By Will Silk
Belgium is a nation that many will associate with some of the finest racing drivers ever to come to the top levels of the world hierarchy of motorsports; however, it was Jacques Swaters who did so much more for racers in Belgium than most people realize.
Swaters’ made his international debut in sports car racing at the 1948 running of the 24 Hours of Spa in a MG Midget PB that he shared with the legendary driver/journalist Paul Frere. The two would survive the race to be classified 15th in the 24 hour classic that year. From there, Swaters moved to driving a Veritas, a small sports racing car based largely on pre-war BMW 328 running gear and made in Hausern, Bavaria, West Germany at the time. Throughout 1950 and 1951, Swaters drove the Veritas at events in Germany, France, and Luxembourg achieving a podium finish at the latter nation’s 1950 Grand Prix. That same year Swaters, along with Frere and Andre Pilette formed Ecurie Belgique.
In 1952, Swaters would co-find Ecurie Francorchamps with Charles de Tornaco, the Ecurie Francorchamps name having been the team name that Jacques and Paul Frere entered a number of races under in 1950. Swaters and de Tornaco concentrated mainly on racing Ferraris, particularly the 500TR that Jacques piloted at a number of events, including an F2 win at the 1953 Avusrennen event.
The 1954 season saw Jacques taking up the driving duties of Jaguar #XKC 012, a Jaguar C-Type entered under the Ecurie Francorchamps banner. Swaters took 4th at Le Mans that year alongside fellow countryman Roger Laurent, followed by a 3rd place at the 12 Hours of Reims held a month later.
Jacques returned to competition in 1955 with a drive in a Ferrari 750 Monza at the Grand Prix of Spa where he took the Equipe Nationale Belge entered car to a fine 2nd place finish just behind Paul Frere in an Aston Martin DB3S. Later that year, at Le Mans, Swaters would drive Jaguar D-Type #503 to a 3rd place finish with Johnny Claes. He would return to the French classic in 1956, again in a D-Type but this time sharing the duties behind the wheel with Freddy Rousselle, and again finishing a fine 4th place overall.
In 1957, Swaters decided to step out of the cockpit and concentrate on management duties. Swaters merged his Ecurie Francorchamps with Ecurie Belgique of Paul Frere and Claes’ Ecurie Belge in 1955. Upon his retirement, Swaters’ moved into managing the team full-time, which had taken on the name of Ecurie Nationale Belge, or more commonly, ENB. The ENB team was mostly focused on formula car racing, often running cars manufactured by John Cooper for a number of up and coming drivers from Belgium. Lucien and Mauro Bianchi, as well as Olivier Gendebien all received help in launching their careers by driving for ENB.
By the early 1960s Swaters had become more interested in running sports cars again and by 1964 returned to running Ecurie Francorchamps, which he managed to keep as an independent side team during his venture with ENB. Ecurie Francorchamps continued to run at the top levels of sports car racing until 1982. During that time the team operated some of the highest echelon cars, often from Maranello as Jacques was a Ferrari dealer. Such machines as the beautiful 250LM, the awesome 512S, and immortal 365GTB/4 all passed through the Ecurie Francorchamps stable usually dressed in brilliant, bright yellow paint work. The team won the 500Km of Spa in their home country in 1965, with Willy Mairesse bringing home the laurels in Belgium that weekend piloting a Ferrari 250LM.
Jacques Swaters passed away December 10th in Brussels, Belgium. Without Jacques and his infinite passion for racing, both as a driver and team manager, the golden era of sports car racing would indeed not have been so vibrant.
[Source: photo credit: Autosports Marketing Assoc.]