Ah, it’s been a little while since I last wrote something for this blog so I thought I’d return to the fertile territory that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In the last post that I actually managed to write, mourning the death of legendary racer Dan Gurney, I wrote a little about the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. This seems to as good a race, and as good a set of cars to write about as any, so strap yourselves in, here we go.
1967 24 Hours of Le Mans
After finally tasting victory at La Sarthe in the 1966 race, expectations were high at Ford but the 1967 World Sports Car Championship season got off to a very rocky start.
Development of the successor to the Mark II GT40 had gone catastrophically wrong. The planned Ford J-Car was shelved following the death of British driver, Ken Miles. Miles, who co-piloted his Mark II to 2nd place in previous year Le Mans (the filling in the GT40 sandwich, if you will), was killed instantly when the J-Car he was driving at 200mph+ along the back straight of the Riverside International Raceway flipped into the air, and burst into flames when it landed.
To say the expected aerodynamic and structure benefits from the new bread van rear and honeycomb construction weren’t seen, is more than an understatement. Under pressure following the accident, Ford significantly redesigned the J-Car to improve it’s stability at high speed and beefed up the chassis with a steel roll over cage.
The new car, christened the GT40 Mark IV, used the same big-block 7 litres Ford Galaxie-derived engine from the Mark II, which combined with the new aerodynamic package gave the car a top speed just shy of 220mph.
As development of the Mark IV continues, the season began badly for Ford. Ferrari took a 1-2-3 at season opener, the 24 Hours of Daytona while the Ford GT40 Mark IIBs all retired.
Somewhat humiliated on home soil, Ford shifted up a gear and, just 6 weeks later took the chequered flag at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Cue the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ford took 4 GT40 Mark IVs to the 67 race, the No.1 car driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, No. 2 driven by Bruce McLaren, the No. 3 car driven by Mario Andretti and Lucien Bianchi and the No.4 car driven by Roger McCluskey and Frank Gardener.
Here’s that beautiful line-up, captured before the start along with 3 GT40 Mark IIBs :
The Ford quartet were pitted against the mighty Ferrari 330 P4s that had been so dominant at the start of the season.
As mentioned in previous posts, the race saw a number of now infamous incidents – Andretti dramatically crashing his Mk.IV at high speed after a mechanic put a brake pad on back to front, and Dan Gurney pulling off to the side of the track after being harassed by Mike Parkes.
After the usual sublime and ridiculousness of the 24 hours, the race finished with Gurney and AJ Foyt victorious in the No.1 Car ahead of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Mike Parkes, and Willy Mairesse and Jean Blaton, in the two Ferrari 330 P4s. Completing le sandwich double-decker in 4th was the Mk.IV of McLaren and Donohue.
The Slot Cars
Last year, to mark 50 years since the race, Scalextric released a limited edition “Legends” triple pack (C3892A), featuring the winning Ford of Gurney and Foyt and the 2nd & 3rd place P4s:
As with pretty much Scalextric’s entire range, I don’t think that the pictures do the cars justice. In the flesh, they look great. The level of detail is nice and, though not perfect, on the whole, close enough to the real thing.
And for the money – If you can still find them for sale, they’re a penny short of 120 quid – they represent good value.
So here’s the quibbles with them.
First up, I seems obvious that, in 2017/18, triple packs are ideal for racing on digital tracks. But not only are these analogue cars (for reasons I completely understand), the Ferraris aren’t even digital plug ready which is a real shame.
So if you want to recreated the 67 race – especially as Scalextric have now released the Andretti/Bianchi Mk.IV meaning you could have (at least) a 4 car race – you’re stuck.
I know, I know. Given the price of the cars, and the pretty nice display box, it’s clear these cars aren’t made for racers. They scream “Collectors Specials” which is fine but if digital racing is the way forward for Scalextric it seems like a bit of an own goal.
67: On Film
Here’s a short film from 67 (with Italian commentary) that so wonderfully captures the drivers, all dressed in white race overalls, waiting, in the long moment of quiet tension that precedes the cacophony and chaos of the famous Le Mans start: