John Fitch, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL W 194

John Fitch – A Pictorial Remembrance

By Art Evans

John Fitch and I were close friends for more than 50 years. We played together, sailed together, traveled together, partied together and wrote two books together: Racing Corvettes, The Early Years and Racing With Mercedes. Although on opposite coasts, we always kept in touch via email and telephone.

This remembrance consists of more than 90 images selected from various sources including the GM Archive courtesy of Bob Lutz, the Daimler-Benz Archive, John’s own collection as well as mine. Special thanks to Don Klein, Larry Berman, Bob Sirna and Carl Goodwin.

John lived a truly extraordinary life, a virtually incredible one. I have tried to impart a small taste with these images. This is in no way a history. A complete pictorial would probably have to have 1,000 rather than 90. At any rate, such a complete history would be impossible because a sufficient number of images do not exist.

John Fitch – A Pictorial Remembrance

John Cooper Fitch

John Cooper Fitch was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 4, 1917.

John Fitch backyard special

As a teenager, John was engrossed with cars and their construction. His first was cobbled together from various different parts.

After studying civil engineering at Lehigh University for a year, he dropped out in 1939, hopped a freighter for England and toured the British Isles in an MG.

After studying civil engineering at Lehigh University for a year, he dropped out in 1939, hopped a freighter for England and toured the British Isles in an MG.

His girlfriend was his first mate. They looked were part of a civilian Coast Guard patrol to report German submarine sightings. They never saw a sub.

With war looming, he returned to the US and spent $1,500 for a 32-foot schooner, the Banshee, and sailed the Gulf. His girlfriend was his first mate. They looked were part of a civilian Coast Guard patrol to report German submarine sightings. They never saw a sub.

John Fitch, world war two

Fitch joined the Army Air Corps early on April 29, 1941 and earned his wings.

John’s unit, the 15th Bombardment Squadron was the first Americans in Europe. He participated in the first U.S. bombing raid over occupied France on July 4, 1942. He flew more than 50 bombing missions.

John’s unit, the 15th Bombardment Squadron was the first Americans in Europe. He participated in the first U.S. bombing raid over occupied France on July 4, 1942. He flew more than 50 bombing missions.

Posted to North Africa, John flew a captured Messerschmitt ME110 to help train Americans. He was shot down and had to crash-land in 1944, but survived without injury.

Posted to North Africa, John flew a captured Messerschmitt ME110 to help train Americans. He was shot down and had to crash land in 1944, but survived without injury.

Switched from bombers to fighters, John was shot down in his P-51 in February 1945. He bailed out, sent to a German prison camp and liberated by General Patton in May and rotated home.

Switched from bombers to fighters, John was shot down in his P-51 in February 1945. He bailed out, sent to a German prison camp and liberated by General Patton in May and rotated home.

John Fitch, Rose Kennedy

John went to Florida and bought a pontoon plane and operated a shuttle service. He met Kathleen Kennedy and she became his girlfriend. Kathleen took this photo of her mother, Rose, and John while on a fishing trip. John became friends with Kathleen’s brother, John Fitzgerald.

Kathleen was killed in a plane accident in 1948, so John moved to New York where he operated an MG shop in a Willys dealership in White Plains, NY.

Kathleen was killed in a plane accident in 1948, so John moved to New York where he operated an MG shop in a Willys dealership in White Plains, NY.

Comments

  1. Steve Smith says

    Great photographs, Art. You really captured the essence of John Fitch, particularly his early years of breezy sailboating, cool girlfriends and aromatic pipe tobacco.

  2. says

    Over the last 30 years I had seen Mr Fitch at Lime Rock, each year getting closer and listening to his stories. A most interesting man. A full life, no man can ask for more. What a wonderful tribute.

  3. John Calhoun says

    Wonderful recollections of a true renaissance man We were fortunate enough to have John as honored guest in 2010 at the 50th anniversary of the first Elkhart Lake Road Races. It will be fondly remembered by the members and guests of the Elkhart Lake Historic Race Circuits Preservation Society who were there,

  4. says

    What an inspiration this man proved to be. Thank you, Art Evans, for this splendid photographic record of a fine career. To repeat myself, John Fitch was an inspiration. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. – David White, Slovenia.

  5. Kenneth Johansson .Nässjö- Sweden says

    What a great man. And he drive so different cars over the years. Men and machine has always been fascinating to read about.John Fitch was such a man Gentleman dont exist so often this days.

  6. Alan Berry says

    Art,

    What a pleasure this Thanksgiving morning to go through wonderful photos encapsulating John’s very significant life. Well done, your love and respect for the man shines through in your photos, especially the one with Bob Bondurant, Stirling Moss and an obviously failing Phil Hill.

    I never had the privilege of speaking to the man but was close to him doing appearances and signing books at several vintage racing events. A true American hero loved the world over. Wish we had more like him.

    • says

      For those of us kids in the ’50s who were just catching on to sports cars, John Fitch was an idol. Learned much more about him reading Sports Car Digest Weekly, a tribute to your good journalism. Fabulous memories, SCDW. I had the pleasure of visiting Briggs Cunningham’s Museum in Costa Mesa, CA in the 1980s and talking with John Bishop about the cars you mention that Fitch drove.

      Bud Suiter, SCCA Racer from the 70s..

  7. Jeff Allison says

    Superb job by Art Evans and his supporting cast, and thank you to SCD for running it. John Fitch was “A True American Hero.”

  8. Mary McGee says

    Your Pictorial Remembrance of John Fitch in Sports Car Digest is fantastic. I hope all Fab Fifties folks see this.

    Thanks to you Art for getting this all together and thanks to Sports Car Digest for publishing this photographic bit of Sports Car History.

  9. Ken Visser says

    What a fantastic life and great homage to what I can only assume from all information, an incredible man. He came of age when the race car became such a serious missile that in the wrong hands or bad fate, led to a bad ending. But John survived all those perils only to make it safer for everyone who followed.

    thank you for furthering my knowledge of such an icon. I only wish I could have met the man.

  10. C. Morgan says

    I think I remember reading years ago, in the 50’s, that John Fitch while flying a P-51 in Europe during WW2, actually shot down a German ME-262 jet. Does anybody else remember reading that?

  11. says

    Disappointing to find no record of John’s 1949 exploits on the streets of Bridgehampton in an Effyh 500 from Sweden. As yet this seems to be poorly documented (unexplored?) for the post-war history of racing at Bridgehampton:
    The first Euro formula car raced in the US? The “batmobile” towcar team?
    Fitch’s very first “professional” ride? What followed???
    Bruce Stevenson’s son may have recollections of the war.
    Please help us start at the beginning.
    Thanks for everything you’ve done for motorsports, Art.
    Guy Frost for Bridgehampton Racing Heritage Group

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