Guide To Historic Sports Racing Cars 1950-1970

Since 1923, when Charles Faroux organised the first Le Mans 24 Hours, it has been the principal aim of serious sports car manufacturers to both compete and win at the classic Sarthe circuit. Other events like the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio were almost, but not quite, of equal importance, but have fallen by the wayside — rightly or wrongly — as victims of hysterical human emotion. Le Mans, however, has survived — a triumph for common sense — and remains the greatest motor race on earth.

The other traditional venues on the sporting calendar — Nurburgring, Spa, Silverstone, Monza, Daytona et al — all have their charms, but none has the charisma or provides so much soulsearching as the French 24 Hours. Those who have competed there have mixed feelings, Tony Brooks, for example, felt it was a pretty stupid venture from a driver’s point of view, while people like ‘Dinger’ Bell (a five-times winner) became seriously addicted.

And there are those who argue that the great cars which competed in the top sportscar races were built in an effort to improve our road cars.

Lessons learned by the big factories were certainly invaluable in improving our everyday ‘cookers’, but this wasn’t an intrinsic consideration — and still isn’t. Ferry Porsche likes the idea of competing at Le Mans in particular, because victory there helps to sell his road cars and it’s cheaper than advertising in the international press. But on this score Ferry speaks with slightly forked tongue; the truth is that he, like all the other manufacturers, has a deep love of beautiful sports that go like stink, which is why the quest for improvement — the endless search for more stink — goes on relentlessly.

What follows is an A-Z guide to just some of the great sporting cars created by fellow enthusiasts between 1950 and 1970, a great and truly golden period for the backbone of our sport. Characterised by a steep rise in technical innovation, these two decades are important for several reasons; with the vintage days well and truly over, the cars of the 1950s were altogether different. Top speeds climbed inexorably upwards, and chassis engineering and aerodynamics became better understood.

By the 1960s there was a radical switch in engine position, monocoque chassis became de rigeur as did fibre-glass bodywork. And it was also a period that produced some of the closest, most exciting battles ever seen in motor racing, the lckx/Hermann duel at Le Mans 1969 and Vic Elford’s heroic and energy-draining drive to victory on the 1968 Targa Florio to name but two.

Not all the cars featured here were great, and the Jaguar XJ13 never even made an appearance at a race track, but each one is important in some way or another, a testament to the brave men and women involved with them, without whose efforts the lives of motorsport fans would be considerably poorer.

A Grand Prix car may represent the pinnacle of motor sport — the motoring missile for the elite — but a car which can last for six, 12 or 24 hours at comparable average speeds is truly special. And, of course, the great sports car races have allowed complete amateurs to take part and enjoy what, throughout the course of this century, is and continues to be arguably the most exciting form of human activity.

Alfa Romeo T33 1967

With its 260bhp 2-litre V8, six-speed box, unconventional lightweight chassis and pretty aerodynamic body. Carlo Chiti’s first T33 should have been a success. Poor organisation within the team, appalling reliability problems and the tragic loss of drivers Jean Rolland and Leo Cella in a testing accident, all contributed to a season that all those concerned with this fledgling project would rather forget. Among the lowlights, though, there was one success victory in a minor race at Vallelunge.

T33/2 1968

Known as the Daytona after its debut at the American circuit, this was a development of the original with a sleeker body, and the option of a new 2.5-litre V8 producing 315bhp at 8000rpm. Galli and Giunti placed a 2-litre car second on the Targa Florio and the long-tailed versions managed fourth, fifth and sixth at Le Mans. A good season with a wonderful car which revived the Autodelta team’s spirits.

T33/3 1969

A new car with a conventional alloy monocoque, titanium suspension and a 90-degrees 3-litre fourcam V8 developing a screaming 396bhp at 9000rpm. There were open and coupe versions, and despite a win at the Osterreichring and second at Imola, it was another year of stereotypically Italian chaos.

Contractual problems saw number one driver John Surtees withdraw from the team early in the season, and Lucien Bianchi was killed in the long-tail car during the Le Mans test weekend. A fabulous Alfa just the same.

Alpine A-211 1967

With its Len Terry designed spaceframe chassis, double-wishbone suspension, strikingly slippery body and Gordini 3-litre V8 developing 295bhp — less than the 320bhp that was hoped — the A-211 showed great promise when it finished 7th at Montlhery in the Paris 1000km. This performance was sufficient to promote a feverish development programme over the winter in readiness for the 1968 season.

A-220 1968

The new car appeared at the Le Mans test suspension and larger brake discs. It debuted at Monza but retired allowing the old A-211 to finish third. Four cars appeared at Le Mans (held in September), but it was not a happy outing. Two cars crashed – one spectacularly in the Esses — and one retired, one lone de Cortanze/Vinntier car finishing 9th. A gallant Gallic effort just the same.

A-220 1969

A dismal year thanks to a comparative lack of engine power. The water radiators were moved from the flanks to the tail but otherwise the cars remained unaltered from 1968. The Depailler/ Jabouille car finished sixth at Monza, and all four cars retired at Le Mans — the last time that the glorious A-220 was seen in serious competition. Success proved elusive but it wasn’t for the want of trying. Alpine would return to the track, but not until 1974.

T33 1970

Revised bodywork, the driving services of Piers Courage and Rolt Stommelen and, by the Nurburgring 1000km, a much lighter car thanks to the extensive use of titanium in the engine and chassis. But the Alfas were no match for the Porsche 917 – nor was anything else, though – and Carlo’s boys floundered. All four cars failed to finish at Le Mans, Galli/de Adamich placed second at Imola and de Adamich/Pescarolo took second in the last race in Austria. A truly great car that lacked the success it deserved.

Aston Martin DB3/DB3S 1952

A pretty, open two-seater with the 2580cc in-line six developing 140bhp, torsion-bar springing, de Dion rear axle and five-speed box, the DB3 debuted at Dundrod where it was lying second before retirement. Success came with outright victory in the 1952 Goodwood Nine Hours and, fitted with the 2.9-litre engine, finished second at Sebring in 1953. With triple Webers and uprated to 180bhp with a close-ratio four-speed box in place of the DB3’s five-speeder, the DB3S was more successful, winning at Charterhall in Scotland straight out of the box. Further victories followed in the Isle of Man, Silverstone and again at Goodwood. There were numerous other wins too. A classic Aston racer: pity about the ugly radiator grille, though.

DBR1 1957

A wholly new car with a 12-plug head, dry-sump lubrication, triple Webers and 250bhp from the 2992cc in-line six which brought Aston Martin what had eluded the team thus far — victory at Le Mans. But David Brown had to wait until 1959, when Shelby/Salvadori scored a glorious win which this great company has never repeated. The DBR1 was arguably the best-looking sports Aston, and the most sucessful. After the Le Mans win David Brown retired from sports car racing, although a number of cars bearing his initials would return.

Astra (Costin-Nathan) 1966-1970

The work of Frank Costin and Roger Nathan, these interesting Imp-engined racers had a resin-bonded plywood monocoque with double-wishbone coil spring suspension and lightweight alloy (later glass-fibre) bodies. Five victories were scored in British events out of the box. A GT version was prepared for Le Mans 1967 but retired with electrical problems. BMW and Ford engines were fitted during 1967-68, and a new RNRI open-top car appeared in 1968 with a 2-litre Coventry-Climax engine, later substituted for a 1600 Cossie. Best result for Nathan was third at Nogaro, France and seventh in the Nurburgring 500km. This worthy effort fizzled out in 1970.

Bizzarrini P538 1966

A typically stunning cocktail from the versatile pen of Giotto Bizzarrini that was entered for the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours. A comparatively simple car with a strong spaceframe chassis, generously louvred open two-seater body and a Chevy V8 mounted amidships. It proved to be fast but retired ignominiously early in the race with a broken chassis frame. Three cars were built originally — one in coupe form, one with a Lamborghini V12 — but Bizzarrini was finding motor racing rather expensive and his dream of glory faded away.

Chaparral 2D 1966

Jim Hall’s strange but exciting-looking — gullwing doors and a large carburettor scoop atop the roof were novel — glass-fibre chassis car with the 5360cc V8 Chevy lump and automatic transmission, the 2D certainly brightened up the 1966 season. The cars entered for Daytona and Sebring failed to finish due to excessive gearbox oil consumption, but Bonnier/Phil Hill debuted the car in Europe with a fine win at the Nurburgring. Le Mans was not so clever with early retirement due to a faulty gearbox.

Chaparral 2F 1967

An even more dramatic car distinguished by its high, foot-operated rear aerofoil mounted on the suspension uprights. A 7-litre 575bhp Chevy engine was installed but the GM gearbox couldn’t handle its power and Jim Hall and Hap Sharp experienced a frustrating season. However, there was one brilliant highlight, Mike Spence and Phil Hill were entered for the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch and won it marginally from the Stewart/Amon Ferrari. It would be several years before anyone else was brave enough to use an auto-box in a racing car.

Chevron B8 1968-1969

One of the most beautiful sports racing cars ever built and, whether fitted with the BMW, Cossie FVA or Coventry-Climax engine, one of the most tantalisingly explosive machines of its era. Several raced in Britain and Africa during 1968, Brian Redman and Tim Schenken finishing fourth in the Kyalami 9 Hours. Redman improved to third overall behind a Mirage and Ferrari P4 in the Mozambique 3 Hours but, by the end of 1969, the B8 was a much more familiar sight throughout Europe. John Lepp won the RAC British Sports Car Championship in 1969, and Trevor Thwaites took the same title a year later. No modern historic event would be the same without a clutch of B8s.

B16 1969-1970

Fabulous styling, strong monocoque and a 1790cc 245bhp Cossie amidships, although BMW and Mazda rotary engines were also used. Debuted by Redman at the Nurburgring (with the 1.6-litre Ford motor), the likeable Yorkshireman put the new car on pole and went on to a comprehensive victory. Two cars retired at Le Mans 1970, but Redman had a marvellous season, winning at Paul Ricard and Spa (spider version), and took second at Anderstorp and Hockenheim. Chevron took the Group 5 Championship thanks to a superb car and the impeccable driving skills of Redman and Vic Elford.

Cooper Bobtail T39 Mark 2 1954

A seductive lively thing and so sneakily British. With its central seating position and the tail ‘Kammed’ for no other reason than that, according to John Cooper, “it wouldn’t fit in the truck otherwise the Bobtail was an archetypal Cooper product. Handling wasn’t up to much and the body hardly inspiring, but the Coventry-Climax engine was a known quantity and, among many others, Stirling Moss notched up minor wins with his. Not one of the great cars but super to see on historic grids today.

Cooper Monaco 1959

Take a successful Grand Prix car, widen the chassis frame, bolt on a token two-seater bodyshell and, hey presto, you’ve got a nimble sports car. Many have been down this path but Cooper were one of the first. The Monaco was purposeful, ugly and, with the 21k-litre Climax engine, extremely quick. Successful in a number of events, it wasn’t on a par with contemporary exotica, but Moss enjoyed it and clocked up successes.

Cobra Shelby 1963-1965

The hairiest of ‘hairy-chested’ sports cars and the brainchild of American Carroll Shelby. A beguiling two-seater which, in US-format, had a 7-litre ‘427’ V8, the Cobra was much modified for racing, and after inevitable teething problems had been eliminated became very successful despite housebrick aerodynamics. The Bolton/Sanderson car finished seventh at Le Mans 1963, but the coupe version appeared in 1964 and finished fourth at Daytona. Gurney and Bondurant also finished fourth at Le Mans and Gurney managed eighth on the Targa Florio in a regular open car. By the end of 1966 when there was some further success, it was all over for the front-engined dinosaurs. They had had their day, but it was a riot while it lasted.

Ferrari 166 1949-1950

Enzo’s second effort after the 125 and immediately successful, with splendid victories at Le Mans, Spa 24 Hours, Targa Florio/Tour of Sicily and the Mille Miglia — and you can’t say fairer than that. An intellectually sound motor car in all respects and beautiful to behold, particularly in Barchetta guise. A tediously brilliant sports racer, but never boring.

250 Sport/250MM 1953

Another sound design fitted with the 250bhp 3-litre V12 running on 36DCF Webers. A visually and aurally exciting machine, but modified front suspension, different carbs and a four-speed gearbox instead of the five-speeder were sufficiently serious revisions for Enzo to rename the car 250MM after Bracco’s inspired — some say insane — drive to victory in the Mille Miglia. Coupe bodies are better looking than Spiders but you’ll need a pot of gold to acquire either type today.

750 Monza 1954

An unusual break for Enzo from 12 cylinders to a big, lumpy 4-pot machine, but the Monza was none the worse for this and turned out to be highly successful, taking many victories. In its long career these included Marrakesh, Imola and the GP Supercortemaggiore, as well as the all-important World Manufacturers’ Championship in 1956.

250P 1963

The peak of the Scuderia’s ‘golden period’ when Enzo and Co couldn’t put a foot wrong — or was the opposition not trying hard enough? Ferraris filled the top six places in the season-opener at Sebring, the winning mid-engined three-litre V12 250P being driven by Surtees and Scarfiotti. “Big John” won again at the Nurburgring, and the Italian pair of Scarfiotti/Bandini cleaned up at Le Mans — a popular and well deserved victory for the ‘bloody red cars’.

275/330P 1964

Another year of frustration for Henry Ford, who still failed to see the funny side of Enzo’s little ‘stunt’ of sometime previously wherr the Commendatore led the American magnate into believing that the Prancing Horse was up for grabs. There was the 4-litre V12 for the 330 and a 3.3-litre for the 275. both with revised bodywork. Our own Mike Parkes took the 330 to victory at Sebring. Scarfiotti snatched victory at the Nurburgring in the 275, and Le Mans fell to Guichet and Vaccarella. Although he didn’t yet know it, Enzo’s days were numbered at the top — Henry had had quite enough.

Ford GT40 Mk1 and 2 1966-1967

Not the most sophisticated car of the decade but an effective weapon against prolonged domination by Maranello. Various specs run at the Le Mans test weekend, including 7-litre works cars and the Alan Mann-entered 4.7-litre V8s. Parkes/Scarfiotti took Spa in the P3 330 Ferrari, a Chaparral won at the Nurburgring, but Le Mans 1966 was the big one for Ford with the brutal boomers filling the top three places, the winning Amon/McLaren car leading the other two to the chequered flag in dutiful formation. That ‘Enry boy done well — at last.

330P4 1967

The last great mid-engined Ferrari big banger’ and by far the most beautiful, before a rather inevitable decline in fortunes. Under the skin was a new 4-litre V12 with 450bhp on tap, sufficient for the P4 to fill the first three places at Daytona — an encouraging start to the season. But Ford took Le Mans for the second year in succession, Porsche took the Targa Florio and, most ignominious of all, Jim Hall’s Chaparral won at Brands. Ferrari, however, got the Constructors’ Championship by one precious point.

512S 1970

Almost, but not quite, the dismal lemon that many perceived this aerodynamically flawed car to be but, by this time, Porsche were showing everyone with a little help from John Wyer — what it really meant to go motor racing. And the 512’s 5-litre V12 wasn’t enough to cope with the 917 onslaught. Watch a 512S in action today, though (an opportunity that doesn’t arise too often), and the sound alone is guaranteed to make the hairs stand up everywhere north of the nape of your neck.

Ford MkIV 1967

For the most part Ford had a disappointing season except for Le Mans, where the performance of the Gurney/Foyt 7-litre MkIV sporting much revised bodywork proved all-conquering. Seven 7-litres were entered and the opposition was from Ferrari. Such was the speed of the winning car down Mulsanne — 247mph — that one of the works Porsche drivers was moved to remark that he thought he was really flying until Gurney overtook him with the brake lights on. Is there anything else to be said?

Ford P68 F3L 1968

Intended to take over from where Ford America left off, the Alan Mann P68 was a handsome, shapely car with a superb, aerodynamically efficient body clothing a 3-litre Cosworth DFV. One car debuted at Hockenheim driven by Spence/Rindt, the McLaren/Hulme car having broken in practice. The new Ford proved fast but fragile in this and subsequent races. A revised version — the P69 — appeared the following year with an open cockpit and ran in the BOAC 500 at Brands where it retired shortly after the start; it was never raced again.

Ford GT40 1968-1969

By 1968 the GT40 was getting long in the tooth, John Wyer ran a team in Gulf colours while awaiting the BRM-engined Mirage project to come to fruition. Ickx and Redman won the opening round at Brands; in other events it was outclassed by the Porsches, but Spa and Watkins Glen fell unexpectedly to the Gulf Fords thanks to fine preparation by Wyer and spirited driving, The biggest surprise was another win at Le Mans for the Rodriguez/Bianchi car which, by this time, was developing a comparatively feeble 415bhp. The 1969 season was even more amazing; lckx/Oliver won the opening round at Sebring and, despite overwhelming opposition from Stuttgart, the Ickx/Oliver car won Le Mans — in the same car that had won it in 1968 — by a whisker (Just over 100 yrds) from Hermann’s 908. This was a breathtaking performance from Jacky Ickx in one of the closest Le Mans finishes ever.

Ginetta G16 1968

As the G12 of the previous year was uncompetitive against the Chevrons, the pretty open G16 fitted with BMW or Coventry-Climax power appeared in 1968 but was not successful. This was superseded by the revised G16A for 1969: this had wider wheels, a smaller windscreen, altered spring rates and the BRM V8 2litre. Ginetta was one of the great special builders, but success proved ever elusive and, although there was an appearance at the Brands BOAC 500 in 1969, the Ian Tee-entered car eventually retired with an oil leak.

Healey XR37 1970

The culmination of Healey’s sports car efforts in the 1960s was an interesting prototype with a shapely spider body and a 3-litre Repco engine pushing out 322bhp at 8500rpm. At Le Mans it was driven by Andew Hedges and Roger Enever, but tangled with another car early in the race and was delayed in the pits having its nosecone straightened. A brave effort that gave the Brits something to cheer among the Ferraris and Porsches.

Howmet 1968

One of the most extraordinary racers ever, the Howmet was based on a spaceframe chassis fitted with a two-stage gas turbine engine producing 330bhp at 6789rpm. The alloy coupe body was distinguished by a large roof-mounted engine air intake. An experimental vehicle, it debuted at Daytona but retired.

Same story a Sebring and Brands Hatch, but third place at Watkins Glen showed what potential it had. Le Mans also proved unfruitful, one car retiring with mechanical problems, the other being eliminated in an accident.

Jaguar C-Type 1951-1954

The immortal glamour car of the early 1950s, with two Le Mans victories (1951 and 1953) to its credit and countless other wins besides. The reliability and power — up to 220bhp by 1953 — of the twin-cam 3.4-litre six, but so did innovative Dunlop disc brakes and a superb aerodynamic body. The performance of these cars, particularly in the hands of the Herefordshire farmer Peter Walker will remain completely unforgettable. What more can one say about the C-Type?

D Type 1954-1957

The C-Type was superseded by the even more beautiful D-Type which, with the 245-275bhp 3.4-litre engine, notched up another three Le Mans wins between 1955 and 1957. The works withdrew from racing in 1955, thereafter handing the running of these cars over to Ecurie Ecosse. The 1955 long-nose cars with the full wrap-round windscreen were capable of 180mph down the Mulsanne straight — no mean feat at a time when the average family saloon struggled past 65mph. Is this the most coveted ’50s sports racer?

Lightweight E-Type 1962-1964

The sensational E-Type clothed and immortalised in a low-drag aluminium-alloy body, and fitted with the classic 3.8-litre six in various states of tune varying between 290-344bhp, the Lindner/Nocker car being generally the most powerful. Several campaigned throughout 1963 and 1964 but, despite a ninth at Le Mans 1963 (Briggs Cunningham car), the Lightweights were most notably used in British events. Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori finished first and second in the 1963 Daily Express meeting at Silverstone. Not a great competition car, but featured here because it’s British.

Lister Jaguar 1957

The brainchild of Brian Lister’s Cambridge-based outfit, the ‘Knobbly’ first appeared in 1957 and Archie Scott-Brown scored a number of successes in British events throughout the season. Archie was tragically killed at Spa in 1958. For 1959 the Lister appeared with a new Costin-designed aerodynamically correct body. By this time both Jaguar and Chevrolet engines were being used. Regrettably the cars were unreliable and no match for the lighter Lotuses and Coopers. The team broke up in 1959 after Lister works driver Ivor Bueb was killed in an F2 race in France.

XJ13 1965

The truly fabulous 5-litre mid-engined V12 screamer which never raced, and a project for which Bill Lyons had little enthusiasm. Worthy of a place here because of its magnificent presence, poise and beauty. It was hoped that the car would run at Le Mans, but it lacked development, was unstable at high speed and there was one small hitch — Norman Dewis somersaulted it at MIRA while testing. The car was rebuilt and is kept today by Jaguar as a reminder of what might have been…

Lancia D24 1954

Another in a long line of interesting cars from the esteemed Italian manufacturer, the wickedly attractive deep red open two-seater sported a powerful 3.3-litre V6 engine belching out a maximum 265bhp at 7000rpm, which Alberto Ascari used — without a passenger/navigator — to win the 1954 Mille Miglia. It was a fine victory and others, including the Targa Florio, Circuit of Sicily and the Oporto GP were added to Lancia’s spoils before the season was out. Another really great car, but unfortunately short-lived.

Lola Mk6 GT 1963

Eric Broadley was sufficiently gifted to turn his hand to building cars for any formula, the GT Mk6 was the most ambitious of his early sports cars. Based on a monocoque chassis clothed in a pleasing coupe body, there was a 4.2-litre Ford V8 planted amidships producing 260bhp at 6500rpm. A loose wheel caused retirement at the Nurburgring: two cars were entered for Le Mans but only one (a 4.7-litre) started. It crashed early on Sunday morning, but this is a historically important car as it formed the basis for the design of the Ford GT40.

Lola T70 1967-1970

Never as successful as the GT40, but the T70 was one of the most dramatic, powerful and charismatic cars of the late 1960s. With its gullwing doors, the shapely body was a piece of fine art, the Chevrolet 5,7-litre V8 a barking battleground. Surtees ran the 5064cc Aston-engined car. Successes were few and far between despite modifications and improvements over ensuing seasons. Highlight of 1969 was victory for Mark Donohue in the Penske-prepared car at Daytona. A number of minor victories followed, but the season was marred by the death of Paul Hawkins in a T70 at OuIton Park. By 1970 the Lola was uncompetitive, a few examples scoring minor successes in private hands.

Lotus VI 1953-1956

The start of a long and colourful racing career for Colin Chapman. A crude but fine handling machine, the MkVI was a ‘clubbie’ special sold in kit form, and ripe for impecunious privateers. Just 100 produced all told, with a variety of Ford and MG engines, this car inspired much greater things for the future and is historically important for this reason.

Lotus XI 1956-1960

A far cry from the VI. Chapman introduced sophistication with a Coventry-Climax engine (or Ford in Club form) for Le Mans and a beautiful, low alloy body with partially enclosed front and rear wheels. A lively, if at times temperamental, car, these little Lotuses were real gems and indicative of Chapman’s engineering philosophy. In 744cc guise an XI won the Index of Performance at the Sarthe in 1957.

Lotus 23 1962-1966

Based on the multi-tubular spaceframe FJ 22 single-seater with a glass-fibre body, the Lotus 23 demonstrated its superiority when Jimmy Clark debuted the 1 1/2-litre 4-cylinder car at the Nurburgring against more powerful opposition from Ferrari and Porsche. At the end of lap one, Jim was 28sec ahead, and over 2min in front when everything started to fall apart in traditional Lotus style.

Great while it lasted, though. Developed into the 23B with the 1558cc `twink’ for 1963 and just went on winning — enough said.

Maserati 300S 1955-1958

A worthy successor to the A6GCS, the 3-litre 300S was similar in spec to the 250F GP car, but had a capacity of 2993cc and maximum power of 250bhp at 6500rpm. The chassis frame was also similar to the 250’s, and drivers liked the car for its fine handling and traction. First victory was the Bari GP with Jean Behra driving: he scored again at Monza but at Le Mans both entries retired Behra, however, won again at Oporto. A beautiful Maserati which would give any contemporary Ferrari a run for its money. The later 450S, although more powerful, was nowhere near as successful.

Maserati Birdcage Tipo 60/61 1959 – 1961

Nicknamed after its hideously complex spacetrame chassis, the famous Birdcage redefined ugliness according to some, but proved to be one of the most efficient and inexpensive Italian racing cars of its era — several components were from the redundant 250F/300S parts bin. The original 4-cylinder 2-litre engine gave 195bhp at 7800rpm and Stirling gave the T60 a maiden victory at Rouen against strong opposition from Lotus and Lola. A few weeks later it won the Pontedecimo-Giovi hilIclimb. A 240bhp 2.8-litre version — Tipo 61 — proved fast but delicate, but won at Riverside, Laguna Seca, Palm Springs and the Nurburgring. Three of the ‘silly windscreen cars appeared at Le Mans. The Birdcage had an erratic career but is fondly remembered for its blinding speed.

McLaren M8 1968

The omnipotent, ground-shaking Can-AM car that dominated this series until the end of 1972 with a total of’ 37 race wins to its credit, and featured here for that reason. A formidable cocktail by any standards the M8 was developed over its career to include V8 Chevy engines ranging from 7 to 8.1litres with up to 740bhp on tap. The chassis was a rivetted and bonded alloy monocoque clothed in a sensationally clean body always painted in an uncompromising shade of orange. Poor Bruce tragically lost his life at Goodwood, but his cars lived on to finish the job he’d started some years before. The M8 was one of the greatest-ever sports racers; do not miss the opportunity to see them at historic events today.

Matra M630 1967

After an unfruitful season with the first prototype, Matra went to the 1967 Le Mans test weekend with a new 2-litre BRM engined car, a Ford 4 7-litre V8 version also appeared but its driver, Roby Weber, was killed in it during practice. A conventional chassis with an unusual coupe body, the M630 was entered for Le Mans in short-tail form, both cars retired. Very much a learning season, the highlight was Beltoise’s victory at Magny-Cours.

Matra M630 1968

Revised bodywork and fitted with the glorious. screaming 390bhp GP V12, the M630 only appeared in three races throughout the season -Spa, Le Mans and Montlhery — but failed to finish in each after myriad problems. Not a great success, but the exhaust note and odd-looking body certainly brightened up the Ford/Porsche dominated racing scene.

Matra MS630/650 1969

These were built with open bodywork — a new MS640 coupe appeared but was crashed inexplicably by Pescarolo in a testing accident. The MS650 replaced it and had a revised tubular chassis and F1 style suspension. They were entered for Le Mans in long-tail form alongside lhe short-tail MS630/650. Beltoise/Courage brought an open car home in fourth place, which was a great achievement especially as the car had been built in such a short period. At Montlhery Beltoise/Pescarolo brought a 650 home first and Rodriguez/Redman finished second in a MS630/650. The 1970 Matra season is best forgotten.

Mercedes-Benz 300SLR 1954-1955

Read Jenks’s report in MOTOR SPORT about his record-breaking run with Stirling in the 1955 Mille Miglia, which of course they won, and it will tell you more about the brilliant 300SLR than any literature published by Daimler-Benz, or anyone else for that matter. The 300SLR was the most fabulous machine that won everything in 1955, except Le Mans when the infamous crash resulted in the death of works driver Pierre Levegh and over 80 spectators. What a shame that Mercs withdrew from racing at the end of this season.

Mercedes-Benz 300SL Coupe 1952

Alfred Neubauer headed a delegation which travelled to Le Mans in 1951 to watch a Jaguar win. His reported his findings back to Stuttgart, which resulted in the production of the new 300SL Gullwing coupe for 1952. With its 3-litre six-cylinder engine and slippery ‘no-frills’ body, it was devastatingly successful, winning the PanAmencana, Le Mans and sportscar races supporting the Swiss and German GPs. Nobody needed reminding that this was another demonstration of German efficiency, but Daimler-Benz pulled the plug on the project at the end of the season.

Mirage M2/300 1969

Wyer concentrated his efforts on the GT40 through 1968, but had the new 3-litre V12 BRM-engined prototype ready for 1969. A pretty car with neatly penned coupe bodywork and Gulf livery, it should have worked well but lacked ‘grunt’. A Cosworth DFV and 48-valve BRM power unit were fitted for the Nurburgring but both cars failed to finish. A lightweight Spider version appeared at Watkins Glen but retired, the brilliant Jacky Ickx scoring the only victory of the season in the non-championship Imola 500km. A miserable year, but Wyer’s fortunes would change in 1970 with the Porsche 917.

Mirage 1967

John Wyer’s modified GT40 with revised, sleeker bodywork and, by Monza, a full 5-litre V8 engine. Ickx/Thompson won the Spa 1000km with a Holman/Moody-tweaked 5.7-litre car, but this didn’t count towards the championship. There were further victories in the Paris 1000km at Montlhery and Kyalami 9 Hours, A great season with a memorable car, the light blue and orange Gulf livery remaining indelibly printed on the minds of all those who saw these cars.

Morgan Plus 4 Super Sports 1961

An oddball among this pack of supercars, but worthy of space because of Chris Lawrence’s magnificent performance at Le Mans in 1962 with TOK 258. After the usual mods to the TR4 engine including the fitment of a brace of Webers, power grew to a comparatively feeble 125bhp, but it was enough for Lawrence and Richard ShepherdBarron to finish 13th and win the 2-litre class at an impressive average speed of 93.97mph. Success continued for Morgan privateers in the ensuing years, but the Le Mans triumph stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Nomad 1967

An interesting Group 6 project from Mark Konig and Bob Curl. A good looking coupe of Ferrari-like proportions, with conventional spaceframe chassis and the inevitable Ford twin-cam amidships, the car debuted unremarkably at Crystal Palace, but won its class at Clermont-Ferrand and again a few weeks later at Montlhery. Lightened and modified after, but there was no success until the 1498cc BRM V8 engine was fitted and the car appeared at Jyllandring, Denmark, where Konig placed sixth. Fifth and seventh followed at the Nurburgring and Imola respectively. A spider version was built for 1969, but retired from the Targa Florio, Silverstone and Le Mans. After a number of minor races without success, the Nomad concern was wrapped up in 1971.

Porsche 550 Spyder 1953-1956

The car that established Porsche as a racing force, the mid-engined 1.5-litre 120bhp four-cam 550 Spyder took class wins in the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Rheims 12 Hours, Nurburgring and Pan Americana. There was a 1-2-3 class win at Le Mans 1955 and outright victory in the 1956 Targa Florio Impeccable handling and reliability were the two key tenets in Porsche’s early success.

917 1969-1974

Totally bloody outrageous, the 917 was an evil monster which at first terrified everyone who drove it, except the decade’s most under-rated driver, Vic Elford. After John Wyer tamed it with a couple of simple bodywork mods, the 917 remained outrageous, but not quite as evil and frightening. All-conquering, it totally outpaced nearest rivals Ferrari, and won virtually everything in 1970 and 1971 including two-on-the-trot at Le Mans, In 1100bhp turbo Spyder form it continued to dominate in Can-Am throughout 1972 and ’73, and the Interserie Championship in 1974. There is nothing quite like the 917… and probably never will be again.

Porsche RSK 718 1957-1960

The revised and much prettier successor to the 550, which dispensed with swing-axle rear suspension in favour of coil springs and trailing Watts-type linkages. Both 1500 and 1600 fourcammers saw service amidships. There were numerous class and outright wins in European events throughout 1958, including Le Mans (class win) and again in 1959. But the greatest accolade was outright victory in the Targa Florio with Barth/ Seidel at the wheel. The RSK was developed into the RS60. Further victories followed, but the original RSK is considered to be the finest expression of Porsche’s 1950s philosophy.

904 1964-1966

Porsche’s first fibre-glass bodied car, and the last of the four-pot four-cammers developing between 155-180bhp. Superb aesthetically, it had an unusual ladder-frame chassis and proved amazingly versatile, winning the 1964 Targa Florio outright and placing second on the Monte Carlo Rally a year later. A few late examples were fitted with the new flat-six engine. Successful with works drivers and privateers alike, this was the last sports-racing Porsche capable of being raced and driven home afterwards. From here on things would be very different indeed.

906 1966

One of the most beautiful and drivable Porsches ever built, the ‘Carrera 6’ had the new 2-litre six-cylinder engine developing 210bhp at 8000rpm. It scored a class win at Daytona first time out, then cleaned up in the 1966 2-litre Championship with four class wins and overall victory — Porsche’s sixth — in the Targa Florio in the same year. An amazingly successful car which, ironically, was beaten on home soil by a V6 Dino.

908 1968-1970

Fitted with Porsche’s esteemed flat-eight 3-litre propelling various bodystyles in short and longtail spyder and coupe bodies, the 908 proliferated for several years. Famous for finishing second at Le Mans in 1969 to Ickx in the GT40 by 100 yards, the 908’s finest hour was arguably the Redman/ Siffert victory on the 1970 Targo Florio with the 908/3 Spyder. The 908 scored numerous victories throughout 1968, ’69 and ’70, too numerous to relate here.

Rover-BRM 1963-1965

A splendid effort at Le Mans by the experimental gas-turbine car based on a BRM chassis. It averaged 173.546kph for the 24 Hours and scooped a special award for its efforts. Producing around 150bhp between an incredible 35/ 40,000rpm — even in the corners — les pilotes were thankful for a smooth run to an unofficial eighth place overall. Rover returned with a revised car in 1965, but it provided no threat to the 904 Porsches in the 2-litre class after engine damage dropped it to 10th. An innovative and interesting project — another British first — that would inspire Flash ‘Arry to build a single-seater Lotus turbine car.

Tojeiro 1952

One of Britain’s great special builders who made cars in which a number of privateers were successful, including Cliff Davis’s Bristol-engined car during 1953-54. There were more powerful cars from 1955 including the Tojeiro-Jaguars run by Ecurie Ecosse. As Jaguar-engined cars became outclassed towards the end of the 1950s, Ecurie Ecosse commissioned a special coupe from Tojeiro for 1962 powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Coventry-Climax engine. Dickson/Fairman drove one at Le Mans but it retired. A second version with a Buick 3.5-litre V8 was prepared for 1963, but could only run in British events, albeit with a young Jackie Stewart at the wheel. Lack of finance led to a sparse results list, but JYS managed sixth at Silverstone and eighth at Brands. Ecurie Ecosse packed up in 1966 after an unsuccessful foray with a 4.7-litre car, which was sad after the great days of the 1950s. But these cars are historically important; would Stewart’s career have come to the fore without them?