Middle-aged but still game

Forty-two years ago the fourth string to Col Hoare’s Le Mans bow carried off an unexpected trophy – and is still flying his colours

I will admit it – bawling around the Adelaide Hills in the ex-Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 275GTB/C is not altogether disagreeable. While so involved back in mid-November, the view forward over that rosso corsa nose with its bright Cambridge-blue centre stripe took my mind back to Le Mans 1966, when this old lady won what Mr Ferrari always regarded as the all-important GT Category, co-driven by the young Formula 3 stars Roy Pike and Piers Courage.

That race began inauspiciously for the Maranello Concessionaires team, as its patrician patron Colonel Ronnie Hoare once told me: “Michael Salmon and David Hobbs were to drive our little Dino, only for its transmission to fail after barely an hour. Richard Attwood took the start in our P2/3 but almost immediately it began to overheat and was soon out with water pump failure, before David Piper had even driven it. We had also entered a Ford GT40 under the name of my English dealership and I had engaged Innes Ireland and the Austrian Jochen Rindt to drive it.

“Against all orders Jochen had driven like a maniac from the start and then went missing. He eventually walked in and I said ‘I suppose you shunted it?’ and he said ‘No, actually I was accelerating down the straight when there was a tremendous bang in the back and a lot of smoke, and I stopped, got out and opened the engine cover… and there was nothing in there!’

“What had been a sealed works-prepared Detroit engine had disintegrated in the biggest blow-up we had ever seen…”

The Colonel’s teams deserved some consolation, and their brand-new GTB/C – ‘9035 GT’ – provided it, despite repeatedly breaking spokes in its Borrani wire wheels. Ending the 18th hour on the Sunday morning the red-and-blue Ferrari lay ninth overall. Maranello’s chief mechanic Ivan Bishop recalled: “It was about 1.30pm, two and a half hours to go, and Roy Pike came in complaining of a noise from the rear. We hadn’t long changed the Borrani wheels for our last spare set, but sure enough a spoke had broken. No new wheels in the pit. Then Florini…” – Gaetano Florini, Ferrari’s customer rep from Modena Assistenza – “…said ‘I’ll get you a wheel’ and he rushed off, came back and threw me one. Somehow it just wouldn’t go on right but an Italian mechanic behind me bawled ‘Lock it on – it’ll do!’. I saw his brown overalls, a works mechanic, must know what he’s talking about, so I spun-up the hub-nut, they let down the jack and off he went.

“You stand there, looking at your watch, expecting your driver back round in about four minutes; the time came, and passed… no GTB. I’m thinking ‘My God, I didn’t do it up right, the wheel’s come off’ when a haze of smoke appears in the pitlane. ‘He’s coming in!’ shouts the Colonel and Roy smokes to a stop saying ‘I’ve got no brakes, the pedal’s going to the floor’.

“Florini had accidentally given me a 250LM wheel with the wrong offset and when I felt it wasn’t quite on right, its inner ledge had been butting up against a brake pipe and it had chewed clean through and let all the brake fluid out.

“It was all red hot and vaporising fluid but I took the bridge pipe right off so there would be no fluid at all going to the outer piston in the caliper, took the bleed nipple out and screwed it back on the inside so by bleeding and bleeding again we got pressure in the system and they could press on with only the inner piston working. After five minutes we couldn’t get the pedal any harder, warned him not to press too hard or he’d warp the disc and off he went, and they finished…”

In fact Roy and Piers didn’t only finish, they placed eighth overall and won the GT Category, having averaged 109.064mph for the 24 hours, with ‘9035’ being timed at 158.56mph on the Muldoon. I’m happy to report that the lightweight, alloy-bodied, three-carburettor old lady is still up for it, 42 long years later.