Rene Dreyfus, great Pre WWII Grand Prix champion and world-class restaurateur, famously entitled his autobiography My Two Lives.  The late Don Ricardo could have just as appropriately employed this same title for his most interesting life story. 

Although his background includes activities from semipro basketball to tool and die making, the Two Lives he is most known for are big band leader, and committed lifetime automobile racer and enthusiast.  Don Ricardo was both for many of his 80 something years. 

I visited his Pasadena, California home several times; a subtle but large Spanish rambler nestled in the hills just a few minutes from the Rose Bowl and well equipped for car collecting.  The main garage holding a dozen cars with ease, more in a pinch.

Don Ricardo was a musician since childhood (violin and drums) and is perhaps most noted as the leader of “Don Ricardo’s NBC Orchestra” on radio during the 1930s and 40s. 

His group often appeared on the ticket with headline bands such as Tommy Dorsey and was a popular fixture on the Hollywood and LA nightclub circuit. 

A trained machinist and tool and die maker, he applied for a job at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and worked there from 1940-1945; the technology he worked on was codenamed the Manhattan Project (the atomic bomb), although Ricardo pledged he didn’t know that at the time.  He figured it was something to do with defense, but didn’t have any clue as to the ultimate magnitude of the project.  After the war, Ricardo was caught up in America’s discovery of European sports cars and racing.

Although his collection was somewhat varied, he was foremost known as a Mercedes-Benz man.  His brightest three-pointed stars are 300SL Gullwings; two 1955s, and a ’57. 

Amazingly Ricardo was the first owner of the earlier pair and only the second caretaker of the ‘57.  One was a rare (1 of 29) alloy-bodied Gullwing, with which Don set class land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats; it also so saw competition action a quarter-mile at a time in the stock sports car classes at the Winternationals drag races in nearby Pomona, California. 

Don set class land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Ricardo’s Bonneville record run had every opportunity to end in

Read More


By: Matt Stone
Title: Don Ricardo – Racer and Avid Gullwing Collector
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2021 01:38:33 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…