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Vic Elford – An Appreciation

 

18 Mar 2022

Vic Elford started as a rally navigator, partnering David Seigle-Morris in a Triumph TR3. By 1961 he reckoned he was a potential driver but team manager Marcus Chambers disagreed, and Elford purchased a race-tuned Mini to rally as a privateer instead, but it wasn’t successful.

‘Quick’ Vic Elford – the original Rally and Race star dies of cancer aged 86

*The man who made the Porsche 911 into a rally car

*A superstar of rally stage and track, he won the Monte Carlo Rally, Daytona 24 hrs, Targa Florio and Nurburgring 1000 kms all in one year -1968

In 1962 he found success driving in UK rallies in a factory DKW Junior. The next year he returned to Triumph and Elford achieved impressively fast times in their TR4’s and proved his point as a driver. Reliability of the cars was disappointing, so the following year Elford switched to Ford. Then the success really began with a great three year stint rallying Ford Cortinas.

Vic had always been a staunch motor club member of the Sevenoaks and District Motor Club. So much so that he carried the badge of the club, with union jacks either side, on his distinctive red crash helmet.

After three years with the Ford factory team driving Cortina GTs and Lotus Cortinas, Vic was on the move again for 1967. He managed to persuade Porsche competitions boss Huschke von Hanstein to sign him for both a race and rally programme!

This took some doing as Porsche wasn’t into rallying, nor did they think their 911 could be a rally car. Vic convinced von Hanstein that the 911 would prove an excellent rally car. With limited support In that first season he won the highly competitive European Rally Championship! So followed not just the realisation by Stuttgart of the car’s potential, here was a great way to push the image and the sales of the Porsche 911.

‘Quick Vic’ won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1968 in a works Porsche 911, again with limited works support as various expenses and bills were still paid by the crew. What followed that epic victory was a 911 onslaught on rallying over the years with multiple wins that went as far as Dakar with a derivative of the car in the hands of Belgian Jacky Ickx, another versatile, winning allrounder.

The Porsche 911 is still the weapon of choice today for the classic rally driver, the car is still a winner 54 years later..

‘Quick’ Vic Elford proved to be one of motor sport’s best and most versatile allrounders. Just take that prestigious 1968 Monte Carlo win with co- driver David Stone after he headed home team-mate Pauli Toivonen, there was little time to celebrate, the next day he was flying to Miami heading for the Daytona Speedway to drive another factory Porsche, this time a 907 long-tail!

Elford switched from the snow of the Alps to the Daytona banking with ease. Leading the efforts of team mates Jochen Neerpasch and Rolf Stommelen sharing the car with him, they won the gruelling Daytona 24 Hours by 14 laps to give Porsche its first ever international 24 hour race win with Vic taking on the lion’s share of the driving. By the time May had come round Vic had won again in a Porsche 911, victorious in his class in the opening two rounds of the British Saloon Car Championship bettered only by the mighty V8-powered Ford Falcons which had joined the series that year. Vic went on to win the 2-litre class in the Championship.

Winning the 1968 Targa Florio in the Porsche 907 with Umberto Maglioli

Later that year, he also won the Targa Florio teamed with veteran Umberto Maglioli in a famous come-from-behind race after he lost 18 minutes in the first lap due to a tyre failure. He then set about chasing the two remaining factory Alfas. On lap 9 he overtook the Ignazio Giunti/Nanni Galli car to take the lead and raced home to what he considered his finest victory.

Many consider it the greatest drive in the history of the Targa Florio. But Vic didn’t have time to consider it then, his thoughts had already turned to Germany and his favourite track known as the ‘Green Hell.’  Two weeks later he won the Nürburgring 1000 Kms, again for Porsche this time driving with Jo Siffert.

Elford then entered the French GP and finished fourth in his first F1 race – a wet one, too.

By finishing the 1969 Monte Carlo Grand Prix, despite troubles, he became the only driver to do well in both famous events, the rally and the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, since Louis Chiron.

That Monaco GP in 1969 was with Colin Crabbe’s private team, first in a Cooper-Maserati T86B with which he finished seventh, just outside the points. Then a more competitive McLaren M7A which enabled Vic to finish in the points in both the French and British Grands Prix.

At the German Grand Prix on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, he could not avoid being caught up in the aftermath of Mario Andretti’s crash, his McLaren flying off the road into the trees.

Fortunately American legend Andretti, who was unharmed in his own accident, helped pull Elford out of the wreck. Vic got away with a badly damaged shoulder but he was back in a Grand Prix car just six weeks later.

Racing in the World Sportscar Championship for Martini Porsche against the mighty Wyer Gulf team, he was clocked at over 380 km/h in the Porsche 917 LH in practice for the 1971 Le Mans. He went on to win the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 917K as well as twice winning the mighty Nurburgring 1000 kms.

During the 1972 Le Mans when he saw a burning Ferrari Daytona in front of him, Elford stopped mid-race to save the driver. When opening the door, Elford found an empty cockpit, as the driver had already escaped. Then Elford noticed the wreck of a Lola among the trees, with Swedish Grand Prix driver Jo Bonnier at the wheel, Vic tried to help but he had already died. Cameras caught the brave act and Elford was named Chevalier of the National Order of Merit by French President George Pompidou.

A Targa Florio, Sebring and Daytona winner, his favourite track was nonetheless the daunting Nurburgring despite the disappointing results in his three F1 attempts there, of which the first two ended in lap 1 accidents. His two last GPs were at the Nürburgring. In addition to the 1000 km successes, Elford won some 500 km races there, winning a total of 6 major races. Only Rudolph Caracciola and Sir Stirling Moss beat that record.

In February 1967 at Lydden Hill Circuit he won the first ever Rallycross event in a Porsche 911. Later that year he won the 84 Hour “Marathon de la Route” event at the Nurburgring on the full 28 km long combined versions track that had been rarely used since the 1930s. His team mates Hans Herrmann and Jochen Neerpasch preferred “the rally driver” to steer the Porsche 911 through the 7 hours long, four consecutive night turns in rainy and foggy conditions. His rally skills gave the racing drivers victory!

Elford in his beloved Porsche 917

Although he raced five years for Porsche, Elford also raced for Ford, Triumph, Lancia, Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Chaparral, Shadow, Cooper, Lola, Chevron, and Subaru. He also drove for McLaren in F1 & CanAm and Chevrolet in TransAm. He was very successful in both CanAm and TransAm but also was a winner for Porsche in the scary ‘no holds barred’ Interserie races in Germany.

‘Quick’ Vic Elford also raced in NASCAR at the Daytona 500! Wow what a superstar he was!

Lancastrian GP and World Sports car star Brian Redman became great friends with Vic, and relates how he came across him, through a rally connection!

Brian; “I first heard of Vic in 1962 through my world-class rally navigator friend, also from Burnley, Mike Wood, when he declared ‘this fellow Elford is pretty quick!’ In 1967 I followed his progress with Porsche, both in racing and of course rallying, where he became European champion.

“In 1968 Vic was driving for Porsche and I for JWAE in the GT40 with the Young Brussels Sprout Jacky Ickx.  At the same time, I was in F1 with Cooper where following suspension failure and a broken arm at Spa, Vic was fortunate – or unfortunate, depending how you look at it – to take over the driving duties in the Cooper. I understand however, that I came out slightly ahead on the compensation side, £250 to Vic’s £200!

“Towards the end of 1968, Vic asked if I could be his co-driver at the 1969 Daytona 24 Hours and this is how I joined Porsche for a great two years in the 908/1, 908/2, 908/3 and 917K.

“It was better for your psyche in those dangerous days, not to become too friendly with a fellow driver as there was a good chance something unpleasant might happen to them, but Vic and I were as friendly as it’s possible for two competitors to be.”

Brian Redman was not just a great friend but an admirer of his versatility; Brian; “Vic’s superb victories at the Monte Carlo Rally, Daytona 24 Hours and Targa Florio in 1968; his love of the Porsche 917 right from the start because as he said: ‘It’s 20 miles an hour faster than anything on the Mulsanne’ were marvellous. His success in TransAm and ability with the Chaparral 2J ‘sucker’ car, not to mention his Chevalier de Ordre National du Merite awarded for bravery at Le Mans in 1972 in trying to rescue Jo Bonnier, are all testament to his personal character, his driving abilities and his stature as one of the greatest and most versatile drivers of all time.”

Brian Redman coordinated fund raising to help pay for Vic’s very expensive treatments in the USA which helped him fight on for that bit longer.

Sadly in the early hours of March 13 Vic lost his final battle, this time with an unbeatable foe, cancer. Throughout his long and painful struggle, his wife Anita fought by his side. HERO-ERA offers sincere condolences to all Vic’s family, Anita and his son Martin who was an F1 photographer, and his many fans around the world who were in awe of his talents behind the competition steering wheel.

 

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