Automobiles Gonfaronnaises Sportives ("AGS" or Gonfaron Sports Cars) was a small French Formula One constructor from 1986 through 1991. It took part in various racing classes over more than 30 years.
The team was founded by the French mechanic, Henri Julien, who ran a filling station - the "Garage de l'avenir" in a picturesque provincial village called Gonfaron. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Julien regularly attended racing events in minor classes. He was a mediocre driver but showed a degree of technical knowledge. As a result, he eventually changed his profession to constructing racing cars.
His first car, the AGS JH1, saw the light of day in 1969. It was a petite monoposto, dedicated to the "Formule France". The car was designed by Julien's former apprentice, the Belgian mechanic Christian Vanderpleyn who had been with the garage (and the racing team) since the very late 1950s and who would stay on until 1988! Soon, AGS went ahead and produced its own Formula 3 cars which were ambitious but not good enough to compete seriously with the state-of-art Martinis which dominated that series in the 1970s.
AGS took another step ahead in 1978 when the it team bravely started competing in the European Formula 2. Still, the car - by now the AGS JH15 - was self-penned (by Vanderpleyn), self-built and self-run. Formula 2 was a difficult task for the small team, racing 1978 and 1979 without scoring any championship points. The early 1980s were somewhat better. AGS was one of the few teams who ran its own cars (Maurer, Minardi and Merzario were the others), and eventually the team was able to score points regularly. Soon some victories came, too. AGS made history when works driver Philippe Streiff won the final race of Formula 2 in 1984, using an AGS JH 19C.
In 1985, AGS switched to Formula 3000 but Julien was not content with the regulations and organisation of the new series, so he started thinking about taking another step ahead into top-class motor racing.
By late summer 1986, it was done: AGS entered the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, its very first Formula One race. The structure was somewhat bizarre: The team had no more than 7 employees and was still operated from the garage de l'avenir in Gonfaron. Compare this to the situation at Williams, McLaren or Ferrari which had even in those days had much more extensive facilities.
AGS appeared with a car that was once again penned by Vanderpleyn. The JH21C was a strange mixture between former AGS F3000 vehicles and Renault F1 parts which were used extensively. The car was powered by a well-used Motori Moderni Turbo engine (the only time these Carlo Chiti-developed engines were given to a customer team) and driven by newcomer Ivan Capelli. A few weeks before, the car had been tested by Didier Pironi who drove an F1 car for the first time since his awful accident in 1982, but decided against a return. Due to technical difficulties, neither in its first attempt nor in the following race in Portugal did Capelli see the finish.
In 1987, the car which was otherwise much the same as before was prepared to use a normally aspirated Cosworth DFZ. Team driver Pascal Fabre was a newcomer. He was reliable but awfully slow. Things went better in the last two races of the season when Fabre was replaced by the Brazilian Roberto Moreno (who saw his first chance in Formula One since 1982 when he had failed to qualify a Lotus works car). In Adelaide, Moreno scored the first championship point for AGS, which meant that the team finished the season equal on points with the better-financed Ligier team.
In 1988, AGS started with a new car and Philippe Streiff as the team's only driver. Streiff drove quite powerfully and qualified well, but he saw the chequered flag only four times; in all the other events of that year technical failures or accidents were recorded. Financially, the year started well and ended with a disaster. AGS had a solid sponsor - the French Bouygues group - which promised to support not only the racing activity but also the completion of a new factory outside Gonfaron. After AGS had started work on the new facility, Bouygues withdraw from the team, leaving Julien without any support. To save the team, he eventually had to sell it to Cyril de Rouvre, a French entrepreneur with various ambitions.
Things went soon from bad to worse. The new team management changed frequently (Vanderpleyn for instance went to Coloni) and brought a lot of disorder. Worse was to come; Streiff was paralysed in a testing accident in Brazil before the 1989 season.
He was replaced with Gabriele Tarquini, who surprised with some great performances in the first half of the season. He was very close to the points in Monaco and Phoenix but retireing in both races. The things went better in Mexico, where he finished sixth and scored his first point. But after this highlights, the team was never able to be as competitive again.
In the second part of the 1989 season, the team had to prequalify - a task that was nearly never achieved by Gabriele Tarquini and Yannick Dalmas. Within the summer months, there were strong rumours that AGS would soon use a new W12 engine developed by the French designer Guy Nègre. This strange MGN (Moteurs Guy Nègre) machine saw the light of day in late 1988 and was tested in an old AGS chassis in the summer of 1989. It was clear that AGS was not related to these tests; they were completely private attempts by Nègre. The engine never found its way to a Grand Prix but it was announced to be used in a 1990 Le Mans car called Norma M6. That car was presented but never raced.
Finally, AGS had to use Cosworth engines again in 1990. That year brought no improvement at all, and by the beginning of the 1991 season the team was obviously close to its end. The team lacked money. (At the first Grand Prix of 1991 in Phoenix the mechanics didn't even have the money to buy lunch.) De Rouvre sold his team to some Italian entrepreneurs, Patrizio Cantù and Gabriele Raffanelli. Both changed little except for the driver line-up (Stefan Johansson was needlessly replaced with newcomer Fabrizio Barbazza) and the colours of the car (which were now blue, red and yellow instead of white). A new car was raced in the early autumn, but by then the team was in rags again, so the Italians closed the doors after the 1991 Portuguese Grand Prix.
AGS survived as a prosperous Formula One driving school (in Le Luc, near Gonfaron). The Garage de l´ Avenir is still in existence, too.