While the 1953 Carrera Panamericana regulations demanded the fitting of seat belts in closed cars, such devices remained a source of contention well into the 1960s. Some early American racers found that a lap strap was a good idea to keep them in their seats as their speedway cars jounced and pounded around the high-banked board tracks, and at Brooklands we have movie of Prince ‘Bira’ drawing up in the paddock and unknotting the length of rope tied around his seat and waist before alighting from his Maserati 8CM.
It’s quite easy to mistake body belts which were worn effectively just to brace one’s midships against the bumps and jolts with some form of lap strap when a photo just catches one edge of the device. When Cunningham ran its fabulously brutal-looking Cunningham C4RK at Le Mans in 1952-53 it was fitted with what was apparently a military surplus fighter ‘plane lap strap. It’s made of strong, thick webbing about four inches wide with a massive metal toggle catch and lever for quick release. This device would have been virtually identical, I am sure, to those fitted in the vast majority of contemporary Indy cars. But still racing drivers commonly preferred the notion of being thrown clear of a crashing car rather than being caught and crushed beneath it, or – worse – being strapped into it after the thing had caught fire.
But seat belts were progressively becoming accepted even by the hardest of road racing nuts. Here’s a photograph of Innes Ireland – yes, happy-go-lucky, hard-driving, hard-drinking Innes – sitting in the Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 250GTO/64 on the pitlane at Le Mans in 1964, and as you can see he’s wearing a full modern-style harness, 46 years ago. The previous year his friend and rival Roy Salvadori had been forcibly ejected from his crashing Cunningham Lightweight E-type through the rear window on the Mulsanne Straight. Dear old Innes was all for one-upmanship, “…but only in the right place, Boy”. Here he plainly did not intend to be separated from Col Ronnie Hoare’s Ferrari – and was wearing the assurance to stay in it. Co-driving with Tony Maggs everything turned out fine – they finished sixth.