May 10 2010

In Search of Master Mechanic Charlie Kirschhoffer

Jim Scott has emailed me the following request for information on mechanic Charlie Kirschhoffer:

Can anyone verify if Mr. Charles "Charlie" Kirschhoffer was a member of the 1936 Alfa Romeo team or the 1937 Mercedes team, at the respective Vanderbilt Cup races?. As seen in this photo, it was not uncommon for him to wwear a necktie under his greasy coveralls.

In my research it appears that Enzo Ferrari did not attend the Vanderbilt events; he seldom left Modena or the Po Valley. This was the time period when the relationship between Alfa and Scuderia Ferrari was beginning to deteriorate. During this period Nello Ugolini was his team manager, and chances are it was Mr. Ugolini who brought the team over in 1936. Luigi Chinetti was an Alfa Romeo endurance driver, and not part of the F1 team, also having an Alfa dealership in Paris, at the time. In addition to Chinetti's driving skills he was also a good organizer, and I am wondering if Mr. Ferrari may have used him to help Mr. Ugolini in managing the Vanderbilt endeavor.

Mr. Kirschhoffer was an ex-Bugatti F1 & sportscar master mechanic who had emigrated to the US from France; and had befriended Mr. Chinetti, in Paris, years earlier. Chinetti trusted Mr.Kirschhoffer implicitly, and knew he could use "Charlie" not only as a mechanic, but also as an interpreter for the team.

It also appears that Mr. Kirschhoffer had a relationship with Alfred Neubauer of the Mercedes Benz F1 that went back to before WWII. Mr. Kirschhoffer never returned to Europe during this time period and I am thinking that the 1937 event would have been the logical, and only opportunity for Mr. Neubauer and Mr. Kirschhoffer to "connect."Mr. Kirschhoffer approached events as an "independent contractor" with his skills going to the highest bidder. Neubauer was courting him to help the Mercedes team much the same way as he had helped the Alfa team.

The other aspect is that Mr. Kirschhoffer preferred to work on the cars in the garages and paddock, he did not want to be part of the "pit crew" or the "over-the-wall gang." He was seldom seen in the pits.


However, to this point I have no evidence that Charlie was present in 1936 or 1937 but I cannot come up with any other scenario; that was a prewar event, where the Alfa and Mercedes teams could have "connected" with Mr. Kirschhoffer. A long career at Indianapolis, and Luigi Chinetti's Ferrari endeavor would follow (another aspect of his career). In this photo at the 1949 Indy 500 Race, Charlie was seen with Duke Nalon.


Jim, here is one photo that I have of Tazio Nuvolari and his Alfa Romeo team. Charlie was clearly not in this photo.


My only other possible sighting of Charlie is the man in the "overalls wearing a tie" admiring Jean Pierre Wimille's Bugatti at the 1936 race.

Can anyone else help Jim in his research concerning Charlie?

-Reminder:May Meeting of the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving & Chowder Society Today, The Future of Motorsports presented by Harvey Siegel, Sardi's, 233 W.44th Street, NYC, 12 noon sharp


May 11 2010 Jim Scott 10:23 AM

Hi Howard,
    Thank you very much for walking the extra mile regarding my inquiry. Let’s see if there are any of our fellow enthusiasts that might have some information.
    Charlie had a “New York connection,” we uncovered photos of Charlie at Watkins Glen in the late 1940’s, when the SCCA was still in its gestation period; in one photo Dave Garroway (of the original NBC Today Show) thanking Charlie for helping to prepare his SS 100. Also Charlie had an extremely close friendship with Luigi Chinetti; and of course Chinetti rode out WWII working for Alfred Momo, in Manhattan.
Immediately after the War Chinetti approached Ferrari to build and import automobiles, after Enzo agreed, one of the first persons Chinetti turned to here in the States was to call Charlie and made Charlie his “go to man” in the midwest. Charlie made numerous trips to Manhattan to help Chinetti launch the Brand…..when you think about it…..what a risk…what a challenge! In 1948 who, in the U.S. knew what a Ferrari was? Did even Chinetti have the vision to know how far his endeavor would go, the scale, the mystique?
    Charlie would continue to make frequent trips to The Glen every year, usually to service Chinetti entries, or Chinetti customer cars.
It was also not uncommon for Charlie to pick up customer cars at the Manhattan showroom and drive them back to the midwest and deliver them directly to the new owners. He was active until the late ‘60’s.
    Again, thanks for your efforts.
    Best regards,
    Jim Scott

Sep 04 2010 Corey Kirschhoffer 7:23 PM

I stumbled upon your website this morning and wanted to let you know that my Grandfather, Ray Kirschhoffer is Charlie’s younger son.  He has mountains of memorobilia that he can share.  Charlie died in 1978 in Winthrop Harbor, IL and Elisa died in 1998. Both are buried in Libertyville, IL.  I look forward to reading more of him and his racing days.  Thanks for sharing.

Sep 04 2010 Howard Kroplick 11:40 PM

Hi Corey:

Thanks for checking in! Please have Ray send me an email with his contact information to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



Feb 23 2012 Howard Kroplick 7:42 AM

From Richard Flood:

I stumbled upon your blogsite while doing a random car-guy history review. I am now 63; my family (Dad and Uncle, and spouses and kids) became involved with sports cars in ~1957. We met Charlie in about 1959, although I can only conjecture on how that happened. We knew him and visited the garages (w/ Austin Healeys, A.C. Bristol, Lotus Elite and Elva Courier, etc.) periodically until 1962+, and I was totally enthralled with his abilities and what cars were there and the stories and events that occurred. I’ll get back to you with more recollections and maybe old photos. The various Ferraris of Jim Place and Maj. Bill Cooper were frequently there, as well as others.  I went to Road America June Sprints in 1958, and became totally hooked on sports cars and racing. Haven’t stopped (Australian GP is still a month away . . . damn !).

When I was in junior high, we were assigned a class project to “write a biography on someone you know.” My theme was entitled, “My Friend Charlie.” Not a very original title, but I remember the kid-perspective interview pretty well. I remember him (and what I wrote) talking about him growing up in Alsace-Lorraine, marriage to Elise (I have no recollection of discussion of children, but it was probably mentioned . . . but I probably wasn’t interested in anything not painted red !), coming to U.S. to do design work for Nash Automobile Co., his good friend Luigi Chinetti (I’ll write more recollections), AND having worked with GP Alfa-Romeo prior to its’ being taken over as Ferrari. I cannot provide anything definitive or documentable, but I’m sure of the discussion. Being “part of the team” was probably not too formal then—whoever was available that weekend got to go. You’ll probably have to research something as mundane as hotel records to confirm. I’d be glad to help !

Anyway, we followed or met up with Charlie at Elkhart Lake, Meadowdale, Wilmot, and other Midwest track, and beyond. While he was “mechanic-ing” he took me along on two laps at Road America on a completely unsupervised Friday prelim session in a 300 TR (Jim Place’s ?). I distinctly remember his unkempt, beautifully wind-blown flowing white hair, chin-up position, and classic overalls; him with a flimsy 2-point seatbelt and me with none, (me) sitting in a very small fiberglass bucket seat barely able to hold on through the constant harsh suspension hits, vision vibration, wind assault, and extreme engine and exhaust noise. My first time over 100 mph, and him as casual as could be—perfect cornering and braking (even if not at top speed). I was sure he could have been a GP champ. Perhaps the most perfect ~ten minutes of my life ! (My Lexus IS350 can now lap faster and more smoothly . . . but not as much fun).

Anyway, I can convey stories about Charlie’s influences on the Rodriguez brothers, Place and Cooper, Doug Thiem, Chinetti, NART, and some other shared experiences. Nostalgia ain’t so bad . . . and if I ever have a chance to return to the Chicago area, I would be very pleased to visit his grandson and to take a look at the memorabilia.

Best regards (and thanks for starting the topic !)

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