In 1953, Ferrari decided to create a line of 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 liter four cylinder race cars to be sold to privateers. These were the 500 Mondial, the 735S, and the 750S, followed in later years by the 860, 500TR, 500 TRC and 625 LM.
The line of Mondials and Monzas were hugely successful both in terms of sales for Ferrari and wins for privateers. The Series II Mondials and Monzas looked very much alike and in fact were very similar. The Mondial were 2 liter cars while the Monzas were 3 liters.
The last of the red hot playboys
Both Fon Portago and his friend Porfirio Rubirosa, a “diplomat from the Dominican Republic” were Ferrari customers. Portago had to ask his mother for the money to buy new Ferraris, while “Rubi” was able to take large chunks of Eisenhower dollars from his rich wives and girlfriends.
Rubirosa in what appears to be 0446MD.
In 1954, Portago purchased one of two Ferrari Monzas with which he would dominate the Nassau Speedweeks. The first was a 735S Sport Scaglietti, 0482M. With 2.5 liters it was a cross between a 500 Monza 500 and a 750 Monza. He painted it black and took it to the Carrera Panamericana in 1954, but retired. However, by the end of the year, it was upgraded to full 750s specs and Portago drove it to one victory and two second overalls in the Nassau races. After an outing and DNF at Sebring in 1955, he sold it to purchase another Monza 750S, 0496M.
Portago's much raced Monza, 0496M. Note the similarity to the Phillips/Rubirosa Mondial.
Teaming with Hawthorne at Goodwood, the pair retired, and similar results occurred at Aintree. Wrapping up the 1955 season, he entered the Nassau races, and this time won two overall victories and one second overall with 0496M.
The Rubirosa Mondial
In the meantime, Rubirosa was achieving excellent results in a look-alike car, a Mondial 500, 0446MD. Portago and Rubirosa were often seen together in the pits at both Sebring in 1956 and the earlier Nassau events. “Rubi” was usually accompanied by Zsa Zsa Gabor, while Portago was trying to avoid Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker’s equally beautiful sister.
Sometimes Bandini racer Jim Pauley, left, shares the Sebring winnings with Rubirosa.
Rubi was not Portago’s equal on the track, but he did win the Governor’s Cup at Nassau in 1955 in the Mondial. At Sebring four months later, Rubi and Jim Pauley took 0446MD to a first in class and 10th overall. Sometime after the Sebring event, Rubi sold the car to Charles Hassan of Cincinnati.
Since both cars and drivers were together at several events, it is possible that Portago had a go in Rubi’s car. Pure speculation, of course.
Where are they now?
The current whereabouts of the Portago Ferraris are duly listed in Ed McDonough’s book, “Marquis de Portago, The Legend“, also reviewed in this issue of VeloceToday. We recommend the book highly.
The whereabouts of the Rubirosa Mondial have been well known for years, particularly since VeloceToday’s editor wrote an article for Forza magazine entitled “Beauty and the Beast” in the May 2002 issue. It goes without saying, then, that some of the material below was taken from that article.
The engine of 0446MD, at only 1985cc, was a liter down from the 750. Designated the Type 111, the engine used the smaller 40/DCO/A3 carbs, as well as the smaller Livia valves in place of the Zanzis. The power output varied with each engine, but 170 hp was average.
When Hassan bought 0446MD, it was good value for the money, and still competitive in the E Modified SCCA class. In April of 1959, Robert Ready Davis bought 0446, still in dark blue livery, but with body damage commensurate with it’s many battles.
Serving in the Navy
It was then purchased by a young Naval Officer, who would eventually become not only an Admiral but arguably the world’s leading authority on Series II 500 Mondials. For the 25 year old Robert Phillips, a Ferrari was an absolute gotta-have, and Robert Ready Davis was ready to sell. Phillips bought 0446, “ a forlorn blue wreck with the transaxle in a wooden box” in May of 1960. Robert Phillips, as it turned out, proved to be a mechanical clairvoyant. Having no mechanical experience save replacing the head gasket on his MGA, Phillips repaired the five speed dog clutch gearbox and differential unit. He also rebuilt the engine and did bodywork.
The Phillips Mondial in 2001. Both the Mondial and the Monza made use of the Type 509 transaxle, Mondial pistons and the 510 chassis, as well as Marchal plugs and Borletti instruments.
Nine months later he entered a driver’s school at Cotati, California and from 1961 to May 1967, Phillips competed in nine events across the U.S, entering the car when his Naval career would permit. He also drove it from coast to coast, an amazing feat then or now. From 1968 to 1988 when he retired, the US Navy kept Phillips globe trotting, unable to either work on or race 0446MD.
By the mid-80s, he was very aware of the rising value of the car. Yet he, nor his wife, could bear to part with it as it had become so much a part of their life. Conversely, while he considered having it restored, the investment was both risky and required a huge bank account. “When in doubt, do nothing” applied here. Phillips, now settled in Arlington Virginia, made a special garage unit for the Mondial, provided every measure for long-term storage, and went on about life.
And so, having found a patient and understanding owner, and by escaping the turmoil of the 80s, 0446MD was never restored.
0556 (0446M) at the Caracas Grand Prix in 1955, where it was driven by Shell and Castelloti to a class win.
Today, however, the car is in the shop, where, according to Robert’s son Bryan, the livery will be restored to the one it wore for its most significant race; first in class at the 1955 Grand Prix of Venezuela in Caracas, October 1955. This was the only time 0446(0556) wore the team SF shield; it started the race driven by Harry Shell, and then taken over by Eugenio Castellotti to first in class.
On the Beach
But there is more and it should be written now, while we have the opportunity to do so. Robert Phillips, in addition to being as bright a man as we’d ever met, looks more than a bit like the late actor Fred Astaire.
Robert Phillips in 2001, standing by the Mondial he drove across country.
Astaire starred in a movie classic called “On The Beach”, a 1959 novel by Nevil Shute which portrayed the end of the world as seen from the perspective of the Australians, who were to be the last to suffer the events of massive atomic bomb radiation poisoning which was enveloping the earth. Astaire played a race car driver, whose four wheel passion was, you guessed it, a Ferrari Monza, nearly identical to the Series II Mondial, parked in his garage. The Ferrari played a decisive part in the movie.
Upon meeting Phillips and walking into his garage, with his very original Mondial beside him, scenes from the movie immediately came to mind.
“On The Beach” I blurted. “Right on,” said Phillips.
And the last bit of gossip. “On The Beach” also starred Ava Gardner, who was often romantically linked with, well, Rubirosa.
Serial number postscript
“There are two Ferraris which have had the serial number 0446MD”, said Robert Phillips. “They were both purchased by the same person, which may tell us something about French and Italian tax laws of the era. The first 0446 was a 735 Sport built in July 1954. It was later re-numbered 0556MD.” The car sitting quietly before us, however, was built in May of 1955, a Series II Mondial. To avoid confusion and clarify the issue, Phillips refers to his 0446MD as “0556 (0446) MD”, indicating that this 0446MD was built on May 5, 1955. The fact that 0556 is also the second serial number assigned to the first 0446MD bothers the retired Admiral not one whit. Therein lies an ironic sense of humor, something not to be lost whilst tracking Ferrari serial numbers.