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by René Dreyfus with Beverly Rae Kimes
average modern driver, who must keep his nose to the grindstone from an early age, has no
time to learn about life so that he tends to be something less than a brilliant intellect.
As an anecdote to the cookie cutter books that seem
to come out the day after a driver turns his first wheel in a Grand Prix car. I purchased
"My Two Lives" by René Dreyfus. During the 20's and 30's he drove Maseratis,
Ferraris and especially Bugattis on the Grand Prix circuits of the world. In 1938 he won
his greatest victory in a Delahaye at Pau where he beat the best that Mercedes had to
offer. When World War II started he joined the French Army but while on leave to compete
in the Indianapolis 500 he found himself stranded when Paris was overrun. Without visible
means of support he opened a French restaurant and began his second career. Upon the
United States entering the war, Dreyfus joined the American Army. In 1980 he returned to
Europe to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his victory in the Grand Prix of Monaco.
The story begins in 1914 when René was nine years
old. The middle of three children he speaks of his early life with fondness, growing up in
Nice. He later joined the Moto Club de Nice, which was sort of a junior league Automobile
Club de Nice. Forging his mother's signature René entered his first race and won, due to
him being the only car in his class. During this time he and his brother Maurice owned a
paper company with René the salesman. He somehow convinced his mother that if he had a
Bugatti he would be able to get around faster and see more customers. His mother was duped
and soon the boys had their first race car. In the coming years René finds himself at the
center of the greatest period in the history of Grand Prix racing. His contemporaries
included Chiron, Caracciola, Varzi and Nuvolari. It his observations of this period that
makes this book special. As a French patriot driving against the German cars we learn how
it felt for himself and his friend Louis Chiron.
His second life as a restaurateur is also covered in
detail both during and after the war. While this might not be of direct interest to my
motorsport readers it actually covers a longer period of his life. We learn of the reunion
with his brother and sister and of course his famous restaurant - Le Chanteclair which
over its 25-year history was the gathering place for motosport iluminaries from around the
world. In closing there is a touching chapter of René and Maurice returning to Europe and
the celebration of René's victory at Manaco 50 years previous.
The following are some quotes from his book.
... Meantime, there was a new presence on the
Grand Prix scene. At the Swiss GP at Bern on August 26th, I took a good long look at the
Auto Union and Mercedes for the first time. There were swastikas all around, but all of us
were looking at the cars. They were most unusual and enormously powerful. Four hundred
fifty horsepower already, with the promise for much more. There were as many engineers in
the pits as drivers. It was a gargantuan operation.
The political significance of all this eluded
us. All we realized was that Germany's new chancellor was an automobile enthusiast and
wanted the country's cars to be supreme, the most powerful, the fastest, the most
René Dreyfus - 1934
The "racing enthusiast" was of course
...Stuck's Auto Union was leading, but Tazio was
giving him fits, until suddenly Nuvolari lost a piston just past the grandstand. He got
out of his car and started walking slowly back to the pits. I was now in second place. My
car was performing beautifully. Stuck's brakes, I could sense were fading.
This was Italy, and this was Tazio - and the
crowd, seeing him walking, started a vigorous chant: "Nuvolari in macchina, Nuvolari
in macchina!" When I pulled into the pits to refuel, Enzo and Gobbato asked me if I'd
mind giving my car to Nuvolari. Of course, I wouldn't; Tazio was the team captain. Tazio
beamed, and said grazie, and I shouted a few things about how the car was behaving and he
took off. He drove like only Nuvolari could, and was challenging Stuck fantastically, but
he was also wearing down the Alfa's brakes, had to pit to have them adjusted, and finished
To show you the man Tazio was, I was entitled to
my percentage of the prize money only on the laps I had run, Tazio was to get his
percentage on the laps he had accomplished with my car - but he refused any money at all.
He told the Scuderia people that I should receive the entire prize because had I remained
in the car I might have won the race. He recognized, he told me afterwards, that instead
of trying frantically to catch up, he might better have played it cooler and waited to see
if the other man would falter.
René Dreyfus at Monza - 1935
For Nuvolari to play it cool and wait for something
to happen to the car of Hans Stuck would be like a cat barking! It would not have been
Nuvolari who only knows how to drive - flat out.
While in the American Army Dreyfus had many humorous
encounters especially when it related to the English language. While attending an
interrogation class he was called upon to name the various battalions in a regiment. ...I
stood up, and rattled off the list in my best English - and when I finished, the teaching
lieutenant said, fine, you missed just one. I remembered it immediately, and remembered
how my English teacher in Spartenburg had told me to always aspirate an "h"
sound, difficult for a Frenchman, and so I aspirated with a vengeance and :assault"
came out "asshole" battalion. The room fell apart in laughter."
The lieutenant was very kind, and when everyone
had quieted down, told me that I was right but my pronunciation was wrong. He wrote the
word "assault" on the blackboard, and I pronounced it once more, exactly the
same way I had the first time. The room broke up again. Finally, the lieutenant said that
actually, on reflection, I was probably right. And we got on to other things."
Dreyfus, René and Beverly Rae Kimes. "My
Two Lives". Aztex Corporation, 1995, 1983 pp., ISBN 0-89404-080-4.