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The Group C era – Value assessment

Sportscar racing was arguably the first form of motorracing, every type of racing car arguably descends from the 1900s two and four seat cars although you have to look mighty hard to see any link. While other forms of motor racing specialised, Grand Prix cars becoming monoposto (Single seaters), Indy cars developing the junk formula and roadsters, Sports cars remained true road cars 2 or 4 seaters although were frequently nothing more than a rebodied Grand Prix car. And this was only as required because fully paved roads were but a luxury for many countries, only the German and Italians under their fascists governments spending massive sums ensured major motorways. World War two bought a stop to all motorracing but the horrors of war bought a new era of peace, rebuilding and opportunity. Peace bought with it a new sense of purpose and conviction that the brutality of the war would never be repeated while the public needed and demanded rebuilding and every major country began to rebuild or repurpose for the good of all.

Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Porsche had dramatically different lives prior to World War Two. Ferrari had been a racing driver of note before moving to become both Alfa Romeo team manager and occasional manufacturer of his own right while Porsche was one of the greatest engineers of the 20th century, credited with invented four wheel drive and petrol/electric systems. Porsche went on to design the mighty Mercedes-Benz S Type before becoming an independent designer and developing diverse rear engined cars from the big Auto-Union and the Volkswagen Beetle while Enzo Ferrari also became independent after he felt sidelined by Wilfredo Ricarts appointment as Alfa Romeo engineer. The 1940s gave both men the time and opportunity to establish eponymous companies, Ferrari to produce V12 racing cars and some road cars and Porsche to produce road cars.

While the post war climate and their own rebuild made German racing cars de rigeur, Ferrari began to race his little 1.5 and 2 litre V12s with enormous success and was soon joined by Maserati (under the Orsi’s control), while two British developments would shape the following decade. David Brown had made millions (billions in todays money) selling tractors to the war effort and purchased the Lagonda and moribund Aston Martin concerns which came complete with WO Bentley designed engines, while William Lyons rebuilt the ironically named S.S. cars into Jaguar and developed the XK120. France was one of the premiere pre-war racing nations and prior to their socialist govt. taxing any autos exceeding two litres, actually hosted the first post war motor race with mainly pre-war machines although Talbot-Lago had brief moments of glory for years to come with their big reliable 6 cylinder T26.

The early 1950s saw two series develop, a run what you bring series and various national series with 2 litre limits for which Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia and Maserati all built Italian racing cars, Aston Martin, Jaguar and a host of Garagiste built British challengers, the US sportsman Briggs Cunningham also became a force. While the French were struggling in the face of taxes and went down a scale concentrating on the fuel efficient formula, they were replaced by the Germans with both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche debuting race cars in the era. Mercedes-Benz began their post war campaign with the W194/300SL and raced only selectively with success, including a win at the 1952 Le Mans. Porsche meanwhile developed their 1.5 litre Porsche 550, still very much rooted in rear engined Volkswagen design in early 1953.

Various pre war races as diverse as the grand endurance races were quickly resurrected such as Le Mans and the Targa Florio as was the indomitable road rally, Mille Miglia. World War 2 infrastructure was also repurposed with airfields spawning tracks as Silverstone and Sebring, the latter used to great effect with the 1000km endurance race while various famous tracks like Monza, Nurburgring and Spa were also soon back in use. Further afield, millions had been spent building a highway, the Panamericana, that stretched the length of Mexico and to celebrate its opening, the Mexican Govt. launched the multi day road rally, the Carrera Panamericana. Such was of the various early 1950s endurance races that the FIA mandated a new championship for 1953 with seven rounds;

  • Sebring 12 Hours
  • Mille Miglia
  • Le Mans 24 Hours
  • Spa 24 Hours
  • Nurburgring 1000km
  • Tourist Trophy
  • Carrera Panamericana

None of the teams were sure about the new championship although they all competed at various rounds and showed the way for what was to come. Mercedes-Benz withdraw to develop the 1954 – 5 Silver Arrows, while the others competed in various rounds, mainly in those markets where they sold cars. Alfa Romeo and Lancia mainly raced in Italy with occasional forays elsewhere while Aston Martin concentrated on the British, French and American rounds, Jaguar also competed at Le Mans and the Tourist Trophy. Only Ferrari competed regularly and even they missed the Tourist Trophy while like Jaguar they were the only entrants that actually offered competitive cars to privateers to race and certainly Ferrari collected plenty of points regardless of the works efforts. The spoils were evenly shared in 1953 and while Aston Martin, Cunningham, Ferrari, Jaguar and Lancia all won races, the sheer weight of Ferrari entries and the lack of consistency elsewhere that saw them take the first championship while Jaguar won the one true glamour race, Le Mans.

Alfa Romeo withdrew from the championship in 1954 while Aston Martin properly began to race the new DB3S and Mercedes-Benz began to race again although the 300SLR was still a year away. Maserati and Porsche were still dominating the 1.5 and 2 litre categories, while Jaguar developed the advanced D-Type and Ferrari just got bigger with the 4.9 litre 375 Plus. While Lancia had some success, winning the Mille Miglia and even Osca won the Sebring 12 Hours, it was something of a Ferrari benefit and they won both Le Mans and the championship. Jaguar finally got the D-Type in shape for 1955 while the Mercedes-Benz made its debut at the Mille Miglia. The Silver Arrows dominated racing from the beginning and with a team that included Moss and Fangio they dominated, not from speed, but sheer class and bought a new level of professionalism to the series. After Moss set a record at the Mille Miglia, the next round at Le Mans was the site for the darkest day motor sport had yet seen.

Leveghs fatal crash lead to several rounds being cancelled, racing in Switzerland being banned and Mercedes-Benz’ withdrawal. Ferrari had spent the year trying to make the Lampredi 4 and 6 cylinder engined cars work with limited success and Lancia’s bankruptcy was a god send, the Maranello team getting the advanced technology and the services of Vittorio Jano. Maserati had finally developed a successful challenger with their A6G based 300S while Aston Martin developed the DBR1 which made its debut in 1956. This bought a new level of competition in Mercedes absence with Ferrari and Maserati winning rounds in 1956 while Jaguar took the non championship Le Mans while the championship saw an arms race with both Italian teams developing 400+bhp cars for 1957. Aston and Jaguar once again based their seasons around Le Mans with the Coventry marque winning while Ferrari and Maserati competed in full seasons and the championship came down to who could win in Venezuela. Maserati managed to enter six cars against Ferrari’s four.

Unfortunately all six cars failed to finish the race and with it, cost Maserati $100k and their one chance to win the championship, and near bankruptcy drove Maserati to withdraw from all motor racing. The CSi (the forerunner to the FIA rather than the TV show) had spent several years working on their answers to the questions posed by the Le Mans ’55 disaster and promptly developed the 3 litre rules for 1958 and with only Aston Martin, Ferrari and a fairly lousy Jaguar effort, competition became fairly meek although the series soon evolved into something different yet again. Ferrari and Aston Martin dominated 1958 and 1959 with Ferrari taking the spoils in 1958 and Aston Martin the same in 1959 before promptly retiring to begin an ill fated F1 campaign. Porsche had meanwhile developed the 550 series into the much improved 718 and while still just 1.7 litre powered, it was enough to win at the slower tracks such as the Targa Florio. Elsewhere Aston Martin developed the DB4 series and Jaguar began development of the E-Type while Maserati returned with the Tipo 60/61 birdcage.

1960 and 1961 turned into Ferrari benefits with championship and Le Mans wins coming easily with only the fast but fragile Maserati Birdcages and elderly privately entered Astons for scant competition. This vacuum was filled by Aston developing the DB4 into the race spec DB4GT Zagato and Jaguar developing the lightweight E-Type while Ferrari’s answer was the highly advanced 250GTO and Ferrari went on to be dominate the 1962 and 63 seasons. For all of Ferrari’s dominance the beauty of the cars, the close racing and the realism of the GTs compared to the Prototypes made it look like GT racing was the future for the series. Ultimately, the Sebring, Nurburgring and Le Mans race organisers were concerned for crowd numbers so organised separate championships for Prototypes while the FIA soon realised that all three iconic GT challengers had stretched both the law and the intention of the class and soon started to ban further developments. The late 1950s had also seen fast, little cars from the British Garagiste, following the Cooper formula of light, mid engined, nimble cars, much like their F1 cars and all manufacturers began to see the light, with Maserati developing the Tipo 63 and Ferrari the P series.

Ferrari’s P series was a well funded, fully developed effort, both areas Maserati always struggled in and they soon attempted to create a GT version by simply fitting a roof and applying for homologation. Fortunately the CSi could see that the car was no mere GTO derivative, while Porsche were also developing their first proper top flight race car, the 904 complete with 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines although still a 2 litre racer. A divergence was the FoMoCo’s move to supporting European racing at the top level, achieved at the same time they began negotiations to purchase Ferrari and only hastened by the failure of negotiations. Shelby was contracted to prepare and manage the various race teams and worked to build both a formidable GT and very quick Prototype challenger. The Shelby Cobra was technically based on the Cobra although the Pete Brock designed Italian style bodywork was anything but and fortuitously it was homolgated in 1963 and essentially the last of the great GTs to get through before the CSI started banning them.

The other strand of the Ford racing campaign was to test several British mid engined prototypes with an eye to developing a race winner. Lolas Mark VI was chosen as being ideal and its chief designer Eric Broadley was set up with superstar race manager John Wyer at the Ford Advanced Vehicle (FAV) in Slough. The first years racing proved wanting for while the car was quick, it was neither sorted nor reliable and it took the transfer of responsibility to Shelby and the combined efforts of development drivers such as Bruce McLaren and Ken Miles as well as the move to the reliably powerful 7 litre engine to get the car winning. The Cobra Daytona Coupes had spelled the end of Ferrari dominance in GT racing and won the 1965 GT championship, although without the 250LM, this was achieved against fairly outdated 250GTOs. So also the GT40 as Fords prototype was named took over the Prototype mantle with enough private GT40s in support of the works team by 1966 that they took that championship too and Ford won Le Mans to spell the end of Ferrari’s golden years.

Ford themselves concentrated on selected rounds of the championship in 1967 and generally dominated at will while Ferrari built the ultimate P car, the 330P4 which was competitive and won at ease when the Fords faltered. Porsche had developed the 904 into the 906 and in 1967 launched the 910 which took the

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