Jo Bonnier may not have been the fastest F1 driver of his era, but he was certainly one of the richest and his bank balance helped the fledgling McLaren team with its crucial cash-flow during the late 1960s by providing a home for some of the team’s obsolete Grand Prix machines. Scion of the powerful Stockholm-based publishing group Bonniers Aktiebolag, Bonnier’s greatest claim to fame was giving BRM its maiden victory in the 1959 Dutch GP at Zandvoort, an achievement he conspicuously failed to duplicate at the wheel of a McLaren.
Often distant and aloof, the immaculately-bearded Swede was in fact a great socialite and one of the first to make his home in Switzerland for tax purposes. One of the driving forces behind the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, he raced in F1 long past his peak to the point where he was little more than a nuisance in seriously high speed company.
He purchased the original BRM V12-engined McLaren M5A in time for the 1968 Italian GP at Monza where he finished a lucky sixth, aided by a high rate of retirements amongst his rivals after which it was consigned to the role of a slice of modern art, being attached to the wall of the living room in the Bonnier family home in Switzerland. After a brief and unsuccessful dalliance with Lotus, Jo acquired a Cosworth-engined McLaren M7C which he raced intermittently through 1970 and 71. His final outing at the wheel of this car came in the 1971 US GP at Watkins Glen where he finished a distant 16th.
Bonnier was killed at Le Mans the following summer when his privately entered Lola T280 sports car collided with a Ferrari Daytona driven by the Swiss amateur Florian Vetsch, and he was catapulted into the trees.