12 February 2019

Don't mention the war... Fascinating F1 Facts: 75

Motor racing folk tend to gloss over things when there are folk with dodgy histories. Everyone knows that things are a bit dodgy, but it is almost impolite to mention it. Racing is just about racing… One doesn't mention the war…

A fair number of racing folk were killed during the war, but others who ended up wearing the wrong uniforms, just wanted to go back to racing and not discuss what they got up to between 1939 and 1945.

Porsche's head of motorsport Baron Huschke Von Hanstein spent the war in the SS, as adjutant to SS-Obergruppenführer Werner Lorenz, the man who ran the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle organisation, responsible for confiscating land in the occupied territories and reallocating it to German settlers. In 1948 Lorenz was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his wartime activities, as he was deemed to have been responsible for the deportation of large numbers of land owners. The FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre was also in the SS, although he always claimed that he had been working as a double agent. No-one actually believed him.

And then there was Hugo Boss.

An old pal of mine, his tongue firmly in his cheek, used to say that he would have fought with the Nazis rather than the Allies in World War II, because the Germans had much better uniforms. British and American khaki was drab, while the grey of the Wehrmacht and the SS black were much more exciting in terms of fashion.

Hugo's parents owned a lingerie store in the town of Metzingen, just south of Stuttgart, and after serving in World War I, he decided to start his own clothing business and quickly acquired a factory. He was doing very nicely when the Nazis came along.

Boss was a man with strong political views and he joined the party two years before Adolf Hitler came to power. His company began to manufacture the uniforms of the so-called Brown Shirts, the Sturmabteilung (known as the SA), the Nazi Party's paramilitary force. By the end of 1933 this had three million members. The leader of the SA Ernst Röhm had big ambitions and this upset not only the regular army, known as the Reichswehr, but also worried Hitler, who feared that Röhm might become a rival. The result was that Hitler turned on his own supporters and his own bodyguard, known as the Schutzstaffel (SS), became the new force. Boss produced uniforms for them as well, and for the Hitler Youth.

When the war ended, not unsurprisingly, Boss was labelled as a beneficiary of the Nazi regime. This resulted in a heavy fine and he was stripped of various civil rights, not being allowed to run a company and not being allowed to vote. He appealed and later was downgraded from a beneficiary to a follower with less severe penalties, but he had to hand over the fashion business to his son-in-law, Eugen Holy. Boss, himself, lasted only three years after the war, dying in 1948, at the age of 63. The firm he created, in the hands of Holy, and his sons Uwe and Jochen became a global fashion giant. The firm began to make suits in 1953 and in the 1960s and 1970 these became popular with the jet-set.

By the early 1980s the firm was doing well enough to become a sponsor of the McLaren Formula 1 team, a sponsorship that lasted for 30 years.

At the end of 1985 Hugo Boss was floated and the majority shareholding in the company was bought by the Marzotto textile group, which has strong links with the sport as brothers Vittorio and Giannino Marzotto both raced in the 1950s.

In 2015 Boss switched to Mercedes but at the end of 2017 it announced that it was moving to Formula E… as Mercedes was switching to Tommy Hilfiger…

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