The Glory Days of Racing

With the passing of Formula One champion Phil Hill we should take a look back at the time when racing was full of innovation and driving was done without the benefit of traction control, radial tires, or automated manual transmissions.  Helmets were recycled polo helmets and seat belts were distained.  Drivers drank the champaign instead of spraying the podium (thanks Dan Gurney).  Driving suits were not covered with advertising and cars carried their country colors.  Fifty years ago it cost $50,000 to field an F1 team and today it takes $300,000,000. 


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One Response to The Glory Days of Racing

  1. Noel says:

    This is marvelous! Thanks for posting it, Jim.

    There were so many other drivers that this misses, but that’s OK. The clips of the tracks and cars is great. I once worked with a guy who had raced F1 in the late ’50s and early ’60s and knew Moss, Fangio, Brabham and the others. He had some great stories. This is fun because you see the big change: In the ’50s the drivers were fat and the tires were skinny. By the 60’s it was the other way around.

    It stops at Jochen Rindt so we don’t get to see Jackie Stewart, whom I think is narrating at last some some of it. Since this just focuses on the winners of the World Driver’s Championship, we don’t see other superstars of the Golden Age, like Stirling Moss, who has always been one of my favorites. Moss used to say that the best classroom for race driving was a couple of car lengths behind Fangio (whom he beat often enough). Moss, incidentally, won more races overall than most drivers in his time, but never got the World Championship. In F1 he would only drive privately-owned British cars, which until the mid-60s were not all that reliable and not as fast as the factory cars. He did drive for Mercedes in the ’50s, but not so much in Formula 1.

    The ’50s through the ’70s really was the golden age of motor racing, especially F1 and sports car/endurance racing. Through most of the ’50s much of the sports/endurance racing was often done on public roads–like with large trees a foot off the pavement. The Targa Florio in Sicily and Mille MIglia in Italy ran on the same roads that otherwise were used every day by farmers in slow trucks and even horse-drawn carts. Today a few races are still run on city streets and Le Mans is still on public roads, but back then no one thought of safety or crowd control. The cars ran right past the crowds on some courses. That ended in 1957 at the Mille MIglia when the Marquis de Portago’s Mercedes 300 SLR (I believe) went into the crowd. That ended the real Mille Miglia, too. Around the same time a car went into the crowd at Le Mans and the game was changed forever. A different world (with fewer lawyers!).

    The progress in cars and engineering through the years is very interesting. The modern cars are amazing, reliable, fast, and safe. But I still love the look of the cars from the ’60s and early ’70s, when open wheel racing really was open wheel. The modern cars don’t do much for me, and the driver is just a helmet sticking up. And I can do without the logos. But now racing is big business and dollars drive everything.

    As Jim notes, cars once wore their national colors: Racing Green for England, Red for Italy, Light Blue for France, Silver for Germany, White for the US. Driver suits might have a logo or two, for gas and tires. A different world.

    Would love to see more of this stuff.

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