My greatest race: Cliff Allison

Argentine GP & 1000Km, January 1960

He didn’t know it at the time, but Cliff Allison’s career was about to come to an abrupt halt. How fitting, he says, that an early season trip to Argentina should result in his greatest ever drives.

The greatest race of my career was not really one event but a whole weekend. It came early in 1960 when I was driving for Ferrari. Funnily enough, it was the last championship Grand Prix I ever did because I then had the accident in practice at Monaco which finished my career. But we were entered in two races in Argentina because supporting the Grand Prix was the 1000 kilometre sportscar race.

I was very lucky that I’d joined Ferrari in this period because the Testa Rossa in sportscars and. the Dino in Formula One were such great cars. The Testa Rossa in particular was fantastic; I drove it again at Spa in 1992 and it just confirmed how terrific it was.

I remember it was quite a trek getting over there. I got a Comet from Heathrow which went to Dakar, then Rasif, then Buenos Aires. Ferrari paid for the hotels but we had to pay our own air fare. The prize and start money was split 50/50 between the team and driver and that was usually plenty to cover the travel. It certainly was on this trip…

But by the time I got to the track to practice the sportscar which I was sharing with Phil Hill I’d picked up a ‘flu bug which I couldn’t shake off. Now, Froilan Gonzalez was sitting in the wings waiting to take my place so I was quite determined I was going to do the race, especially as I knew we had a good chance of winning. Anyway, Nino Vaccarella said “take one of these” and gave me a pill. I don’t know what it was but it certainly put me right.

In the race Phil did the first stint. Dan Gurney’s birdcage Maserati led for a time but then fell out and that left us with a bit of a lead over the other Ferrari which was shared by Richie Ginther and Taffy von Trips. As I changed over with Phil, he said, “we have no third gear,” but it was a five-speed ‘box and had such close ratios that it didn’t matter much if you missed third out.

It was all going quite nicely but there was this part of the track that went down one side of a dual carriageway, turned round and went back up the other side. So you could soon tell if anyone was catching you. I noticed that suddenly Taffy was beginning to close and at the same time I began to get the `slow down’ signal from the pits. Now Taffy was a marvellous man, we were good friends, but he was a bit of a desperado of a driver and I didn’t want him getting too close. I began to think that probably he and Tavoni the team manager had made some arrangement for Taffy to win. So I speeded up.

Eventually Tavoni must have realised I wasn’t going to play and fortunately he slowed Taffy back down. From then on it was straightforward, it was easy. At the end I felt like! could’ve done it again.

Then came the Grand Prix. The writing was already on the wall for the front-engined cars like ours and the Coopers and Innes Ireland in the new mid-engined Lotus were all very fast. But our car still felt quite good round there and I shared the second row with the other Dinos of Phil and Taffy.

I decided that I was going to run right through without a pit stop, I felt that was the way to go. Now Dunlop had two tyres out there – one with 5mm tread for those making a pit stop and one with a 7mm tread if you were going non-stop. Just before the race Dunlop’s Vic Barlow said, “Oh Cliff, we’ve put the wrong tyres on your car.” They had me on the 5mm treads but I had full tanks. So I said, “How will I know when they’re worn out?” and he told me a white strip would appear on one side, then the other side and when a third strip appeared between them it meant they were totally bald.

I just bided my time in the early laps. I think I was about fourth or so. Moss’ Cooper and Bonnier’s BRM were leading but they both fell by the wayside and eventually it was just Bruce McLaren’s Cooper and me. I was catching him, but all the time I’m worrying about my tyres and just pushing as hard as I dare. I’d got to within six seconds of him with 10 laps to go but by then all the white strips were showing and I had a little struggle with myself whether to throw caution to the wind or just back off and make sure I held on to second. Well, I backed off and settled for second, well ahead of the other Ferraris.

It was the best result I ever took in a Grand Prix, though I felt I could have won the previous year in America if my clutch hadn’t failed. Anyway, I was quite pleased with Argentina, a win in the sportscar race and a second in the Grand Prix. But when we got back and had the normal post-race resume at Maranello, the Old Man wasn’t very happy.

Now, I had a very good relationship with him. He even used to take me round with him in his own car and we’d go for great long three-hour meals. But I’d been very pally with Peter Collins and I knew just what pressure the Old Man had put on him. I’m sure it was this that caused Peter’s fatal accident at the Nurburgring. He’d only just won the British GP, yet still he kept on at him. I never could reckon that. Now here he was saying that I should’ve gone guts for garters for the win in Argentina. But it wasn’t his neck on the line…