“Cahier arranged for Ruttmann to drive a Centro-Sud Maserati 250F at Reims, and he was supposed to drive at the ‘Ring, too, but he really didn’t want any part of it. Ruttmann was a very, very, talented driver, but all the notoriety of having won the 500 when he was so young 21 or 22 had caught up with him. I think he got in with the wrong crowd, and started drinking too much which he was still very into at that time. It was sad, because Troy was a great guy and a really great driver. But it really wasn’t a good time to be driving an F1 car at the Nurburgring…” In the course of that summer, Gurney met Mike Hawthorn, then on the way to becoming World Champion. “Although they were very different in some ways, Hawthorn and Ruttmann got along very well, always joking, running around, doing crazy things. Mike was a fun-loving guy who could also drive.”
At the end of 1958, his title won, Hawthorn retired, and Gurney received ‘The Call’ from Maranello. In those days, when you joined Ferrari, you never knew what exactly the job would entail: simply, you were on the driver list, waiting to be summoned.
Still, you didn’t say no. “In fact,” Gurney said, “when I went to Modena, for a try-out with the team, I ended up driving the F1 car that Hawthorn had driven – he was a pretty tall guy, too, because I could barely reach the pedals, and I’m six-two. I went there at about eight in the morning, I remember; there were no other drivers, just Enzo Ferrari and six or seven other fellows, all with the big Fedoras and the dark overcoats. That was some big moment for me: there was the Scuderia Ferrari transporter, with two sportscars and an F1 car – I drove all of them.”
Impressively, too it would seem, for Ferrari promptly signed the crew-cut Gurney. As expected, his 1959 season began with a series of sportscar races, and among his co-drivers was Jean Behra, my great childhood hero.
“Looking back now,” Gurney said, typically under-playing his own significance, “I was very fortunate: I shared a car with Behra, I shared a car with Brooks, and I shared cars with Stirling Moss on several occasions a pretty strong list, that, and it was a fabulous experience.
“Behra didn’t speak English, and didn’t speak French, but we drove at Le Mans together, and afterwards I travelled back to Modena with him, and we managed to communicate – it was pretty primitive, but we got along very well. Behra was a fighter, even then something of a throwback to a different time. He didn’t moan at all; he was a fiery guy, and he was there to race. I thought that was great – I admired him a lot, because he had this incredibly combative spirit.
“At Le Mans he really flew, left everyone behind, including Stirling, and a lot of people said he over-stressed the car, but we were still leading in the early hours of Sunday morning, and then the crownwheel and pinion went. Yes, sure, he was going for it, but he was a proud man, and a battler — and, believe me, he wasn’t slow. It was a shame he got wasted when he was still capable of winning races…”
At the French Grand Prix, where Gurney made his F1 debut, Behra’s sister Ferrari retired at half-distance, after which manager Romolo Tavoni accused him of over-revving. Behra thumped Tavoni and was fired by Ferrari on the spot. “It was a doggone shame,” Dan sighed. “Tavoni was a good guy, and so was Behra, so why did that have to happen? Didn’t make sense. I guess sometimes, if you have a lot of honour and pride, you can get easily offended, and I think there was an element of that.”
For political reasons, that year’s German Grand Prix was run, not at the Nurburgring, but at the Avus, a ludicrous track in Berlin consisting of two long straights (separated only by a strip of grass), with a hairpin at one end, and the notorious banking at the other. It was here, in the sportscar race that preceded the Grand Prix, that Jean Behra crashed his own Porsche, and was killed. “Phil (Hill) and I saw Behra’s accident — as usual, he was on the limit, even though it was wet, and horribly dangerous.
There wasn’t a lot of skill involved in Avus; you just sat there for long periods, but where you turned off the autobahn, to go towards the banking, I remember I was the first guy to get through there flat, and that took a little bit of doing.” Gurney finished second to Brooks in what was only his second Grand Then you were third in Portugal, I said, and fourth at Monza; it was a pretty impressive beginning in F1. Dan smiled. “Yeah, you could say, I guess. Come on, let’s go and see those Manx Nortons…”