The well-worn trope of the Riviera playboy driving his Ferrari retains validity. In Monaco you can still see “gentlemen” of indeterminate age cruising Casino Square, often accompanied by their “neice”… They are pale shadows of the OG Ferrari players of yore. For the real deal, meet Porfirio Rubirosa: when it comes to Ferrari driving playboys , Rubi is ‘yer man.’

The son of a Dominican diplomat, Rubi spent his early years in Paris where he developed a taste for the good life. Flunking school saw him shipped back to Dominica to join the army. He arrived at a turbulent time, just as a despot called Trujillo seized power. Rubi made himself known by flirting with the dictator’s daughter, resulting in an ultimatum: marry said daughter or disappear. Trujillo wasn’t a fan of magic; his style of disappearing involved copious quantities of lead, a bin-bag overcoat and a short boat trip to the sharkiest parts of the Caribbean.

The ensuing nuptials saw Dominica bask in a three-day public holiday, and Rubi elevated from junior army officer to “Inspector of Embassies” a role that saw him and his new bride, Flor De Oro, travel the Americas and Europe at Trujillo’s behest.

Rubi met politicians, royalty, movie stars, and captains of industry – and slept with their wives. The ladies loved him, they all wanted a bit of him, and Rubi had more than a bit to give. In addition to his Latin looks, gentlemanly manners and impeccable dress sense, Rubi was said to be blessed with a phallus that compared favourably to that of a donkey.

His constant philandering saw off wife number one. In Paris, Rubi clung to his diplomatic status and squired French movie star Danielle Darrieux. He was having such an excellent time he completely failed to see World War Two approaching. Occupied Paris cramped his style. Rubi engaged in some dubious racketeering that saw him detained by the Germans, then shot three times by the French Resistance. He recuperated with his new wife in the countryside where he kept chickens and a loaded revolver until peace broke out.

After the war, anything seemed possible. Rubi admirably demonstrated this by marrying the richest woman in the world. Doris Duke was heiress to a $100 million fortune. She gave Rubi some wedding trinkets. These included $500.000, a 17th century Parisienne mansion, a stable of polo ponies, a luxury converted B25 Bomber, and the first of a bevvy of Ferraris….

The Ferraris fulfilled his craving for speed. The danger and glamour of motor racing proved irresistible. He raced amongst the greats, though Stirling once casually dismissed his driving as “only fairly good” His first outing was with his Ferrari 166MM at Le Mans in 1950. His partner for the race was Pierre Leygonie. They retired after eight hours with a cooked clutch. In ’53 the duo took another MM to Rheims but suffered another mechanical malady.

The 166MM gave way to other race-prepped Ferraris including a 375MM, a glorious 500 Mondial Spyder, a 625LM and a 500TRC. He bagged a factory Lancia drive for the Sebring twelve hours endurance event in 1954, making up a four-car team of pro drivers including Fangio. The cars suffered a series of mechanical failures until only Rubi’s car was left. In the final stages of the race, he was brought in so his professional co-driver could take the reins They finished second overall to Moss. It was his only works drive and it would remain his best result.

Sebring would become his favourite race. It helped it occurred just before the polo season in Palm Beach. He returned in his own Ferraris in ’55 ’56 and ’58. In between, he attempted the Carrera Pan Americana and another go at Le Mans – failing to finish either. He also appeared at Nassau and Santa Barbara, even trying his luck at the Cuban GP in the year Fangio was kidnapped.

Off the track, nothing slowed him down or changed his sense of priorities. In Havana during the Cuban Revolution, rebels peppered his government building with gunfire. As the staff cowered on the floor they heard Rubi making an urgent phone call arranging the evacuation of his polo ponies.

His nocturnal antics carried on unabated, resulting in divorce from the world’s richest woman. After an on-off fling with “it girl” of the day, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rubi bounced back, by marrying the world’s second-richest woman, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. Like the ex-wife, she showered him with wedding gifts including another luxury converted B25 Bomber ( he had crashed the previous one) a coffee plantation, more polo ponies, and a dowry of 2.5 million dollars The marriage lasted eight weeks. Rubi kept the toys and the cash.

He needed the money. Between polo, flying, racing and party nights, life wasn’t cheap for the world’s preeminent lothario. Twice a week Rubi liked a 24-hour party binge usually starting off at a swanky French club before inviting a retinue of partygoers, and the club band, back to his Parisienne mansion. Alternatively, he might hop in his B25 and go somewhere, like Egypt, to hang out with King Farouk, or Palm Beach for a spot of polo and sharing tips on hangovers with the Rat Pack.

Attempts to make money (without dropping his trousers) were either nefarious or comedic farce. In 1952 he financed a hunt for the shipwreck of a Spanish treasure galleon sunk off Dominica in 1641. Unfortunately, his hired crew of surly, drunken French sailors proved unmanageable. When the ship reached Dominica the crew swapped red wine for rum, trashed the ship, and mutinied over their pay. Rubi set the Militia on them. Following expensive repairs he tried again, only to sail into a tropical storm that almost sank the ship. A later third attempt saw it reach the ocean bottom, albeit it seems, heavily insured at the time…

By the sixties, Rubi took a day longer to recover from his party sessions but still plied Paris and beyond for lavish entertainment and nightly nookie. The list of reputed conquests was as long and distinguished as his prime asset. They included Ava Gardner, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Veronica Lake, Eartha Kitt, Christina Onassis and its rumoured, Eva Peron, to name just a few. At one point his legendary tomcatting saw him named in two messy divorces in the same month. He rarely displayed remorse and whilst gossip writers told lurid tales of his exploits Rubi playing the gentleman, never said a word.

He gave up racing in the sixties but he still drove Ferraris. Outside of Enzo’s stable, Rubi had a Gullwing Merc and a Mini Cooper S which he liked to fling around Paris in the wee hours. It was always Ferrari that he loved the most, after all, what car could be more fitting than one that bore the crest of a rampant stallion?

By 1965 he was married to a French actress half his age. On the 5th of July, he was out celebrating with his Polo team after winning the French championship. A typical night of revelry ensued at the exclusive Jimmy’s nightclub until, at around eight in the morning, he climbed into his silver 250 GT convertible to drive home. Much the worse for drink, he lost control of his Ferrari on the Allee de la Reine Marguerite, stuffing it into a conker tree at high speed. Rubi died in the ambulance aged just 56 years old.

His legacy as such lies in the Ferraris he owned (as well as the Pariseinne restaurants where oversized pepper grinders are still known as ‘Rubis’). Many of his cars survive to this day, and there’s a cachet around owning a Rubirosa Ferrari that goes beyond the machine itself. He lived a life less ordinary in the hellbent pursuit of hedonism. Rubirosa wasn’t just another playboy in a Ferrari. He was the playboy who drove a Ferrari.

images WkiCommons M Bower Creative Commons

Links. Porfirio Ferrari for sale by Bonhams
Porfirio Gullwing Merc

Books The Last Playboy by Shawn Levy

About The Author

Steve Swanson

Steve turns any opportunity to write about cars into a roadtrip. It's seen him ride shotgun in a Bentley Blower with Clive Cussler, and cross paths with automotive YouTubers in Canada and the US. His work has been published in Magneto, Classic Cars, Classic American and some magazines that no MotorPunk reader has ever heard of. When he's not writing or driving you can find him kicking tyres at seedy auctions and hawking junk optimistically described as Automobilia

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