On land, on ice or in water, whether clutching wheel or reins, the short life of Spanish aristocrat Alfonso de Portago — and his violent death — touched upon a single theme: his uncontrollable desire to rewrite distance-over-time ratios.
Alfonso de Portago before the start of the Mille Miglia in Italy in May 1957, during which a tyre on De Portago’s Ferrari burst, causing a crash that killed him, his co-driver and several spectators. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Being the 13th Count of Mejorada as well as the 17th Marquis of Portago, not to mention the grandson of the Governor of Madrid (aka the 9th Marquess of Portago) and the godson of King Alfonso XIII, Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton pretty much had the first part of the phrase ‘gentleman racer’ nailed from birth.

And what of the second part? Pictures of the Spanish aristocrat in a Ferrari 860 Monza — in which he tore up the track at the Windsor airfield in the Bahamas in 1956 — are but pieces in the jigsaw, for Portago also raced bobsleighs (finishing fourth in the 1956 Winter Olympics), horses (he twice took part in the Grand National at Aintree), and — between pursuing his polo, jai alai and fencing smarts — swam at international level. It’s fair to surmise that no one has ever walked the planet who better personifies the time-honoured concept of a man-of-breeding devoting his life to cocking a snook at the laws of physics.


October 2020


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