He’s the answer to a pop quiz question about racing that not many fans could answer. We’ve given the game away here, but if anyone asks you ‘Who is the Argentinian rider who won a 500GP race?’ you’ve got the ammunition now.
The Argentinian won only one GP during his racing time, but if you’re only ever going to win one then make sure this is it (a clue: it’s on home soil).
My participation in Europe for the works Gilera team was a boy’s dream come true. Back in 1957, when I was 17, I accompanied my father, Salvador, who was racing a 500cc Gilera Piuma in the Argentinian championship races. At the end of the season, the Buenos Aires circuit played host to the Argentinian GP, and the locals were joined by the newly-crowned world champion, Libero Liberati, and his team-mate Alfredo Milani, with a brace of the celebrated 500cc Gilera ‘quattro’ fire engines. In the pits I had my first experience of witnessing the activity of an Italian factory team, as the mechanics Giovanni Fumagalli and Luigi Colombo tended to their charges. I was shaking with enthusiasm throughout the training and qualifying, and I can never forget the sound as the two mighty ‘fours’ passed along the main straight at a sensational speed never before seen. Of course, certain memories of the race day stand out: I recall how the mechanics pushed the bikes to the starting grid, while the two Italian champions walked alongside them, like bullfighters. The fans were maddened with the sight of the two gladiators who, of course, left the local riders, including my father, far behind, as the Liberati-milani duo rode to a one-two, receiving the applause from the mechanics and the spectators in the stands.
Benedicto was born in Buenos Aires on September 1, 1940 into a motorcycling family. His father, Salvador, was one of Argentina’s leading riders of the 1950s, astride a Saturno. His older brother, Aldo, was third in the 125cc Argentinian GP of 1963.
When I went to sleep that night, I was dreaming that, one day, I would experience the same thrills that Liberati and Milani had felt. As the years went by, on my father’s Saturno and then a Matchless G50, I won races and championships in Argentina and, seven years later, my ambitions were fulfilled. Having ridden the ex-scuderia Duke Gilera 500 in Argentina in 1963 and then at Daytona early in 1964, I was invited by Commendatore Gilera to race in Europe, so I travelled over to Italy with my father. Our first race was to be the e Shell Gold Cup and we travelled to Imola with the team’s director of sport, Massimo Lucchini (Giuseppe Gilera’s grandson), and two mechanics – by coincidence Fumagalli and Colombo! When we arrived in our hotel, I was amazed to be besieged by fans, all aware of my performance against Hailwood at Daytona a few weeks earlier and eager for autographs. We then moved to our base, the premises of the local Gilera dealer, and it was more of the same – fans, photographs, autographs – I could not believe it. And then we moved
Benedicto, nicknamed Chi Che (Little One), began racing on his father’s Saturno in 1959 and was second in the important Ferruccio Gilera meeting in Buenos Aires, winning a new Saturno from the Arcore factory.
He won 10 out of 12 races and the Argentinian and South American 500cc titles in 1960.
In 1961 to 1963 he rode a Matchless G50 and had a world title qualifying GP win in Buenos Aires in 1962.
to the circuit for practice. The mechanics wheeled out the bikes and then my team-mate arrived – it was Alfredo Milani no less, one of my heroes from that race in 1957. But when I went out for practice on the Friday the bike was uncontrollable, whereas it had been perfect at Daytona. It would not accelerate smoothly and it handled atrociously y, so that my hands were constantly bashed against the tank. After a few laps I gave up and handed the beast over to the mechanics. On the Saturday, at one stage I used a 350cc engine. We put the 500 engine in a 350
Encouraged by his performances, Gilera granted him the ‘quattro’ for the first world title round of 1964 and he astounded the fans and press by staying with Hailwood until gearbox gremlins set in. His exploits led to the factory inviting him to ride in Europe.
chassis; anything to improve the handling. After qualifying I was behind Remo Venturi on a works Bianchi twin and a few British riders on singles. But, come race day, Sunday, April 19, after an all-nighter by Fumagalli and Colombo, I felt much more comfortable on the warm-up lap. However, there was some added pressure when Commendatore Gilera arrived, specifically to watch me race. But I soon took the lead and, riding hard, I recorded the fastest lap and took the chequered flag, ahead of Venturi and Mike Duff. I took the applause of the crowd on my lap of honour and, before I could finish the lap, I was swamped by the ‘tifosi’ and then carried aloft in triumph to the podium. As I stood on the top step, I closed my eyes and thought back to Buenos Aires and 1957 – my dream had come true.
During the rest of that season, I rode the Gilera ‘quattro’ at a number of European circuits that I had never seen before and was proud to establish a few fastest laps. I rode hard but I was never put under any pressure by either my father or Commendatore Gilera, who was very concerned that his riders should never overdo it. To follow in the footsteps of the great riders who had ridden for the Arcore marque in the Fifties was a privilege and the Scuderia Duke riders of 1963 (Minter, Hartle and Read) were my idols. When I was invited to participate in the VMCC’S Festival of 1000 Bikes at Mallory Park in 2011, I walked into the lobby of my hotel and there was Phil Read, who instantly gave me a great hug. I lived my dream!
After his victory at Imola, his campaign was largely thwarted by strikes at the Gilera factory, but he did take wins in the Italian national races at Vallelunga and San Remo and second place in the Italian GP at Monza, with the fastest lap.
He returned to the Gilera fold for the San Remo international in 1966 but he was scooped up by a gust of wind on the seafront during practice, breaking a collarbone, and so his second foray into Europe never got underway.
Caldarella subsequently enjoyed a successful racing career in single seater cars and is now the race director of a national racing series for Mini Coopers in Argentina. He makes occasional visits to Europe for classic bike events, particularly those organised by the Registro Storico Gilera.
Above: Caldarella as a kid on a 98cc bike. Right: On the podium at Monza with Hailwood after the race. Below: On the grid at Monza for the Italian GP in 1964.
His firstride on agileraon November 13, 1963 winning the GP Ferruccio Gileraatbuenosaires.
At Vallelunga on the Gilera on May 24, 1964.
Left: On a works Honda 250 ahead of Redman in the 1961 Argentinian GP. Below: At Cesenatico on the Gilera on April 26, 1964.
Right: Salvador Caldarella at Buenos Aires with Aldo and Benedicto.