Swiss Grand Prix driver who
later became an accomplished author and committed activist
A man of many talents and interests, Hans Ruesch
was thought to be the last surviving winner of a motor racing
grand prix held before the Second World War. He was also an
author, screenwriter and animal activist.
Hans Ruesch was born in Naples in 1913, of an Italian-Swiss
mother and a German-born father. His father was an industrialist
and archaeologist who was a leading expert on Pompeian art,
and the young Hans spent his childhood in Italy.
Already fluent in Italian and German he added French after
a period at boarding school, before studying law at the University
of Zurich. But in 1932 he abandoned the university and took
up motor racing.
His first outing was in an MG at the Klausenrennen circuit.
He soon made a significant step up, competing in the 1932
Brno Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo, coming third in the 1.5
litre class, as well as notching up several hillclimbing wins.
In 1933 he set a new standing-start kilometre record at Montlhéry
in a Maserati, and took first place in both German and Austrian
hillclimbs. The following two years continued in much the
same vein, with many class and hillclimb wins. There was also
the highlight of finishing third at the Norwegian Grand Prix
at Oslo towards the year’s end.
In 1936 Ruesch was at his most competitive. He purchased a
Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo formerly driven by the great Tazio
Nuvolari. Bringing the car to England, he finished second
in the 3-litre class in the Shelsey Wash hillclimb and then
entered the British Grand Prix. For this he shared the car
with Richard Seaman, then Britain’s top racing driver.
Ruesch took the first stint, and led with considerable ease
from lap 3 to lap 60 before handing over to Seaman, who completed
a comfortable win. He followed this up with victory at the
Grand Prix de Bremgarten (Switzerland), with more hillclimbing
wins in France and Hungary, and a third place in the grand
prix at Albi, France.
In 1937 he won the Mountain Championship at Brooklands, and
had three more Grand Prix wins: Bucharest, Bremgarten and
the Grand Prix de Frontières. He then added the Coupe
de Vitesse to this tally.
With war approaching he sold his Alfa Romeo and took up writing.
He visited America to broaden his horizons, but on his return
German forces were invading France, all borders were closed
and he could only go to Spain on a transit visa. After a short
spell in jail he continued his research in Lisbon before returning
to America, where he remained, writing, until 1946. His racing
career met disaster when he crashed into the crowd at a race
in Bolzano, causing one death and three serious injuries.
Greatly upset, Ruesch never raced again.
He wrote a string of successful novels, which were translated
into many languages. They included Top of the World (1950),
about Inuit life; The Racer (1953) which was made into a film,
The Racers (1955), starring Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland;
The Stealers (1962), about the Neapolitan exploitation of
the liberating US forces; and Back to the Top of the World
(1974), a return to an Inuit society now disintegrating under
its contact with Western industry and commerce.
By the 1970s Ruesch was living in Rome, having spent a while
studying medicine. There he edited medical handbooks. This
was the stimulus to what was to become an active opposition
to vivisection. Ruesch set up the Centre for Scientific Information
on Vivisection, of which he remained head until his death.
His books thereafter included Slaughter of the Innocents (1978),
a denunciation of vivisection on moral, medical and scientific
grounds, and Naked Empress (1982) which attacked the medical
profession for being led by the pharmaceuticals industry.
Numerous books followed, and Ruesch was a frequent visitor
to protests, and and an adviser to antivivisection movements,
almost until the end of his life. He married in 1949 Maria
Luisa de la Feld. They separated in the 1970s, and she died
last year. He is survived by a daughter and three sons.
Hans Ruesch, racing driver, author and antivivisectionist,
was born on May 17, 1913. He died on August 27, 2007, aged