cars, the Osella P5 at Predappio climb in 1980
One of his last race cars, the Osella P5 at Predappio climb in 1980

By the time Gabriele stopped racing as the cost of the sport was getting too great and he also had started collecting cars that interested him.  “ The oldest car in my collection was built in 1895 and in fact is only half a car with a de Dion engine and I don’t even know the make but I am trying to put it together”.

He also owns an American Brush of 1905, and a Fiat 501 race car. In 1985 he created the Adriatic Veteran Cars Club of which he is still President and threw himself into organising motoring events around the area.

His links with the Grand Prix Drivers Club started in 1985 when he organised the 10th International Maserati meeting and where he met the late Club President Maria-Teresa de Filippis. They got on well and as a result the Hotel Promenade could rightly be called the Club’s second home. He and his wife Carla have been superb hosts to the Club but this year he organised all the events surrounding the General Assembly with which he excelled himself.

The ebullient Gabrielle Fabbri today with his wife Carla at the Hotel Promenade. Photo Peter Meierhoffer)
The ebullient Gabrielle Fabbri today with his wife Carla at the Hotel Promenade. (Photo Peter Meierhoffer)

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