17th Marquis De Portago

LIFE 4-9-56
LIFE 4-9-56

God only knows what Alfonso de Portago was doing while his wife (at left) looked on, and racecar driver Eugenio Castellotti looked down. Perhaps it should have been prayer.

Also known as Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, the 17th Marquis of Portago took up racecar driving as a hobby in his mid-20s. Considered by other drivers as “a flashy upstart and a self-centered phenomenon,” he was nonetheless signed by Ferrari for its racing division in the winter of ’56.

Portago, who had crashed a plane on a cow for a $500 bet, commented, “I won’t die in an accident. I’ll die of old age or be executed in some gross miscarriage of justice.”

Um, nope. That’s not what happened.

All I had to do was flip to this pic in the LIFE article and predict this guy with a habit of “brushing close to death” wouldn’t last long.


Do you see what I mean? Cocky.

Driver Castelloti (shown in the first image) was killed in a race the following March, only months after the picture was taken. But the Marquis? Well, he and co-driver Edmund Nelson blew a tire on Portago’s Ferrari 335 S, causing it to spin into the crowd lining the highway during the 1957 Mille Miglia. Nine spectators were killed, among them five children. Nelson and Portago’s bodies were badly disfigured beneath the flipped Ferrari.  Both were killed instantly.

Sounds like the James Dean quote that was wrongly attributed to him. “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse!” was actually said by actor John Derek in the 1949 film Knock On Any Door. Perhaps living fast is not a good motto.


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