How Motor Sport reported what many regard as the endurance classic’s apotheosis
After the usual problems arising from scrutineering, such as insufficient rear vision in the mirrors on the Fords, too much petrol in the tanks of the Lolas, bodywork too narrow about the wheels on the Mirage, windscreen too shallow on the Marcos, all the competitors tackled practice on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, lap times deciding the order of lining up for the classic start. Phil Hill set the ball rolling in a big way with the Chaparral on both evenings, recording 3min 27.4sec on the first night and 3min 24.7sec on the second with no bother at all. It was not until after dark on Thursday that McLaren beat the Chaparral with 3min 24.4sec – 147mph average (in the dark). The other Fords could not match this and the Ferraris were a long way away. Practice was not without trouble as the Mark IV Fords were suffering broken windscreens and there was a lot of high-pressure panic between Corning Glass in Detroit and Le Mans. Ferrari had a lot of work to do when a slow car moved out in front of Klass and he crashed number 19 330 P4, but it was all repaired in time for the race. Conditions were very good when 54 cars lined up for the start, the 55th being ruled out at the last moment as it was found that it had not done sufficient laps to qualify, this being a GTB Ferrari in the GT class.
4pm Although Rodríguez is first to move, Bucknum shot off into the lead in a Mark II Ford. Gardner pursued him until he lost a balance weight and stopped for a wheel change, leaving Gurney and McLaren in pursuit. Hulme has been delayed at the pits with a sticking throttle. Surtees retires the Lola-Aston Martin after three laps!
5pm Bucknum still leads. Spence has carved his way through from 13th to fourth in the Chaparral. The first Ferrari was sixth and then the Fords needed fuel, which let the Chaparral into the lead. Bianchi had collected a stone through the windscreen of his Ford and the leaders were lapping at well under 3min 30sec. Salmon’s GT40 caught fire after refuelling, when braking for Mulsanne. Bucknum had a water joint split, stopped for welding. Gurney leads. Hulme has lap record at 3min 23.6sec but was to go even faster. Bucknum had to creep round without water, after repair job. Hawkins takes over. Hulme lost time in the pits after an excursion into the sand.
6pm Both Mirages have been in the pits with engine trouble. The Fords are running for little over an hour on a tankful. The Gurney/Foyt Ford leads from the Hill/Spence Chaparral, Bianchi/Andretti and McLaren/Donohue, then three P4 Ferraris.
7pm I go to Mulsanne corner. Foyt is in the leading car and cornering well. Rindt and Siffert in the 907 Porsches look as if they are in a GP and are having fun. Hope Hanstein cannot see this. The leaders are still lapping at 3min 30sec and the Chaparral is pressing hard. The second Matra is out of the running as Jaussaud did not close the door properly at the start. It bent in the wind and will not stay shut.
8pm The Andretti Ford is second and pressing the leader. This is a Holman versus Shelby match and the pace is very fast. The Ruby/Hulme Ford is having trouble stopping and twice goes up escape road. Muller goes by in the P3/P4 with smoke pouring from engine. He does not return.
9pm The Fords are really racing among themselves and are leaving everyone behind.
10pm The Andretti Ford has been delayed by gearchange troubles, which drops it behind the Ferraris. In the pits everyone is groping in the dark or trying to see by 25 Watt bulbs! Amon tries to limp to pits on a flat tyre and it cuts fuel lines and sets car alight. Amon is OK.
11pm Due to pit stops Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari is briefly second. The second Chaparral is out with starter and battery trouble. The first has lost control of its ‘wing’ – it is staying in the braking position, losing 12-15mph off top speed. Race average is just under 140mph. Ruby has Ford in sand for good.
12pm A fine clear night but awfully cold. Gurney/Foyt lead by just on a lap from McLaren/Donohue, with Parkes/Scarfiotti just half a lap ahead of Andretti/Bianchi. Ford, Ford, Ferrari, Ford. The leading Porsche is now 10th; Rindt blew his engine up.
1am What a lot of important people have gone to bed! I always think about it but never do as there is too much going on. Gurney/Foyt now have a healthy lead, but McLaren/Donohue, Andretti/Bianchi and Parkes/Scarfiotti are all on same lap and not far apart.
2am There is no mist but it is cold. The race seems to have settled down, if you can call an average of 137mph in the dark ‘settled’. Now is the time to get some sleep, but something exciting is sure to happen. The NART Ferrari P3/P4 has gone out, covered in oil from the breathers, piston rings probably. The Bucknum/Hawkins Ford is having clutch slip.
3am All seems well, so now for a five-minute sleep in the Ferodo pit. Oh no! Yellow danger lights are flashing. Schlesser walks by explaining how there was nothing to do but to ram the bank with the Ford France Mark IV. Seems Andretti had a brake lock going into the Esses and crashed into the bank. McCluskey tried to avoid him and crashed into the opposite bank. Schlesser avoided both but crashed No 6. Fords all over the place. Everyone else tip-toes through the wreckage. No one hurt. McLaren in trouble at pits with clutch.
4am Gurney/Foyt are five laps ahead. Parkes/Scarfiotti second, the Chaparral third in spite of its fixed air brake. Dawn is breaking, and it’s still cold, but dry. Seem to be only 37 cars left running. The McLaren/Donohue Ford is having more clutch adjustment taken up.
5am Fried eggs and coffee made me feel better. Go to pits. Spence arrives in Chaparral with smoke pouring from everywhere and a foul smell. Jim Hall and mechanic get underneath, oil is running out of transmission. A seal has broken. They start work but it means dismantling the whole of the back of the car and removing the gearbox and torque converter. Only two mechanics allowed to do the job. Hall reckons two hours at least. Ronnie Hoare’s P3/P4 expires in a cloud of oil smoke, piston rings, like the other P3 Ferraris. The P4s are still running well.
6am The leading Ford is still five laps ahead. There is a Porsche up to sixth place now. The Chaparral is spread all over the pit area. Hope they remember where all the bits and pieces go.
7am The crowds are enormous. It is a fine day, but the cold wind is still blowing. Ford may be leading, but there are three healthy sounding Ferraris following and the remaining Fords are sick. Only nine hours of racing to run and the average is still around 137mph.
8am The little Austin Healey driven by Baker, which has been running regularly after some drama with its electrics, has a little accident and crumples its tail. It can still go on racing. Coffee with Goodyear this time.
9am After nearly three hours the Chaparral is back in the race, to great applause. It immediately laps at 3min 33sec and seems like new. There are 20 cars still running.
10am The leading Ford is easing off slightly and holding the pace of the Ferraris, who are virtually flat out. McLaren has the tail fly off his Ford and stops next time round to pick up the wreckage. The leading Ford has its joints taped up as a precaution at next fuel stop. The Chaparral retires. The transmission has broken, and after all that work. Ford mechanics are doing a marvellous repair job on the McLaren car, using leather belts and yards of masking tape to stick all the bits together. Klass walks in. His Ferrari’s injection pump drive has sheared.
11am There are only 16 cars running now. The Mk II of Hawkins/Bucknum has broken its engine. This is the worst time at Le Mans. Those people who have been to bed all night are just too cheerful.
12am The big red Ford sounds strong and Foyt and Gurney have made no mistakes. Even if the Ferraris could push harder the Ford could easily match their speed. Porsches are now fifth, sixth and seventh – one of these days they are going to win at Le Mans.
1pm It is now just a question of survival. Usually by this time the leading cars are cruising, but this lot are still hammering on at 3min 40 sec-3 min45sec. All speed and distance records are being broken in a big way.
2pm There are now merely routine stops for fuel and driver changes, but Scarfiotti is feeling sick so Parkes goes on and on in the second-place Ferrari. The McLaren/Donohue Ford looks odd with its patchwork quilt bodywork.
3pm The red Ford rumbles relentlessly on, with the two Ferraris screaming defiance. A group of Alpine-Renaults is as impressive as the Porsches for speed with reliability, and the battered Austin Healey is still running.
4pm Gurney and Foyt give Mr Ford a 100 per cent American victory at record speed. Ferraris finished second and third sounding as healthy as ever, but just did not have the speed to challenge the Fords. For the French crowd it was not a popular win – they made it clear that they would like to have seen a Ferrari victory.