Jo Bonnier’s last ride

26 May 2022
It's been 50 years since the world of motor racing lost Jo Bonnier. Rick Wilson pays tribute to a racing legend.

Joakim Bonnier was born in Stockholm, on 31st January 1930. He began racing a motorcycle when he was 17, turning to rallying in his early twenties. He entered Formula One in 1956, driving a Maserati, and would go on to drive for BRM, Porsche, Lotus, Honda, Cooper and Brabham (the last two under the Rob Walker Racing banner). He only won one Grand Prix, the 1959 Dutch GP at Zandvoort, driving a BRM P25. His last full season in F1 was 1968 and then he only raced occasionally over the next three years - the last two campaigning his privately-entered McLaren M7C, raced in his Ecurie Bonnier colours.

Bonnier was one of the driving forces behind the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, campaigning for driver safety. Jo was also a racing advisor to the 1966 motor racing epic, Grand Prix, starring James Garner.

By the early seventies, he had taken to managing his team, entering several cars in World Sportscar Championship events. Concentrating more and more on running the team rather than driving, he would, nevertheless, undertake driving duties during the longer races, such as Le Mans. He first raced at the legendary French circuit driving a Maserati, in 1957, taking part every year until 1966. He raced there again in 1969, '70 and '72. His best result was 2nd overall, driving a Ferrari 330P with Graham Hill, in 1964.

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For 1972, Ecurie Bonnier had acquired the first two examples of Lola's pretty T280 (chassis HU1 and HU2), entered at Le Mans for 1970 winner Gerard Larousse with Hughes de Fierlant (#7), and 1971 winner Gijs van Lennep with Jo (#8). Reflecting Bonnier's Swiss residency (he'd moved there in the mid-sixties), the yellow cars were adorned by graphics that made the cars look like a wedge of Swiss cheese!

The de Fierlant/Larrouse car succumbed to a burnt out clutch after just seven hours, but the van Lennep/Bonnier entry was running well, making up for time lost earlier in the race (gearbox problems and a high-speed tyre blowout). During the Sunday morning, with just six hours to go, Bonnier's open-topped Lola was up to 8th place when it collided with a Ferrari Daytona on the high-speed run between the Mulsanne and Indianapolis corners. The Lola was catapulted over the barriers and into the trees - Jo was killed instantly.

Solido released 1/43 scale models of both entries in period, complete with Swiss cheese markings. The French model maker frequently released models with the markings only part applied, for finishing at home, and this was the case with these two.

After Jo’s death, Ecurie Bonnier raced for one more season and, for the 1973 Le Mans 24 Hours, HU1 raced as #61 – this was also released by Solido. More detailed and accurate versions of these T280s have since been released by Bizarre, but there is a certain charm to the vintage Solido examples. And charm is a word that always springs to mind when I remember that true gentleman racer, Joakim Bonnier.