This edition of Quentin Spurring’s fabulous series covering the Le Mans 24 Hours decade-by-decade, concerns the 1960s. Many will agree that the decade, 1960 to 1969, saw some of the most innovative race cars, and with relatively free technical regulations, the motorsport world witnessed the birth of some of the most iconic race car designs of all time. It is with this background that the decade of the 1960s is regarded by many enthusiasts as the finest decade in motorsport in recent times.
Many will remember this decade for the rise of Ferrari’s great GT racers, the Corvettes, the Aston Martins, Maserati and of course the meteoric rise of Ford’s and Porsche’s race cars through the ranks. That was at the top of the food chain, whereas a little lower down the pecking order were the Abarths, MGAs, Austin Healey Sprites, Panhards, and others. In fact, there are too many different marques to list here, but the point being that there was such diversity and innovation, that there were many different race cars that could have impressed at Le Mans in any of the years.
Who can forget the memorable years of the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, the Lightweight E-types, and the fantastic battles between these GTs and the Porsches. Though it must be said that in the early 1960s, Porsche was still content to pick up class wins, it was only later in the decade that they began to threaten the big players on sheer performance.
The 1963 race saw the 300 km/h barrier broken for the first time at Le Mans, when Mike Parkes exceeded this speed in the Ferrari 330 LMB on the Mulsanne straight. Although this car was competing in the Prototype class, the car was based on the 400 Super America chassis and fitted with a 400 bhp V12 engine. This was indeed an exceptional achievement. This year saw Porsche leave Le Mans with only an eighth place for its 718 Grossmutter to show for its efforts.
The Porsche 904 broke cover in 1964, and this saw the start of a steady climb up the ladder to sports car stardom for the Stuttgart manufacturer. Never quick enough to take overall victory at Le Mans, the 904 was nevertheless a contender to be respected as evidenced by the fourth place achieved in 1965 behind three Ferrari V12s. This was to be Ferrari’s last overall victory.
As the second half of the decade commenced, the racing world witnessed what has become known as the ‘Ford Ferrari Wars’, but in truth, the real winner was the race-going public. After Ford’s attempt to buy Ferrari had been snubbed a few years earlier, Ford set out to conquer Le Mans at Ferrari’s expense, which they did in comprehensive fashion. The Ford GT scored a 1-2-3 finish in 1966, and took victories again in 1967, 1968 and 1969. Ford may have scored four consecutive wins, but this was in response to Ferrari’s six wins in a row from 1960 to 1965.
While the racing world’s attention was focussed on the fantastic battles between Ford and Ferrari, Porsche was quietly improving its performance year-on-year. The 904 was followed by the 906, the 910, the 907 and the 908 which made its debut in 1968. The 907 LH was the top finishing Porsche in 1967 when it finished in fifth place behind a pair of Ferraris and a pair of Fords. While the Porsche didn’t make it onto the podium in ’67, the Stuttgart manufacturer did occupy positions 5-6-7-8 that year, confirming the reliability of their cars. The 1968 Le Mans was perhaps Porsche’s strongest signal to the rest of the field that they intended to dislodge the two main players from the top spot on the podium, when a 907 LH finished second with a 908 LH in third place.
The final race of the decade was still regarded as the closest finish at Le Mans by two different manufacturers, as just 120 metres separated the winning Ford GT from the second-placed 908 LH of Hans Herrmann and Gérard Larrousse. 1969 was also the year that saw the debut of the all-conquering Porsche 917, and although the new 12-cylinder car from Stuttgart led for 21 hours, it did not finish the race that year. However, Porsche had laid down the gauntlet, as the speed shown by the 917 left the rest of the field wondering how they could answer the challenge.
All of the above goes to prove that the decade of the 1960s was without doubt one of the most innovative and fascinating for all to watch. The domination of Ferrari in the first half of the decade with six wins was followed by the might and power of Ford with four wins, accounting for all ten years. However, Porsche was steadily making progress in its own steady way, and their time was to follow in the years that lay ahead.
As with the other editions in this very fine series, the author deals with each year separately, giving race details for that year’s race, such as the race date, race number, circuit length, official starter’s name and details, the different marques participating, the number of starters and finishers, the winning team and the Index of Energy Efficiency winner. In addition to this, the reader will find comprehensive coverage of the complete entry list at the start of each chapter year, class details, a write-up of the race story, and then also details of each of the major teams. At the end of each chapter is a table giving hour-by-hour positions for all the competitors, a complete table of overall results, the class winners, and an update of the championship standings.
At the end of the book is a very useful section with data for the decade that charts marque records, driver records, pie charts for reasons for retirements, a bar chart on driver nationalities, fastest qualifying laps, fastest race laps, winning distances/average speeds, margins of victory, starters & classified finishers, and of course the fastest cars through the speed trap. All in all, the data per year and also the data for the decade, is divided up in almost every practical way possible, and serves as a very useful record for the reader. The book is well supported throughout with graphs, tables and lists which is of great value when analysing certain races, drivers and more.
If the 1960s was your favourite decade of racing, then this edition is an absolute must for you.
Le Mans: The Official History of the World’s Greatest Motor Race 1960–69
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