Even Fangio found the streamliner Mercedes a handful.
Jenson Button was not the first motor racing world champion to look down the barrel of a gun. His adventure in São Paulo did not get as far as kidnapping, unlike that of Juan Manuel Fangio. A tall young man in a leather jacket approached the 46 year old, who had just won his fifth title, in the Lincoln Hotel, Havana, on 25 February 1958 with a peremptory, “You must come with me.” It was the eve of the Gran Premio de Cuba and Fangio was bundled into a car and driven off.
New York Times
February 26, 1958. p. 3.
Kidnappers Kind, Fangio Asserts
Auto Racer Declares Cuban Rebels Were Friendly
By R. Hart Phillips
Special to The New York Times
HAVANA, Feb. 25—Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentine automobile racing champion, said today that those who kidnapped him Sunday were young men who treated him with consideration and even friendliness. The driver was released shortly after midnight.
The kidnappers told him they were members of the 26th of July Movement headed by Fidel Castro, the rebel leader, whose bands of insurgents are fighting Government troops in Oriente Province.
The kidnapping was allegedly carried out by youthful enemies of President Fulgencio Batista in an effort to embarrass the Government and if possible stop the holding of the second Gran Premio automobile race, which Señor Fangio was considered favorite to win.
However, the race was held yesterday afternoon, but it was suspended when a Cuban driver crashed into spectators. This morning the death toll had risen to six, with thirty-one injured.
Fangio Describes Captivity
Señor Fangio, appearing well-groomed and untired after having been held about twenty-six hours by his kidnappers, talked with reporters in the Argentine Embassy. The Argentine Ambassador, Rear Admiral Raul Lynch, had picked him up from a house on the outskirts of Havana not long before in response to a telephone call from the kidnappers.
“The revolutionists treated me well,” Señor Fangio said. “They tried to explain to me the reasons for my kidnapping and the aims of their organization and their attitude was even friendly. I was well fed by a woman who brought my meals.
“During the period of the kidnapping I was transferred three times to three different houses in three different automobiles. The houses were well-furnished residences and in one of them I saw a part of a film of the Gran Premio race on television.
“My captors took me to a house on the edge of town earlier tonight and told me to go inside and stay inside until someone came for me. Later the Ambassador called for me.” Señor Fangio said he planned to stay in Cuba for several days and would drive here in the next Gran Premio race if invited.
He said he held no resentment against anyone over his kidnapping.
Covering races in Brazil back at the start of Emerson Fittipaldi’s career was an exciting assignment. Picturesque circuits in that vast country were glamorous – except for Interlagos, a run-down slum of a track that made 1970s Brands Hatch look well organised and professional. I drove hundreds of miles in Brazil and loved the place. You had to look out for pickpockets on Copacabana beach. An armoured Mercedes with a driver trained in emergency techniques was the stuff of Bond books.
Met the great man at commemorative events run by Mercedes-Benz. He signed an Alan Fearnley print for me, kindly inscribing my name in response to a written prompt.