In recent weeks I have spent much time trying to re-address research upon a very important group of racing cars. There comes a point, after reviewing literally hundreds of photographs and thousands of written words in contemporary race reports and internal team documents, that a chilling realisation dawns. No matter how thoroughly one might feel that 1970s or ’80s research was done, in reality the more one thought one knew, the less one became inclined to continue crosschecking, and so the bigger the historical cock-up committed to print. The demon, as ever, lies in the unnoticed detail.
I had been seeking a photograph of a burned-out wreck affer a racing accident. Surely somebody must have taken one. After two months of energetic hunting, I am now not so sure. Eventually I asked the driver concerned if he’d ever seen a photo of the aftermath.
“Nope,” came the crisp answer, and I can assure you, I was in no mood to take one at the time.”
Certainly some race-accident fires used to leave very little to take home. In continental European races, affer accidents in which the driver was thrown out, or had scrambled clear, race marshals and bystanders quite commonly stood by to enjoy the bonfire 20 to 30 minutes could pass before a fire went out simply because nothing remained to burn. One classic photo (above) shows how much even an ‘iron’ competition car could be consumed. It records the scene at Oporto in Portugal 1953, affer Australian owner-driver Tony Gaze had crashed his Aston Martin DB3, I believe chassis 9’it was pretty well used up.
In contrast, another quite celebrated sports car fire springs to mind: Richard Attwood’s at Le Mans in 1964 (below), when he was driving one of the Ford Advanced Vehicles team Ford GT prototypes chassis 104’and it ignited near Mulsanne. Plenty of the Ford survived for salvage, but few would settle for that affer retirement from a major race.