Born in London in 1928 with adventure in his veins (one of his forefathers was Alvar Nuñez, who once crossed the U.S.
by foot), his father the president of Madrid’s Puerta de Hierro country club (and arguably Spain’s best golfer), and
his mother an Irish nurse, ‘Fon’ — as he was known to his friends — demonstrated his fearless fondness for getting
from A to B at lightning speed aged just 17, when, having already acquired his pilot’s licence, he lost it
immediately, winning a bet by flying someone else’s plane underneath London’s Tower Bridge.
Positively Byronic in his amativeness, he was known to remark that in a different age he’d have been a knight-errant,
prompting friends to joke that he’d been born three or four centuries too late. Having grown up on the family estate
in Biarritz, by the age of 17 he could be found squiring the female denizens of Paris’s raging nightlife scene; he
married the American former model Carroll McDaniel, whom he barely knew, at 20 years of age, and had two children
with her before an affair with the actress Linda Christian led to divorce proceedings: his days as an international
Lothario had barely begun.
It was when Portago moved to New York in 1953 that he really began to foster a reputation as a playboy, embarking on
love affairs with women such as Dorian Leigh, the supermodel. He was no popinjay, it seems — according to one
Motor Sport magazine account, this inveterate gambler would be seen playing several roulette tables at
once, “seldom without his favourite grubby leather jacket, thick black hair habitually uncut, dark shaven, a
cigarette pasted to his lower lip”. His effect on women, though, could it be bottled, would have quadrupled his
wealth overnight. “De Portago,” Enzo Ferrari said, “was a kind of magnificent hippy who made quite an impression on
women because he was a handsome man. What sticks in my mind is that gentlemanly image that always managed to emerge
from the crude appearance he cultivated.”
It was at New York’s Auto Show, which he attended with a new friend by the name of Edmund Nelson — an Air Force
veteran who was working as a lift boy at the Plaza — that Fon (or ‘the Madcap Marquis’, as another nickname went),
having put on 14 kilos since those heady horse-racing days, when he saddled 32 winners from 36 rides in a single
week, caught the motorsport bug, and hastily agreed to be co-driver for Italian-American Ferrari and Le Mans 24
Hours legend Luigi Chinetti in the forthcoming Carrera Panamericana in Mexico.
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