Ford's greatest onslaught at Le Mans ended in dismal failure when their 7-litre machines went out early on, after setting a cracking pace. With the disappearance of the Bruce McLaren/Ken Miles and the Phil Hill/Chris Amon cars, and the mechanical troubles of the smaller-engined GT Fords, Ferrari swept on to an undisputed victory. True, the SEFAC machines had troubles, but the independent entries were there to score a 1-2-3 success, followed by a couple of the inevitable Porsches.
The highest-placed British entry was the Rover-BRM turbine of Graham Hill/Jackie Stewart, which finished in 10th place having covered 2370.42 miles - only 12.8 miles more than the perfectly standard Stage Two MGB driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Andrew Hedges.
Actually only 14 of the original 52 starters were classified, with the British cars filling the last five places. The sole American car to finish was the Cobra of Jack Sears/Dick Thompson in eighth place, just ahead of Iso Grifo of Jean de Mortemart/Refis Fraissnet.
The winners did not set a distance record, but Phil Hill (7-litre Ford GT) achieved a new Le Mans lap record with 3m37.5s (138.44mph) Just 11.7s quicker than his own 1964 record with the 4.7-litre Ford.
Class wins went to Triumph, Austin-Healey, Porsche, Ferrari and Iso Grifo. The Gerhard Koch/Anton Fischhaber Porsche, despite being pushed over the line, won the Index of Energy. To the Herbert Linge/Peter Nocker Porsche went the Index of Performance from the outright-winning Ferrari. After the withdrawal of the Alpines, the Austin-Healey Sprite of Rauno Aaltonen/Clive Baker seemed a certainty for both Index awards, but a broken engine ended their hopes. It was also another stage in the fierce tyre battle, for the Gregory/Rindt Ferrari was equipped with American Goodyear rubber.
For the first time in history Le Mans practice was cancelled. A rainstorm of great intensity flooded the circuit and was accompanied by winds approaching gale force. Trees were blown down and it was so dangerous that after Jo Bonnier, on behalf of GPDA members, had made a couple of recce drives, the ACO agreed that it was impossible to continue.
On Saturday an extra session was arranged and it was soon found that the big 7-litre Fords were the fastest machines ever to be presented at Le Mans. Phil Hill achieved the remarkable time of 3m33s (141.37mph) and was said to have obtained 213mph on the Mulsanne straight.
This was no less than 5.9s faster than the next best, Ken Miles in another 7-litre Ford GT. Fastest Ferrari was the 4.4-litre of Vaccarella, with 3m41s, and then Muller's Ford GT with 3m41.1s.
It must have been a record crowd that assembled to watch the start of the 24 hours. In front of the tribunes it was a solid mass of people, and it had been like that for several hours. The airport was packed to capacity with private and charter aircraft and after a dullish, humid morning, out came the sun.
Withdrawals and so on had brought the field down to 52 cars, but never before has such a massive array of powerful machinery been on view with Ford, Ferrari and Cobra dominating the line-up. Tension was everywhere as the usual preliminaries took place. There was typical Le Mans light relief, as a couple of gendarmes chased a photographer who evidently didn't have the essential chain round his wrist.
As 4pm approached, it seemed impossible that any more folk could jam themselves into the start area. The pits and balconies were a solid mass of humanity, as the drivers lined up against the wall to await the maroon. Gradually the noise abated, and almost dead silence fell on the circuit.
The start was tremendous. First away was Amon (Ford) followed in quick succession by Bob Bondurant (Ford), Bruce McLaren (Ford), Jo Siffert (Maserati) and Innes Ireland (Ford). Left behind were Richard Wrottesley (Elva-BMW) and Hopkirk (MGB), but last of all was Colin Davis in the eight-cylinder Porsche.
The announcer jabbered, almost incoherently through the PA. It was Ford, Ford at Mulsanne, but John Surtees had brought his Ferrari up from about 15th place at the start to third.
Then everyone in the tribunes stood up - all eyes on Maison Blacnhe. Sure enough, it was Ford, Ford, Ferrari, Ferrari, and the big 7-litres thundered past the pits, and into the old Dunlop right-hander in the order: McLaren, Amon, Surtees, Jean Guichet, Bondurant, Jochen Rindt, Dan Gurney, Siffert and Ireland.
Teodore Zeccoli stuffed his Alfa into the sandbanks a Mulsanne. Pierre Dumay (Ferrari) stopped at his pit as did Ronnie Bucknum (Ford), the latter with a door that would not close. Graham Hill was well down the field with the Rover-BRM, tailing the blue Alpines of Mauro Bianchi and Roger Delageneste.
The big Fords were certainly setting the pace, and McLaren bombed through with fellow-New Zealander Amon on his tail. Surtees was already 5s behind the leader, and Bondurant had pulled well away from Rindt and Gurney.
The guy in the Cobra jacket said "Boy, we're gonna blow them red cars right off the circuit." Lap three, and Bruce was already 11s ahead of Guichet, for Surtees had done a minor gilhooley and had dropped to fifth sport behind Bondurant. Into the pits went Giancarlo Baghetti, to abandon the Dino with a deranged engine. 'Franc' stopped with his Porsche.
Siffert spun the Maserati at Tetre Rouge; the car eventually crawled into the pits, but was withdrawn with damaged suspension and a split radiator. Maurice Trintignant was in the pits with misfiring on his Ford GT.
McLaren had set a new lap record on lap two with 3m45.2s, and then brought this down to 3m41.2s (136.13mph) on lap five, when he closed on his team-mate to be 20s ahead of Guichet. Already the Fords were doubling the tail-enders.
Zeccoli, stripped to his underpants, dug frantically at Mulsanne in the blazing sunshine, but the Alfa remained embedded in the sand. Bondurant hared past Guichet in Rob Walker's Ford, but Surtees was noticeably closing up. Behind him the order was Rindt, Jo Bonnier, Gurney, Ireland, Bianchi, Pedro Rodriguez, Jo Schlesser and Sears, but by lap seven Bonnier had moved up a couple of places and Guichet had re-taken Bondurant.
The Fords were getting away from their rivals at around 5s per lap and Gurney was easily leading the GT category in his Cobra. Eight laps and McLaren was 36s ahead of the duelling Guichet and Bondurant, with Surtees always moving closer. Peter Bolton's Spitfire broke its engine and Roger Masson's Alpine had lengthy sojourn in the pits.
So rapid were the Fords, that when nine laps were signalled McLaren had doubled Langlois van Ophem (Ferrari) and only 16 cars were on the same lap. Surtees closed on Bondurant, but seemed quite content to sit behind the dark blue Ford. Gurney was travelling at a tremendous rate of knots, actually out-stripping Rodriguez in an NART Ferrari.
With 16 laps came the end of the first hour, and 48 cars still in the race. McLaren's average was 133.83mph. Leading British car was the Rover-BRM in 32nd place, then Austin-Healey Sprite of Paul Hawkins.
Then almost immediately McLaren went into the pits to refuel and the car dropped to ninth place. Amon now had 47.5s over Surtees, who had smartly whipped into second place. Into the pits came Amon, dropping to seventh place. Still the Ferraris marched on and now Fords were the pursuers. Bondurant pitted and fell to tenth spot and Bonnier refuelled and carried on without dropping a place, as Rodriguez came in.
Surtees stopped to refuel on lap 18 and Guichet went into lead but next time round he was in too and Lorenzo Bandini led the race for just one hour till he also pitted. Back into the lead went the McLaren/Miles Ford, 15s ahead of Surtees, who was followed closely by Mike Parkes.
Dan Gurney retired with mechanical problems © LAT
Phil Hill had taken over Amon's Ford, but was way down the list. Rumour had it all was not well in the gearbox department. Surtees sat behind Miles, with a gap of 16s. The Ferrari challenge was no pretty complete, with Guichet/Parkes, Bonnier/David Piper and Bandini/Giampiero Biscaldi threatened only by the well-driven Ford GT of Bondurant/Umberto Maglioli.
Speeds on the Mulsanne straight were going up and up, although not quite as quick as Phil Hill's 213mph in practice. McLaren did 199mph over the flying kilometre and the Iso Grifo was credited with 186 mph. Hawkins did 143 mph with his Sprite.
'Geki' abandoned his Alfa Romeo with transmission bothers and the Richard Wrottesley/Tony Lanfranchi Elva-BMW came to an abrupt halt when the gearbox jammed itself in two ratios.
As two hours came up there were only four cars on the same lap. Bondurant's Ford was belching smoke and steam and Gurney's Cobra was the only GT machine up with the prototypes.
Race average was 131.61mph and at 6pm the McLaren/Miles Ford led the Surtees/Ludovico Scarfiotti Ferrari by 22s. In third place was Ronnie Hoare's Ferrari (Bonnier/Piper), and Ferraris filled positions down to sixth place, followed by the Sir John Whitmore/Ireland Ford.
Bondurant's fine drive came to end with a blown cylinder head gasket, leaving 43 cars still in the contest. The Iso Grifo had dropped back with brake problems, but was now circulating at a respectable pace.
Our guy still maintained that the Ferrari would be blown off the circuit, but the advance of the red Maranello machines was relentless. The Zeccoli/Jose Rosinski Alfa was left in the sandbanks, Zeccoli deciding to give up trying to dig himself out. The Rover-BRM lost 12 minutes while mechanics checked the fuel system. Stewart took over; the car then being in the 28th place, but obviously something was wrong for it was passed on the Mulsanne Straight by an Alpine and a Sprite!
The Ford onslaught was now very weak, with the McLaren/Miles car down to sixth place and the Phil Hill/Amon machine in the pits with gearbox problems. At 7pm, the leading car was Parkes/Guichet Ferrari, followed by the Surteees/Scarfiotti machine. Ferrari 1-2-3-4-5 - and our American friend swallowed a double coke and a couple of purple hearts.
Runners were down to 41, the official retirement list being: Herbert Muller/Bucknam (Ford), Bondurant/Maglioli (Ford), Siffert/Jochen Neerpasch (Maserati), Trintignant/Guy Ligier (Ford), Baghetti/Mario Casoni (Dino 166), 'Geki'/Carlo Zuccoli (Alfa Romeo), Zecolli/Rosinski (Alfa Romeo), Wrottesley/Lanfranchi (Elva-BMW), Bianchi/Henri Gradsire (Alpine), Peter Bolton/William Bradley (Triumph) and Christian Poirot/Rolf Stommelen (Porsche).
The Pierre Monneret/Robert Bouharde Alpine led the Index of Performance form the Ferrari of Bandin/Biscaldi.
A major blow to Ford was when the McLaren/Miles 7-litre was abandoned with a broken gearbox. The Colin Davis/Gerhard Mitter eight-cyclinder Porsche was withdrawn with a burnt out clutch. Hawkins had his accelerator pedal repaired on his Sprite, as the Gregory/Rindt Ferrari came in with distributor problems.
It was a perfect evening, with just a hint of mist towards Mulsanne. Fords were more or less out of the running, with only the Gurney/Jerry Grant Cobra being anywhere near the leading Ferraris. Phil Hill, allegedly short of gears, had dropped to 26th place, but was lapping consistently under 3m40s. Highest placed British car was Donald Healey's little Sprite driven by Aaltonen and Baker. The former scared himself and the signalling staffs by doing a spectacular gilhooley at Mulsanne.
Stewart, in the turbine, was travelling in close company with the Monneret/Bouharde Alpine. Hopkirk was doing remarkable things with MGB hardtop, in a duel with the David Hobbs/Rob Slotemaker Spitfire.
Apart from the Gurney/Jerry Grant, Bob Johnson/Tom Payne and Peter Sutcliffe/Peter Harper Cobras, the Ford empire machines were becoming very much out of breath. Phil Hill, notwithstanding gear selection problems, began motoring to such an effect that he turned in a new circuit record of 3m37.5s.
Meanwhile both the Rover-BRM and the Whitmore/Ireland Ford were showing signs of overheating, and down came lap times accordingly.
While others were circulating on less than the stipulated number of cylinders, the leading Ferraris were charging round on full song. Twelve cylinders seem to be the proper wear for long distance dicing and at 8pm, the Surtees/Scarfiotti led the Index of Performance as well as the race.
At 8:48pm the Hill/Amon Ford had almost a major overhaul, and off went Amon to try to keep it going. Around 9pm Whitmore set off in the Weekend Telegraph Ford GT, but obviously did not care for the water temperature reading and handed over the Ireland after a couple of laps.
Surtees/Scarfiotti led the four Ferraris and the Gurney/Jerry Grant Cobra was ahead of the Rodriguez/Nino Vaccarella Ferrari. Moving up were the Ferraris of Mike Salmon/Lucien Bianchi (250LM) and Dumay/Gustave Gosselin (250LM). The GTB of Willy Mairesse/'Beurlys' was also very much in the picture, chasing the Cobra of Sears/Thompson.
Graham Hill/Jackie Stewart in the Rover © LAT
Stewart handed over the turbine to Graham Hill after another check for fuel pump difficulties. Ireland was now out of water, stopped at his pit but was signalled to carry on. The poor Ford motor stank of molten metal and the exhausts were cherry-red. One more tour and at 9:30pm he came in with a 'frying tonight' motor and abandoned.
Gurney's Cobra was suffering form low oil pressure, and it looked as though Shelby's quickest GT machine was going to have trouble in keeping going.
At 10pm Surtees/Scarfiotti had covered 93 laps to average 130.49 mph, one lap ahead of Parkes/Guichet. With Rodriguez pushing his car up into fifth place and Salmon whistling the 250LM ahead of Sears, Ferrari were 1-2-3-4-5-6.
Phil Hill was travelling very rapidly in the 7-litre Ford, but it was only a matter of time before the gearbox finally picked up. Thirty seven cars were still circulating but quite a few sounded decidedly second hand. The Rover-BRM was becoming slower and slower and one had the idea that fuel supply problems were leading to higher fuel consumption.
It was a really wonderful night and as darkness approached Le Mans took on that unique atmosphere that others have tried to emulate but never quite succeeded in doing so. Patches of mist swirled on Mulsanne but visibility was otherwise excellent.
Now Ferrari began to have troubles as the Surtees/Scarfiotti machine pulled into the pits with broken front suspension.
Ferraris were still 1-2-3-4, led by the Parkes/Guichet 330P2. In second spot were Bandini and Biscaldi, followed by Surtees/Scarfiotti and Rodriguez/Vaccarella.
Spectators began to leave the circuit and a monumental traffic jam developed. Huge crowds still remained, but the failure of the Ford challenge obviously dampened their ardour and they sought the diversions of sideshows and the many restaurants.
One or two of the Ferraris were being braked rather early for Arnage and the Surtees/Scarfiotti machine came in to find more powerful anchors. Just after 1pm the Gurney/Jerry Grant Cobra stopped for a routine refuel, but started off sounding as if it was only on one bank. The Gregory/Rindt Ferrari had all of its wheels changed and brake pads replaced. John Rhodes took over from Hawkins after brake pads were swapped.
Midnight and only the Sears/Thompson Cobra was anywhere near the quartet of Ferraris, led by Parkes/Guichet at an average of 127.75 mph. The Phil Hill/Amon Ford was confirmed as succumbing to gearbox maladies, so the Ford GT effort was caput. There were now 34 cars still circulating, the best-placed British entry being the Aaltonen/Baker Sprite in 27th place. The Rover-BRM was no fewer than 29 laps behind the leading Ferrari.
Leading the Index of Performance was Philippe Vidal's Alpine, but so far no one had worked out who had the advantage in the Index of Energy.
The Salmon/Bianchi 250LM had to be withdrawn with transmission failure (the 4.4-litre Maranello car of Bonnier/Piper had gone out earlier with the exhaust system adrift), and the Sears/Thompson Cobra had a lengthy stop to have its radiator repaired. Hedges had the rear lights of the MGB fixed and the Schlesser/Allen Grant Cobra had a half-shaft replaced. The 'France'/Jean Kerguen Porsche was in battery trouble.
The Gurney/Jerry Grant Cobra seemed to be cracking along again and was rapidly overhauling the similar car of Johnson/Payne. Yet all the Ferraris, despite worsening brakes, were building up a formidable lead with the Parkes/Guichet car nearly six laps ahead of Surteees/Scarfiotti at 1am. Into the reckoning was coming the well-driven Belgian Ferrari of Dumay/Gosselin and also the rare-sounding GTB of Mairesse/'Beurlys'.
One also noted the advance of the splendid Porsches, which were circulating like trains headed by Linge and Nocker. The Sutcliffe/Harper Cobra put a road through the side of Mulsanne and added to what was rapidly becoming Tombstone City - the vast Ford Cobra caravan site.
Jean Redele's hopes lessened when Vidal blew up his Alpine. Surtees was in the pits for over 5 minutes, as wheels were changed and brake pads replaced.
Parkes came in with serious brake problems and 51 mins elapsed before Guichet re-entered the fray. The Cobra tale of woe continued when Johnson stopped with the temperature gauge needle off the clock.
The vicissitudes of SEFAC Ferrari gave Dumay/Gosselin the lead in the Belgian entry, with another yellow car second, the Mairesse/'Beurlys' GTB. Gurney and Jerry Grant had worked the Cobra up to fifth place, some five laps behind the leader Porsches were now closing on the Masson/Guy Verrier Alpine in the Index of Performance.
The Surtees/Scarfiotti Ferrari dropped even farther back as 47 mins were lost trying to find some brakes. The Sears/Thompson Cobra was suffering from falling oil pressure, while just after 3am the Langlois van Ophem/'Elde' Ferrari was abandoned with serious engine maladies.
Parkes was delayed another few minutes with lamp bothers and Gurney was in for over 20 minutes with various problems before Jerry Grant took over.
Half-distance and the false dawn came with 27 machines still being bashed around led by Dumay/Gosselin and Gregory/Rindt. Average speed had fallen to 121.37 mph and the only cars near to four leading Ferraris were a pair of Porsches.
Dawn approached and the circuit once again came to life. Weary mechanics kept their continuous vigil; partially envying those whose charges had been long carted to the dead car park.
Rob Slotemaker pranged his Spitfire at Maison Blanche but was fortunately uninjured.
The pits at night © LAT
It was only a matter of waiting to see which Ferrari would win, for the leading quartet sounded as if they could go on ad infinitum!
Higher rose the sun and still the oil-stained survivors bashed on. Cars were beginning to trickle back to the circuit, but somehow the bite had gone out of the race. Monneret/Bouharde had taken their Alpine to the head of the Index of Performance, but the Porsches were now a definite menace, with Robert Buchet/Ben Pon hard on the tail of Linge/Nocker.
Gurney's Cobra was suffering from excessive vibration and a broken engine mounting was suspected. At 6am Dumay/Gosselin had covered 203 laps at 121.56 mph, but were being chased by the NART car of Gregory/Rindt.
The Delageneste/Jean Vinatier Alpine went out with severe overheating problems and the Gregory/Rindt Ferrari lost time having brakes fixed. Porsches lost a car when the Klass/Glemser 914 dropped a valve, and the Index-leading Alpine dropped several minutes having the clutch adjusted.
Graham Hill and Stewart were merely joy-riding the Rover-BRM, and had come up on the same lap as the Iso Grifo. Hawkins/Rhodes easily led the British contingent with the Sprite; both surviving Cobras sounded a bit off-tune, the Sears/Thompson car being 22 laps behind the leading Ferrari.
Just after 7:30am the Gurney/Grant Cobra was buried in the dead car park with a broken crankshaft damper, adding to the multitude of unemployed Ford-Cobra mechanics. The Surtees/Scarfiotti Ferrari spent 90 minutes in the pits having a clutch plate replaced and the Parkes/Guichet car dropped many minutes also to have a clutch fixed.
Blue skies and bright sun brought thousands of onlookers back to the circuit, but the Esso scorecard carried a distressing number of red crosses. Renault ran their much-appreciated shuttle service to Mulsanne, to give Pressman the opportunity of seeing drivers in action.
Yet what had been a somewhat boring procession was turning into quite a race. Dumay/Gosselin were being pursued relentlessly by Parkes/Guichet and by Gregory/Rindt, while the only non-Maranello machine in the first seven was the rapid Porsche of Linge/Nocker, which had taken the lead in the Index.
At 9:30am Roberto Bussinello's Alfa Romeo broke and not long afterwards Nicholas Koob's engine seized - so bang went Alfa Hopes. The Rodriguez/Vaccarella Ferrari was in dire straits with clutch troubles ad remained stationary for over an hour.
Surtees' troubles were not over and the Ferrari was wheeled away with a broken gearbox. To the delight of Donald Healey, Hawkins/Rhodes took the lead in the Index of Energy.
By 10am the runners were down to 18 and the Belgians had about half a lap on the NART machine. The Iso Grifo had come up into 10th place, four laps ahead of the turbine. The surviving Alpine was very second hand and was obviously booked for retirement. Hawkins/Rhodes tightened their grip on the Energy and with the Parkes/Guichet car in again for breaks adjustment, Gregory/Rindt were in hot pursuit of the Belgian Ferrari. Mairesse had taken the GTB up into third place.
Midday and four hours to go, and the Belgians were still holding off the NART car. The came a complete reversal as Dumay burst a tyre after running over a chunk of flint on the Mulsanne straight. He came into the pits with a collapsed wheel and sadly bent bodywork. Officials objected to the state of the machine and it was 'modified' by some judicious panel bashing with a spade.
This put the Gregory/Rindt car into the lead, and the Belgians could do nothing other than hope that something might slow the NART machine. Shortly after 2pm the Aaltonen/Baker Sprite broke its fan belt and the engine seized solid, leaving 15 cars on the circuit.
By the time the Belgian pair rejoined the race Gregory/Rindt had piled on a five-lap lead, while Parkes/Guichet had dropped behind the Porsche of Linge/Nocker.
It was now a matter of seeing whether or not the survivors could hold out till the end. During the closing stages there was a bit of a panic when Koch stopped at his pit with his Porsche. He set off very slowly and was still out on the circuit when the flag dropped on the battered Belgian Ferrari - over five laps behind the NART car.
It was yet another demonstration of the efficiency of Ferrari automobiles, whether in the hands of the works teams or as independent entries.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.