Weighing up the evidence

After donkey’s years of squirrelling material away it sometimes comes as a real surprise to unearth something quite forgotten. This happened when I found the Fiches des Characteristiques de la Voiture for the Le Mans 24-Hour races of 1965 and ’66. Ooh, I thought, this might put some cats amongst the pigeons with chassis numbers recorded at the time by the scrutineers.

Wrong. While there’s a double-sided Fiche document for each car, completed with manufacturer, type, horsepower (taxation) class, then fairly comprehensive specifications of engine, carburation, electrics, transmission, brakes, suspension, wheels, bodywork, tank capacities, weight and in most cases drivers’ names, there is no slot at all provided for a chassis serial.

There is, however, one for the engine number. And in the case of the Ferraris, in which, when new at least, the engine number matched the chassis number, it is possible to identify chassis identity from this Fiche Numero de Moteur.

Sifting through this material, then, one finds all kinds of truly anorak detail. The winning Ford GT of 1966 with Puissance Fiscale of 475CV (horsepower) is recorded as having been powered by 6981.64cc engine number ‘A316-41’. It’s also illuminating to see that its clutch is described as a ‘Long-Bong-And-Beck’ – which might reasonably be assumed to mean Borg & Beck – while its scrutineered weight was 1211kg, distributed 509kg front and 700kg rear.

The controversially second-placed 7-litre Ford Mark II of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme was equipped with engine number ‘AX316-148’ and it scaled 1272kg, distributed 517/699 front/rear. In third place was the Ford GT Mark II of Ronnie Bucknum/Dick Hutcherson; engine No ‘AXJ16-143’ (well, that’s what the French typist entered), which scaled 1245kg, distributed 537/712 front/rear.

Those with an enquiring mind will quickly spot that front/rear weights do not total the overall weight recorded. The winning car’s all-up weight from its declared distribution should be 1209kg, not 1211. The second-placed car’s recorded front/rear figures total 1216kg, not the entered 1272. And the third-placed car’s aggregate should be 1249kg, not 1245.

Why should these simple figures not tally? You’d better ask the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, but it just shows that even official contemporary documentation cannot be swallowed without question. Interestingly, the Chaparral-Chevrolet 2D in this same file – engine number ‘43’ – weighed in at a mere 370kg front and 423kg rear – 892kg according to the ACO but only 793 if you simply add the front and rear figures. But even the ACO’s peculiar total demonstrates how ‘The Plastic Fantastic’ undercut the approximate weight of the Ford GT Mark IIs by a whopping 300kg – more than 660lb!

Moving on again to the Ferrari 365P2 entered by Maranello Concessionaires, we have engine number ‘0826’, recognisable within the Ferrari system as the car’s well-known chassis serial, and its front/rear weights are given as 408 and 617kg (a total of 1029kg) but really one presumes 1025kg – heavier than the Chaparral 2D but lighter than the 7-litre Fords. The sister Ecurie Francorchamps P2 ‘0828’ scaled 416/624kg – 1044 officially, 1040 by simple addition.

So with furrowed brow I turn another leaf to find that the SEFAC Ferrari works 330P3s – ‘0848’ for John Surtees/Michael Parkes (racing licence numbers, incidentally, ‘52’ and ‘2.715’) with 3977cc V12 engine weighed in at 415/572kg, just 989kg – 987 by my (always suspect) mathematics. The sister works P3 ‘0844’ for Lorenzo Bandini/Jean Guichet (licence numbers an impressive Italian ‘1’ and French authority ‘592’) passed the pésage at 407/570 – 981kg officially, but only 977, it appears. The NART Ferrari 330P3 ‘0846’ co-driven by Pedro Rodriguez/Richie Ginther (licences engagingly recorded as ‘543’ and ‘?’) turned the scales at 408/564 – a total 974kg according to officialdom, 972kg by simple addition.

Interestingly, down amongst the tiddlers, one finds Jean-Louis Marnat’s 1287cc BMC-engined Mini Marcos – engine number ‘40.972’ – weighed in at 387kg front, 238 rear – for an official total of 628kg while actually totalling 635kg…

Historians are meant to weigh the evidence and produce accurate history. In these pages the Bod and Jenks often bleated “Pity the poor historian”. This is certainly true of the ACO’s official scrutineering Fiches, 1966…