We often write about the 1960s in the pages of Motor Sport, and here on the website too, and for good reason: the ’60s were a remarkable decade for motor racing. For one thing, there was an incredible, all-encompassing revolution in racing car design that transformed the sport but there was also a superb lineup of top drivers through, memorable figures who achieved a great deal, competing and winning races in a wide variety of categories. A few of them also founded their own teams and the long term impact and influence the great drivers of the ’60s had on the sport continue to this day.
As the decade began Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks were acknowledged as two of the world’s fastest, most respected racing drivers in Formula 1 and sports cars, but Brooks retired at the end of 1961 and Moss’s career came an end at Goodwood in the spring of 1962. Moss’s mantle was taken up by the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart but in many ways the definitive F1 driver of the ’60s was Jack Brabham.
‘Black Jack’ learned his trade on Australia’s dirt tracks and won the World Championship in 1959 and ’60 with Charles and John Cooper’s Climax-powered rear-engine cars. F1’s first rear-engine champion started building and racing his own cars in 1962 and Ron Tauranac-designed Brabhams proliferated through the ’60s and into the ’70s in F1, F2 and F3. The Brabham operation also provided Bernie Ecclestone with a launching pad to make himself the wealthiest and most powerful man in F1’s history while Tauranac went on to play a big role for many years in F2, F3, Atlantic and Super Vee with his line of Ralt single-seaters. And of course it was at Brabham that Ron Dennis got his start.
Jack’s teammate at Cooper in 1959, ’60 and ’61 was Bruce McLaren, another top driver who became a renowned car builder. Bruce was a natural leader of men who founded and built what would become one of the most successful racing car constructors in history, not only in F1 but in Can-Am and IndyCar racing too.
Of course, Jim Clark may well be the greatest of all the greats of the decade for his many achievements from 1960-’68 with Colin Chapman and Lotus in F1, Indycars, sports cars and touring cars. So too did Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart earn their places in F1’s pantheon with each of them going on to at least dabble at being team owners. Surtees and Stewart continue to play their own different distinctive and important roles in the sport today.
World Champion in 1961 with Ferrari was Phil Hill who led a brief flurry of Americans to make their mark on the world stage and also won Le Mans three times for Ferrari. Hill wound down his career in winning style a few years later with Jim Hall’s Chaparrals in Can-Am and long-distance sports car racing. Phil was also a first-rate vintage car restorer and journalist who wrote about the sport for many years in Road & Track.
The other great American F1 driver of the era was Dan Gurney who won races for Porsche and Brabham before building his own Eagle F1 and Indycars. Dan may not have won a World Championship but he was one of the fastest and most respected drivers of that era and went on to achieve tremendous success over many years as a team owner and car builder with his Eagle Indycars. Gurney also won at Le Mans and in Can-Am, IndyCar and NASCAR too. Into his 80s, Dan is still kicking – two years ago All American Racers built the prototype DeltaWing.
The ’60s gave us many other great drivers, including Chris Amon, Denny Hulme, Jochen Rindt, Jacky Ickx, Pedro Rodríguez and Jo Siffert, all of whom won many races in a wide variety of cars. Here in America, we had AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Bobby and Al Unser making their legendary marks in USAC plus Jim Hall and his Chaparrals and Mark Donohue in Roger Penske’s Can-Am, Indy and long-distance sports cars.
One of the things that made all these drivers so deeply memorable is that they raced regularly in different types of cars. They weren’t pampered, highly-paid superstars restricted by contract and culture to a single category or team. They raced every weekend in different cars because they loved the sport and also needed to earn a living. This very diversity gave these drivers a grand patina, sadly lacking in today’s specialised age, which has cast a very long, agreeable shadow sure to last for many years to come.