Final hurrah for front-engined GP car

The upcoming 2010 racing season marks the 50th anniversary of the front-engined Grand Prix racing car’s frontline demise. That’s right, it was back in 1960 that the rear-engined Coopers, Lotuses and BRMs finally punted traditional front-engined configuration into the weeds, and drivers were left ahead of the engine, arriving first – more rapidly than ever before – at the scene of the accident.

But while recalling that 1960 landmark don’t go away with the impression that once the rear-engined road racers began winning, front-engined success was just switched off like a light. Consider the front-engined Ferrari Dino V6, which of course proved quick enough – when driven by Phil Hill – to qualify on the front row for the French Grand Prix at Reims and the Belgian at Spa. The cars finished 1-2-3 in the Italian GP at Monza, but none of the leading rear-engined British teams was there – boycotting the race because it used the banked speedway section.

However, the cream of rear-engined teams had also been defeated in another event in which the factory Ferrari V6 excelled. That was the F2 Syracuse GP in Sicily on March 19, 1960, in which ‘Taffy’ von Trips opened the European international road racing season with what proved to be the category’s last front-engined win. Stirling Moss had led for 26 laps in a podgy Porsche 718 entered by Rob Walker. His engine failed, leaving von Trips to inherit a lead that he maintained comfortably to the finish in Ferrari’s delightful 1500cc Dino 156. He led home the rear-engined Coopers driven by Maurice Trintignant and Olivier Gendebien, with Innes Ireland’s delayed new rear-engined Lotus 18 fourth.

Journalist Martyn Watkins reported: “Only von Trips and Trintignant completed the full 56 laps, and at the finish the Ferrari was mobbed by the Italian press photographers. The scene was absolutely indescribable, both car and driver disappearing under a great mass of humanity. When the noise died down the Ferrari had huge dents in its nose and bonnet from the stampeding Italians, while the competition number on the nose was clearly marked with footprints!” Remember them? The days when we Brits regarded such unrestrained jubilation as something only to be shown by foreigners…