Profile – André Testut

André Testut is a driver little-remembered among the Formula 1 community, for his exploits in the series were hardly moments of legend. Monied and enthusiastic, Testut was a staple of the French racing scene outside of Formula 1 throughout most of the 1950s, though he did enter two of his home grands prix. As one of the few drivers in the sport’s history to race under the flag of Monaco, he was an anomaly in his statistical representation, and so this author decided to do some digging and discover more about the man.

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Nationality French / Monégasque
Date of Birth April 13th 1926
Date of Death September 24th 2005
Teams Monte Carlo Auto Sport [privately-entered Maserati] (1958-1959)
Races Entered 2
Races Started 0
Best Result DNQ (at both events)

Early Years: Another André Testut

While he is credited under a Monégasque flag for parts of his career, André Testut was born and raised in Lyon, France, racing with a French licence. Due to the lack of results, after some genealogical digging it is unknown exactly how his national circumstances changed to be that he was represented as Monégasque in Formula 1 itself. 

There was another André Testut before his time, and given the rarity of the surname, a likely relative. André senior was a proficient if not successful motorbike racer, with noted appearances at the 1934 and 1935 Grands Prix de l’UMF. In those days, the cars and motorbikes ran on the same weekend in separate events, in all their various classes. In the first race, the senior Testut did not finish, as by participating in the unlimited engine class, the old Bugattis (one of which he was driving) were absolutely outclassed by the new Maserati and the Alfa Romeo Monza engine of the time. Little more is known of the senior Testut outside of a return appearance the following year, where his newer-type T51 wouldn’t start, meaning he went home classified as a DNA.

Moving to the subject of this profile, André junior was born in 1926 and started his career like so many others of the time in Formula Three and, later, Formula Junior events in the UK in the late 1940s. He therefore raced in his own machinery in the competitive scene in his early 20s, with his first recorded major event being the 1956 Vuillafans Hillclimb race on the Swiss border.

1956-1957: Private Appearances / Knowing Louis Chiron

At this point, Testut had at least proven himself in the junior formulae, for at the hillclimb he was at the helm of an OSCA MT4 that he had borrowed from Monégasque driver and motor-racing legend Louis Chiron. The #1154 chassis was state-of-the-art-motoring, and its new owner was certainly not without the enthusiasm nor the funds (in his spare time, he was a paid member of the Racing Club of Torino). With an OSCA on loan from Chiron, Testut drove the hillclimb event and finished second overall, while Chiron won. This partnership between the two men turned out to be very fruitful, and it carried on for the next few years. André eventually bought the OSCA off of Chiron, while in the meantime the latter had it souped up to new specifications and gave it a facelift. 

In the meantime, Testut entered La Coupe d’Automne just outside Paris, and took a Porsche 356 to third place. 

The 1957 racing season then got off to a torrid start. Testut and Chiron shared a Citroën DS19 and entered that year’s Mille Miglia in May. In the 2-litre touring car class, they finished the 1600km race in 104th (of 310 starters) and 26 minutes behind their class winners. All other interest during the race was overshadowed, however, by the events that took place 64km from the finish.

A race running on public roads, this would be the final Mille Miglia event after the tragic death of one of its star competitors. Alfonso de Portago, (in)famous in his day, crashed his Ferrari at high speeds. The crash threw the car off and back onto the track, which killed de Portago, his co-driver Edmund Nelson, and nine  spectators, of whom five were children. The aftershock following the death of such a public figure and so many bystanders, especially in the light of recent motor-racing tragedies, made it impossible to justify the race’s continued existence.

André very soon after participated in the 6 Heures du Forez du Planfoy in the improved OSCA MT4. A race mostly confined to private entries, André finished 8th, a lap behind 5th placed finisher and gentleman racer Michel Bléhaut in the fastest OSCA. As said, these were primarily French rounds, and André utilised his French racing licence for the occasions. It is hard to know for sure when he became a naturalised Monégasque.

1957: The Big Leagues

A year after his debut at the race, André Testut returned to the Vuillafans Hillclimb that he had finished runner-up in the year before. Driving the OSCA again, he blasted around the roads to take his first ever victory. It was such a dominating performance that André smashed Chiron’s record around the track and got a letter from the Maserati brothers, owners of OSCA, sending him their congratulations. In terms of success it was easily the peak of Testut’s career, and it set him on a year participating in most of the major French events. He took his OSCA to the Grand Prix de Cadours and the Coupe du Salon, the latter of which he finished third on the rostrum.

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Here Testut drives his beloved OSCA (pictured right) at a road race in 1958. Photo: Paris Expo.

After the Mille Miglia, the second truly major event Testut entered was the 1957 1000km of Caracas. Officially called the Venezuelan Grand Prix, it had just been recently added as the final round of that year’s World Sportscar Championship, and the military government was offering top dollar for participants in an effort at some international legitimacy. Previous years had been a financial shambles when a lack of infrastructure had meant that attendants had failed to charge any of the spectators, and in 1957 the government went all-in!

André entered the event with two-time world 500cc champion Umberto Masetti under the team name Equipo Monte Carlo (every entrant’s name was bizarrely Hispanicised). It was a race dominated by the Ferraris and then the Porsches, each of whom were gunning for the world championship. Testut and Masetti did satisfactorily for their machinery and their perspective as private entrants, taking 11th with only a few other privateers ahead of them – and tellingly, only one car not a Ferrari or Porsche. Such drama among the big leagues rounded out a solid year for Testut.

1958: A Taste of Formula 1

Only a few months later, on his 32nd birthday no less, André made his debut in what is now Formula 1. The Syracuse Grand Prix, which he drove in 1958, was a non-championship round. He turned up with a Maserati 250F, one of 10 out of the 12 such cars entering the event. With the recent introduction of points for constructors, it was not unusual to see such low grid numbers, with the biggest teams attending non-championship rounds less and less.

With a 2.22.9s qualifying lap, André was 24.5 seconds off Luigi Musso’s pole time, or in percentage terms, a brilliant 120.7% behind. However, by default of the fact that it was such a small event, he took part regardless. In the race itself he did quite well. While not on pace, he kept the car going until the engine blew on his 51st lap. It was the only time he ever started a Formula 1 race, and it was certainly the closest he ever got to finishing one.

The story behind how he acquired his Maserati is a contentious one, and with such mythologising behind it, it is hard to know the exact truth. Testut bought the 250F from the Maserati company after it had been in their garage for serious repairs. It was in fact the same one that Jean Behra drove throughout the 1956 Formula 1 season to fantastic success (a second and four thirds!). Later, it was sold to Ken Wharton to be entered privately at events throughout 1957. Wharton, a successful rally driver as well as an experienced Formula 1 driver, would then sadly die of injuries sustained during a horrific crash at the 1958 New Zealand Grand Prix. His Maserati was repaired, modified, and exchanged to Testut in some form or another.

After Syracuse, the Monégasque entered his adopted home race, the Monaco Grand Prix. He would do so on two occasions, in 1958 and 1959 – the first time with his compatriot Louis Chiron, and the second time alone. These races were run in the days when the GP could only accommodate 16 cars on the track for safety reasons. This meant Testut, with equipment at least two years out of date, was on the backfoot from the beginning.

Chiron and Testut entered the same team and shared the same car, with Andre’s name recorded on the entry, utilising the number 56. For Chiron, he had no intention of truly competing. He was 58 and, just by entering the event, made the record that still stands to this day of being the oldest driver ever to enter an F1 event. On both the Friday and the Saturday, Chiron outpaced his teammate by two seconds, although his lap-times were kept unofficial and he was only officially acting as a substitute for Testut. Testut, the unknown, put in a time to qualify 23rd, but it was not enough to make the top 16, and so he did not qualify. Far off the pace, it was not a close-run thing, either.

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André Testut drives his Maserati around the streets of Monaco at his adopted home track, sharing the #56 with compatriot and Monaco legend Louis Chiron. Photo: Autodiva.

Aside from a few larger entries, there was little of great note for the rest of 1958. Our protagonist returned to the World Sportscar Championship at the 1000km of Nürburgring in a Porsche Carrera alongside the unknown Jean Sibile (after serious research, this author has not found a single other entry for this gentleman). Testut was caught up in a massive accident on the opening lap that took out at least 11 cars, and sadly the intrepid duo’s mount had suffered too much damage to take the restart.

He returned to the Vuillafans hillclimb event for a third year, this time entering his Maserati, and took it to another victory with a faster time than even his record-breaking stint the year prior. He began to compete in the occasional Formula 2 race, but without success. He ended the 1958 racing season with a second place in the Maserati at the Côte du Col de la Faucille hillclimb race.

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Video footage of Testut is very hard to come by, but the image above is a still from a broadcast as he takes his Maserati round the Cote du Col de la Faucille in 1958. Photo: Autodiva.

1959: Return to Monaco – Winding Down

That very same Maserati 250F that saw André qualify 11.6 seconds off the pace in 1958 was brought back yet again to the Monaco Grand Prix in 1959. This time there was absolutely no chance for the home driver. Four drivers brought such a model, and Testut was second of them all in the timings. However, this masks the rather humorous reality of the situation. Ken Kavanagh and Fritz d’Orey were unable to set laptimes, with the brilliant officially recorded reason of “No Car”, while Giorgio Scarlatti put in a heroic lap to finish 18th out of the 24 cars present. Testut was wearing his national pride on his sleeve, entering as Monte Carlo Sport, and gloriously qualifying last by a country mile.

Scarlatti’s time was 14.1 seconds faster than André’s, while the Monégasque driver was a whopping 19.5 seconds off the pole time set by Stirling Moss! The reader will be happy to note that Testut qualified only 119.6% off the pole time.

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Returning a year later with a car that had DNQd on the first try, Testut didn’t have much hope in 1959 at the Principality. He qualified dead last. Photo: Autodiva.

We can guess that Testut’s career was starting to wind down by this point. He is credited in fewer and fewer events, with his last major appearance being an entry into the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans. For this he was alongside another gentleman driver, Jean Laroche, who was participating in his fourth running of the event. The two were unsuccessful after a gearbox issue took their OSCA out nine hours in. It is believed that the car was then sold on to another driver later that year.

After this entry, details become very sketchy. Testut is registered twice for the Tour de France (not that one) outside of Paris, neither of which race he finished. 

Beyond that, it is not for this author to speculate. The man’s name crops up very occasionally through the decades, but greater events outside of his racing career remain obscure. Understanding how monied he was, it is not unreasonable to assume many of the  one-off entries over the next two decades bearing his surname were him. If so, his final race was at the 1976 24 Hours of Spa for the ETCC, where he was 11th and last of the finishers, at the age of 50. Later in life he returned to his native Lyon and died there in 2005.

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Testut’s last major sporting participation was in the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, entering with his trusty OSCA. Photo: Autodiva.

Looking Back

Testut’s career remains interesting for what it represents regarding the racing scene of his day. It was possible for anyone with enough persistence, passion, and money, to give motor-racing a shot. His results alone show that he was at least good enough to win two races over the course of a few years. His connections saw him race against the best, and alongside some often colourful characters (even a few races teamed up with former Russian royalty!).

He changed his nationality, owned a fine collection of sportscars, and made a serious consistent effort on the French racing scene for many years. His case is a good representation of this kind of driver, who were surprisingly common in the era. It also represents a problem of the modern profile: what do we really know? This record of André Testut was written with the utmost of respect for the known facts, and with a concerted effort to avoid conjecture and hearsay. Testut’s career, like so many others, could be lost in a false mythology, and it is the ever-increasing responsibility of the modern researcher to ensure that the truth, not fancies, are what remains of racing legacies.

To end on a totally trivial note, André had a brief involvement with the French movie industry. A film was made using footage of the Monaco Grand Prix, and the crew borrowed André’s Maserati for the use of the main character, who in the story is a racing driver. Thus, Mademoiselle Ange was released in 1959, and it is André Testut’s car that stars in the leading role. 

Sources: kolumbus.fi, statsf1.com, bonhams.com, racingyears.com, europeana.eu, rallycross-photo.com, historicracing.com, racingyears.com, motorsportmagazine.com, panhard-racing-team.fr, tchkotoua.com, oldracingcars.com

Author

  • Jeremy Scott is an active member of GPRejects, having joined on the weekend of Monaco 2014(!). He writes for fun, but secretly wants to make a career out of it.