It’s now 51 years since Vic Elford’s 1968 Monte Carlo Rally victory in a 911, a seminal moment in the history of Porsche. Drive-My’s Tony McGuiness continues our series of sit-down interviews with the legendary Porsche Driver, nicknamed ‘Quick Vic’.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary Porsche 917. I didn’t realise it until a few weeks ago while at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Porsche’s iconic race car, but it also marks the 50th anniversary of the Concorde Supersonic airliner.
I have often thought about what an engineering marvel the Concorde was. Yet the Porsche 917 I raced can also be considered an engineering marvel. Both these masterpieces were designed with slide rules, not computers! Just think about that for a minute… The Concorde and the phenomenal 917 were created by mathematical geniuses. Both the 917 and Concorde were ahead of their time. Because 2019 is a special year for the 917, over the next few months I will share more details about the car I absolutely loved, including what made it so special, what it took to drive it and why it was unbeatable.
After giving Porsche its first major victory in a 911 at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1968, within two days I was on a plane to the US to compete for Porsche in the 24 Hours of Daytona. I didn’t even know where Daytona was until I got there! At the airport I was met by the famous Bill France Sr. In America he is best known for founding and managing NASCAR. ‘Big Bill’, as he was also known, was excited to have me there. He felt that having the Monte Carlo Rally winner from Porsche take part in the race would sell more tickets.
At Daytona, Porsche entered three Langheck (long tail), eight-cylinder 907s. This was the first time I had driven a 907 and the first time I had ever driven a long tail car designed for high speeds and banking. Porsche also brought a fourth 907 as a test car to Daytona. By the end of testing and practice, all the drivers had driven the fourth 907 over 2,500 miles with no problems.
That was about the distance we expected to cover in the 24 Hours of Daytona, so with the engineers being typical Porsche engineers, they decided they would just change the oil, wash it and enter that 907 too! Porsche had incredible belief in their amazing cars. None of us Porsche drivers had ever driven at Daytona, and hadn’t driven on banking before, so that was one reason they took a practice car. They wanted to ensure we felt comfortable with it on the track.
During the race, around midnight, a Ferrari lost its gearbox oil on the tri-oval in front of the pits, and one of the 907s was the first to arrive on the scene. It slid on the oil, hit the wall and skidded upside down for the entire front stretch.
I arrived within seconds at a speed of over 200mph to find pure darkness: dust, oil, smoke and parts were strewn across the track. I couldn’t see a thing and drove straight through it. Miraculously I came through that without hitting anything. As Hurley Haywood mentioned in his Drive-My column last year, there were no lights at Daytona until the 1990s, so that made the track particularly challenging.
Through the night Jo Siffert and Hans Herrmann led the race, but they suffered a gearbox problem and Rolf Stommelen and I inherited the lead. Towards the end of the race Huschke von Hanstein came to me with a request. He said: “This is going to be Porsche’s first major win in a 24-hour race, and since Jo and Hans had led for so long would I let them each drive a few laps in my car so they could officially be part of the winning team?” Of course I agreed.
The 24 Hours of Daytona in 1968 was officially won by five drivers. That type of thing couldn’t happen today. Incredibly, I led the 907s across the finish line in my #54 car for a historic Porsche 1-2- 3 finish. There is even a sensational photo (above) apturing this epic event.
We had defeated our main rivals, the five-litre Ford GT40s run by John Wyer’s Gulf-sponsored team, which was no small feat as they were driven by legends Jacky Ickx, Brian Redman, David Hobbs and Paul Hawkins. The Daytona Motor Speedway actually provided a winners’s garland big enough for all five of us to fit in together.
My second race on American soil took place later in March at the 12 Hours of Sebring and was also a success as my co-driver Jochen Neerpasch and I finished 2nd behind Jo Siffert and Hans Herrmann, all of us driving the short-tail 2.2-litre 907 coupes.
This season really did mark a turning point for Porsche Motorsport in many ways. Some drivers now had a fixed yearly salary and a car on loan from the factory as our personal transport. This was amazing stuff considering just over a year earlier I had been begging Huschke von Hanstein to lend me a 911 to compete at Corsica!
1968 wasn’t over by a long shot. Next issue I will share what happened when trying to win the Targa Florio for Porsche in a factory 2.2-litre 907 short tail coupe.
In the Targa Florio I roared through the town of Cerda. As I started to climb into the mountains, only ten kilometres from the start, I suddenly had no drive to the wheels. I climbed out of the cockpit to check the car… what followed was the most amazing scene I have ever experienced. Next time I will share this amazing moment in motorsport history with you.